I woke up on November 8th in an excellent mood. I walked to work as usual, assuming my Arrival Duty post at the front gates, greeting parents and children with hugs, high-fives, and handshakes. Today, I added something special for the parents:
“Good morning, don’t forget to vote today!” My school is right opposite a voting location, and as I watched people from all ages, races, and walks of life lining up to cast their ballot, I felt hopeful.
In my 4th grade class that morning, I clasped my hands together. “Good morning 4th grade!”
“Good morning Ms. Adeni!”
"Who can tell me what's important about today?"
My kids yelled, "IT'S ELECTION DAY!"
Their excitement warmed my heart. A student - the one who had been the target of an Islamophobic racial slur by a fellow classmate, the only student in the entire school who wore the headscarf - raised her hand. "Ms. Adeni, who did you vote for?"
I paused. "Well, as your teacher, I should tell you that you generally shouldn't ask people that, because it's personal. However..."
The kids waited in pin-drop silence.
"In this particular election, the choice is clear. I am happy to tell you that I support Hillary Clinton."
The class promptly cheered, "SO DO WE!!!"
That day, I read aloud to five different classrooms from the Kelly diPucchio picture book, "Grace For President," about an elementary school girl who is shocked to find out there has never been "a girl president" and is determined to be the first one. The school hosts a mock election with students representing states and their electoral votes, and the vote is very close - a young boy named Sam, representing the state of Wyoming, has to cast the deciding ballot. Grace's opponent, Thomas, is confident, assuming Sam will vote for him - he is a boy, after all. But Sam casts his electoral votes for Grace instead.
Thomas looks stunned. Grace hugged Sam. "Why did you do it?" she asked.
Sam handed Grace his flag. "Because," he said, "I thought you were the best person for the job."
By evening, I was exhausted. We - a mix of students and young professionals - had all brought laptops and books with us as we sat there at Busboys and Poets, craning our necks to look at the TV screens, cheering along with the other liberal patrons every time a state was called for Hillary. But it was going to be such a long evening, the end was so far, and I was so tired.
"Just go home,” my parents whatsapped me around 10:00pm - it was 8:30am in Hyderabad, India, where they live.
“I can’t go home,” I replied to my parents, even as the clock struck 11:00pm and my phone flagged at 17%. “I want to be able to tell my daughters where I was when America elected its first female president!” I wanted to tell them I had been with their Aunty Ev and their Aunty Jay and their other aunties at Busboys and Poets, in the nation’s capital. Maybe years from now I would take my children here, and after we’d toured the monuments and the museums, I would take them to the best restaurant in D.C., saying, “This is where Mommy was the night we elected Hillary Clinton.”
"I just want Hillary to hit 270 so I can go to sleep," I whined. My phone had died. I had drifted off on a friend’s shoulder. The next thing I remember is my friend Fatima handing me her phone. A mutual friend had been trying to reach me for a while and had ultimately texted her. "Is Samra okay? I'm worried about her. Tell her I miss her, and I wish I was there."
I jolted awake. "Is it really that bad"? I looked at Rachel Maddow's stoic expression, at the dismal Electoral College on-screen graphic, at my friends' somber faces. The mood had shifted. The room was less crowded; less laughter. I felt unbelievably tired. But I couldn’t go home, because going home now, after it all, would mean admitting that it was never going to happen. That this dream we all thought would become reality tonight, was going to be taken away, replaced with a frightening, dystopian future for America. That the glass ceiling was not about to be shattered, it was about to be reinforced with seven layers of steel. Around midnight, I saw the tearful face of one of my closest friends, Evelyn, who had been #withHer from the very beginning, who was one of the fiercest and most progressive people I knew. “…..I’m going to go home. I…..I don’t think she’s going to win.”
And when I heard Evelyn finally acquiesce defeat, I knew it was over.
I got home that night at 2:00am, and when my phone finally turned back on, there were texts from friends, from relatives, from colleagues, from allies. “Are you okay?” “I am so sorry. I wish I could give you a hug right now.” I didn’t sleep until 3. Another three hours later, I woke up and washed my face, which still wore a crumpled, defeated expression. At work, a colleague asked me if I was okay and I burst into tears at 7:50am as she hugged me and patted me on the back. “I know, I know….I can’t believe it either.”
The hallways were covered with posters from in-class mock elections in various grades that no one had had time to take down yet. Without an exception, every single classroom had voted for Hillary.
In 5th grade, two of my Hispanic students were in tears. In the hallway, I saw my little headscarved student and gave her a huge hug. I saw the Ethiopian-American kid who had nervously told me months ago that if Trump were elected, his family would be kicked out. I had told him then, “Don’t worry - America would never allow such a thing to happen.” Today, I gave him a hug too.
“Ms. Adeni, are you sick?” asked another student.
“No, sweetheart, I’m just sad.”
“Because of last night?”
“Yes.” He opened his arms, and this time, I knew it was I who needed the hug, not him. “How about you, sweetie, are you doing okay?”
My kid shrugged. “I’m like, sad on the inside, but, I’m trying to be happy, like on the outside.”
In the end, what heartened me most was the Morning Meeting message a colleague wrote for her class:
“Good Morning 2nd Grade Scholars,
Today is Wednesday, November 9th, 2016. For Specials, we have P.E. with Mr. Reid.
Yesterday in our classroom election, Hillary Clinton won our votes 22-1. However, in the national election, Donald Trump was elected to be our country’s new president starting in January.
While it is okay to be upset, we should not be scared or afraid. There are people who will continue to work for the things Hillary Clinton represented, (including her!)