I had planned on writing something very different today. I was going to tell you about how my 5-year-old daughter and I—together—cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. I was going to explain how she helped me put the ballot in the machine while clutching her Hillary Clinton action figure. There was going to be details about how we spoke to other moms and daughters (as well as dads and sons) who felt the weight of the day, hugged their children closer, and smiled at the Hillary doll. My daughter was meant to become part of history moving forward towards a better tomorrow that was more embracing of all people, including women, minorities, those with disabilities, those who love the same sex, and those who dreamt in far away lands of the promise of the American Dream. It was going to be a priceless lesson. Except that wasn’t the lesson that came to pass. I’m not crying. You’re not crying. Except, a lot of us are crying because we just elected someone who does not embody the America we believe in—one that was built with the blood, sweat, and heart of immigrants who came here for religious freedom and to escape persecution.
The Promise of That Day
It brings me back to November 2008 and the promise of that day. I remember standing in Grant Park when President Obama was elected. I had bought a Barack Obama action figure (we like our political action figures, okay!) and was proudly holding it that night while standing next to my husband. In front of us, a young Black boy was perched on his father’s shoulders watching the big screen as Obama addressed the crowd. He probably had little understanding of why his dad’s face was wet that night. I have no doubt he understands now. He will never forget that moment as a man. I had hoped the same kind of moment for my daughter. History should move forward, not backwards. My daughter skipped preschool on election day because I thought she would learn a lesson that could never be replicated. There was no chance she was missing it. A red mark in the absence column was well worth voting for the first female president. We’ve all tried to shield our children from the vitriol of this campaign, especially the youngest among them. But, regardless of our best efforts, they pick up on a lot. My daughter understands that Trump “doesn’t always say nice things about people.” Considering she has only recently turned 5, I have been surprised by how interested she has been in this election. She has asked a lot of excellent questions along the way, including: When can I vote? Will Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vote for themselves? If Donald Trump said something mean about someone, that person won’t vote for him, right mom? Something I struggled with early on was whether or not to tell my daughter that Hillary was the first female presidential candidate (of a major party) or if I should maintain the illusion that this was all very normal for women in America. The truth is important. So, we talked about the meaning and importance of the potential milestone. We talked about the process and the parties. We talked about the other countries around the world that have already hit this milestone. And, we talked about why it’s not fair that Obama and Hillary have had to wait so long. It’s amazing how much a preschooler understands. She listened and yelled, it’s “girl power, mom!” Except girl power did not lead to the first female president. Not now. Instead, we elected a man who rates women on a 1-10 scale, decides their value based on breast size, and celebrates unwanted sexual aggression. Instead of Hillary Clinton proving what’s possible for little girls across America, I had to tell my daughter that we have to wait for another day to see the ultimate symbol of girl power come to fruition.
My Daughter and Her Future
It was hard. I’ve already written about what
Clinton’s nomination meant to me. Her White House defeat feels so much more about my daughter and her future. Instead of moving history forward and passing the political figurine, if you will, from our first Black president to our first female, we have rolled back the clocks and I’m not sure what it will take to right the ship. I do know that a bigger lesson has emerged than the one I originally intended for my child: to fight. She learned that positive change is hard and defeat is disappointing. But, most importantly, that we cannot give up. Late election night when she awoke to ask me if Hillary won, I dried my tears. I took my little girl’s face between my hands, kissed her, and said, “Next time, baby. Until then, we have to love each other harder, show more kindness, and keep fighting to make the world a better place.” Until my little girl—and all of yours—can take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States and until every American is included and embraced regardless of their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation, we cannot stop fighting for it. So, I implore you to teach your children the biggest lesson of our time: to fight another day for inclusion, love, and an America for all of us. Men, women, and children embrace your girl (boy, Black, White, Muslim, Christian, whoever you are) power.
Katelyn Silva is mom to a third grader and an education writer in Providence, Rhode Island. She operates her own education writing consulting business. She was previously the chief communications officer at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, a nonprofit dedicated to opening intentionally diverse public charter schools. Prior to that, she was the communications director at the University of Chicago ...