It is a cold Friday, but the good kind of cold. The red-cheeked kind of cold. You can get by without a scarf, but candles in cafes still feel lovely. I have left the kids at home and come out to clear my head a bit; sit in silence and stare at a wall while elevator jazz plays in the background and two old men sit in the window and talk about Facebook. The coffee in this place is average, but I’ll drink a bucket of it in exchange for the sheepskin seats and candles in jars and golden, golden silence. If someone had told me before I had kids, how much I would come to appreciate sitting still, sitting quietly, with a hot drink, I would have never, ever believed them. And yet here I am.
Really, I have come out to write. Exercise that sorely neglected muscle, throw a few paragraphs at an essay I know will be great, one day, when I finish it, perhaps when the kids are at school and I have more time to write about having kids. Try, perhaps, to order my thoughts on a big week and what it means. I mean, I know what it means. I know what it means hyperbolically, sensationally, realistically. I have consumed all of the memes and tweets and statistics and anger. I have felt that sudden queasy surge of uncertainty in the form of fear. I didn’t really, truly believe he would ever get in. But who am I kidding – bad men have always run countries, populations have always made rash, uneducated, hopeful, hateful decisions. The world keeps turning. None of this is new, none of this reveals something about the way humankind works that we didn’t know before. And yet. Here we are. Surprised, shaken and so very, very sad.
My sister wrote to me the other day and said she didn’t know how parents were going to find a way to raise their kids in this world. I don’t know either. Arguably, how I was always going to raise my children, before America handed its nuclear codes to a profoundly awful, disastrously unqualified, vicious, small man. Children are, simply and logically, the future, and you can say that poetically or say that scientifically, or say it without giving a great deal of thought to what it means because it is something you have always heard. But they are the continuation of our species, a future that will one day vote and pay taxes and make films and write for newspapers and discover and cure, and like we try and right the wrongs our parents’ generation made, so will our children right the wrongs we make.
So I will teach them that we are killing our planet, even if the leader of the free world thinks that is rubbish. I will teach them that religion is a construct humankind has turned to since the very beginning of time, because something within us cries out for answers, and something within us finds tremendous comfort in faith. I will teach them religion can do so much good, and so much bad. That we are free to believe, and just as free not to. We are free to learn and criticise and be angered by. We are free to rail against and rally for. But that we cannot and should not impinge on others’ rights to do the same. And we should never deliberately hurt someone based on a complex relationship with a complex concept. I will teach them to think. To really, really think. To ask questions, and to question those answers. To look at all of the pairs of shoes they should consider wearing before they arrive at their own conclusions. I will teach them to look at how they came to be, how their parents came to be, how their family came to be – because people crossed borders and got on ships and planes and took on new countries and new languages and that so many, many factors go into belonging somewhere. To identifying with something. I will teach them people are female and male and neither nor and how very normal, how very personal, how very part of being human that is. I will teach them to be feminists, both of them. I will show them every single way our world has come to devalue and oppress women, and every single way they can punch that in the face. I will teach them that they, and people around them, can love who they want to love, marry who they want to marry, if marriage is even something they want – it is okay, all of it is okay. I will teach them to stand up to the bully, to share their tremendous fortune, and to always, always keep learning. Keep reading. Keep asking questions. Keep talking. Keep their arms and their eyes open. Keep pushing against what is unfair, hurtful, isolationist. Keep absorbing and sharing ideas, those powerful, powerful things.
I would have done that all before he came in. Perhaps, though, I would have faltered, forgotten along the way. Perhaps I would have run out of puff on a few occasions and let an opportunity to teach them slide by, let myself forget how all of this, all of these ideas, they begin at home. But now I know, now I see, we cannot afford to run out of puff, nor falter, nor forget. And I will raise my children intentionally, as best I can.
That’s what I will do. It is the very least I can.