The Treat Bags

For much of my daughters’ early lives I was an at-home mom. Their dad worked overnights and was the low man in seniority, so he didn’t get a lot of nights off. And when he did, he was usually too exhausted to go out and do anything. So our kids rarely had sitters and if they did, those sitters were Grandma or an aunt or a cousin. Our kids grew up with the security of knowing mom and dad would always be home.

Over time I became an elected official and eventually my obligations required that I do some traveling once a month. Usually I was gone one or two days but sometimes I was gone for as long as five nights. With their dad working overnight and me traveling, we had to get an overnight sitter. Again, usually a relative, but still not the usual routine. To kids who were used to having Mom home all the time, that separation caused a lot of anxiety. And for the youngest daughter, she wasn’t old enough to comprehend what it meant that I would be gone two nights or five.

To help the youngest one with her separation anxiety, I began a tradition of putting together small, inexpensive treat bags for each night that I would be away from home. I didn’t spend a lot of money on the contents or the bags. I used the same brown bags we used for school lunches. I bought inexpensive candy or other treats in bulk and divided them up among the bags for each of the four girls for however many nights I’d be gone. Sometimes I bought little puzzles or coloring books to put in the bags. Each bag had one of the girls’ names written on the outside; each bag was stapled shut; and each day’s four bags were clipped together. One bag for each daughter for every night that I was away from home. The girls usually opened their bags after school or at supper. The youngest would watch the pile of treat bags on the kitchen counter grow smaller with each passing day and could quickly discern when I was coming home. When the bags were all gone, she knew we would be reunited the next day. A simple system that eased their anxiety.

I hadn’t thought about those treat bags in years but was reminded of them in recent days as I became aware of separated families, not knowing when, or if, they will be reunited.

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In truth, there are no alternative facts.

I do. Arguably the strongest two-word phrase any of us can ever avow, especially when those words of commitment bind us in marriage. There isn’t any wiggle room that allows for only some days or maybe not when I have a headache or when the other person is being an idiot in the moment. The promise spoken is simply, I do.

Inevitably life is going to come along and throw a challenge in your way. Financial crisis. Medical crisis. Teenager crisis, especially when hormones are involved. Car trouble. Computer trouble. None of it is fun or pretty and for the most part we struggle through and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and your vows are intact and you can honestly say your marriage is stronger for having gone through the experience. And the make-up sex is great.

There’s a funny/not funny thing about life. You think you’ve gone through the worst experience of your life, you survived it (eek, just barely), and you take a breath and figure “I got this.” Until.

Along comes Trump. All those months he was campaigning I watched in disbelief when no one, including my husband, called out Trump when he mocked a disabled reporter, lied about history, made impossible promises, and bullied anyone who dared to challenge him. In those early days my husband laughed when I brought up my concerns and told me these things people were saying about Trump were all exaggerations or twisted words. Even when faced with video recordings of the man professing to grab women by the….  My husband asked me, “What happened to your sense of humor? Why can’t you laugh at a joke anymore? Don’t take things so serious.”

I found myself changing in ways I wasn’t proud of. I grew quiet. I was careful who I spoke to. I passed judgment on anyone who was willing to turn a blind eye to Trump and his antics. Pulling on my political beliefs and my limited knowledge of history, I told myself this too shall pass. There’s no way America will elect this man. But America did. Or maybe not.

My husband is a lawyer and lawyers deal in facts. Circumstantial evidence is not fact. Video and audio recordings can be altered. Photographs are even easier to edit. Women lie. But then, so do men and Trump does it every day of his life, often many times a day, and often in public. Direct evidence is the opposite of circumstantial; it is truth. There is no gray matter in truth. It’s all black and white. And for the first time in our married life my husband came to believe that everything is circumstantial; there is no truth unless you see it firsthand. Watching Trump speaking live at an event on the TV is not truth because that’s not firsthand. The news media can doctor the video. Soundbites after the event are definitely not truth even if they are an exact duplication of what you witnessed live, in the moment, on TV. And what about those exaggerations and “proven” lies? Alternative facts.

The problem for me is that I am an editor and I’m trained to look for truth. Some of the companies I’ve worked for even referred to the original or the source document as the “truth document”. In truth there are no alternative facts. There is no gray matter. It’s all black and white.

The struggle becomes real when a lawyer and an editor, both trained to see things only in black and white, are faced with the fact that one of them no longer can see black and white. For that person everything is gray. In fact, even the gray is being pushed out by all the colors. But it’s a weird canvas built on prejudice, bigotry, racism, misogyny, elitism. For my husband, all these colors are floating around in his world that he’s willing to embrace but at the same time he cannot and will not embrace people of color or those with disabilities or those with a lesser education. It is as if these people are circumstantial, alternatives, less than, not truth. And through this experience I’ve come to understand I married a privileged white man.

In talking with a friend, she was persuading me to look at the situation differently. Just because my husband supports Trump, that doesn’t necessarily mean my husband is racist or a misogynist. I have a problem with that because there’s guilt by association. For example, if someone helps another rob a bank, doesn’t that make both people thieves? My husband isn’t “aiding and abetting” Trump but my husband supports Republican dogma. Does a person expressing support for someone who is doing racist or other bad things make the person guilty of those things? No, but it does provide evidence that the person is those things. My husband voted for Trump, knowing Trump had issues with respecting women and knowing Trump had generalized Mexicans as rapists, not to mention all the protocol Trump tossed to the wind such as releasing tax statements. To me it’s the same thing as if my husband were to hand car keys to an intoxicated friend. Down the road when the crash happens and someone is injured or killed, my husband would be complicit in that crime. If you were beaten by a person while his friends cheered him on, would you say those friends would never do such a thing themselves?

“I do.” Two simple words with no wiggle room to add any others. They are the foundation upon which all our burdens and challenges are added. I pray they are strong enough to withstand this moment of babies being taken from their mothers and placed in cages, of children barely out of diapers shuttled a thousand miles away from parents they may never see again. Honestly, I’m on my knees praying those two simple words can hold us together.