My nine-year-old daughter had a tough question for me yesterday morning.
The night before, we had talked a little about the U.S. election in progress. I had shared with her my opinion of the candidates. Without wanting to scare her, I explained that Donald Trump is not someone who will take care of the American people. I said that he must have some good in his heart deep down, but his actions and his words are full of hate.
She was fascinated watching the first numbers start to roll in as polls closed. As I tucked her into bed, I was optimistic that we'd see a Hillary Clinton victory. I thought I'd wake my daughters up in the morning to tell them that a girl like us was going to be the next President. I turned out the lights. My daughter asked me to let her know if the numbers changed. When a sudden burst in votes for Hillary came in around 9:30, I peeked in on my daughter to tell her the news but she was sound asleep, blissfully so.
I went to bed myself nearly four hours later, feeling nauseous and terrified.
"Who won?" she asked, the next morning.
I broke the news that Donald Trump had won. I told her that I felt sad and worried for the American people. For people of colour. For the LGBTQ community. For immigrants. For Muslims. For women like us. I didn't want to share with her that I felt scared for us, too, for her and her sister, for her grandmothers and aunts, for myself. I tried to reassure her that we are safe here in Canada, but I know full well that hatred knows no borders and we have our fair share of ugliness here, too.
I didn't know how to explain how a man such as this was elected, how he could possibly have the support of (nearly) half that country. As I sat there in the morning light trying to find the right words, I realized that, among other things, I was going to have to explain misogyny. Raising girls, I knew that it was a conversation (an ongoing series of conversations) that we were going to have to have at some point, but it now seemed an urgent task. My voice broke as I said the word because I didn't know how I was going to explain that there are people in the world who hate her simply because she is a girl. That some people believe that our bodies don't belong to us and that our ideas and feelings don't matter. That we don't matter.
I cried as I told her that there are people in the world who believe that some people are worth less than others, who hate people because of their skin colour, or their gender, or because of who they love. I reminded her about the conversation we'd had after the Orlando nightclub shooting, about how love is love is love and I told her once again that she is free to love whoever she wants or to love no one at all. I told her that she and I, we know better. We know that skin colour doesn't matter and women are every bit as good and worthy as men.
I stopped crying as I felt some of the fear give way to determination. I said to her, "But we are strong women, aren't we?" She gave me a big, smiling yes. We are smart, we agreed. We are capable. We are worthy. We are going to do great things.
This won't be the last conversation we have about this and these won't be the last words I write on this subject but right now I'm still feeling at a loss for words. I don't know how to keep my daughters safe. I don't know how to keep myself safe. I don't know how to choose between fight or flight because I want to do both. I want to scream and protest and fight this thing but god, I also want to take my girls into the woods and leave this scary world behind.
I don't know how to raise daughters in a world like this. How do I teach my daughters to raise one fist in solidarity (or perhaps one finger) while at the same time wrapping their other hand around their keys in such a way that one key is pointed out, so it can be used as a weapon? How do I teach them that there are many, many good men in the world but you should take your drink with you to the washroom until you're sure he is one? How do I teach my girls to hold their heads up high and stand strong but also scope out where the exits are and who is nearby in case you need help? How do we fight this and stand up for ourselves but also stay safe?
Who won? I'm not sure anyone did.
My daughter had stayed home from school that morning feeling sick and, sick as I had been feeling about the election results, I hadn't been too sorry to have some quiet time with her and some time to reflect. But after our conversation, she seemed to be doing better and I was too, so I asked her if she felt well enough to go to school. She hesitated and I could tell that she was feeling better but was reluctant to end our time together. I was too, but I explained to her that getting an education is the first step to doing those great things. We got ourselves ready to go.
And maybe that's just what we do now. Maybe it's not a matter of fight or flight. Maybe we just get ourselves ready to go. We gather up our things - our mittens and our backbones and our steel-toed boots and our tenacity - and we go out into the world and fight and we flee home to our loved ones and we gather up our things and we go out again and again until we get this right. Until victory is ours.