A few weeks ago, the Tooth Fairy forgot to visit overnight. When my 7-year-old woke in the morning, she found her tiny tooth, barely bigger than a sesame seed, still resting inside the small wooden box where she’d left it on the windowsill.
This dashed expectation led to a messy conversation as she grilled me about the missed pickup, demanding to know if the Tooth Fairy was real. “Are you the Tooth Fairy?” she asked repeatedly, her voice cracking. I parent-panicked. I stammered. I stalled for time by running down the stairs and desperately mouthing to my husband, “What do I do?”
My little one is at an age where burgeoning skepticism hovers just behind belief, and parents are the gatekeepers between these two opposing forces. Deliver seamlessly and everything’s good. Fail to execute flawlessly and you’re suddenly covered in flop sweat at 6 a.m., asking a second-grader existential questions like, “Do you want Santa to be real?”
As she cried that morning, I realized that her disappointment lay not in the fact that that there wasn’t really a buzzing nymph flying in the window and hauling off her tooth in exchange for a dollar. It was the fact that I played the Tooth Fairy, and I hadn’t delivered for her.
At 1 a.m. this morning I got home from the office. As I readied for bed and sent off one last round of emails, it became increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton was going to lose. The 45th president of the United States would not be a woman. An effort stretching back more than a year — as many as nine years for some of my colleagues and friends — was going to come up short in wrenchingly abrupt fashion.
Exhausted and defeated, I crawled into bed with my daughter, curling myself around her. The tears came instantly. Not the tears of elation and relief I’d predicted yesterday, but racking sobs of loss and bitter frustration. When she woke up, I would need to explain that, once again, I hadn’t delivered.
For more than a year marked by long days in Washington, travel to Iowa, to Philadelphia, to Iowa again, and weekends knocking doors in Virginia, she’d given up time with me because this is what Mama and the people she worked with did to get the first woman president elected. At dinner, my husband would explain some of the historical context to her, to ensure she understood what we were working for as a kind of family team.
And she’d bought in. We read Grace For President and she copied the pictures on her own sheets of paper, in full color. Unprompted, she made a poster that said “Hillary Clinton for President” just for fun one afternoon. She borrowed my Hillary T-shirts, her skinny arms dangling from oversized sleeves until finally her own arrived in the mail Saturday, just in time for a celebration that would never happen.
This morning, she woke at 5:30, flipped over, and asked me who won. Expectant. Hopeful. An excited squeal loaded and ready in the tank. “Honey,” I said, pulling her closer for what I knew was coming. I told her who won. Immediate tears. Her voice warbled in that angry, childishly desperate way and she said his name in disbelief, as a question.
She asked if we could move to Canada, which neither my husband nor I had ever suggested. It was an idea that must have floated into our house from the jittery lunch tables of her elementary school, as had worried pronouncements about which of her classmates would have to leave America if Hillary didn’t win.
Her body burrowed into mine and she continued crying quietly in the pre-dawn darkness of the bedroom. Just 24 hours earlier she’d run into the same room and woken me up by announcing, “Happy Election Day!” Finally, it was the day we were going to get the first woman president Mama had promised was coming.
I’d allowed myself in recent months to share a hefty dose of my excitement with her. We’d talked about what this would mean for girls her age, what it meant for her grandma and great-grandma. That the world was changing and we would make history together.
Until we didn’t.
Now it was morning and I hadn’t delivered. There was no woman president. There was a man who scared her and said mean things about her friends. I’d sold her a bill of goods and as she lay there crying I was nauseated. She wasn’t upset with American voters. She wasn’t upset with pollsters. She was upset that her mother had told her something would happen — something big and important and exciting — and then it didn’t.
Today hurt for a great many people in a great many places, including in a house waking up to another day with an unfulfilled promise.