The past year. And Charlottesville.

My son Remy’s due date coincided with the 2016 election. During the months leading up to the election, I was confident that he would be born at the close of one historic presidency and on the brink of another.  The polls and the media steered us toward a singular narrative, that Hillary would win. But for good measure, I applied for absentee voting and cast my ballot through the mail two weeks prior as the baby kicked but wasn’t ready to be born. He was finally ready three days later after his due date, on November 7th. Though I was sure about Hillary I was unsure what his name would be, so I waited a day to tell the social worker what to put on his birth certificate. On that day, on Election day, I began to learn how to be a mom. At night, in a cramped and dim hospital room with buzzing fluorescent lights, I watched the tv as it told me the news that left me in total disbelief. I’d been sleeping on and off, waking when he woke, wanting mostly to ogle over this amazing new creature but also stunned at the results.

Yes, the worst possible outcome happened. Donald Trump became our president. It didn’t seem real, it couldn’t be real. When I recounted this story to friends and family later, I told them that it must have felt unreal because I was still feeling the effects of the morphine from surgery. But no, they told me. All this felt surreal to them, too. This would be one of those times in your life when you remembered where you were when you heard the news. So I turned off the TV. I disabled all the notifications from my news apps and I shut down my laptop. In the coming weeks, I would even let my weekend newspaper delivery pile up in the vestibule of my apartment building. And then I tried to sleep as Remy slept. I took my maternity leave in the fullest sense, not just from work but from the world.

I became a mom, and for the first time in a long time, news of the world didn’t matter anymore. I was learning to hold Remy’s head up and to change a diaper without ruining the changing table. I watched him obsessively throughout the day, and I felt my heart expand when he opened his eyes for the first time. I fumbled through feeding him without experiencing pain. My heart and mind and elbows and toes, truly all of me, were too busy falling in love with my son to track the immediate aftermath of the election.

When I reluctantly returned to work, I reluctantly enabled my news notifications and reluctantly picked up the weekend paper from my vestibule. I reasoned, “I’m going back out there, into the world, and I need to return to being informed.”

But it was hard, so hard. I cared a little less about everything else, I believed, because I cared so much for my son. It was probably also because the events were so dizzying that they felt that they came from a dystopian storyline. For a while, it felt okay to retreat from that reality. So for these past nine months, I would check my news feed, shake my head, but then turn to give a bath or a hug.

But week after week, Donald Trump, and the fearmongering that ushered him to power, kept happening. The events are too numerous to keep track, but I’m sure some of them are seared onto your mind in the same way they are seared into mine. With each new event, it seemed that the world kept tipping, tipping, tipping toward hatred. And now, Charlottesville.

It’s been nine months since I had Remy and only now am I beginning to feel like it isn’t enough to keep retreating. By retreating, I made a choice to care for my son over asserting my voice, to complain passively in my own corner of the world. But now, Charlottesville. With these events, I can see clearly that we’re living in times when not one of us can afford to stay silent. I can’t stand by and watch our moral fabric unravel while others who feel emboldened by today’s hateful rhetoric speak loudly and collectively for their causes.

I can also see that caring for my son and asserting my voice are not exclusive. I want him to be shrouded by so much love, respect, and dignity—first from me but also from the world—that he has no choice but to return all of that back out into the world. For that matter, that’s how I hope to extend myself in my all interactions, big and small. It’s not enough for me to confer with young folks about their reading life without asking them how their choices and habits are shaping their consciousness as readers and as people in the world. When I give teachers feedback or coach them in planning lessons, I must also ask, how do these activities–and the way that you communicate these activities– engage kids critically and with love?

I don’t know what reengaging with my voice will always look like and sound like, but I know that I’m ready to try. After all, what choice do I have? The events in Charlottesville reminded me that fighting back with love is necessary and really the only way forward.

Author: Chantal Francois

loving, teaching, writing, reading, cooking. Author of Catching Up on Conventions: Grammar Lessons for Middle School Writers

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