Other People’s Children

Early this morning, around 5 a.m., I crawled in bed with my 4 year-old daughter, curled around her, nestled my nose into her tangled hair, and inhaled as deeply as I could to steady my racing brain. Her body felt so tiny and so big in my arms as my mind wandered back to the same morning four years ago when she was 7 months old and I rocked her, mostly to console myself, her sweatshirt from the previous day still sitting on the changing table next to me with a red “I Voted” sticker on it. That morning, I’d bundled her up and almost floated into our polling place to cast a vote for our first woman President, my baby’s weight in my arms so full of power and promise and perfect timing in her arrival to this world that I could hardly stand it.

And then, well, we know what happened.

Right? Do we know what happened? Do we understand what happened to us, to get us to that point, and more critically to get us to where we are today?

Let me pause to be clear: in my 5 a.m. discontent, there was only a hint of panic that we might eventually find ourselves with the same outcome of that day four years ago. I am still full of guarded hope for how this election will turn out. Emotionally, I’m struggling to hold on to what I intellectually still know: that Tuesday was going to look good for the Donald as day-of voting would favor him while mail-in and early voting would be strong for Joe Biden, yet take longer to count. But I believe that Trump is in the process of being voted out.

What clawed me from sleep this morning was the deafening drumbeat that will surely fill these days of limbo reminding me that we are still facing the most daunting and unacceptable reality: that what got Trump elected in the first place is alive and well regardless of Trump himself.

And my primal, immediate instinct in response to that thought is to coil around my daughters. I now have two, though I feel like I have billions. As after all, don’t we live in a world where there can’t be any such thing as “other people’s children?”

During an election that saw the incumbent’s administration forcibly remove hundreds of children from their parents arms at our borders and hold them in cages, are there mothers who didn’t cry hot tears of helpless rage? Who didn’t feel the crushing weight of those migrant mothers’ heartbreak?

In the year of George Floyd’s murder, are there mothers out there who didn’t hear his dying cry for his own mother and have the immediate impulse to rush to him, to protect him? Didn’t we all feel it and hear the voice of our own child pleading for us, even if you ultimately went on to intellectualize your separation from it? After all, it’s much easier to survive when you can hold onto an idea that allows you to believe that something like that couldn’t happen to your child.

But isn’t there no such thing as other people’s children?

As I wrapped myself around my sleeping daughter, it’s clear to me how white she is. How white I am. How safe we are in the country where both of us were born. How privileged I am for my sleeping children, and to uphold this notion that all mothers view the hurts of the world through a shared lens of how to provide healing and comfort where we see pain and anger.

After all, aren’t all children our children?

I started imagining what I might feel like as a Black mother with my arms curled tightly around a Black daughter. What thoughts would I have? Would my daughter even be here? Gun violence is the leading cause of death of Black children. There are hundreds of Gun Sense candidates on the ballots being counted as we speak. How would I reconcile votes for the candidates who had priorities they deemed more important than my child’s life?

I imagined what I’d feel like if I weren’t holding my daughter, as one of the parents still separated from the over 500 children detained at the border whose parents can’t be found. Would I ever know what happened to her? Would I be watching the polls today, and reconciling that there are mothers voting to keep the man in office who forever broke my family?

As a white mother of two, with my full time job and college degree and Suburban home, I held my daughter and I imagined what it would be like to set aside the other mothers, and their children, and vote for Donald Trump. If the New York Times exit poll predictions are right, 55% of us white women just did that, up from 52% in 2016. (I’m sorry, WHAT? HOW? Ladies…)

My point is this: with or without Trump in office, this means there are mothers out there right now who believe that this is a country for their child but not for every child.

If you’re a white mom who just voted for Trump and you’re justifying that based on your views about taxes, judicial appointments, “career politicians”, or “small government”, you need to reconcile that those are not livable priorities at scale for a nation confronting the systemic inequality that ours is. It’s not a set of priorities that you can uphold while also genuinely believing that there are “no such thing as other people’s children.”

Perhaps you’re a mother who voted for Trump because you believe he’s the anti-abortion candidate. Can you also embrace that the right to life, liberty, and happiness needs to extend to all children, and for longer than a period of nine months? Surely as mothers, we know better than anyone that our work is only beginning with those first little cries that remind us that our sweet baby is also her own person.

Or, you voted for Trump because you hear something from him that makes you feel ok as you are, believing what you believe — even celebrated for the parts of yourself or your experience that make you feel afraid or inferior when you see yourself against the backdrop of a progressive, changing America and wonder about your place in it, unsure if there’s a place at all.

It’s hard to face those fears head on. It’s hard to embrace the failures of the generations of people who came before us and held the power to construct institutions that lead to prosperity for some at the expense and oppression of others. It’s hard to accept responsibility for the mess you didn’t make. It feels better to let someone tell you it’s not your fault, or deny that the mess exists.

But, just like we all tell our kids, we can do hard things. We MUST do hard things.

We are at that point as a nation where the hard things are the only way to make anything good again.

We have to believe, with our actions, that every child deserves to feel whole, and seen, and safe: in our anxious, hopeful arms at 5 a.m., in their classrooms, on a street corner experiencing a mental health crisis, or fleeing from greater evils than they’d ever expect to greet them in America.

All children must be your children, too. That’s how as mothers, we can heal a nation of people who need us more than ever.

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Alissa Ausan Anderson

A person, a man, a woman, a camera, a TV. Or at least two of the above.