What Elmo Can Teach Us About Dealing with Donald Trump

Photo: Photos of Donald Trump and Elmo side-by-side; text: What Elmo Can Teach Us About Dealing with Donald Trump

Of all of the think pieces I’ve read on dealing with Donald Trump’s presidency, there is one small, furry voice that we haven’t heard from: Elmo.

What on earth would innocent Elmo have anything to do with our soon-to-be President, who brags about groping women and lies through his teeth? He’s actually dealt with Trump before – or at least a puppet version of him. In a Sesame Street parody of the Apprentice back in 2005, Elmo is a contestant in a contest to be Donald Grump’s assistant. As the other Grouches (including Oscar) say, “Donald Grump has all the garbage!”

All of us looking to get through the next four years with our sanity intact can learn from what Elmo does in the sketch:

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How Parents Can Help Love Trump Hate


The election of Donald Trump for president has unearthed a whole spectrum of reactions. While some people are triumphant, many of us are frustrated, sad, angry, and exhausted – including me. Trump’s future policies are likely to be disastrous for climate justice, immigrants, people of color, LBGT people, religious minorities, poor people, and disabled people. Even though Trump hasn’t taken office yet, there have been numerous reports of people emboldened by his rhetoric who are targeting and harassing vulnerable people.

But as Valarie Kaur wrote after the Charleston shooting, “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organize.” Now, it’s metaphorically, if not literally, tomorrow. It’s time to pick ourselves up and take action.

While it can be very hard to find time, energy and money to spare as a parent, here are some constructive things that we can do in response:

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Why I’m Thankful for Labor Day as a Mom

Why I'm Thankful for Labor Day as a Mom2

I’m thankful for Labor Day and the people who made it possible – both as a worker and a mom. But we still have so much more to do.

I’m thankful I have weekends off so I can spend them with my husband and kids. I already feel like this time is so stretched; I can’t imagine having even less. But before 1937 and the work of labor unions, there was no standard 40 hour workweek. Even now, there are moms who have to work two jobs just to get by, meaning they don’t get those precious hours.

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How I’ve Confronted My Own Racism

How I've Confronted My Own Racism. The first step in dismantling racism is for white people to look inward - here's how I've tried to do it myself. (Words below: Black Lives Matter)

Trigger Warning: Racism, police violence

“I’m here mommy, don’t worry.”

One of a parent’s greatest fears is that their child could experience something so traumatizing it would scar them for life. Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, the fiancé of Philando Castile, experienced that last week. She watched her fiancé bleed out in front of her while her four-year-old daughter sat next to her in the car. A police officer shot him at close range during a traffic stop during which he was following directions. She watched him die because of our country’s screwed-up policing system and screwed-up systemic racism.

In the two years of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, many white people have been crying out, “This is horrible. What can I do?” One answer I’ve seen over and over from black people is for white people to get their own houses in order. The white supremacy systemic in our society can only exist and continue if white people let it. While I’ve talked about what I’ve done to try to raise my sons as anti-racist peacemakers, I haven’t discussed what I’ve done myself.

So for the sake of that little girl and all of the little black boys and girls like her, along with their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, here is how I have confronted my own racism:

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Finding Hope in Dark Times

Finding Hope in Dark Times

Trigger Warning: Orlando mass shooting, homophobia, Islamophobia

In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, it’s hard to maintain hope and not fall into despair. But despair paralyzes. Despair too often makes it about our emotional reaction rather than the victims’ or their families. Despair is unsustainable. In contrast, hope inspires and motivates.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen about maintaining hope is from beloved children’s presenter Mr. Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” While I had heard the quote before, I was reminded of it by fellow blogger Alana at Parenting From the Heart in response to the Orlando shooting.

With so many bad things in the local and national news, looking for the helpers provides a place to plant your feet.

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The Best of 2015

Besides the fact that it’s the end of the year, this is my 200th post! So it’s a good time to look backwards.

This was a challenging year for me. I dealt with some difficult personal issues that I didn’t write about yet, but plan to in the New Year. There was also a lot of national tragedies, including those dealing with police racism, gun violence, and climate change. Plus, it’s just exhausting raising a two-year-old.

My favorite posts reflect these frustrations, especially reflections on how social justice issues intersect with being a parent. I also commented on less serious social issues, including Santa Claus and Halloween stories.

Here are some of my favorite philosophical posts this year:

At the same time, Sprout was old enough for us to take on a number of adventures that we weren’t able to previously, including concerts, camping, and Sesame Place. We found a lot of joy in the small moments in life together. Here are some of my favorite family field trips this year:

On the other hand, my most popular posts covered some quirky pop culture subjects, including my favorite band, the political implications of children’s literature, and kiddie music.

I hope that you enjoyed reading my posts this year! I look forward to writing about our family’s adventures, challenges and reflections in the New Year.

Songs to Grow Up With: Alice’s Restaurant

Many people have favorite Christmas songs, but few have favorite Thanksgiving songs. But there’s one song that has been part of my Thanksgiving since I was very little: Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. This sprawling protest song no doubt influenced my current-day activism as much as 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth or actual politics. So of course, it will inevitably be part of my son’s childhood as well.


For those unfamiliar with it, Alice’s Restaurant is a 2 part, 18 minute saga supposedly based on truth, but leavened with a heavy dose of absurdity. The live version is the definitive one, where Arlo invites the audience to sing along and then berates them for not harmonizing correctly.

The story begins in the small town of Stockbridge, MA, which is so small that “they got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car.” Before Thanksgiving dinner at his friend Alice’s house, Arlo and his friends decide to help her out by taking care of her garbage. But when they discover the dump is closed on Thanksgiving (one suspects there was some pre-meal non-food indulging), they take the logical step of throwing it over a cliff, to accompany somebody else’s garbage that’s already there. The next day, they get arrested and thrown in jail for littering, “the biggest crime of the last fifty years” in sleepy western Massachusetts. Despite the over-enthusiasm of the cops with their “twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one,” the judge merely fines them $50 and makes them pick up the garbage.

The song then fast forwards to several years later, when Arlo has been called up for the draft in Vietnam. In a “building down in New York City called Whitehall Street … you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected!” Because of his “criminal record,” he gets assigned to the Group W Bench, which he shares with all kinds of “mean, nasty, ugly-lookin’ people.” When he points out that the army is asking him if he’s moral enough to “burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug,” they tell him “We don’t like your kind! We’re going to send your fingerprints off to Washington!”

Needless to say, none of this is fare meant for little kids. But despite that, my family listened to it every year driving to my aunt and uncle’s house in New Jersey. We usually tried to catch it on Q104.3, the New York City rock station that always plays it at noon. If we were delayed, we’d put in the battered Best Of cassette and also listen to The Motorcycle Song (which manages to be much, much sillier). It became part of my Thanksgiving tradition as much as turkey and my mom’s mushroom dip.

Obviously, I didn’t understand the song at all at first. I just liked singing along to the catchy chorus. But as I got older, it was one of my first introductions to anti-war messages. I think it was particularly effective because the messages are embedded in a funny, specific story and so become universal. Rather than critiquing the injustice of the Vietnam War specifically, it frames war itself and our approach to it as fundamentally absurd, as ridiculous as taking aerial photography for prosecuting littering. That combination allowed it to transcend its very 1970s context to appeal to me, a girl growing up in the pre-War on Terror 1990s.

And appeal it did. As I grew older, my interest in politics intensified, to the point where I was actively interested in educating others on it in high school. Singing along at Thanksgiving became an act of rebellion, not against my parents, but a corrupt political system that hadn’t changed all that much since the song was released. As the phrase “The personal is political” began to resonate, I realize now it was one of the first things I was exposed to where a personal story (albeit an exaggerated one) was used to make a political point. In the modern day of Tumblr where everyone has a personal/political story to tell, Alice’s Restaurant stands out as a great example of how to do it right.

I think it also shaped my opinions on how political change can and must happen. There’s a great line in the comic book Phonogram (which is all about the power of music) that “the only way for a revolution to succeed is to be more fun than the alternative.” While it comes from a morally ambiguous character, I agree with her. Activism can be exhausting and depressing, something that doesn’t really inspire people. To get people to want to change requires painting a picture of a future that’s better than the current one – more attractive and ideally, more fun. It’s very clear in the song that the hippies are the ones having a hell of a lot more fun than the stuffy, authoritarian police officers and draft recruitment staff. Similarly, it showed me how art can be political. While I got a crash course in using theater to do activism when I participated in the “Stop Shopping chorus” singing Anti-Corporate Christmas Carols in grad school, Alice’s Restaurant was my original introduction to the concept.

Needless to say, this song was one of the touchstones of my life, especially my activism. Although I hope it can be for Sprout as well, I don’t want to force it. We’ll just play it on Thanksgiving and leave it to him to figure out significance it will have in his life. While Arlo sings, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,” I know that I already have.