Parenting in a Time of Existential Dread

We held the fifth and final Listen to Your Mother:Raleigh-Durham on Friday. It was a magical evening. Great, responsive audience. Amazing pieces. Lots of emotion and laughs. It was very bittersweet. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the final show and this final season, but I need a few more days to unpack it all.  The biggest change for this year’s shows is that there was no requirement to video them. Each city could hire a videographer if they wished, but there would be no possibility of sharing or distributing the videos. As a result, we chose not to video our show.

So here is my piece.  I know that my few posts on my blog this year have been political or a response to the situation in which the USA is in, but I can’t help it.  It took over my LTYM piece this year, and the show overall had a decidedly political tone as readers shared going to their first protest, parenting children of a different race and keeping them safe, helping children cope, etc. I was a little nervous to read the piece and was afraid I would be heckled, even in fairly blue Raleigh.

I guess this is our reality now.  So, here is my final LTYM piece: “Parenting in a Time of Existential Dread.”

***

I’m sitting at my laptop, trying to write my piece for the show. I had planned to write about being a working mom. Well, a working-outside-the-house mom, because as mothers, we all work and work damn hard.

The problem is that I can’t focus on writing about the difficulties of registering for summer camp, and my experience of being a working mom seems trivial.

Because the world is fucked up right now. Do you feel it?  I do. It is the anxiety that gnaws at my gut every day. It is the existential dread when I wake up in the morning and wonder what has happened over night, what tweets have been sent. What new revelations have come to light.

And it bleeds into everything. My job is in jeopardy. My organization is funded by the government to help manufacturers stay competitive, profitable and most importantly, in business. And POTUS wants to cut us.

We are in crisis mode, and I’m also trying to hire for my team. Imagine how fun it is to tell candidates, “oh, by the way, the grant you will be supporting has been targeted to be obliterated. Don’t you want to come work with us?”

Yeah, that goes over well.

And then we come home and listen to the news, dumbfounded at the amount of corruption and the horror story unfolding that is even more horrible than the horror story we thought we had already.

And my son hears all this.  He’s 7. He’s very black and white in his view of the world. You either like or hate someone. So simple. He asks us, “Do you wish someone would hurt the president?” and exclaims, “I hate him!” We have to answer those questions, address his feelings to make sure he knows that we don’t wish harm on anyone. We have to explain that it is one thing not to like a person and another to want them to come to some sort of harm.

He’s only 7, and he is already more involved in politics than I was at his age.  Before the election, a classmate told him that if Trump didn’t win, Mexicans were going to take our house from us. This is also the same classmate that terrified him by telling him that those damn clowns were all around, so yeah, I’m a big fan of hers.

On Election Day, he sighed, “I think Trump is going to win.” When he woke up the next day, I had to tell him he was right. He replied, resigned, “I knew it.” We had to have the same conversation about the Atlanta Falcons and the Super Bowl. I’m beginning to worry that he believes he can’t trust the positions his family holds because they never come true.

We listen to the news in the car, and he asked exasperatedly, “Russia! Why is it always about Russia?”

Why indeed.

These are difficult conversations to have. I can’t even have these conversations with family members who are several times his age.  How can I explain it to him?

On quiet news days, I want to exhale and think that it will all be OK.  Maybe we’re just hyper aware of everything in 2017 thanks to social media and the Internet.  On other days, I feel like that poor guy in Munch’s painting, screaming into the void.

On those days, I want to lock all the doors, grab my son and never leave.  Maybe those preppers have the right idea.

And I want to apologize to him.  What kind of world are we making for him? What is he growing up in? Will there be a world for him to grow up in?

I always dismissed the Cold War-era fatalism as quaint and something that could never happen again. We know better.  Instead, here we are again.

My son is still rather innocent. We’ve sheltered him more than we should probably. In his world, the Lego cops always catch the Lego bad guys. He has been watching Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter recently, and to him, the president, Voldemort and Sauron are the same things.

The difference is that Voldemort and Sauron are fictional characters. The good guys win.

I don’t know how to explain to him that in the real world, that doesn’t always happen.

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6 comments

  1. One of the most dangerous things a parent can do is to neglect themselves. It is very easy to get so wound up in your children’s life that you forget about yourself. To avoid this issue, spend some time doing something for yourself, such as taking up a new hobby or going out with friends.

  2. We live in a purple state that has been gerrymandered red. We’ve been taking our kids to protests. Because it isn’t all bad–there are good people fighting the bad. #resist

    I look forward to a time when I can go back to saying it isn’t about good and bad but about differing priorities. But that’s not where we are now.

  3. This all rings so true for me. My son is eager to paint our president as a simple bad guy from a movie, and it’s hard to explain to him that it’s not that simple. I wish it were just a question of defeating the bad guy and having a good guy/girl in power.

    1. I dunno. I think it is that simple. Though perhaps Putin is the bad guy and Trump just a stooge. I didn’t believe in super villains before, but now I kind of do.

      Sadly there is no James Bond to take down the bad guy. Instead there are a lot of smaller heroes and the process will take longer.

  4. I struggle with it too.

    The health care issue will affect my son directly and for the rest of his life. I want to give him a world where we promise he will be taken care of, and instead I have to tell him I’m doing my best to protect him in our (very blue) STATE and I’m sorry but there’s a lot of people in the country who think nothing bad can ever happen to *them* so they don’t care what happens to *him*. I can’t hide it from him, nor do I want to. I want him to see and learn how to advocate for himself.

    Maybe it will be good in a way. I grew up taking things for granted – didn’t we all, kind of? Our kids will grow up knowing you need to fight for what’s right because it can slip away so quickly if you don’t.

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