This week marks a year since I began writing this column. In that time, my family has acquired a cat whose existence traumatized my son and a dog whose existence traumatizes the cat. We’ve gone to the doctor to have an acorn and playdough taken out of one child’s ear and a different doctor to have a few stitches put in another kid’s face. We’ve made it through family vacations, long car trips, and three-day weekends that went on for years.
They’ve learned sight words and memorized poems and one of them taught me how to do long division, again. My ‘baby’ boy quit taking a bottle at 3.5 years old but still asks me to ‘smuggle up and watch Daniel Tiger’ with him. My youngest daughter has spent some of every day since October 1st wearing red, high-heeled, Wonder Woman boots that are shiny and knee-high and speak to her fierce and fiery, little soul. My middle daughter was the first kid in the family to kill a deer, went to camp for three weeks and wrote me exactly one letter, and—to my mortification—has perfected the art of burping several words. My oldest child has homework I can no longer help her with, won Most Creative Costume at the school carnival for being a Smarty Pants, and has talked me into letting her wear some make-up. Like it or not, they are growing and learning and changing a little every day.
I try to take note of these slow but steady metamorphoses and be grateful, but many days end with me climbing into bed feeling grateful that nobody is talking to me anymore. It’s little wonder where they get it from—but my children really never shut up. Sometimes that sounds like fighting, accusing, or tattling. Sometimes it’s just talking over one another at the dinner table, but with four of them, it quickly sounds like a riot is brewing. Since I rarely shut up either, it’s hard for me to preach that silence is golden when I am no example of practicing it.
I do love it when they use those increasingly mature voices to ask questions; although, I’m pretty sure the loudest my children ever are is when they ask an inappropriate question about a stranger while in public. Otherwise, the more random the question—the better: Why do we have eyebrows? What color was the remote at the hotel in Chicago? Will you and your friends make s’mores on the church trip? (Church trip=Women’s retreat and, sadly, no s’mores.) When did you and Daddy fall in love? Is God a girl or a boy? What is my name in Spanish? Does Wanda (the cat) go play with her friends when she goes outside? Why don’t grown-ups have birthday parties at the jump places? Do Jesus and Honey talk to each other in my heart? Why is that lady wearing a purple scarf? Why is that man in a wheelchair? How do starfish eat? Do bears get scared?
The rapid-fire nature of their questions may wear me out, but I’m not mocking them since I can only answer about half without Google or my pastor. Also, I’m over here being 39-years-old and wondering why everybody but me knows how to wear and care for linen—how do you get that ‘just wrinkled enough’ look? If I iron it, I feel like a dweeb; but if I don’t, it looks like it’s been crumpled at the bottom of the hamper for a week. Dry clean? Hang dry? And how come we can send humans into space, but nobody has figured out how to make a cute, white top for women that isn’t see-through? Nobody likes having to wear a camisole in Mississippi.
Why do I turn the music down in the car ‘so I can see better’? Did all the cosmetic companies strike a deal to stop making blush compacts with mirrors and brushes so we have to buy those separately? Are we just going to let them get away with that? Does anyone really believe that Rush Limbaugh deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom? When did we become so ‘all or none’ that we can’t say, ‘I’m with you, but I think this choice or that move was wrong’?
Why can’t we say that Speaker Pelosi acted like a petulant child when she ripped up the President’s speech AND say that President Trump shouldn’t have given Rush Limbaugh the same honor that was bestowed on Mother Teresa? When did it become traitorous to say that the Democrats in Congress have been out to get the President from the get go AND to say President Trump gave them something on the phone call to Ukraine? When did blind and unwavering support become an American value—a requirement for participation in our political parties?
Like my kids’ questions—some that I ask myself are easier to answer, or ignore, than others. I don’t have a clue how starfish eat or when we became so tribalistic a nation; but only one of those things shapes the world in which my children are growing up. I can’t do anything about the fact that the President chose a man who called Chelsea Clinton the ‘White House dog’ and said slavery ‘had its merits’ to receive the highest civilian honor that exists. I can’t call up Speaker Pelosi and, in my strongest Mama Voice, tell her that it’s okay to be angry but that she’s not going to get her way by tearing stuff up.
Here’s what I can do: I can teach my children that all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t leave room for any of us to see all the things we do think alike about. This mentality makes us scared to think for ourselves, lest we be left by ourselves without a tribe to tell us we are ‘right’ or protect us from those who are ‘wrong.’ I can teach my kids that when you judge the character of someone by the actions of their politicians, it says more about you than it does about them.
I will try my damnedest to teach them that you not only can be friends with people you disagree with, but that you should be—that our lives are richer when we make room for diversity of thought and opinion. That doesn’t include racist, hateful, or harmful opinions that marginalize people—that kind of thinking doesn’t get to take up any real estate in our lives. As writer Robert Jones Jr. said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Nothing I do or try to teach my kids will change the state of politics in our country right now. Both sides are going to keep on screaming at each other on T.V. and drawing circles around who’s in and who’s out of the club. But I can try to raise kids who aren’t afraid to live with integrity in the gray areas between all that black and white thinking, people who make it clear what they believe in and what they won’t stand for by the way they live their lives.
Maybe a generation full of folks who make room for a diversity of thought, but give no space to hate, will be able to change the world. In the meantime, I’ll be wearing crumpled linen and Googling, ‘Why do we have eyebrows?’
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.