I woke up Friday morning and realized my high-school-aged daughter had slept through her alarm. Her high school offers tremendous opportunities for academic and extra-curricular rigor, but if she wants to be a member of the honors society (a prerequisite for her preferred college admissions), she also has to do community service and show some proof of outside-of-school leadership. Thursday, she went to school all day, helped teach at her religious school, and then attended a meeting of a task force at our synagogue, returning home at 8:30pm to begin her homework. Educational policy has set this system up for kids like my daughter, a hamster wheel of achievement that burns kids out by the end of their senior year. Politics made her exhausted today.
When I came downstairs Friday morning, my younger daughter sat at the kitchen counter watching YouTube videos and eating breakfast. Though she seems healthy now, the years of worrying about her growth curve make my furtive glances at her food choices an instinct. I note the volume and count the calories in my head, inventory her planned activity for the day, and check myself; she’s fine. A part of her history stems from misdiagnosis her doctors made and for which they never apologized, a reality that I suspect comes from their fear of lawsuit. That misdiagnosis will stay on her medical chart, making her vulnerable forever to the caprices of health care legislation. My 11-year-old may be doomed to a life of wildly overpriced health insurance. Politics will someday make her — or keep her — sick.
As I kissed my younger daughter goodbye at the door, I realized that I fear very little for her as she walks to school. She’s careful at the two traffic lights she needs to navigate, and she walks with two friends who all watch out for each other. Some of her classmates, however, are in a different situation altogether. Living as we do in an ethnically diverse community, I read stories regularly about the dangers her friends face simply by existing with dark skin. I see these groups of children walking to school with their own friends, just like my daughter does, and they arouse suspicion near the gas station where they go to buy potato chips or the playgrounds where they gather after school. My daughter passes through, invisible. Yesterday, I read about our local police handcuffing all black men in an area where someone had witnessed a robbery. The only common denominator between the men in cuffs and the perpetrator of the crime was their skin color. As Washington politicians design law enforcement programs and regulations, I watch my daughter walk to school and realize that politics will someday jail her friends.
After my younger daughter left for school, I drove my older daughter to her high school. All our local schools have issued official statements declaring themselves sanctuary schools. Without a doubt, some of the hardworking students with whom my older daughter shares biology labs, theatre stages, lunchrooms and hallways are here without documentation. Some, she learned in eighth grade through a special partnership with the ESL classroom, came from war-torn, violent regions of the world. They told their stories from under hijab or above donated sneakers, their eyes looking at the floor or the desk. I see them now on her Instagram feed — learning about the Constitution or Starbucks, laughing at the same teachers, studying for the same tests. I worry about the chances that someday, politics will raid her school and take away her classmates.
I think about what we’ll have for dinner tonight. Will I attempt picaditas, the cornmeal-based puffs of dough I learned to make from our friends from Mexico? Will we go to the local Ethiopian restaurant for injera bread and the sweet stewed cabbage I love? Will I quickly stew chickpeas and potatoes in a tomato sauce for Indian-spiced aloo chana, or will we order Thai food takeout? Who will make and share these foods if politics tells us what’s really American?
My younger daughter sang in her synagogue youth choir Friday night because she learned to sing in public school; because we’re free to practice a religion not shared by our founding fathers; because she got the health care she needed and she didn’t die; because we have enough money for a car to get to synagogue thanks to my right to work; because our streets are paved; because this country let our ancestors in from pogrom-spoiled Russia; because everything we have is held loosely in the hands of a government that could take it all away in a heartbeat. Politics holds our lifestyle in its hands.
I don’t want to write about politics, but it hits every single moment of my life. The news I watch and read sets all the numbers in my budget for school and health care, recalibrates our plans for our children’s higher education, and foretells which of our friends will need our extra-vigilant attention.
I don’t want to write about politics, but the second wave of feminism gave us that truism: “the personal is political.” As politicians dictate what happens to my body and my daughter’s bodies, what my children learn in school, how my friends can be treated by the police, and what qualifies us for the rights we should have simply by taking up space on earth, I realize that everything I write is political.
It’s all politics.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi from FindingNinee.com. This week’s sentence is “I don’t want to write about…”