I’d call the last month an emotional rollercoaster ride, but rollercoasters are fun, with every peak and drop a thrill. This last month has not been that; it’s been a rolling landscape of depression, complacency, outrage, resignation, and disbelief. I’ve been writing pieces of this November (quick plug: aka #Movember, please donate?) column over the course of the last few weeks, unable to figure out where it should go.
On Election Day, my buddy and I were well into our work and play boondoggle in Chicago. He had meetings there and I had new biz opportunities, so we'd flown out together and shared a two bedroom airbnb with the goal of acquitting ourselves of the work stuff in short order and focusing our time on the best food and cocktails Chi-town had to offer.
After the spirit-forward marathon of the first day (starting with 9am, pre-flight bloody marias in the airport and culminating with an epic food and cocktail binge in The Aviary’s secret room sometime after midnight), we’d taken it easy that Tuesday morning. I brought back Starbucks while my pal handled a conference call, then we answered emails, and did a little work. By the time we had our names on the waiting list at Au Cheval and were drinking high ABV beers at Haymarket across the street, it was almost noon.
I was counting down the time to when East Coast polls closed, hoping it would be an early, easy win for my candidate. We still had a long way to go by the time we finished our triple “double” Au Cheval cheeseburgers (tasty, but not life-changing), so we wandered the city in search of espresso with a Fernet chaser.
And then, suddenly, it was dark, we’d put away a whipped brandade, warm salad, and rare steak at Avec, and I was obsessively hitting “refresh” on the CNN election page and fivethirtyeight. We took the train to my pal’s colleague’s high rise apartment, with stellar views overlooking the city, and while the two of them chatted about cameras and computers, I mixed up boulevardier cocktails and quietly disappeared back into my phone.
Simone had texted early in the day, authentically terrified about the potential outcome. She’s a sensitive, artistic, creative teenage girl who goes to a school where being different is celebrated, and even there she makes her way through the day on the fringes of primary social circles. Her best friends are gay or queer or black or brown, or all of the above. She has been raised to be aware and accepting, non-judgmental, and strong. For a teenager like her, the slights and fears and invective hit hard — kids like my daughter feel deeply, stress about things they can’t control, and take everything seriously. They don’t have the filter or jaded ability to be upset and concerned, but still function with a degree of separation, knowledge that even when things turn to shit, we find a way to muddle through. She’s also not a white, middle-aged man (like me, let’s just say it).
I reassured her that afternoon that the probability of the other candidate winning was extremely low.
But I was wrong, and when she texted me about people on her social channels discussing suicide as preferable to living through the next four years, I could only reassure her that she had a strong network of support, that this was the last frightened gasp of a dying power structure, and that the pendulum always swings the other way. I told her she would be okay.
But not everybody will.
After several more cocktails and a late night walk back to the airbnb (my friend and me drunk, tired, sick to our stomachs, and unable to stop rehashing and arguing and rehashing some more), I went to bed angry. And I woke up sad.
So. Damn. Sad.
But a few hours later, with a cappuccino and corned beef hash and eggs in my stomach, flying above middle America, the plains below a mix of tawny checkerboards and fractals of winding waterways, the sky deep blue above, but a hazy azure at eye level, I could feel the extremes of emotion equalizing, the burden of reality unfolding, unpackaging itself from a dense knot of tension into something more manageable.
I thought, “Well, this is going to suck, but we’ll power through.”
And then came the next fucked up appointment, outrageous tweet, or woefully tone deaf think piece, and I was yanked back into the angst and anger that have been my own bubble’s primary emotions in the last three weeks.
Everything will feel okay, and then I’ll remember just what’s happening in January, and then I’ll feel like I’m going to puke. So many of my friends describe exactly this sentiment.
I haven’t been sure what to do with this month’s column – what do I have to add to the steady stream of frothy commentary and calls-to-action? What can I write that hasn’t already been written? And how can I write a column that’s more universal and evergreen, that will stand up and still be worth reading in the new year, in four years, in a decade?
We are frightened, we are furious, we are flummoxed.
And our kids are watching us. When they see us barely able to function on a day-to-day basis, our emotions whipping from quietly heartbroken to angrily outspoken, we need to reassure them. Whether it’s the terrifying outcome of a national election, a tornado that has torn apart our neighborhood, or something as mundane (but equally unsettling) as a lost job or a missed mortgage payment, we need to show our children how we stand strong and keep them safe when things go sideways.
I’m not saying we should hide our disquiet, or sublimate our anger. But our kids need to know they have a support system in place, even when we seem like we’re about to lose it. We need to be the strong foundation they can count on when everything else seems to have turned to shit.
They need to see how we work through adversity — how we can see the difference between what we can control and what we can’t (and how we can even, sometimes, chip away at big things that seem out of our hands at first — like becoming an advocate, donating our time and money to important causes, or giving a voice to people who don’t have one). How we recognize the beauty and magic in everyday life, even when we’re sorely depressed or frightened. How we can be both in the moment, appreciating the world around us, but still be fulminating over what’s happening in our world. How we continue to work, in our own small part, to make the world a better place for our kids and future generations.
It’s like this: You want your children to be concerned with climate change, and to do their part to combat it, but that doesn’t mean you want them to live every day terrified of thunderstorms.
We need to model the behaviors that empower our children to be strong and successful and resilient, whether it’s in the face of a fully messed up electoral outcome or an earthquake.
It’s not easy.
But we get our asses out of bed every morning, we go to work, we commiserate with our friends. We muddle through, brazen it out, settle in. We fight when we need to. We stop for a moment and take three deep breaths.
And, damn, we teach our kids to be discerning media consumers. We teach them how to read critically — to read beyond the headline, to double-check sources, to question the credibility of the writer. We coach them to stop and think, to fact check, and to ponder deeply before sharing questionable content. We teach them to turn on their bullshit filters when someone with an obvious (and not-so-obvious) agenda spouts toxicity or incendiary language.
How do we get through this? We’ll all have our own methods. We don’t truly know how the new regime will translate to our everyday lives. But what we do know is this:
We must stay strong.
We must look forward.
We must be gracious.
We must be optimistic and energized and informed.
And we must keep our kids feeling safe and secure about their future. No matter how frightened or frustrated we feel inside.