I spent the better part of my 20s traveling and living in places far removed from that small town in Maine. It was refreshing to meet someone like Mohammed, who followed soccer, enjoyed fashion, valued quiet time and could cook anything. When we found out we were having a baby, I was happy. I knew he was going to be a great father and partner.
A blended household, with my son and Mohammed and my 7-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, would have had its share of challenges, no matter what. But as issues of race resurfaced after the election, and with the president’s push for that hotly debated entry ban, the conversations in our household shifted from nursery themes and diapering methods to more serious questions: Will our son struggle with his identity, or feel ostracized, now that our country’s leadership is suggesting people with a Muslim background could be a threat to America?
Even choosing a name for the baby felt daunting. I had a hard time agreeing with my boyfriend on a Muslim American name (something he desperately wanted, particularly because his family doesn’t speak English).
How will I — we — navigate raising a son who isn’t considered white in what feels like an increasingly hostile environment?
I wasn’t quite sure how to bring up these questions with Mohammed. But I knew his fear was probably even greater, considering it was his background that was being targeted. My upbringing wired me to believe that there is no separation based on race. I never thought about borders as a means to divide us; they were simply lines on a map, a navigational tool. Some may call that white privilege. I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance.
So I began the conversations with Mohammed and let my ignorance shine, because I felt like hiding it would create a bigger problem. I don’t want to pretend I know how it feels to have a world leader single out those close to me as “dangerous” or “threatening.” I wasn’t even sure what classified someone as “Muslim.” So I started there.
My boyfriend’s fears, it turns out, were no different than those of any first-time parent. Yes, it crossed his mind that our son may not feel American enough, or even Moroccan enough, but he was more concerned about things such as health care and education. “Trump doesn’t represent all of America. I have faith in people,” he said.
So did I. But that faith had been clouded, and his perspective gave me the reminder that I needed.
All parents want our children to feel like they belong. If someone had asked me about this before my pregnancy, I would’ve said that the feeling of belonging is something that starts at home, with the influence of family. That’s how I got through seven years as a single parent: by putting my daughter first. Sure, the argument can be made that children are more than just a product of their immediate environment, but the foundation starts at home. My responsibility to craft a strong foundation feels greater this time around, and that has shown me how much the societal environment affects our decision-making and thought process. But it doesn’t change how I will parent my son.
This feeling that home and family are the strongest influences on a child’s identity was solidified recently when my daughter and I were reading side by side on a lazy Sunday morning. She closed her book and announced that she wanted to write a letter to the president. Internally, I wondered why. But on the outside, I calmly responded: “You want to write to Donald Trump?”
“Actually I want to draw him a picture with messages on it,” she said.
I wanted to suggest she send some pictures to her grandmother instead, but I just said “Okay.”
I continued reading as she created a picture with a rainbow and unicorn and phrases such as “Live in color” and “Don’t think negative, think positive in life” and “Think free.”
She was so proud to send this to President Trump. I was proud of both her for using that subtle yet powerful intuition that children have, but I was also proud of myself for never letting her young mind be filled with words that will create worry or discontent. At least not in this house. That hasn’t changed, and it won’t.
In this house, as my daughter and boyfriend have reminded me, we are a blended family bound together by the confidence and sense of belonging that we bring out in one another.
In May, those characteristics strengthened, when we added a son and brother to our tribe.
Erinne Magee is a Maine-based writer who specializes in nonfiction, poetry and picture books. Follow her on Twitter @erinnemagee.