Chinatown or on Riverside

By Mariah Mottley

Two days after the election, I was Manhattan bound with my daughter Billie, and her doll, Ruthie. We were following Mr. Joel down the Hudson River line. They were on a pilgrimage to the American Girl Doll Store, and I was their guide. Klansmen were celebrating Trump’s victory in North Carolina; hicks were doing donuts with Confederate flags on their bumpers at liberal arts colleges. I was heartsick and frightened.

Mariah Mottley
Mariah Mottley

Parenting is having to deal with a series of situations you weren’t prepared for. You are constantly being caught off guard, and required to analyze new information. Is that rash ringworm? Are those nits? Is this the beginning of an asthma attack? My fellow Americans just invited the alt-right into the White House. Is this a harbinger of fascism? Could be.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The teachable parenting moment in this whole scary mess is this: Don’t raise hicks. Raise citizens of the world. I needed to get serious about getting the kids passports and traveling with them internationally, so they can know the size of the world. We also didn’t get richer in the last two days. I looked out the window of the bus, thinking. I can’t let them vegetate, get out of touch with the rhythm and blues.
We spent the night at a friend’s apartment on Riverside, near Columbia. I took Billie to Tom’s Diner, not because of Seinfeld, but because I used to eat grilled cheese there when I was little. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the vanilla shake the waiter set in front of her, still in it’s metal cup.
“This just got really real,” she said, looking around at the diner, the traffic outside.
“You can say that again,” I said, scrolling through the news feed on my phone. Breitbart? Really? In the White House?
While we ate French fries, a couple from Wisconsin expressed disbelief that the Seinfeld T-shirts were not signed. The owner, sitting behind the antique cash register, ignored them. As I paid, I told him that I’d eaten there as a kid.
“That musta been, what, five years ago?” He snapped my bills into the drawer. I laughed; I’m going gray.“Did the little one enjoy herself?” He stood up to address Billie. “Take the rest of that milkshake home, drink it later. Get you a to-go cup.”
He gestured at a busboy. He may as well have kissed me on both cheeks and welcomed me into his house. New York City gives odd, anonymous welcomes; I needed all of them.
Our cab driver kept opening his window to yell at pedestrians to be more careful, then to tell another cab driver that his rear tire looked like it was low on air. On the Lower East Side, I took Billie to a store just for pencils, then bubble tea. I made her look at all the Chinese markets with signs not in English, calming myself that the world, for now, was going on as usual. I had needed to check. At Bluestockings, a feminist bookstore, I did something Billie has rarely seen me do. I bought her new books. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Between the World and Me, and a book about Margaret Sanger, Our Lady of Birth Control.
We emerged from the American Girl Doll Store, after untold hardship, right into a passing Trump protest. We crossed the police lines and joined the crowd, Billie holding my hand, Ruthie in the other. It was dark, and the chanting was loud and rang for blocks. A line of NYPD walked curb between the sidewalk and the road, beside us.
The crowd shouted, “Black Lives Matter! My body, my choice! Her body her choice! Refugees are welcome here!”
We were carried along for a few blocks, and I kept sneaking peeks at Billlie, wondering how she was doing. She’d seen so much in the past two days, and now we were headed toward Trump Tower, an American Girl Doll bag banging between us.
Instead of yelling with the crowd, I just cried. It was relief to hear so many voices screaming things I believed. We are all strangers; but we are all neighbors, too. My children will not vegetate into bigotry. On the bus, headed home, Ruthie sat propped between us, in one of her new outfits. I handed Billie my phone, loaded with DuoLingo, an app for learning languages.
“Pick any one,” I said. “We’ll learn it.”

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Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at mariah@mariahmottley.com.