As a family of four in Vermont with a newly adopted habit of binge-watching fantasy tv shows, it would be easy enough for us to look the other direction when anything “political” comes up. But the truth is that while we may not be immigrants seeking asylum in this country, we are hurt watching children be separated from their families. While we may not have been sickened by Covid-19, our friends have been and ultimately, we’re all impacted by decisions the government does or doesn’t make to protect us during this global pandemic. And while we may not live where the wildfires are happening, we couldn’t hide our worry when the wildfires this fall made it difficult for my girls’ asthmatic uncle in Colorado to breathe.
We’re surrounded by politics and as often as I’ve considered bubble wrapping and sheltering my kids from the hard news of the day, I know we need to teach them to understand and live with politics. There is no point in me shielding my kids because you can’t hide from politics in this world.
After the acrimony of the last presidential election four years ago, I didn’t want to participate, witness, or even think about anything political. I was pretty sure we’d all be better off just shutting down and hiding ourselves away. But when I looked at my kiddos, then 10 and 7, I realized I didn’t want to hide at all. Short of moving off the grid and isolating ourselves completely from society, there’s no way to hide from politics.
I wondered then, how could we possibly protect our children from all the negativity that inevitably comes with politics? Our discovery was, we couldn’t.
All our privilege as a white, middle-class family can’t shelter us from the impact of political hot-button topics such as climate change, police brutality, abortion access, and laws that harm members of the LGBTQ+ community. So, rather than burying our collective heads in the sand, and trying to hide from politics, my husband and I have learned to lean into politics. Instead of ignoring the world, we learn what we can and talk about what we know with our daughters. The public radio station is always on in our house and there’s a stack of (sadly, mostly unread) NewYorker magazines on the end table.
Politics seep into our lives when our kids read the cartoons or try the mini-crossword puzzle in the New York Times app and on the way, catch a headline. Politics occupy school where the kids participate in school shooting drills and stay in their class pandemic pods while they study history and science and read the latest fiction novels where characters grapple with the opioid epidemic, disability rights, and abuse. Politics are on display when we binge-watch an episode of Buffy in the evening and watch her get drugged at a college party before slaying some snake demon. We certainly don’t hide from politics.
Each time the girls want to talk about something they hear or witness, we dig into the issues with them. We debate, hug, read, or watch something to tell us more. We live with the messy politics of the world and try to figure it out together. There is no hiding from politics in our home.
When our words don’t feel like enough, we act on our politics in ways big and small.
We attend protests; the girls know where to grab our “Revolution Love” protest sign if we don’t have time to make a fresh one. When our “Refugees Are Welcome Here” poster fell off of our door, we replaced it with a wreath that says Black Lives Matter. The girls have read the letters I sometimes write to the editor of local papers, they help me write postcards to get out the vote, and they wait patiently (well, sometimes) when I speed dial one of our congressional or local representatives to express my concern about something in the news. We talk about who to donate money to as a family. When we need a break from words, we find an organization that’s planting trees in our community to combat climate change, and join them in the fun. We vote. This year, I decided to start working at our local polling ward. We know we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but our political actions spread throughout the year, we hope, help us make things in our world a little better.
When politics all start to feel like too much for us, when the anxiety starts to rise in my chest, my youngest daughter, now 11, has taken to removing the phone from my hand to stop me from reading more news. “Take a break, Mama,” she tells me. So, we sip some tea and step back for a bit. She’s wise in other ways too. When I asked her what I should write here today, she told me:
We should thank politicians for helping to run our world. They help settle disputes and talk about issues that are important in our lives, like climate change and world peace.
My eldest daughter, now 14, also seems to get it. She told me:
Not thinking about politics is a privilege. If you’ve never had a Supreme Court case decide something about your rights, you’re privileged. We have to constantly be thinking about and advocating for our rights or they’ll be taken away.
My daughters make me proud, a bit weepy, and committed to doing more. Ultimately, when it comes to living with politics, I think a lot about what E.B. White once said:
I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.