Written by Joanna Theiss, AoCC Twitter Team Captain; Part of a series of inspiring articles from our team to encourage and help you persevere.
It’s hard not to see the worst
I am a pessimist. At my lowest moments, I see a world where the divisions between people are wide and getting wider, and that any progress we have made is slipping irretrievably away. My daughter Nola, who is three and a half, does not live in that world.
Nola’s world is full of brave, kind people
Nola’s world is inhabited by people who are brave, kind, and gentle, who live their dreams, and whose default setting is love. Nola wears a pastel pink t-shirt featuring a drawing of Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, smiling in front of a backdrop of stars. Nola watches Brave, in which the hero, Merida, wins an archery competition by not only hitting the bulls eye, but splitting her opponent’s arrow right down the middle. Nola plays with an eight-inch-tall figurine of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who, in Nola’s squeaky voice, lectures Nola’s collection of Calico Critters in their cardboard-box school.
In Nola’s world, bedtime stories are written by yet another female Supreme Court Justice, who tells the stories of children of differing abilities in the book Just Ask. Imagine that: a world where Sonia Sotomayor sends you off to sleep with gentle reassurances about how nothing can keep you back.
The reality of history
Like other parents living in this moment, my husband and I pair these stories with their messy histories, including the obstacles that threatened the goals and dreams of people like Mae Jemison, girls with exceptional skills like the fictional Merida, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We explain that, back when Jemison was in college, some of her professors ignored her questions because they did not think that a black woman could be a scientist. We discuss how prejudice motivates the men’s responses to Merida’s athletic ability in Brave. We talk about the discrimination that Justice Ginsburg faced before she reached the bench.
I don’t know how much of that history sinks in. But if it does, Nola likely treats it as more evidence of progress: that bad stuff happened “back then,” and now, things are better.
Choosing to create that better future
Unlike Nola, I have thirty-seven years of information that tells me that the real world is not her world. But I’m not so far gone that I can’t want it to be so. I want her innate cheerfulness about her fellow human beings, reinforced by the people—celebrities, modern Disney princesses, and grandmas—that surround her. I want to believe that, however unfair things seem right now, soon enough, right now will be “back then,” and things will be better.
If I’m going to be the rare adult to live on sunny Planet Nola, I have a difficult quest. I cannot allow my hard-won cynicism to imprison me. I must contribute to the efforts of people like Nola who believe that better is possible, and who are remaking the ugly, unfair, and violent world I have been living in. I must speak up when I see injustice, thank people for the good they do, strap on my marching shoes and peacefully protest.
I must do these things because they are prerequisites for entrance into Nola’s world. I am not there yet, but I will keep at it until I’m a little closer. Luckily, I have a good guide.