If only vacuum cleaners were still the scariest things

Dear President Trump,

I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but I work from home on Fridays (and actually get tons done those days J). This is relevant because there was a get together for a colleague who’s leaving the VA at a venue near the VA, which meant that I had to go down there late yesterday afternoon. Not wanting to take 90 minutes (literally) to go by public transport, I drove, and as I rounded the corner onto the arterial in front of our house I noticed a young boy of about 10 walking along the sidewalk. No biggie, right? Right – except that he was looking up at the side of our house and as he was walking he kept craning his head back as though he was trying to read something. It took me a half-minute to figure out what he was doing, but I am pretty sure he was reading our “NO! To Gun Violence” sign and our “IMPEACH” sign. Seriously, he was lucky he didn’t walk into something, he was so not looking where he was going. It totally warmed my heart.

Of course I don’t know what he felt or thought about the signs or if he was even really looking at them (maybe there was a crow on the roofline doing something interesting). But he seemed pretty intent and as though he wanted to make sure he was parsing them properly. I hope so. I know seeing our signs from outside our house helps steady me and reminds me that we are doing our best to be on the righter (more correct, that is) side of history, but I have no idea whether other people even see them. Except, almost certainly, for this boy.

Then later yesterday evening Laura and I did our weekly grocery shop. I can’t remember whether I’ve told you that for us the weekly grocery shop is “An Event.” We pile the dogs into the car, which they absolutely love, and drive to the semi-fancy store in the next town up where we know we can almost always get fresh tofu and can always get decent chocolate chips. It’s also where we know bits of many of the cashiers’ lives because they tell us stuff. So last night as we were going through the checkout line with a cashier we don’t really know, I noticed that one we do know was limping and looking super tired. She seems to have gotten a promotion and was doing store manager tasks, but she just looked wiped out and could barely muster a half-hearted “hi” in response to our greeting.

It probably seems odd that I’m telling you about a random, unusually tired young woman who is newly limping, but I’m doing so because later when I was trying to fall asleep I started worrying that she won’t have enough energy this Halloween to make her kids the awesome Halloween costumes they are accustomed to. Last year she told us about how her son didn’t know what to be for Halloween and she suggested he pick something he was afraid of (brilliant!) and he chose to be a vacuum cleaner. She showed us a picture of him in his costume and it was seriously over-the-top fantastic. She/they nailed it – her little guy looked just like an upright vacuum cleaner.

As I was nursing my worry that she’s going to be too wiped out to take on anything like that again this Halloween, I started wondering what he would say he’s afraid of this year. What if he says he’s afraid of you? Yuck, but sensible for sure, and it would be a super easy costume to wrangle. But what if it’s someone coming to his school with an assault weapon and killing people? What if it’s climate change? What if it’s something he can’t name? I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of costumes might constructively help him face those fears.

I have no idea what her son might say about his current fears if she were to ask or if he’s yet at an age where he’s consciously tracking such things. I don’t know if the boy walking in front of our house is thinking about impeachment and what that could mean, or about gun violence and the active shooter drills they probably did earlier this week. But kids are smart and they generally know when grown ups are f*cking up, when grown ups are failing them, and right now that is what we are collectively doing.

May we pull our heads out and truly prioritize keeping children safe.
May we shake things up so kids can focus on pursuing happiness, not on keeping perfectly still if a shooter threatens their school or staying away from windows to avoid stray bullets.
May we take care of our planet to support our children’s (and their children’s….) health and well-being.
May we make peace with what we are afraid of and face it together.

Tracy Simpson

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