For the past few years, I have been reciting a singular parting mantra nearly every morning to my children.
Whether while pushing them along onto the raucous school bus (often with a spilling coffee in one hand and a dog leash in another), or with the two of them – pajama-clad – filing at the door to send me on my way to work, three simple phrases effectively sum up my every emotion of which they have commandeered over the past decade.
“Be good, be safe, be happy.”
Despite the inevitability of my long-haul commute or the stresses of managing jobs, activities, a home, a family, etc., these words have become a sort of “wish” from me to them; serving both myself and my kids as a sort of calming, centering exercise.
While the means of parting may often vary – school, jobs, playdates, errands – the idea that they are out in the world in some form or another and vulnerable to the unforeseen is a subtle, gentle-even fear to which I am certain many parents can relate.
Foundation of fear
Now, let me provide some background to this. A few years ago, when my now oldest was just a bright-eyed kindergartener, one of the most nightmarish occurrences that could happen to a parent happened just a few counties from our home. On December 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire inside an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 elementary grade children and 6 adults.
Before that day, I believe I would have ushered her onto her school bus filled to the windows with her fellow kindergarteners – smiling, laughing, teeming with excitement of what grand enlightenments might await them upon their arrival in their classrooms – without a second thought. “Bye honey, see you later. Love you.”
Up until then, I would typically take solace in the thought that – for the next 6-8 hours – my child is safe and happy and delighted to be amongst friends; sharing in the camaraderie that comes along with story-time circles, basic arithmetic games, and the honest competitiveness of early development gym class.
Sure, the occasional danger may arise; a sprained ankle on the playground, a bout of choking at lunchtime, the upsettingly-enough instance of contending with a young bully at recess. She may forget her homework and be scared to suffer the consequences (one less sticker for the day, it would seem), or perhaps I happened to pack a lunch that just doesn’t live up to the standards of her fickle palette.
But after that day, our “see you later” hugs began lasting just a few moments longer. Perhaps instinctively, she began turning one extra time for a quick-blown kiss, and I took even more special care in watching her smile and wave from the bus window. And as the vehicle pulled out of sight I wondered – eerily and uncomfortably – if I would always be fortunate enough as to see her smile again at day’s end.
Immediately following and throughout the nervous, queasy depression of the Newtown massacre aftermath, I heard myself say “Be good, be safe, be happy,” again and again, morning after cold, wintry morning.
It was not because I was short for words or pressed for time, nor was I trying to be poetic in any fashion. They just came out in a matter-of-fact manner and they seemed to just fit. They were simple, perfect words for a time in which I struggled to find the right ones.
“Why do we have to practice hiding in the closet?” she asked me, some weeks later.
“Because a bad person did a very, very bad thing, and we want you to stay safe no matter what,” I answered.
“What was the bad thing?”
I was unable to answer that one at the time.
Evolution of cause
For years now, I have recited this phrase to both kids – now 10 and 7 – almost to the point that I hardly realize I am saying it at all.
Be good. Do your best, be your best. Be a positive and nourishing force in and of yourself. Let your kindness shine through despite all odds and obstacles and allow yourself to rest easy that at the end of the day you were good to yourself and others.
Be safe. Please, please be safe. Though sometimes the worst may be out of your control and not all people mean us well, know that everything will be ok. You may be hurt, scared, threatened or disoriented. But even if you feel alone, there are invariably people and places around you that want to and will protect you, even if I am not there to do it myself.
Be happy. Do what brings you joy, what interests you, what sparks your creative minds. Never shy away from that side of you. Know that you can be genuine and unique and still remain shining with every fiber of your being.
Nowadays, both children – a few years older each – will often remind me to say “Be good, be safe, be happy,” before I even get the chance, as though they too are dependent on the normalcy.
But since the evening of November 8, 2016, nothing has seemed normal at all.
On the morning after Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, my then 9-year old daughter awoke to a world in which her own country voted for a sexist, anti-women marauder to be her next president. She – a young female – is being forced to endure a regressive, oppressive regime and all that it represents, enables and promotes throughout her most formative years. She is expected to respect this aggressively ignorant, charismatic, liar-in-chief as the leader of her country, which – if all the lies our teachers have told us were to be believed – was supposed to be the greatest, fairest nation in the world.
Her younger brother – one of the brightest and empathetic souls I have ever known – needed to be calmly and carefully explained to that yes, even bullies and bigots can win in the end. I had to lie to him (which is not something of which I am comfortable doing) in order to convince him that – though the highest position of power in the world would soon be occupied by the very type of demented, cartoonishly evil villain he would forever be warned against – everything was “going to be okay.”
They both cried in their beds.
A Donald Trump presidency confirms the worst fears a parent can have for the future of their children. His presidency endangers all that would dare to hope by proving irrevocably that America is not, by any means at all, the greatest country on Earth. It places a shroud of fear and uneasiness over everything from financial well-being to safety from terror and war to health care and social inclusivity.
Trump’s Tweets, comments, actions and agenda prove that someone can be a racist, a fascist and a fraud, and yet if and when speaking in the right dog-whistle tones, the know-nothing electorate that is far too prevalent in this country will elect him as their leader simply because he makes it easy for them to be who and what they are.
His presidency puts a nation that is already dangerously flawed and highly volatile now at the exploitative vulnerability of a mentally unstable authoritarian; someone who, for example – despite decades’ worth of progress toward peace – declares bombastically “Let it be an arms race” as a foreign policy doctrine.
To put quite simply, Donald Trump is a disaster for this nation unlike any in my lifetime, and his true ramifications are yet to even be recognized. And that scares the shit out of me.
Being the change and leading the charge
At the inception of this website, I wrote that “[t]his is my Vietnam, my MLK, Jr. This is my Berlin Wall. Because I cannot bear it being my kids’ 9/11.”
And it is due to this realization that my daily, “protective” wish for my children has evolved.
What was once normal has had to adapt to the extraordinary. Clearly, being “good, safe and happy” is not enough. Not these days anyway.
So what then? How do we prepare our children for the country, world and future ahead of them? How do we best equip them with the fortitude to stand up for what is right and not be swayed, discouraged or bullied by all that is so very, very wrong, even when it is inflicted as doctrine from the highest authority?
I think the solutions will undoubtedly vary on a case by case basis. But for me, the evolution of my three-term mantra sets a tone in myself and my family that I hope imbues the correct concepts of individuality, strength and purpose in the era of President Donald Trump.
So now, waiting at the end of the driveway for their bus to arrive and shadowed by our billowing “Love Trumps Hate” flag, I have begun adding another verse to my daily mantra as influenced by the dire need to imbue era-appropriate sensitivities in my children:
“Be brave, be bold, be confident.”
Obviously, these are just words. But as history has undoubtedly proved, words have strength. Use them, adopt them, build upon them or rewrite them. But do not ignore them. And keep in mind, these ideas apply not only to the kids, but to parents as well.
Be brave in the face of threats – regardless from whence they came – big and small. Do not let the fear of punishment, retribution or embarrassment deter you from whatever path you know to be true. Find the courage to do, say and believe what is right despite the negative popularity of so-called populism and collective ignorance.
Be bold. Dare to question and defy. As a citizen of the human race, you are endowed with the right to be yourself and demand inclusion – or the opposite, exclusion, if that feels better. Stand out from the crowd if you must, or join the movement – any movement – that rings true to your sensibilities.
Be confident. No one is better than you or more deserving. So long as you dedicate yourself to knowledge and its importance in the world, you can change the world if you so wish to. And if you don’t? That’s okay too. Your beliefs, feelings and missions throughout your life are valid no matter what.
Does this matter? Is it effective? Will this make a difference? Should we march with them? Rally for them? Maybe. I have no idea.
I myself do not have those answers and I am sure these are questions that today weigh on thousands – millions – of parents across the country. Regardless of the answer or final outcome, however, it is simply no longer enough to be good, no amount of wishful thinking will necessarily keep them safe and despite their best efforts unhappiness may prevail.
However the process, we can at least try to set the best examples, relay the most honest truths, and impart a sense of righteousness and duty in our kids so that they may one day build the better world that has eluded us and the generations before us. And we can do so by stepping up as adults, citizens, voters and leaders. If this mantra or others like it perhaps remind us to do our part, then mission accomplished.
So still, be good, be safe and be happy. But also, be brave, be bold and be confident. It is up to us to help shape the future we want for our children, with our children.Click here for reuse options!
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