My daughter and I were talking about the past 12 months, and we agreed (AGREED!) we need a better year come New Year’s.
“Oh, my God. This year totally sucked. I HATE it,” she said as we ate breakfast.
I couldn’t disagree. The year did suck in many ways. My family and I watched with sinking hearts as the political landscape was fractured with volcanic eruptions we never saw coming. The level of public discourse seemed to sink to subterranean levels. People in this country were actually arguing about whether black lives matter. News stories about shootings started to feel commonplace. David Bowie and Prince died.
Still, I wasn’t sure how to respond.
I’d been pretty depressed myself for the last several months. Even though I wanted 2017 to be a better year, I didn’t want to enable my daughter’s own glass-half-empty perspective. (Which she definitely gets from me.)
“Well,” I said semi-brightly, “there were some challenging parts of the year, for sure. But it wasn’t all bad, right? I mean, some good things happened.”
She lowered her half-eaten toast to her plate and gave me her patented one-eyebrow-raise. “Really? Like what, exactly?”
Shit. I should’ve known she’d call my bluff. I tried to think quickly about what was good about this year. I’d read that unemployment was down. Homophobia was on the decline in several parts of the country. Gilmore Girls was back.
But before any of that occurred to me, I decided to swing for the fences.
“Well … I mean, it was a pretty exciting year in politics, right? This was the first time you started really watching the news, and it was interesting. Plus, a woman came very close to being the president. I mean, that idea alone is pretty cool.”
“The news was awful and depressing. And hello? Trump.“
“I know. But –“
“TRUMP, Dad. He’s going to be the PRESIDENT. He’s sexist and he’s racist and he’s a hypocrite and totally selfish and mean.”
“Well, you know, there have been other presidents who people were wary of at first who turned out to be not so ba–“
“WHAT are you doing? Are you defending Trump?”
I sighed. “Of course not.”
“It’s like, 2016 was totally historic in a totally BAD way because of the election.”
“The rest of the world is going to think we’re idiots because of him.”
“And people who voted for him totally ignored things like global warming.”
“And civil rights for people.”
“And sexism is totally everywhere.”
“And also my math teacher hates me.”
“So tell me what was so great about 2016.”
We can crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads OR we can get active and own the new year. I don’t care who the president is. We’re still in charge of doing the right thing.
Truly, I didn’t know what to say. I myself have been walking around feeling like I couldn’t wait for this year to end fast enough. Some of the most important issues we face today — global warming, poor education, race-based violence, the end of civilized discourse in politics, the threat to fundamental equality, the protection of the lower and middle classes — now seem to be in the crosshairs as we head into the new year.
And between you and me, I’m also not a huge fan of my daughter’s math teacher.
“Kiddo,” I said slowly, “you’re not wrong. I sort of feel like 2016 sucked, too.”
“I told you. Everything is totally shitty.”
“Well, no. That’s not true. Not everything is shitty.”
“Oh, yeah? Name one thing that’s not shitty about 2016. I dare you.”
“I got one. My family has been healthy and safe all year.”
She frowned. “That doesn’t count.”
“Because it’s a cop-out. We should be happy and grateful about stuff like that every year.”
“Hmm. Then I guess you’re not going to like my second one about how we had food to eat and a roof over our heads for all the year, too.”
She raised her eyebrow at me again. “Dad. I’m not saying we should forget about stuff like that, and you know it. But just admit that this year was bad.”
Time to choose a new direction.
“Listen,” I said firmly. “I know what you mean about this being a rough year. I feel it, too. But you know what we have to do to feel better, right?”
“Crawl into bed and hide?”
“If we want to get the demons out, we just have to make sure that this next year. KICKS. ASS.”
“You know how. Do you want to protect the rights of other people?”
“Then let’s join the Human Rights Campaign. Let’s look for equality demonstrations where we can make a statement. Do you want to make sure people without money are still cared for, regardless of what Trump does or doesn’t do?”
“Then let’s get ourselves over to Goodwill and donate some stuff. And there are two homeless shelters in town that need volunteers all the time. Do you want to make sure people of all colors receive fair treatment and don’t get targeted by racist jerks?” I heard my own voice rising.
“Then if you see someone at school being bullied, STAND UP and say something. Tell a teacher, and be loud about it. Kid, if this year pissed us off, then we have to do something to put it in its grave and nail the coffin shut. I totally get the need to complain and gripe about stuff, believe me. But if that’s all we do, then the new year will be just as bad as the past one, it’s our own fault. We can crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads OR we can get active and own 2017. I don’t care who the president is. We’re still in charge of doing the right thing. And remember: in four years, you’re going to be old enough to vote. So start getting informed now, and be ready.”
She looked me in the eye. “Want to hear something you never get to hear me say?”
“Lay it on me, Offspring.”
And me without a recording device handy.
I smiled at my kid, who has always been passionate about justice, and about equality, even on her most pessimistic day. “Damn right, I’m right. So let’s make a list of what we’re going to do to make a better year in 2017 for everyone.”
“My dad, the Human Bumper Sticker. But yeah. I’m in.”
And that’s how we’ll be kicking the past 12 months to the curb here at our house. See you in the new, better year, folks.
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