Every morning, I braid my daughter's hair. She fusses out of boredom, and I harangue her to keep her head still, but it is a ritual I have come to love — me, so close to my baby girl, smoothing her bedhead into pigtails, an act of love committed by mothers like me perhaps since the dawn of time.
We often watch a morning news program while getting ready. Recently, as I brushed her coils into submission, my daughter took issue with something she saw on screen.
"Mommy," she asked, "if Donald Trump is mean, why do some people cheer for him?"
"I'm not sure, baby," I said, truthfully. "Maybe some people like mean people."
She considered this, unhappily. With 4-year-olds, things are very black-and-white. Good is good and bad is bad, and never the two shall meet. At the end of her favorite stories, bad people are run off into the hinterlands, or made to see the error of their ways. They are not celebrated. They do not become president.
I am nearly four decades her senior, and no stranger to the complexities of human beings, the capriciousness of real life. And yet, honestly, I believed that too.
To say the results of this month's election were stunning is putting it lightly. Politics aside, I just could not conceive of an America where the bad guy wins. And having to explain to our peace-loving, socially aware, little brown babies that this particular bad guy won — that was an undertaking not done lightly. We had to get it right. Their confused faces, eyes pleading for understanding, demanded it.
And so here are the things we ultimately decided we want our young children to know after this election. Some will not agree with our approach — clearly, many millions do not see eye-to-eye with us when it comes to beliefs and values. But this is what we said:
You are safe. Children have a talent for sniffing out villains. In movies and books, when the mood darkens, or the score turns just a shade sinister, my girl throws her hands to her face and covers her eyes. My son buries his head under a blanket. Even relatively G-rated antagonists — a cartoon pirate with a hook for a hand, a substitute schoolteacher dressed all in black — make them visibly nervous. At this tender age, they need to know that, no matter what, they are safe with us. We will always protect them from the things that go bump in the night. We will keep them safe, as best we can.
You are important. Despite the best efforts of brave, smart and kind people, our country seems to be stuck in a place where many groups — people of color, or of a certain religion or sexual orientation — are seen as less valuable. This is not news, of course. But when bringing children into the world, you cannot do it believing that the status quo will remain. You have sincere hope that your babies' world will be kinder and more just than the one you struggled through. Eight years ago, I thought we were moving that way. Now, I feel with certainty that we are not. And yet ... and yet. My children have value. Their ideas, their dreams, their very humanity matters. I will not let the peddlers of hate make them believe otherwise.
You are loved. My husband and I, we're still trying to make sense of the will of half our countrymen. We have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing, dissecting. Trying to understand why so many would validate a racist/misogynist/xenophobe/bully takes up a lot of heart space. It is exhausting. It can be all-consuming. But thankfully, we soon realized that these three children of ours were present while we were mourning. And they needed us. So we put away the analyses, set aside the group texts and went to the pool, to their soccer game, to a pizza party — together. We hugged and kissed them, and showed them the thing they'll most need in this acutely divided America: love.
And in the morning, when I brush my baby girl's hair, her head between my knees, I make an effort to be that much gentler. The world is hurtful enough.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.