Even my 4-year-old knows more than our leaders

We have a family tradition of doing tashlich on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, and then taking a family photograph near whatever natural body of water we have gathered to cast away our sins with symbolic pieces of bread.

The first year we did this, our oldest, Nate, was 3, and I was pregnant with his younger brother, Harvey. I can line up these photos and see how my family has grown, and also the different places our lives have taken us to.

There are photos at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, at Brighton Beach and Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, near the Delaware River, and the latest on a rocky beach in Owl’s Head, Maine, near where we have been staying this fall.

This year, while we were tossing our bread in the water, Harvey, now 4, asked me what I was throwing away. “Impatience,” I said. And I asked him what he was throwing away.

“When Nate and I said we were going to listen to Donald Trump and not wear masks,” Harvey replied.

I remembered what he was talking about; about six weeks before, Harvey and his brother got on a contrary streak and declared that if the president said the coronavirus was no big deal, then they didn’t have to wear their masks.

The truth was, they’ve been incredibly cooperative with wearing masks and social distancing since the start of the pandemic, and they forgot about their MAGA beliefs almost immediately. So I was surprised that this incident had stuck with Harvey for so long as something he truly regretted.

We’re clinging to our son’s optimism like a life raft.

Harvey is as old as his brother was during the 2016 election. I remember how Nate enthusiastically mirrored his parents’ political sentiments in 2016, declaring Donald Trump a “bad guy” like Haman.

Nowadays Harvey likes to declare he’s “falling in love” with Joe Biden and cheers when we pass a house on our drive to school that is loudly decorated with huge Biden flags. In 2016, we thought Nate was cute; we didn’t believe Trump could actually be elected. In 2020, Harvey is still cute, but we’re clinging to his optimism like a life raft.

When I told the kids that Donald Trump had Covid, Nate said, “Well, he doesn’t wear a mask and he doesn’t social distance.” No one deserves to get Covid. But a president does have a responsibility to protect the welfare of his fellow citizens. As I write this in mid-October, Trump with Covid appears to be a more dangerous version of himself, lying about his health and minimizing his own condition to further erode trust in public health authorities.

My 4- and 8-year-old children have spent months giving their grandparents and aunts “virtual hugs” (hugging themselves while looking at their family members), spending time with them outside only, and putting on a mask if they have to duck inside for a minute to use the bathroom. They know they have to do this to protect their family from Covid. And they accept this responsibility naturally. In bravery and compassion, they and all their friends who run around the schoolyard in masks utterly eclipse our elected leaders.

It’s sad to me that my children are growing up with a president who abdicates the responsibilities of leadership. But they’re wise enough to look for leaders elsewhere.

In Joe Biden, yes. But also in the leaders they’re learning about, like Rosa Parks and Greta Thunberg. And in their teachers, who schedule “smile breaks” where everyone stands at least 6 feet apart outside and takes down their masks, so that for a few minutes, they can see each other’s faces.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.