I think I became an adult during the month of November. Fourteen years ago my son was born and exactly one week later, my father died from complications of early onset Alzheimer’s. And there I was: one foot in the past, the other inexorably pointed toward the future. I mourned the death of my father mightily, but I was also immersed in the new life of my baby boy. Life pulled me forward.
Here in Southern California, there isn’t much of an autumn. In November, there are still leaves on the trees in my yard and I might as easily wear a sundress as a sweater. Despite this, there are still signs of change. The shadows are long. Persimmons bright as jack-o-lanterns ripen on my neighbor’s tree. Flocks of Canada geese make arrowheads in the sky. Change is coming.
Yesterday, on his fourteenth birthday, my boy was still a boy. He kissed me on the lips before going off to the living room to kill video aliens with his friend. I couldn’t help but think of his tiny sneakers with the Velcro straps, of the way he always pipped up, “I do,” instead of “yes.” I couldn’t help but think of the days when he named everything by the sound it made. The beep-beeps and weoo-weoos are now scooters and fire trucks and he longs for a car of his own.
“Why would you want to drive?” I ask.
“So I can go anywhere I want.”
Some days this answer speaks of freedom and other days, escape.
My boy is fourteen. Not quite a man. Not quite a child. Over cereal this morning, he mulled the problem of birthday money. He thought about how to spend it. Whether to save it. He weighed the risks of buyer’s remorse against the buzz of immediate gratification.
“Put it away for a while,” I suggested. “See how you feel in a couple of days.”
“But what if I do the wrong thing?” he asked.
“Then you’ll have more information for next time.”
On the way to school this morning, he was quiet. He chewed the inside of his lip and squinted his blue eyes against the sun.
“I’m worried about the election,” he said. “I’m worried about what might happen tomorrow.”
It’s no secret in our house that the lead up to this year’s election has made me sad and angry and afraid, but it’s also made me hopeful. I tried to explain that to my boy.
“It’s a huge scary world,” I began. “There are things (bad things) over which we have no control. But we do have the power to bring good into the world.”
It’s not my boy’s sole responsibility to fix everything and I don’t want him to feel that kind of pressure. But what I want him to understand, what I think he’s beginning to grasp, is that every little thing we do throughout our day adds up. I asked him to work hard. I encouraged him to ask questions and to be helpful and kind whenever he could.
“Move the neighbor’s trash cans up the drive, pick up candy wrappers at school, hold a door open for someone. The tiniest thing can make a difference.”
I reminded him to take care of himself, too. This is what I learned as a caregiver and a as a mother. It’s what I’ve learned as an adult. I need to take care of myself so that I can respond to others with the same amount of kindness.
“Don’t be so tired and stressed and cranky that all you can do is blow your top,” I said.
Care for yourself. Care for others. Listen to people when they speak. Look up at the sky and the trees. Share what you have. And if you feel anger, find out how you can direct that anger toward positive change.
Tomorrow’s election falls smack in between my son’s birthday and the anniversary of my father’s death. I’m a grown up. I’m choosing a grown up to be our president. I’m choosing the person I want my children to emulate. She’s faced extreme adversity during this campaign and she’s handled herself with dignity, intelligence, kindness and humor. I believe in Hillary. I do. She’s not perfect. She doesn’t have to be. She is human. My vote is for humanity. My vote is for the future.