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  • katherine halligan

Late last September, six months into the pandemic — which had already felt like six centuries; little did we know what lay ahead — we made a tentative but joyful foray back into quasi-normalcy. Our rates were low enough that elementary schools in our excellent district were — following a summer of intense and expensive reconfiguring of classrooms, logistical headaches, and sheer hard work — finally going to reopen, albeit on a hybrid model which meant just eight hours a week on campus.


But we take what we can get these days, so I sprung into action, relishing the familiar if rather rushed routine of returning to school each September. Many weeks later than usual — because our county’s sudden jump to a new tier meant it all happened rather unexpectedly — I hurriedly bought lunch boxes, labeled water bottles, had the girls break in their school shoes (because the flip flops and bare feet they’d worn daily weren’t going to cut it back on Planet Normal).


They planned their outfits (again, for they’d already done so for the actual first day of school, which had taken place on Zoom), they requested elaborate hairdos (again), and I started waking them up an hour earlier to break them in ahead of time for the morning scramble of making lunches and packing backpacks and actually getting a real door. Only slightly daunted by the lack of sleep and the somewhat frenzied preparations, since we’d done nothing at full speed for a long while, we all looked forward with great anticipation to Being Normal again.

In the end, that sense of normalcy lasted precisely four hours, which is as long as my younger child was in school for her first day back on campus. Having skipped off in the morning full of just-barely-bridled joy, first in line to get back into the classroom, she came home deeply distressed and almost despondent. It turned out that her seat-mate was not the promised six feet away, and that he had decided (undoubtedly because his parents are openly and rabidly anti-mask, which still utterly baffles me: it’s like being anti-jacket or anti-sunglasses or anti-any-other-sensible-protective-barrier) that the rule about face coverings did not apply to him and so proceeded to spend the entire day removing his mask every time the teacher’s back was turned.


On the far side of a plexiglass wall, blinded by its glare and perhaps a desperation to continue teaching no matter what, the teacher did not see him. And so my child — who understands the science remarkably well — spent the entire morning leaning into her own plexiglass barrier to shield herself, pressing herself so far in across her desk that she came home with an aching tummy and sore ribs and a broken heart.


However far she tried to climb inside her pitifully mere barrier, our little scientist knew she was exposed to virus in an enclosed space and felt — quite rightly — unsafe. That basic trust that school is a safe place, full of grownups who will take care of you, had been violated, perhaps irreparably. When I asked if she’d at least enjoyed recess, she reported that class cohorts were intermingling, as we’d been promised they would not do, children were hugging, and teachers looked on without intervening.


The fun wasn’t safe and the danger wasn’t fun.


I’d had my own doubts already as the school custodian walked right through the crowd of parents and children lined up six feet apart on that first morning… without wearing a mask. The message was clear: the staff were feeling (overly) relaxed about the virus and, in their own desire to return to normalcy, felt that the rules were flexible. (And why not? If the highest office in the land also openly and constantly flouted the rules as well as the laws and the Constitution with apparent impunity, why should anyone else follow any of them anyway?)


But our daughter is a rule-lover, and part of the reason she likes school so very much is that there are so many rules and she is so very good at following them. So when the adults break the rules, or don’t enforce them, the world starts going topsy-turvy. In an already upside-down world — where bars are open, but schools are mostly shut, where tattoo parlours have reopened for business while playgrounds are closed again — this breaking of trust was fairly catastrophic for her.

And for us too: having been presented back in August with the option of a “Virtual Academy”, we had weighed up all the many factors, and we had sent our children back to physical school instead, trusting that the pillars that upheld that in-person model — mask-wearing by all students and staff, without exception; frequent hand-washing and sanitising of the classroom; and social distancing at all times — would be solid and real.


We were not entirely naive in our trust; our older daughter’s school has complied rigorously with all of the rules, so we know it’s possible to follow the guidelines in a way that keeps children and staff safe, both physically and emotionally. But a school is a microcosm of the broader society in which it functions, and it takes the active participation and compliance of everyone to make it work. So when some families or staff decide they are above the law (hmmm, that sounds familiar) then those pillars start to crumble — and as is too often the case, the children pay the price: they are the ones falling off those cliffs, with consequences we can only begin to imagine.


It wasn’t just about the fear of transmission of the actual virus — though that was real — but more about her fear that school had become an unsafe place where anything could happen, where the rules that were meant to keep her safe were, apparently, assailable and fragile and breakable by some. As she became fearful and mistrustful, her sense of injustice deepened, too, and her love of school turned into fear. And, as Yoda reminds us, “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to the Dark Side.” Life became pretty dark indeed, which is especially unfair for a seven-year-old.


One of her favourite parts of the rule-based system during normal times was the clip chart. This is a classroom behaviour management technique, whereby each student has a clothespin (or peg, for my British friends) and the teacher moves them up the rainbow colours on the chart for good behaviour, and down for bad. If you get to the bottom of the chart, your parents get a note; if you get to the top you also get a note, and from particularly astute and sympathetic teachers you also get a jewel on your clip.


My daughter — who at age four told a preschool teacher that she needed more structure — normally has a clip that falls off the chart due to the sheer weight of the jewels with which it is crammed. The straw that broke her little rule-abiding back was the day she was clipped down for misplacing a piece of paper, while the mini mask-hater beside her continued — despite our multiple phone calls and emails to the teacher and principal — to get off scot-free.

We persisted because we felt that our child should not have to sacrifice her right to an education with a real human teacher in a physical classroom; it was the rule-breakers who had forfeited their right to attend the school. Since district policy clearly stated that any student unwilling to comply with the rules would be asked to go home, we felt we had the law on our side. And yet, all that changed was her assigned seat-mate; because we were not the only parents who’d complained, the classroom was rearranged into something that looked about as deeply divided as red and blue America. And so when our frightened, angry child begged us to pull her out of her school after three weeks of stress and misery, we did. (Of course we did: what kind of parents would we be, if we failed to race to the rescue of our deeply distressed child? Thanks to administrative inaction, we had no choice. Oh wait — that sounds familiar…)


So here we are, right back where we were last March: eleven months later, I am on call once more as an utterly unqualified IT coordinator and as an only marginally more qualified teaching assistant, and our child spends her days plodding through reams of digital content that are but a poor, frustrating shadow of a real classroom. The “Virtual Academy” we had eschewed in favour of human contact is indeed all the things we had feared: hours online, no contact with other children, the world’s most boring TV show overshadowing all her days.

However, it is also offering something else, the full impact of which we had not foreseen: a sense of security for our child. She is at home — the safest place in the world. She is with her mother constantly and her father often — the safest people in the world. Her wonderful teacher’s warmth and kindness is such that it breaks through the screen, ensuring from the first five minutes in her (virtual) presence that our daughter immediately and unquestioningly loved her and trusted her. So her faith in school — whatever it looks like now — is restored. She is engaged and connected once more, and her sullen, fearful expression has been replaced by one of earnest, satisfied concentration.

She is happy.


Most of the time.


Because as sweet and lovely as her teacher is, our child sees her for around sixty minutes a day, and sometimes only forty, which is a terrible shame because her new teacher is excellent and kind, and my daughter longs to hug her and be in her presence all day long (even though she also knows that she couldn’t hug her if she were in her presence, which is unspeakably sad). After that pitifully little amount of teacher time, the rest of her day is spent plodding through piles of digital work, which is as infuriatingly dull as it is inappropriate for seven- and eight-year-olds to spend their entire day on a screen. Say what you will about workbooks and worksheets — and I say that they are the death of creativity and engagement with learning — they have become the highlight of her day now, as she picks up her pencil and turns away from her screen.


In order to keep her more engaged and less heartbreakingly lonely, I sat by her side for the first several weeks of her new entirely virtual life. I didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway, because if I left the room to do much-neglected chores (for my month of intense political activism meant that literally no housework was done; you can imagine what further havoc the election wreaked on it) or to catch up on how the election day-that-became-a-week was unfolding or to work or to use the loo, well… to say that all hell broke loose is not an exaggeration.

First the whining would start, then the shouting, then the throwing of things, then the shrieking, followed finally by the sobbing. So I wrote not a word of either book or blog, let the house sink still further into disarray, and learned to test the boundaries of my patience as well as those of my bladder.


Just as our trust in the systems and institutions that form the cornerstones of our lives — our schools, the White House — was seriously eroded last year, so has my sanity. Because I was getting absolutely nothing (let me repeat it: Absolutely. Nothing.) done anymore, which has been profoundly frustrating. So there were two of us, glued to each other’s sides, frustrated and sad and bored and furious. It’s not really a formula for success.


So these days I spend my time wiping my daughter’s digitally-induced tears, which spill all too often, for reasons that are entirely understandable. For instance, she had to retake an online math test twice, because Google didn’t register the first one. Videos glitch, so she can’t watch what she is supposed to view. Logins randomly fail. The internet suddenly drops its tenuous connection. Until she memorised it, she sometimes couldn’t find her Zoom code (despite my taping it to her computer and the wall and the desk) because she would get into a complete panic about being 14 seconds late to class and start to hyperventilate and fail to focus, which would then make her a further three minutes late, and in her desire to please her new teacher she would come utterly unglued. Instead of working on forming neat letters with a pencil, at which she was becoming fairly accomplished last year, she has to create Google slides with little hands that are still dimpled, which should be holding crayons and real books and the rails of the playground climbing frame and the hands of friends.

But at least these days the tears are far fewer than those that fell during the three weeks she was attending a physical school. And her fears are mostly gone. So it seems we have traded fears for tears — or rather fears and tears for mere tears. And — say it with me — we take what we can get these days. So we’ll take those mere tears, thank you.

But nothing awful lasts forever, as our presidential election and then inauguration have shown us. Hope springs eternal, and there is light at the end of most tunnels, eventually. So I am delighted beyond words to report that by December — after a desperately needed week’s break for Thanksgiving, and more importantly after turning eight — she began to display a new independence with her schoolwork. Most days now, she logs on all by herself and continues independently all morning… unless we have technical glitches, which still happen all too often because — despite living in a metropolitan area of California, one of the tech capitals of the world — it seems that upgrading our internet to a higher speed service and double the bandwidth has, paradoxically, resulted in a slower, clunkier connection than ever (which feels rather too like the California vaccine rollout). She reads her assignments and completes them with far less input and emotional support from me. She watches the clock and knows when her teacher is about to rescue her from the Zoom waiting room (for her penchant for being first in line in the morning at school is unchanged, merely reshaped for her new reality). In short, she has grown accustomed to the new face of school (again). In short, she feels confident and strong (again).


In short, she is growing up.


And because she is growing up, I know that I will treasure those volatile few weeks of transition when I had to sit glued to her side, quite literally holding her hand as she wrestled with the monsters of her unhappiness. In these times, where we seek whatever scraps of goodness we can find and hold them tightly, I am thankful that I can hold that sweet, still-dimpled little hand and offer her comfort. (Far less often, and so perhaps with even more gratitude, I am also called upon to hold the also-still-dimpled hand of her older sister.)

I realise I am contradicting myself and being somewhat unclear about how the state of things in our home these days, but such is life in these absurd times.


More tears, mere tears, fewer tears, new fears.


So we stumble along, finding our way through the tears and the fears. If you were somewhere between the ages of six and thirty-something in the 1980s, you will get my reference: in the words of Roland and Curt (they of Tears for Fears fame, if you aren’t in my demographic), these days we often to have to “shout, shout, let it all out”. (It’s certainly also truer than ever — Republican senators, take note today — that “in violent times, you shouldn’t have to sell your soul”, because “everybody wants to rule the world”… but one particular man should never again be allowed to rule America.)


But perhaps the most relevant lyrics come from their song, “Mad World”: “All around me are familiar faces… going nowhere/ And their tears are filling up their glasses… I find it kind of funny/ I find it kind of sad… it’s a very, very mad world.”


Those words come back to me, as I grapple with my own sorrow at the absurdity of our lives, at the profusion of their tears, at the madness of this new normal, at the fact that neither their tears nor their fears are going away as soon as we all might wish… and then when they finally do, too much of their young lives will have been shaped by these terrible times, by this mad, mad world.


We are told that children are adaptable, but surely there is a limit to what they can withstand before that malleability meets its limit. I fear the damage that we cannot yet see or even imagine. But perhaps we will learn, as we hope our children will, to emerge stronger from all of this, to transmogrify our tears and our fears into something better, something less mad and more marvellous.

  • katherine halligan

So much has transpired since I last wrote that I am slightly at a loss as to where to begin. So, for the nonce, I shall just say: out with the old… and in with the new!


Or should I say, out with the old… and in with the older?


I am not being ageist here: Joe Biden is of precisely the same vintage as my father, and reminds me of him in many ways, all good: the grin, the charm, the quaint turns of phrase, the open-mindedness, the sense of fair play. The sunglasses. And my dad, were he so inclined, would also be perfectly capable of running the country in his late 70s. His father lived until 92 and was fairly spry until 90; my other grandfather lived until 94, and only slowed down right at the very end. He played golf, traveled, and danced — extremely well, I might add — with all the ladies in attendance at his 90th birthday celebration. I come from a long, healthy line of people who have kept (nearly) all of their faculties — and especially their senses of humor — well into their advancing years, so I can personally attest to the fact that good things often come in old packages.


All of these lovely humans happen(ed) to be both male and white, however, so much of the new which I am currently celebrating is, of course, Kamala — otherwise known as Madam Vice President (and even typing that still makes me grin and still makes me choke up). She was my first pick for president in the early primaries; as a fellow Californian, of course I was proud of our junior senator, but I also liked her lifelong dedication to public service, her numerous concrete actions towards making the world a better place for more than just a privileged few, her deep-seated sense of justice and fairness, her feistiness, her warmth. She seemed like someone I would be equally happy to have in my own house, as well as in the White House.


But for various reasons her campaign foundered (or else she saw the prudence in withdrawing early, with her eyes on another prize), and so I voted for my second choice, a certain woman with a plan for everything. Our new Commander-in-Chief was, in fact, my tenth choice in that very crowded field. But as the others fell away, I began to see that Biden was indeed exactly the man for this moment.


For in the unprecedented chaos, anger and uncertainty of our times — much of which was of course created by the Inciter-in-Chief who'd been at the helm for four tumultuous years — we needed a steady hand at the tiller, a seasoned sailor who knew how to weather a storm, to muster his crew, to change tack when needed, and who would have the courage to go down with that ship if needed. I began to understand that with Captain Joe at the helm we could all begin to breathe a sigh of relief — even if our huge ocean liner, beset with problems, would take a long time to turn around.


Not so long ago, that ocean liner, with its fifty state-rooms, became one giant COVID-infested cruise ship. Some of its passengers were (and still are) locked in their state-rooms for their own safety, as they heeded the warning of the more careful and caring officers; other passengers, instead, roamed freely about the decks enjoying their leisure as if nothing untoward were happening, playing shuffleboard while the storm raged and helping themselves to the all-you-can-eat buffet, gorging themselves until they were bloated with their greed, goaded by some of the officers. And some of those officers, in turn, made sure to help themselves first, before looking after their passengers, following the example of their captain.


For that captain ensured that he had the finest table while many of his passengers went hungry. He did unspeakable things to some of the female entertainers. He cancelled the children’s entertainment so that his most loyal officers could play instead, feasting, drinking, and gambling with the passengers’ lives. And when illness stalked the ship, instead of allowing the ship’s doctor to speak to the passengers, to advise them and treat them, he threw the sickest and weakest passengers overboard into the shark-infested waters, and let them drown. All the while, he lied to the rest of the passengers and crew, and told them nothing was happening.


Meanwhile, the illness spread and the storm grew. When half the crew and more than half his passengers finally gathered to send out a mayday signal and to remove him from his post, his loyal minions continued to spread his lies while more lives were lost. Then, as word spread that a new captain was coming on board in just a few days, to right the ship and return it safely to port, the old captain turned to his passengers and told them to raid the officers’ deck, to fight for him — and they did. That ship mutinied against itself, against one another, and for a brief moment all seemed lost. Finally — too late — some of his officers stood up to his tyranny by jumping overboard, like rats from a sinking ship. But none of this could stop the new captain coming to take command.


Many times during this pandemic I have heard people say, “We’re all in the same boat,” but the best reply to that is: “Same storm, different boats.” Because Captain Joe fundamentally understands that, because he knows he has to guide not just one huge, broken ocean liner but a whole flotilla of leaky row boats alongside it, we all stand a better chance of surviving this storm; we all stand a better chance of meeting on the far shore so we can start to repair that flotilla together, and bring safely everyone on board.


And so, as our new captain began to right our foundering ship within his very first hours in office, his calm, steady presence made me feel joyously justified in my late-but-now-unwavering loyalty to our new leader. For once his campaign gained momentum — slow to start like a ship heading from harbour out to a rough sea, yet steady as it went — I put my money where my mouth had not yet been, donating hundreds of dollars to what I had finally suddenly realised was our best hope, hanging literature on hundreds of doorknobs, writing hundreds of postcards until my hand cramped, making hundreds of phone calls in English and Spanish, and generally working my big blue tail off on his behalf.


Because as much as I love and believe in his first mate, as much as I believe that she has been and will be fundamental to our weathering this storm together, she is not as seasoned a sailor, yet. We need this captain and commander for this moment. And so although I joke about his age, it is also part of his saving grace: he knows how this works, he has a loyal and able crew, he knows the star charts like the back of his hand, he can always find true north, and he understands — in a way it seems almost no one else does — how to get everyone to row in more or less the same direction. Whether he is actually able to do this in the fraught and perhaps disastrously deeply divided country we inhabit — those choppy seas on which we sail — remains to be seen. But he is also deeply pragmatic, and he learned from his earlier turn in her deck shoes (well, actually her Chuck Taylors) that sometimes bipartisanship is a legislation-dooming myth; sometimes you just have to trim your sails, follow that compass bearing, and keep pointing your bow at the horizon.


So when I say “in with the older,” I am not referring merely to age, but also to experience, and perhaps more importantly to an older, deeper set of values that seem to have been forgotten of late.


Decency. Respect. Fairness.


Kindness.


Can it be only fifteen days ago that we bid farewell to the old captain’s regime — for it was indeed the reign of a crazed king — and welcomed the new-but-also-older, as we celebrated America coming back to its true self? Can it be only fifteen days since I wept copious tears of joy, multiple times throughout the day? Fifteen days since I felt completely uplifted at the singing of our national anthem (and the fabulousness of that red skirt), rather than feeling torn and sad and like I should take a knee? Fifteen days since I worried about whether Tom Hanks would catch pneumonia without a coat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and marvelled at how Jon Bon Jovi’s dentures did nothing to detract from his enduring appeal? Fifteen days since I cried with happiness (more tears) hearing “Amazing Grace”, while feeling the former grace of our democracy alive and well once more? Sixteen days since I was able to mourn — at last — in a shared, national way for the over-400,000 whom we have lost to the pandemic, in a ceremony replete with a simple, sober beauty befitting the magnitude of our tragic loss?


It’s been — as Sinead O’Connor would put it — several hours and fifteen days… and yet it feels like a lifetime. In a good way.


Fifteen days since it was out with the Dictator-in-Chief, and in with a presidential President.


Out with a misogynist criminal, in with a gentleman (who is also a gentle man).


Out with a certain white-haired lapdog whose only redeeming moment was to assume leadership for those terrible hours on January 6, when a president had turned on his own people, on his own government, on his own country, when the former Vice President finally stepped in to call the help that was needed to stem the tide of bloodshed, but whose wilfully blind obedience until that day came at the highest of costs.


In with a dynamo who is showing our daughters that there is nowhere they cannot go, who is the first but who will not be the last, who has my vote for whatever she wants to do because she has shown us who we can be. (Excuse me while I do a little dance of joy. Again.)


Out with the vain, shallow trophy wife. In with the first First Woman (because “Lady” is old, in a not-so-good way) to hold a PhD, who worked hard both as an educator and an advocate for change during her husband’s eight-year stint in the copilot seat, who has the intelligence and compassion not seen in her office since Michelle Obama walked out its door.


Out with the sour-faced former Secretary of Transportation (in fact my only complaint about Inauguration Day was that the camera angle far too often featured Elaine Chao in the background; we don’t know why) and in with the new, a talented young veteran who has places to go (how appropriate is that transport post?) and now has the means to do it. (And while we’re at it, out with her Machiavellian enabler of a husband, that Emperor Palpatine who too often pulled the strings, Rasputin-like, behind the scenes, bearing no small part of the blame for the Republican Party’s precipitous slide to the far right… and in with Mr Buttigieg’s husband instead, please.)


Out with the hoards of deceitful, treacherous enablers. In with Amanda Gorman and a Second Gentle Man.


Out with walls and cages, in with bridges.


Out with anger, in with kindness.


Out with lunacy, in with sanity.


Out with the lies, in with the truth.


Out with the old symbols of all that is broken and wrong — a gallows with a noose on the grounds of the Capitol, a Confederate flag flying in its halls — and in with a renewed sense of our former national purpose and unity. For that star-spangled banner does yet wave, in spite of everything: over our Capitol building, and over the White House, where a very good man now lives.


So out with the evil, in with the good.

Out with the hatred, in with the love.

Out with despair, in with hope and light.


For the White House is now a lighthouse, a beacon of hope in the darkness.


And there’s a safe harbour ahead.

  • katherine halligan

Updated: Feb 4

The inside of my freezer currently looks like Elsa took up residence and had a temper tantrum there. A really big tantrum.


The seal has failed, and while we await a replacement part (delayed, due to COVID), it is locked into a cycle of freeze-and-thaw-and-refreeze, resulting in beautiful, jagged ice formations that grow bigger by the hour. My children delight in opening the door, just to see what might be in store; there isn’t a lot to do these days since our schools are closed again (also due to COVID), so this is excellent entertainment.


In fact, so little happens these days (within the four walls of our home, if not at our nation’s Capitol building, where far too much has happened) that last night they shrieked with excitement at a strange light in the sky. “Mom, come fast!” they yelled. “There’s a rocket taking off in the sky and it’s coming towards us!” With my heart in my mouth, terrified that the Dictator-in-Chief had used the nuclear codes (which he still possesses, despite all evidence that he should not) to blow California off the map, I raced upstairs, thinking I could at least hold my children in my arms at the very end.


It was, in fact, an airplane, coming in for landing at Long Beach Airport.


Having gone from a flight landing every four minutes to almost no air traffic overhead, our skies look radically and apparently unrecognisably different these days — as does the entire landscape of the United States. Due, of course, to COVID. But due also to the evil lunacy of the soon-to-be-ex-President.


There was a different plane in the sky on Wednesday. It crashed into the Capitol building in a way foreign terrorists failed to do 19 years ago: it was a domestic airline called Trump Air (or perhaps it was a hot air balloon), and it was propelled by his lies and fuelled by his hatred. And on an existential level it was a far greater threat to our nation than what did happen on 9/11.


From airline disasters — both allegorical and real — to mini freezer dramas, there is a real mechanical failure afoot of late: so many parts of our democracy are broken. As we limp to the finish line of this horrific and devastating four years, I have thought often of Elsa over the past weeks (of course I have — haven’t you?), and the meaning of her words, “Let it go,” particularly as they pertain to our outgoing leader. He needs, of course, to let it go: he lost, fair and square, just like the other side sometimes loses. That is the nature of democracy, and however we might dislike the other side winning, we accept it and move on. We let it go, because we need to look ahead. Sometimes, things go wrong; sometimes there are hanging chads and sometimes corrupt, craven leaders who attempt to bend the outcome to their will. But if Al Gore managed to let it go, then surely this is what all must do who have lost. Let. It. Go.


And speaking of loss, there is another sort of letting go that too many are having to endure: the letting go of a loved one. Around the world, but especially in the US and especially in Los Angeles County — a mere 15 minutes from our doorstep — hospital resources from staff to ventilators have now become so scarce that they will soon have to start rationing care. LA has just appointed a triage team charged with making impossible decisions about how to mete out care: who might have the longest life left to live if they are administered to, and who might have less time or a lesser quality of life and therefore will be refused treatment, and then the families of those who lose that cruel game will be told that they have to let it go.


But Elsa isn’t talking about that sort of letting go, or about giving up, or about the letting go of the cataclysmically destructive anger that this week quite literally engulfed the nation’s Capitol (as opposed to the nation’s capital, which has been engulfed by similar if less overtly violent anger for four long years). Elsa is talking instead of letting go of the constraints that have held her back, about finding her freedom and coming into her own.


It’s her line “don’t hold it back anymore” that particularly chills my heart this week, as we look ahead to the remaining days in which the raging tyrant has no reason to hold back anymore. And it’s the prospect of his rage throwing out yet more deadly daggers of ice into the heart of the very nation, of the very people whom he is sworn to protect, that makes my blood run cold.


For those of you who don’t have two small daughters of a certain age and therefore haven’t watched Frozen dozens of times or had the soundtrack inserted into the CD player of the car permanently from 2014 to 2016, I should pause to explain that when Elsa becomes frightened and angry, her emotions manifest themselves as ice and snow. She conjures up a terrifying snow monster which scares off any who would attempt to approach her in her isolated ice castle, and accidentally shoots an enormous shard of ice into the heart of her sister who has come to save her.


Any comparisons with our frightened, angry leader, who conjured a monstrous mob this week and shot danger into the very heart of our nation, very definitely end there. Elsa is finally free to explore her strange powers, having been raised to hide them all her life in order to protect those around her, whereas you-know-who has been rewarded all his life for displaying his strange power very publicly and openly, whatever the cost to those around him. Shaped by grief and loss, Elsa is damaged, and the icy dark streak at her core is slightly sinister and sometimes cruel, but she ultimately redeems herself by saving her sister. Whereas it would seem that he-who-shall-not-be-named (forgive me for freely mixing my children’s entertainment references) is entirely cruel, sinister and untempered by any higher loyalties, entirely beyond redemption. Ultimately we love Elsa, in spite of all her faults and mistakes, in a way that we loathe the other one, because of all his heinous crimes.


In fact, so keen am I not to impugn Elsa’s good name and character by comparing her too closely with the villain of our piece, I will state it again: she is a good guy. He, on the other hand, is the arch enemy whose willingness to kill not only the heroine whom he professes to love but anyone who stands in his way, and whose treachery was far more frightening to our older child at the age of four than the more obviously scary snow monster. This is because our daughter knew that Elsa loved her sister Anna, while seeing very clearly that Hans, who had been given the care of the kingdom, was actually the greatest threat to that very kingdom he had sworn to protect; his breaking of the trust the people had placed in him was, for her, truly terrifying. (Ours is a preternaturally wise child. And the script writers of Frozen eerily prophetic — though the treachery of leaders is not entirely new in this world.)


I should also point out that as soon as Elsa realizes the extent of her powers she flees the kingdom to protect her people. Someone might do well to take a page from her playbook, though self-exile to the North Mountain is neither far enough nor punishment enough for him, nor is the threat that Hans faces — a trouncing from his 12 older brothers — even close to the harsh justice the traitor in our story deserves.


One of the many things that scare me right now is the fact that all the highly-deluded-but-supposedly-saner adults around him are frozen by their inability to stop the monster. And in the freeze-and-thaw-and-refreeze cycle of politics, they look ahead to their own fortunes, while only a brave few speak out decisively about fixing the seal before more damage is done. While we were able to rescue our groceries and transfer them to our garage freezer, there is no one to rescue America until the replacement part arrives, too many days from now; there is no backup place to hide until a functional repairman arrives to set things right.


Just as we’ve tried Vaseline and duct tape and other home remedies to patch things up for the interim so that our motor doesn’t burn out as it works overtime to do its job, there is talk of invoking the 25th amendment or impeachment as a stop-gap measure to keep things from getting worse, but these remedies are insufficient and slow; the motor might yet fail.


But I try to remind myself that while the motor may be working overtime, while it may be fragile and damaged, it is still functioning and intact; that, having feared for their lives in the afternoon, our elected leaders returned in the evening to continue their work of keeping democracy intact.


I remind myself that the gloves, like Elsa’s, are now off and we can no longer hide the truth about the problems in this country, where peaceful (Black) protestors are met with violent policing while violent (White) mobs are met with silent collusion from some law enforcement leaders and loud encouragement from far too many elected officials. But I remind myself also that once a wound is open to the air, it stops festering and starts to heal.


I remind myself of the line from Frozen I most often quote to my husband (we call it Wisdom By Disney, for there are a few such nuggets of truth amid the saccharine candy floss): there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me,” as Elsa sings. Before she is redeemed by her act of true love, she is tormented, but in the end she does escape the storm. I remind myself that this storm will pass; that we will escape the storm inside America, too, as the nation is redeemed by its act of true democracy.


That indeed — as we learn from the trolls in Frozen, who are decidedly good and entirely different from all the social media trolls and especially that most grotesque and terrible troll of all (who in fact has just been frozen himself — ha!) — “an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart”… and perhaps it can thaw a frozen, brittle, broken country too.


I remind myself that a fearless heroine and her sweet-but-slightly-bumbling male sidekick are on their way to the rescue, and that her bravery and his kindness will save the day.


(I’m not entirely sure who the talking reindeer represents here, but it might be our newly elected senators from Georgia who lift our brave heroes onto their backs to save them just in the nick of time from the ravening wolves — or it might be the people, every one of us, who helped them ride to victory. I’m also not sure who the loveable snowman might be, but perhaps it is our children, who have started to melt under the pressure of all of these misadventures, but who will — with the right conditions — recover sufficiently to make us laugh and give us warm hugs.)


I remind myself that we can all now begin to let go of what — and who — doesn’t serve us.


I remind myself that after the winter comes the spring.