Last night, while I was putting my nine-year-old daughter to bed, she asked the question I’ve been both anticipating and dreading.
“Mama, someone at school told me today that if Donald Trump gets elected, he would make all the Muslims leave the country. Mama, are we going to have to go somewhere? Where are we going to go? I don’t want to go.”
A small trickle of tears rolled down her cheeks – sweet, full cheeks that still belonged to a young girl. I held her close and despite all my practicing for this very moment, I choked. All my rehearsed lines fell to the wayside, and an incoherent string of words flooded out in my desire to immediately assuage my child’s anxiety.
I promised her that Trump would not be elected. My babbling floodgates fully opened, I backtracked and told her that even if he was elected, we had three branches of government– an executive branch, a judicial branch, and a legislative branch—that created a system of checks and balances. Trump wouldn’t be able to put into effect half the things he irresponsibly threw out in his campaign speeches. I regurgitated all the lines I remembered from “Schoolhouse Rock” – except this time it was neither funny nor musical.
She looked at me talking faster and faster about the cumbersome process of passing a bill and graciously interrupted me, “Mama, are you scared?”
I took a deep breath and confessed, “Yes, the things that Trump says are scary, my jaan. But, you don’t have to worry about it. It’s my job – and the job of all of the adults in your life – to make sure you will be okay.”
She looked up at me with a mix of increasing confusion and confidence, a look that any parent of a nine-year-old would recognize, and rested her head on her pillow. I tried again.
“We’ve been really scared before, haven’t we, my love? And, you’re okay, aren’t you? It is my job as your Mama to protect you and I’m going to keep trying my very best to do that.”
“Okay, Mama. I think I’m ready to go to sleep now.”
I tucked her in knowing this conversation wasn’t quite over. Just as I was leaving her room, she called out, “Mama, how come all those things you were talking about with our government didn’t stop Emmett Till from being killed? In school last Friday, we talked about what happened to him…”
As her words trailed off, I took a deep breath. We started the conversation over yet again – this time my breath working for me and not against me. We talked about what it means to live in a world full of uncertainty. We talked about what we are certain of–God. We talked about where God is in all of this, about how God is above us and below us, surrounding us at all times.
We talked about hard work. We talked about how sometimes even with hard work some people still don’t get what they deserve. We talked about why it is so important to think carefully about how we can share the opportunities we are afforded to pull people up who don’t get a chance to speak about the issues that matter to them.
We talked about how my daughter can share things that were on her mind with people she trusted. We talked about how sometimes through listening to people and sharing our own stories, both happy and sad, we might find ways to make things better for each of us.
“Mama? Do you think maybe no one ever taught Donald Trump how to listen to people?”
“I don’t know, jaan. That’s a good question. I don’t think he does a very good job of listening.”
“I don’t want to be like that, Mama.”
“I don’t want to be like that either. Sleep well, my sweet jaan.”
What I didn’t say but I hope my daughter learned from our meandering conversation, and all the conversations we have yet to have, is that listening is in itself an act of doing. If the only thing I will have taught my children is to listen well – to themselves, to each other, to the people no one else wants to listen to, to God, everything will be okay.
Everything will be okay.
Samar Kaukab is an altM columnist and Advisory Board Member.