On Not Talking About The Election With My Toddler

When the next election comes around, he will be able to look at it and say “what is that?”

When the next election comes around, he will be able to look at it and say “what is that?”

This morning my son woke up laughing. My son woke up laughing and I woke up crying. My son woke up laughing and his little squeaky voice was a light in the darkness to me. I went into his room and moved towards his crib and he smiled at me. And I was so grateful, grateful for him and who he is, but also grateful that he is still a baby and I do not have to explain what happened last night.

He is one-and-a-half. I have friends with kids who are five, six, seven. I have friends who put their excited seven-year-old daughters to bed last night, hopeful for a win. I have friends who cradled those girls while they wept this morning. I can’t yet imagine what it is like to try to contextualize the nightmare that is American politics for a child. I can’t imagine it because I don’t have to, not yet. And while I know that it won’t be long, that one day I too will be explaining all of these things to a bewildered young person, the relief that I don’t have to do it on this particular day is like a warm blanket on my freezing shoulders.

The truth is that I am terrified.

When I pull the baby out of bed, his other mother is already downstairs making coffee. Yes, his other mother. My beautiful laughing child has gay parents, gay parents who are sore and stiff from the anxiety and fear we sat up with most of the night, who are bleary eyed from exhaustion and tears and strain. I carry my son downstairs and I don’t say “I’m so scared for what will happen to our family now.” No. I say, “it’s time to change your diaper before breakfast! Yes, those are nice monkey jammies. Can you make a sound like a monkey? Oh good job, my baby!”

He runs into the kitchen where my wife is. We exchange glances, and her eyes are full of all the things I am feeling. Instead she says “Wow, look at this cute kiddo!” and eventually we manage to wrestle our toddler into a clean diaper, and then wrestle him into his high chair for Cheerios.

Somehow, my wife has to pull herself together and head to her day job today. Somehow, I have to pull myself together for this child today.

And of course, as the morning goes on, he does notice something. Toddlers might not have all the words or concepts down, but they pick up on stress in their caregivers. Somewhere between the constant tension in my body, the forced cheer in my voice, and the way that I say “have as good a day as you can” instead of “have a good day” to his other mom as she steps out the door…  he picks up on it. At one-and-a-half, his solution to the weirdness is simple. He will nurse extra. He will nurse extra and he will try to tell me how much he enjoys nursing.

So I sit on the couch, with a giant baby in my arms, worrying so hard my heart feels sick. He smiles at me. He lovingly pets my arm and my breast. He even says “my my my boob boob boob” in that tiny sing-songy voice of his. It is a little funny, that he imagines he can comfort me by taking even more milk out of me than the average morning. It is a little funny, that he imagines affectionately informing me that my breast is “his” will turn this crappy morning around. But it almost works! It distracts me a little, and I am grounded looking into his sparkling eyes. Sweetly, he offers me a foot to pretend to bite.

I am terrified because in so many ways, we are safer than most, safer than many, and yet we are not at all safe.

He is a white child. He is in all probability (though he’s too young to express any gender leanings and we try not to make assumptions) a boy. He may turn out to be straight. He carries an incredible pack of privileges on his back as he marches into this life. But this morning I am still so afraid for him. What is going to happen to us?

I am worried about our recently acquired marriage rights. I am worried about our healthcare. I am worried about endless war turning into more endless war turning into nuclear war. I am worried about our neighbors who are not all white. I am worried about our loved ones who are transgender. I am terrified because in so many ways, we are safer than most, safer than many, and yet we are not at all safe.

Just two days ago, my son learned a new phrase: “What is that?” Now, he says it all the time. I take him outside and walk him around our block, just get us both some fresh air on this chilly morning, just to try to feel alive and like a decent parent. We walk down the street. He says “what is that? What is that?”

That’s a leaf, sweetheart.

That’s our next door neighbor’s truck.

That’s some people working on a roof, to get it ready before winter hits.

When we get home, I am going to look up information on the second parent adoption we haven’t been able to do yet because we’ve been too busy being poor. When we get home, I am going to try to stay calm and breath deeply and see if he is ready for his nap. I’ll feed him green apples because they are one of his favorites. I’ll sing whatever songs he wants to sing. And I will work my exhausted queer ass off to get our ducks in a row, to keep him and us as safe as I possibly can.

We will organize and we will protest and we will do whatever we can to keep fighting and not despair.

Because when the next election comes around, he won’t be a toddler anymore. He’ll be five-and-a-half. He’ll be five-and-a-half and we will be trying to figure out what to do after four years that might feel like hell for many of us. When the next election comes around, he will be able to look at it and say “what is that?”

And I am going to be ready with an answer.

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