About a month ago I got a text from home.
“Mom, we need to talk. Now.”
Normally the ensuing phone call involves one brother tattling on another for sneaking a cookie or someone crying because his sister had the audacity to look at him.
But on this occasion it was immediately clear something more serious was at play. The beloved creature on the other end of the line was sobbing and could barely choke out words.
This was a conversation that needed to happen in person.
I anxiously hurried home, grateful (as I nearly always am) to live in a small town where I’m never more than a few minutes’ drive away.
Once home, I found my child tucked away in their room, still distraught. This child had something weighing on them and was certain I wasn’t going to like what they had to say. They had intended to hide it from me but the guilt was too great and they just had to get it over with.
The confession wasn’t unexpected nor was it that terrible. I was granted providential clarity on what to say, and the tears of sorrow transitioned to tears of relief. I wrapped that external piece of my heart in a mama bear hug, not even caring about the snot that streaked across the arm of my sweatshirt (partially because it was my husband’s sweatshirt).
That’s when I noticed the bag by the door.
Sheepishly, my child looked down. “I thought maybe after I told you, you wouldn’t want me to live here anymore.”
As broken as my heart was in that moment, it couldn’t compare to the agony my child must have felt while packing that bag, tucking away a few articles of clothing and some prized possessions in anticipation of having to leave their home and family. And for what? For what amounted to be nothing more than a difference of opinion.
The bag was unpacked immediately and the hugs lasted well into the night. Then and there I resolved that my children would never again think any disagreement could be great enough that I would want them to leave.
Tomorrow is Election Day, but today? Today is my birthday. A pretty significant one, as a matter of fact. It’s a little awkward, you not getting me anything. But just like I do for my husband, I bailed you out by picking out my own present.
Unlike the gift I picked out on behalf of my husband, the gift you’re giving me is inexpensive — free, actually. And it won’t take a lot of effort — in fact, the gift is something you’re not going to do.
Tomorrow (or whenever we know the results of this terrible, awful, no-good election) when you encounter someone upset because their candidate didn’t win, whether it be at the local, state, or national level, you may be tempted to reply something along the lines of “If you don’t like how it is then you should leave.”
Your gift to me is you are never, ever going to say that to another human being again. Online, in person, telepathically, whatever — you’re not going to do it.
That person may not be as sympathetic as an emotionally fragile, hurting child — and yet that’s exactly what they are. They are someone’s child, and they are hurting. Just like a child, they might not express that hurt in terribly constructive or appropriate ways.
My child thought I wouldn’t want them to stay because they saw on the internet an overabundance of evidence that this is exactly how grownups react when people disagree. And far more damning, my child overheard me saying about someone, “If they don’t like it, they should just move to another country.”
Never again, my friends. Never again.
I resolve to do better. I invite you to join in. We can disagree without showing anyone the door. We can squabble and still break bread together. And we can set the example for our children — for the generation who just might actually get it right — that political discord doesn’t have to equal a house divided.
That, or you can get me an air fryer. Totally your call.
Jade Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.