Oh gosh. I guess you opened this piece thinking that there would be some pithy antidote here. Like a poorly patched thesis statement about tough conversations. About America the beautiful. E Pluribus Unum and all that. Well, this is awkward.
I got nothing. Right now. Welcome to the drawing board.
My kids are 2 and 4. I did have to explain today why we can’t grab ant piles by the fistful to bring home. I’ll probably have to go over correct usage of a toothbrush (hint guys … the body part it cleans is in the name). I’m safe for tonight while so many who are reading this are not.
I have no idea what I’ll tell my children. Not tonight but keep reading. I have a point. I promise.
I’m a US History teacher. Tonight I’m thinking about my students. My other kids. Tomorrow will be hard.
I spend most of my day thinking about days gone by. History has a gorgeous, cyclical appeal. It’s a like a dancer on a stage. The movements are textbook and learnable, but their reordering makes them look different when you watch them in the audience. Power, money, freedom. Unity, fraction, separation. Around goes the dancer’s skirt. She’ll eventually land in first position. She takes a breath. Again.
In my tender 10-year career, I’ve fielded questions about terrorism, political upending, joyous celebrations, and civil unrest. I take comfort in that most things don’t surprise me because, as I often say in class, history doesn’t really change. And on the high school level, students are often heartbroken at learning some of the darker realities of our shared history. Their middle school bubbles are popped. But I always maintain that throughout United States History, we are “fixers.” Patriots are those that pinpoint the brokenness in our society and work tirelessly to fix it. Some of the work is incomplete, but that’s ok. The stage changes prima ballerinas all the time.
For the first time in my life, I will face my audience without knowing the steps to the dance. I can compare what happened today, January 6th 2021 to the war of 1812, but not really. It’s not good enough. And I’m not sure I totally understand the footwork that led to such a tragedy. Make no mistake – they will hear me say tragedy.
So, I’m spending this night reflecting on how I would explain this day to my children if they were old enough to understand, like my 11th graders are. They want to understand. How do I be a mother and an educator? Is that even appropriate? I’m not sure, but here’s what I came up with:
The actions of a few do not diminish the work of the many.
The photographs of the rioters at the Capitol will be imprinted in my head for a while. The broken glass. The riot gear. The ducking staffers under the formal seats. It’s hard to think of anything else. I cringe. But then I think of the work that has been done in those chambers (whether they be historic or a part of the expansion). Negotiations for the abolishment of slavery against candlelight, the declaration of war against Japan in the wake of Pearl Harbor, heated debates of Civil Rights bills, John Lewis’ booming voice. While the glass may be broken, the chambers still stand.
It is a big deal.
It pains me that I have to say this. But I see it already. It’s in my newsfeed. It’s on the lips of pundits on tv. The gaslighting has begun. Make no mistake – the first domestic storming of the Capitol that forced the heads of our government into lockdown is a big deal. As a teacher, I often fight against teenage paradigms. My class is not a priority when their day’s docket contains friend drama, relationships, and more. I’m used to making a case to the apathetic. My teachers did the same for me. When I tell my kids about January 6th, 2021, I will look them straight in the eye and tell them that it was a big deal. The sooner they understand that, the less likely of another event will happen again.
Your rights are fragile.
Much like the rules of my house – brush your teeth, say sorry, share, use your words when you are frustrated – our Constitution is just a puzzle of words. It holds great meaning only because we make it have meaning. We talk about that document like it’s an iron tether. It’s not. It’s a piece of paper. The Constitution is written on the hearts and desires of Americans. It’ll live a long life beneath that bullet proof glass in the National Archives, but it will live forever as long as we can instill its values in the hearts of our children.
This is still a day of joy.
Because we are a religious Louisiana family, the sixth of January is important. It’s the day observed in the liturgical calendar to mark the arrival of the Wise Men (or Kings/Magi) to the nativity scene. It’s the end of the Christmas season. Christ has come into our world and has revealed himself to all. We spend the day reflecting on a journey to the cradle of Christ that we personally take. And until the holy days preceding Easter, everyday happiness of Christ’s presence on Earth is celebrated. Louisiana, on brand, makes merry of these everyday miracles with Mardi Gras Season. January 6th is not “ruined.” My family will rejoice. Could this be an “epiphany” for the modern American political scene? Perhaps that there is more that unites us than divides us? That we can come together to condemn chaos and do better? I pray for a yearly epiphany to happen in our country now that January 6th holds a very different historical meaning than it did before 2021.
We’ll see how it goes. I’m sorry if you thought you were getting advice for your kids. But my students are my kids after all. Even when they’ve graduated. Even when they’re married. Even when they have a family of their own. My kids are my kids.
We will grow together.