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My daughter was born the week before Donald Trump was elected. Her entire life can fit inside the timeline of his presidency, and my entire experience as a mother has been defined by bouts of anxiety.
When I was in grade school, the cafeteria had portraits of every U.S. president framed in a line along the cafeteria wall. I still remember most of their faces — not just the heavy hitters like Roosevelt and Lincoln, but also Monroe, Harding, Buchanan (who looked kind of like my principal) and Van Buren (with those incredible muttonchops).
I imagine those portraits are still hanging, and I wonder if children are eating Lunchables with Trump’s portrait overhead. I think about how he’ll be permanently attached to those kids’ memories in the same way Van Buren’s muttonchops come to mind whenever I think about the first time I heard “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
There’s an 8-by-10 photo of Ronald Reagan posing in front of the American flag in my baby book. He was president when I was a baby, and I think the photo was from when he came to my little hometown in East Tennessee in 1985, when I was 5. I remember how long we waited for him to arrive, and how I hunkered down on a blanket with some other kids while a crowd of adults stood around us, like we were in the shade of a tree canopy in a great forest. I don’t remember the content of his speech, but the event is part of my childhood whether I like it or not.
I still haven’t put together a baby book for my daughter Claire, and I feel kind of bad about it. There are things that, as they’re happening, you think, “Surely I’ll never be able to forget this feeling.” But you do, sometimes.
I haven’t forgotten everything, though. I remember putting her in her bassinet the night before the election. I put her in a “The Future Is Female” onesie I’d gotten from a friend in New York, and I wondered what kind of person she’d turn out to be.
How do you record the state of the world in something as precious as your child’s baby book? How do you convince yourself that you haven’t made a huge mistake every time you write, “Today Claire took her first steps, and also Donald Trump is president”? Her life — her sweet, funny, magical life — exists in parallel with a presidential administration that worked to ban citizens of Muslim-majority nations from entering the country. Her time on earth has been marked by events like that administration’s rolling back protections for transgender Americans, and the detention and separation of families at the southern border. But Trump is the president, just like Reagan was when I was growing up in the ’80s, and that will always be a part of my daughter’s childhood.
Maybe it will be less consequential than I fear. Maybe when Claire is grown, Trump will just be a hairstyle we’ll laugh at, the way that I laughed at Van Buren’s whiskers. Maybe we won’t be living like Mad Max because of bad climate change policies or impulsive tweets. Maybe she’ll have all the rights that I’d never considered would be taken from her when I dreamed about having a child. Maybe he won’t kill us all.