I talk and think about politics a lot. Let me clarify that for you, when I say ‘a lot,’ I mean, a whole heaping boatful.
Politics is my jam and it has been since I was a young girl. I remember watching the television footage of Nixon’s resignation as a four year old. I got into a verbal sparring match with a second grade classmate who contended she was allowed to cast a vote in the 1976 presidential election when she went into the voting booth with her mom. (Spoiler alert, she didn’t.)
In junior high, I wore a campaign button for Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, even though I lived in the suburbs. And I am a proud former vice president of the College Democrats. Hell, I married a New Englander who was attracted to Chicago for its politics and theater. Politics and political discourse is in my DNA.
That said, I work to check myself when I speak about politics in front of my sons. It is important to me that our sons grow up in an environment where political discussion is as common as putting together a grocery list or having to nag them to pick up their dirty socks. But it is equally important that they not exist in a culture where those who disagree with you politically are seen as the enemy. Which, full disclosure, has been pretty damn challenging this past year.
My goal as their mother is to introduce them to the concept that what happens in Washington, DC and Springfield (our state capital) and in Chicago’s City Council has an impact on them in the day-to-day. How they choose to live their lives will be a political statement. I want them to know that the personal is political and that the political is personal. And, most importantly, that they feel they have the capacity to change their world through participation.
This weekend I got a wake-up call from my eight year old about how today’s politics, both national and global, is impacting him. Trickle down economics is bunk, but trickle down politics is truth, my friends. Our kids are paying attention to what is swirling around them, even when Mom and Dad (or, Mom and Mom or Dad and Dad or Mom or Dad or Grandma or Aunite or Uncle) works hard to help them feel safe and protected.
Excitedly, my son wanted to show me the pictures he drew on the computer.
These drawings tell a story that kind of took my breath away. In “The Clash,” there is a horrible one-eyed green monster who is at the center of an epic battle between light and dark, good and bad, yin and yang. And, mind you, these are my son’s descriptions, not mine. The little green triangles are the people below, the masses, who await the outcome of the battle, but they are standing in formation behind their leader, the green monster.
Atop the monster is the internal battle of light and dark. You can see that yin and yang are no longer part of a single unit, working in tandem, but instead, separated and at cross purposes. They have no more relationship to balance, no need to stay connected. And next to the broken yin and yang are the white and black flying dragons. And, no, I have never allowed my boy to watch GoT. In “The afterworld” — you can see my boy capitalizes about as well as he picks up his dirty socks, he explains that dark has won, evil triumphed over good. The skies are overcast and stormy while the earth burns.
So, yeah, basically, my eight year old is depicting Armageddon. That’s comforting . . .
Despite the alarming nature of my boy’s brightly colored vision of Armageddon, I took a deep breath and tried to listen rather that reveal how much I was freaking the freak out. I got another opportunity to listen as he explained the stories later to my mother-in-law. His tone was one of pride, not fear, so that helped, but his intention was clear — he was exploring what happens when evil wins.
My takeaway is that my boy is paying attention to what is happening in the world around him. Despite our efforts to turn the news radio off when it gets too heavy, or be respectful and not stoke fear when we talk politics around the dinner table, he is listening and absorbing the free flowing fear and worry that is potent in the world these days. Between Twitter tantrums and the growing threat of nuclear war and anti-immigrant fever across the globe, paired with growing nationalist movements and racial tensions and the calvacade of #MeToo stories, not to mention mass shootings that have become simultaneously epidemic and commonplace, being a compassionate, empathic human — the kind so man of us are trying hard to raise, is hard these days.
Our kids know this. Talk to them, but more importantly, listen. Get a sense of what they know and how they are feeling. Do not underestimate their awareness or their capacity to understand politics and its impact on their world. I promise you you will be surprised.
Note: I spoke with my boy this morning, seeking his permission to write about his drawings and story. His response was an immediate and enthusiastic YES. Just know that as his mother, I see his creative product as his now, not mine, and writing about it requires his consent. MTM