By Sara Ackerman
The next day, after you wake at 3:30am Eastern Africa Time to watch states turn red and blue, you first think yes, exactly. Then, huh, that’s interesting. And then, how could we? And when your daughter wakes while you’re dressing, and you cuddle her in the glow of your laptop, your small, black, immigrant girl-child, you say nothing and she is happy in the proximity of a computer screen and your arms.
The next day, you walk to work on shaking legs. You print the morning message on the easel, pour rubber bears into baskets, straighten the bookshelves, and count permission forms in between refreshing the news again, again, again.
The next day, parents bring their kindergartners to your door, painted yellow, taped with paper balloons flying their children’s names, and they say it doesn’t look good over there. And you say no, it doesn’t. And the Ethiopian and Canadian and Kiwi and Dutch and South African and Bosnian moms and dads say let’s hope, and you say it’s over.
The next day, you teach in a haze. You can’t stop coughing in dry spurts and tripping over the curling edges of the reading rug. When the librarian passes you in the hall on the way to the photocopy machine, she says how’s it going and tears spring startled from your eyes. She asks how could this happen, and you say you don’t know.
The next day, while your students eat lunch, you escape into a colleague’s classroom to drown out the noise in your head. You go out the back door to the blacktop playground to the first graders who were yours the year before. They crowd you with their limbs and say look at my scraped elbow, and watch this, and my tooth fell out, and around the neck of the last girl is a plastic tooth with her real tooth of enamel and pulp rattling inside. You ask to see the window in her mouth and it’s not a front tooth so she has to stretch her mouth wide into a smile to show where this thing stronger than steel had simply fallen away.
The next day, there on the playground, where six year olds are for the moment unconcerned with anything past the perimeter of the jungle gym, a pair of navy blue sleeves wrap around your waist. Guess who it is, a voice says muffled into your back. You are supposed to play the game, making up silly names, Foofoo-Falala and Mr. Dinosaur Snuggles, and whipping around with her still holding tight behind you so you never see her face, just her small hands and thin wrists coming out of the blue sleeves. You are supposed to do this until she melts off you into a pile of laughter. But you can’t. The only thing you can play is the frantic loop in your mind of what have we done. You call her name and say you would know that hug anywhere. And you watch her run back across the playground that is covered with foam tiles to protect the children when they fall.
The next day, the afternoon drags in a soft, dull line. You go to a meeting where people are talking but you don’t understand a word, and you sing wash hands for snack, and unstick backpack zippers, and take children to their buses and parents and babysitters. At home, your daughter, your small, black, immigrant girl-child, is waiting.
The next day, when you show her the picture of the man who is to replace her beloved president, she shakes her head and says, no, that’s your president. I have Barack Obama, the brown president. And you tell her, no, the president of the United States is the president of all Americans, and she repeats that no, her president is brown and his name is Obama. The new president is not my president. And she is, in many ways, profoundly, painfully, correct. Because her country has not elected a president for immigrants, for minorities, for females, or for many others. Her country has saddled her with one who believes in building walls and shutting the door behind you. So you nod and say, ok, he’s not your president. You will not say his name.
The next day, you say you’re right, Obama, whose face and voice she knows, as comfortable to her as a blankie, is still her president. And because she can’t yet read, and has only the most glimmering understanding of time, and because you have no TV and are one whole ocean and an entire continent’s width away from this muckiest pit of reality, you do not tell her that January is the expiration date of this promise.
The next day, you let her keep her president. You heat her soup for dinner and squeeze watermelon paste on her toothbrush. You give her cozy pajamas from the drawer, bedtime stories, and a quilt pulled up to her chin. And as you tuck her in, she says tonight she thinks she will dream about a mouse. And you say that you hope you do too.
Sara Ackerman is a writer and a kindergarten teacher. She is a contributing author to What I Didn’t Know: True Stories of Becoming a Teacher.