Last night, my daughter said this in our family prayer: “Please bless that Donald Trump won’t take over America.”
After we finished, I started to talk to her about how our republic works and that president’s don’t “Take Over.” But I didn’t really know what to say, and maybe I started to cry a little. When I tucked her in to bed, she wanted to plan her seven-year-old birthday party. We are thinking a trampoline park or maybe bowling.
Once Logan was asleep, I started writing. I tried to make my thoughts short, because although Logan is a great listener, at some point she would understandably rather talk about bowling. That said, I am also 5’10”. I don’t do short well. So if you are looking for something to start this conversation with your kids, pick what you like from here. And know I am so grateful for you, for this country, for our system of government, for diversity, for liberty. And, especially, for hope….
To my super cool, super smart, super SUPER elementary readers,
(And their parents. And their teachers. And their grandparents who buy books for Christmas presents),
In 2014, I had a conversation with my editor, Caroline. I wanted to write something my younger children could read. We came up with the early chapter book idea COMMANDER IN CHEESE, about a mouse family that lives in the White House. Caroline and I met up in Washington DC to discuss famous mice and famouser presidents. (Yes, I know famouser is not a word, but making up stuff is part of being an author).
I jumped right into presidential research. I’ve always loved being a writer, but now I got to mix in my love for American history. I could read about Air Force One and the Oval Office for hours and hours and call it all “work”. Also, I wore old yoga pants and ate lots of cookie dough while doing this. That doesn’t have much to do with our topic. I’m really just bragging about my job.
When I sold the series to my publisher, Random House, we did not know what the 2016 election would look like. When I made my president female (and named her after my editor, Caroline Abbey), I did not know Hilary Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. When I added Macey and Banks, the president’s young children, I did not know Donald Trump (who has a ten year-old son) would be the Republican candidate. The first two books came out in May 2016, before the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Elections are a historically tense time. The election of 2016 was especially hard on our country. People have not liked candidates before, but this election was dipped in mean. It wasn’t just beliefs that were attacked—it was people. People of color, people with disabilities, people of different religious backgrounds. I’m sure you know better than to tease or hate someone just because they are different than you. I think most people in our country know better than this, and although they may have voted for a candidate who promoted some ugly ideas, it does NOT make the voter a mean person. I’ve met Americans from all around the country–wonderful, good, smart people. They had to choose a candidate. Millions of Americans made a very hard choice.
Parents also had to decide what to discuss with their children. I started to watch one of the presidential debates with my kids but stopped because there were so many “adult conversations”. Readers, this is a little secret. A lot of adult conversations involve adults not really acting like adults. Maybe that’s why adults don’t want you to listen: Sometimes we are rude and unkind. We should set a stronger example for you. Many kids I know are actually better at thoughtful, mature conversations than their parents! One of those kids lives in my house. She knows who she is.
I’m sure you know at least one adult who is upset with the election results—a parent, an uncle, a teacher, a celebrity. Maybe you saw them cry. Maybe you heard them yell. Maybe they were that scary kind of quiet where you know better than to interrupt. Adults aren’t simply mad because the person they voted for lost. It’s not like we are cheering for a sports teams here (Go Giants!) They are not pouting or whining. This is different. People are grieving. They are worried that the country they want America to be is different than maybe the country their neighbor wants America to be. They likely do not like President-elect Trump, which is hard when we have had so many noble and good leaders in the past. Americans want to love their president.
But! (In posts like this, there is always a but. We all have butts.) We live in an amazing country. America didn’t stop being America overnight. The future is unclear, but that’s usually how futures are. YOU are part of that future, and kids are awesome. Really, all you have to do is STAY AWESOME. Stay awesome and know that everything will be okay. Even more, you can help to make things okay. Here’s how…
- Government: Our government is a democratic republic. Some countries are ruled by one leader. Ours is not. We are more than our president. We have congressmen, senators, and governors. Our government has many branches. If the president wants to make a law a law, he doesn’t just wave a magic wand. There is a process. For much, much more on how our government works (and it does work), go here.
History: We have had many good presidents. We have also had bad presidents. Richard Nixon broke the law and had to resign. James Buchanan passed horrible pro-slavery policy. Andrew Johnson… don’t even get me started on Andrew Johnson. We have also disagreed before. In fact, many laws and amendments are shaped around our disagreements. We have won wars and lost wars. We have been a wealthy country, and we have lost oodles of American tax dollars. Our country is better now than when your grandparents were your age. We have rights that did not exist then. We have technology and opportunity that did not exist then. America’s goal has always been to progress and improve. Regardless of who are president may be, our goals remain the same.
- Home: My family is building a house right now. We are painting it white. My kids think it’s cool that I will write books about the White House in my white house (actually, I’m the one who thinks it’s cool. My kids don’t really care about house colors—they just want a trampoline). A home is where we learn foundations of love. And I’m not talking about whether your parents are married or what they’ve taught you about this election. I’m talking about YOU—about your relationship with your siblings, with your parents, with your cousins, your neighbors. There will be times you do not like your family members. You will fight. But at the end of the day, they are still your family. Life is much easier if you can figure out a way to work together, despite your differences. Home is where we learn to share. Home is where we learn to compromise. Home is where we learn to love someone, even if we don’t LIKE our bratty little brother sometimes. Home is where we plant our love, so it can grow outside and beyond. As Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society depends not what happens at the White House, but what happens inside YOUR house.”
I registered to vote a few weeks ago. While I waited for my papers at the clerk’s office, an older man walked in to drop off his ballot. He was very loud about who he was voting for. We were not voting for the same person. He said some negative things about the person I voted for. Honestly, my first reaction was to yell at him. I did not agree with him. At all. But. (More butts!) Yelling at him would not make him open his envelope and change his vote. Just like his loud boasts would in no way change my vote. There are other ways to stand up for what you believe is right. Listen. Learn. Educate. Recycle. Get to know your neighbors. Do work in your community. And again, love. When we walked out of the clerk’s office at the same time, I held the door open for Mr. Opposite Voter Guy. Even though we had different views, we can both still be good citizens. Hate has never been and never, ever will be the answer.
My very favorite quote of all time says this: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
- Service: Not very long ago, I went through a very hard time in my life. I felt like I could never know happiness again, that nothing good could possibly come from bad. I prayed, I cried, I struggled, I failed, I loved, and I tried tried tried. And on the dark days, I learned to serve. Service did not erase the bad things I had to face. But service always changed my point of view. It made the big things feel a little smaller. Service is the most powerful, meaningful way you can bring change. Look for moments to serve. Look for people who might not have the same chances in life you do—that maybe are treated wrong just because they are different. Those people are especially hurting right now. Hug them. Love them. Serve them. Our service will not SUBTRACT the bad. But our efforts will ADD to the good.
YOU: We do not know yet what changes will happen in this country. Some will be good. Some will be bad. Some of these changes will have nothing to do with you. Some of these changes may impact your life. One thing that does not change is you are the youest you that ever youed. Boy or girl, black or white, Muslim or Christian—you can still grow up to be a president. Or a stand-up comedian. Or an accountant. Or a Target Cashier (my daughter’s dream job). Or actually, let’s not worry about what your job will be. Let’s think about what YOU will be. Will you be kind? Will you help others? Will you have courage? I think you will. And those traits are something you can start right now. You do not have to be an adult to make your country a better place. Build up your goodness, so when the time comes for you to have your adult conversations, you will speak with an open mind and listen with an open heart.
Today is Veteran’s Day. Please talk to your teachers, parents, and grandparents about what this day means. Learn about the people who have fought for this country. And know we will keep fighting for this country.
Being an adult does not mean we know everything. But it does mean we have certain responsibilities that are not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to grow and learn and enjoy childhood. You live in a country where you can decide who and what you want to be. Be kind. Be brave. Be clever.
Your fellow citizen and friend,