This past week my wife and two sons were in New Hampshire. We knew that it is a conservative leaning state at times, as Hilary only won it by about 3,000 votes. I thought fleetingly this year might be a different experience as we hadn’t been there since before the 2016 election, but I didn’t think about it too much. After all we had been there as a couple over a dozen times and had no negative experiences. Perhaps we did though and I just was completely unaware of them living in my Obama happy bubble.
My sons are two year old twin boys. We purchased them lumberjack outfits for Halloween at Carters in NH. Overalls and flannel shirts with work boots. It was chilly enough in New Hampshire for them to wear their new outfits when we were walking one day on the boardwalk down by the lake.
Now picture two two-year olds in overalls, flannels, work boots, and holding hands walking down the boardwalk. It was quite possibly the cutest freaking thing I’ve ever seen. They were chattering excitedly to each other in their “twin talk” (yes that’s a thing and yes they do it). One of my sons realized we were heading toward the beach so he was walking very fast pulling his brother along.
My wife and I were smiling ear to ear and holding hands with each other and the boys intermittently. “Herding cats” my wife says. Literally the cutest moment on earth. Not just because they are my sons. But because it was one of those zen moments. We are in our favorite place, walking next to the lake, the sun is out, but there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are orange and red…just a beautiful moment.
In the distance we noticed a group of about six people. Three couples most likely and all appeared over the age of sixty under the age of eighty. They were walking toward us. We made sure we each held a boy so that we could all walk nicely by them without one of the boys falling on them or something.
Now if I walked by us in that moment I would have smiled and said something obnoxious like “How cute!” Because you could not see those boys in their flannels and overalls and not smile. But I was wrong. Because all six of those adults did not smile at the boys. They gave the boys a once over and then their glares fell onto my wife and I. I made eye contact with all of them who looked, (one looked away), because I’m that type of person. I also was not expecting the hateful looks when there was such a spectacle of beauty occurring.
I’ve got pretty accurate senses about people. I work in psychiatry it’s what I do. These people were throwing hate around with their glares. The moment lasted about five seconds. Because one of my son’s was now trying to run as the beach was just within our reach. And there was no slowing down of either party. Neither one of my sons noticed this exchange. I wouldn’t have either honestly if I hadn’t looked right at them because I was expecting smiles and for fellow human beings to engage with my cute little boys.
It was a silent display of their objection at our family. In the moment it also made all of them look like they were constipated and I was going to ask if they needed to add fiber to their diets but thought better of it and kept walking.
There were so many beautiful connected moments on our vacation yet this is the one I am choosing to write about. Because this is the one that sticks with me that I can’t get over and that I need to get out.
What is the right thing to do in that moment? To acknowledge the hatred in some way? To call them out on it? To actually ask if they need emergency fiber administration? Or to ignore and keep walking?
When will my sons notice these behaviors of strangers? If they are like me, which I fear they are, when will they say something? When will they engage in a pointless battle with a small-minded person? I can’t make every one love my family and I don’t want to. But I do want to be able to walk in public with my family and not be glared at. What if the strangers were younger and more intimidating and more verbal? I asked myself that very question as I watched my sons play on the beach. What would we have done? Grabbed the boys and ran like hell? So many different “what if” scenarios ran through my head and so many scenarios of what I should have said or done differently also.
That moment ruined a safe space for us. A space we have travelled to literally since I was born. It doesn’t mean I won’t return there. Because we will. But I will be more cautious, more aware, and one day my plan is to own a home there and be a registered voter and fight for that swing state to remain blue.