Dear children—our three beautiful, hilarious, soulful, curious, intelligent children,
And my 113 students,
And my neighbors’ kids,
And our kids’ friends,
And our friends’ kids,
And so on,
So, OK: we’ll soon have a president who a lot of us have trouble respecting. He’s been mean to a LOT of people, and we’re not really sure how he’s going to govern. He hasn’t been very clear about that, and just a little while ago, he seemed to have very different opinions than the ones he campaigned with.
But last week, I saw that you were sad, a lot of you were sad, and your parents and fellow teachers were sad. Friday morning, I had every intention of doing some sit-ups at the gym when a friend who is deep in grief sat with me. We didn’t stretch or exercise; we talked and expressed our disbelief. We cried a little a hugged and I really tried to look for some silver linings to comfort her.
But I didn’t need to look very far. While the next four years may be hard, there are some things I want you to ALWAYS remember:
1. Recognize kindness. Smile and say, “That was nice of you,” when you see someone doing something she or he didn’t have to. Maybe it was a kid who helped another kid out at lunch in school; maybe it was an adult in the grocery store. When you say, “That was nice of you,” to someone, she or he is more likely to be kind again, and so is the person who was helped.
2. Be a source of support. You do this already without knowing it sometimes, because you guys are just AWESOME kids. (The adults in your life are so, so lucky.) If someone’s having a bad day, tell him or her your best joke. Or your worst joke—sometimes that works better. A pat on the back, a hug, a hand to hold. Draw a picture for him or her, sign it “from your friend.” Maybe take a walk together, or do your funky-style yoga, or have an impromptu dance party, even if you have to sing the music yourselves.
3. Spread joy. You already do this, too, sometimes. Being positive can help other people be positive. Point out the beauty around you: bright yellow leaves against a super-blue sky; share that weird note you got from the tooth fairy that looks so distinctly like your mom’s handwriting. Play ha-ha at recess, or if you don’t get recess, grab your friend and go outside.
4. Be inclusive. See that kid sitting at lunch with no one to talk to? Yup: you’re on. It’s all you. So what if his or her English isn’t that good yet—take out your phone and find a funny YouTube video to watch together. Talk about music, which, thankfully, is really the international language. Someone who may not be able to use his or her legs to run probably has a damn fine throwing arm: have a pitching contest. Figure it out, but make everyone feel like someone besides their mom gives a damn about them.
5. Listen to people; try to be empathetic. Even the ones you disagree with. I mean it: I know you don’t like to do this sometimes, especially when what you hear is NOT what you want to hear. Do your best to breathe, open your ears, open your mind, THINK, and then speak. Or don’t. Can you see something from someone else’s point of view? If things get hostile, it may be best to kindly say, “Let’s talk about this when we can both be calm,” or, “I don’t like the way this conversation feels, can we try again another time?” Also, read, read, read: Make sure if you’re going to engage with someone contentious, or just of another mind, that you know your facts.
6. Make art. Especially when you’re mad, frustrated, disgusted. It doesn’t matter if you draw stick figures: That’s why there’s all sorts of art to make. Write. Rock out on your ukulele and sing. If your art has something important to say, share it with your teachers and your parents. We will listen. We will always listen. (Sometimes, good art has a way of changing how people see the world.)
7. Speak up when you see something wrong. Bullies are everywhere, even where we cannot see them or don’t know their names. They’re on social media, they’re on television, they’re in the hallways at school. They don’t expect you to call them out, and when you do, make sure an adult knows what’s going on. You can always tell us and we will make absolutely sure that those who are mistreating others learn a lesson. And if they don’t learn, well, we will protect you from them. Your mom/teacher is just learning how to become a social activist in her 40s, and I hope to impart a spirit of speaking out in you, too.
8. Be proud of who you are. You come from good people. Do not hide your true self from the world because you’re afraid: When we stand up for who we are, and we stand together, we stand strong. It doesn’t matter how “different” you think you are: We are here to support you. We love you. We love you. We love you. No matter what.
9. Do good.Be charitable with your time and your attention, especially when it comes to people who really need your help. We will help you find the opportunities to do good around you, whether you’re helping out your community or people half a world away. Your parents and teachers will be sure to incorporate lessons about charity and advocacy in your education—later, it will be up to you to continue what you once began.
10. Remember that there is beauty in the most unexpected places. Don’t forget to look up, look around you. We will be there to remind you that while the world has seen some ugly, vile times, we have survived, and we will continue to survive.
With all my love,
(Monica, your neighbor, friend, and local social activist)