In September 2015 I learned that I was pregnant
with our first child. My husband and I felt all the feelings: joy, anxiety, hope, fear, love. Nine months is enough time to develop a picture of the person you hope your child will become, but not enough time to understand what it means to introduce a new human to the world. Nine months can also make an incredible difference in a presidential election.
Every day my body changed in subtle but significant ways, and as each month passed, I learned that being pregnant is, in itself, a political act. The bigger I got, the more I attracted attention, the more the world had to say about my being in it, the space I took up. None of this came as a surprise, and yet I felt the need to provide my child with some necessary context. We did not know her gender until the day we met her; a decision we made (okay, I made) to unburden her from undue expectations before entering the world. When I hit 22 weeks, I decided to start writing letters to the baby I called Scrappy. I created an email account for her. Once or twice a week, I’d write to Scrappy, describing the nursery as we set it up, detailing cravings for soup and cookies, and, as the months passed, sharing my excitement for the first woman president of the United States. How wonderful it would be, I wrote in my letters, that in the same year we welcome you, we will be ushering in a new era for women worldwide.
And then I met her: vibrating, loud, joyous, healthy girl. Full of promise, oblivious to the Donald Trumps of the world. Ready to learn, ready to absorb, hungry. She reminded me of someone.
Our first summer was full of small milestones and big news. At a week old she was already craning her neck up at me when we nursed, awake and alert. I cried through the Democratic National Convention, watching Khizr Khan brandish his Constitution, celebrating Secretary Clinton’s acceptance of the nomination.
My weekly emails paralleled her growth with the sprawling, 24-hour-a-day coverage of the election. I wanted her to know that she had been born on the precipice of history; mentally I had not prepared for any other narrative. Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned that there is only so much space in my brain to prepare for the worst. Call it denial, but if I were to allow in all the possible ways my daughter could get hurt, there would be no room for joy, for small miracles, for potential and for promise, for quiet and abundant love. It wasn’t until November 9 that I realized I felt the same way about the election. If you refuse to acknowledge what scares you, if you let in only light, then you can curate a very special version of the world. The version that appears on your social media feed.
It has taken me time to acknowledge and understand this. Since the election, the tone of my messages has had to shift. I hope that by the time she reads my emails, she can see how her mom can be wrong, and how her mom can learn, and how her mom can engage in the political process. I also hope, somewhat selfishly, that someday she’ll write back. Today I share my window to the world, as written to my daughter on November 13, who turned six months a week after Donald Trump was elected president.
November 13, 2016
Subject Line: A different world
From: Your Mama
My scrappy girl:
It is a different world this week. Donald Trump, real estate mogul, reality tv star, alleged child rapist, quote unquote “anti-establishment” “politician,” is in the White House.
This is bad news.
I was quite certain Secretary Clinton would win. She had more than 30 years of experience in public service, focusing on healthcare and family welfare. She would have been–should have been–our first female president.
Oh, how I wanted that for you. And myself. And my mom. And my friends. And the world.
Technically she did win the popular vote. Trump won the electoral vote after spinning a campaign that bred fear and hate and fanned the flames of racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia. He is a violation of all that we value. I hope that you know that.
Last week was difficult to swallow. I sat through a patronizing meeting on Monday and rushed home Tuesday to watch the results roll in. I was so sure we would win.
Who could vote for a man who is going on trial for raping a 13 year old girl? Who wants to make all Muslims “register”? And says he will deport three million Mexicans?
Apparently there are enough people in our country so overrun with fear that they will elect a bigot. While the world feels different to me now, in my gut I know that as a nation we are confronting the gut-churning reality that democracy is a work in progress. We are a work in progress. I must acknowledge our own privilege, our own perspective, as a white family living in California. We have work to do. We must use our voices. Not only do I owe you that, I owe that to my fellow citizens, my friends and colleagues, our family, and myself.
Wednesday I went to work with a heavy heart. It was so hard to focus. It still is. That fear that permeated the election has now taken root in me. I worry about my friends from other countries. I worry about losing marriage equality. I worry that women’s voices will once again be silenced or diminished, that we lose access to healthcare and fail to close the wage gap.
You woke up Wednesday morning positively gleeful. I needed to see your smile, to remember that whatever I do, I do for you. Sometimes I am jealous of your oblivion; hopefully by the time you can look back on your childhood you will have no recollection of that racist president we somehow elected. Hopefully by then you’ll have witnessed a female president. You’ll have your choice of role models. You’ll be friends with Muslims and Jews and Christians and people of all faiths. You won’t remember a time when marriage was defined as between a man and a woman. You won’t care who uses what bathroom.
I have to believe in this vision for the future.
I also want you to know that I will make every effort, from now on, to engage with the political process, and to make your voice heard. Wednesday night I took you to your first protest. You were the youngest one there. I had really been planning to celebrate that night, but when I heard there was a gathering at the library I knew we had to be there. It felt good to take an action, small as it was.
This is just the beginning. Together we will have to learn so much. We have reading to do, and writing. We have calls to make. We have to listen and make ourselves heard.
I love you so much, my girl. That is why we must act. I want you to see a strong woman use her voice. I developed my voice at the feet of my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents. Your opinions and beliefs are important. Don’t let your government tell you otherwise. Let us lead the way with love.
Julia Halprin Jackson’s work has appeared in West Branch Wired, Oracle Fine Arts Review, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, and elsewhere. She is the publicity director for Play On Words, a literary series in San Jose. She has an MA in creative writing from UC Davis.
A Window To Our World began as space for commentary from our growing global community surrounding the events of the 2016 presidential election. As a result, this series now features stories and accounts from our interviewees on how they are changing the current political, social, and environmental climate for the better.