A few days after United States voters elected a new president and America’s first female vice president, I sat on a stool at the counter in my daughter’s kitchen, chopping with my granddaughter.
Her mother was working up a beautiful breakfast frittata, and Sis and I were helping with prep. Helping is a prioritized objective of daily life for Sis at age seven. If something is happening, pretty much anything, really, she wants in there with everyone else, her hands on it, in it, or near it. Caution slowed my response when she asked if she could help slice the slippery mushrooms, but I should have known my wise daughter was already prepared for such contingencies. A veteran strategist of untold “helping” engagements with this energetic child, she whipped out a special plastic safety knife, placed it in the palm of that eager young hand, and we were off.
I crave conversation with my grandchildren on the rare opportunities one can claim their full attention. So, I struck up a chat about the first thing that came to mind as we continued our chopping duet. For all the incessant dialogue, the mind-numbing controversy around this vital democratic process that had just occurred, the spotlight seemed to miss one historic element of the results.
Did you know, I asked Sis, as the pile of bisected mushrooms grew slowly, that the next Vice President of the United States is going to be a woman?
This query stopped the kid knife in mid-air for a moment. She turned to face me, inhaling a sharp breath of excitement and widening the blue eyes to the size of breakfast biscuits. “I know! Mommy told me!” Mere words could not contain this reply, apparently, so she punctuated her answer with a quick bunny hop.
In the long-ago, far-away world where I grew up, politics, controversy, and social change were not the topics of breakfast-preparation conversations. In spite of forward-thinking actions of key individuals closest to me in the world, polite people in those times often believed those subjects belonged elsewhere. Looking back on that, I wonder—where was that place, exactly? Where did those discussions belong, if not at home, among people who loved and trusted one another? How did the idea take root that examining our roles in the forces and opportunities of change was somehow distasteful?
However that may have evolved, when you combine that history with a long-held parenting tenet that beyond certain parameters you cannot tell children what to believe or do, I was stumped. I started this conversation, but what to say next to the shorter member of the mushroom-chopping duo?
In a year when we celebrated the centennial of women’s suffrage, when women ascended to heights previously unimagined like winning the vice presidency and managing baseball teams and kicking in college football games, when all these milestones were juxtaposed against our nation in tumult over race, equality, the very foundations of our democracy, what were the right thoughts to offer to a 7-year-old girl about an election? My own experiences on the erratic but steady progress of women in the span of my adulthood? My father’s inherent belief in the wisdom and capability of women, a man who taught his daughters to run a lawn mower, negotiate a job application, balance a bank account back in the ancient days when many females still weren’t schooled to navigate such things? How far is the leap, still, for women to gain confidence to reach their aspirations, no matter how lofty?
Maybe it’s one-hop high. Or maybe two.
I’m really excited about our new vice president, was all I could manage, nodding and making eye contact, unsure if it was the time to say aloud all the things in my heart: You could do that, you know. You can be anything you want to be, with your energy and natural curiosity and love of people. Some people may make it hard for you, but you have what it takes to get past all that. I can’t wait to see what you do. I can’t even imagine it, actually.
Sis returned a conspiratorial, confirming nod and executed a second act of levitation to conclude her thoughts. It was time for the mushrooms to go in the pan, and for breakfast to commence. So, I let it go, counting two hops for hope as a promising opening for a conversation that will continue on another day.