Wednesday started like any other day in the life of a parent of young children in the era of COVID.
There was breakfast, and reading, and drawing Totoros. There was changing diapers and playing outside, and putting the toddler down for a nap. There was screen time for my 5-year-old and there was a fight and a reconciliation over cuddles, kisses and tickles. There was bingo playing and dance party, and coloring with markers and watercolors. There was tidying up toys for the 100th time. There was dinner prep, eating, food all over the floor. There were bedtime stories, and lullabies.
And there was the news of white supremacist Trump supporters storming the Capitol.
Jan. 6, 2021, marked three years and four months since I became an American citizen, after moving from Argentina to New York in 2007 to join the clergy team at Temple Israel of the City of New York. In a brief but heartfelt naturalization ceremony in Denver, Colorado, 35 individuals from 27 different countries performed the Oath of Allegiance.
After all that time, Jan. 6 was the first day on which I truly understood the commitment I had made in October of 2017. That day, I became a new parent, and American democracy was, from that point on, going to be my child.
How many children do I have? I have three: my son, my daughter and democracy.
Let me tell you how democracy is like my other children. Caring for democracy is dealing with messes and spills everywhere. It’s never-ending playing; it keeps me awake at night; it makes me worry and wonder what I did wrong, and how I can make it better; it is exhausting and frustrating, all while bringing the most joy in my life.
Democracy makes me do a lot of things, even when I don’t want to or when I think I don’t really need to: dancing like nobody’s watching, making silly faces and roaring sounds, doing more listening, less talking and more observing.
Democracy looks at me with piercing eyes, forcing me to look deeper.
But here is where democracy is different from my other children: Democracy has many parents — all of us. And democracy doesn’t grow up.
Democracy remains, in the words of Bob Dylan, forever young. We get older, and grow white hair. As with my other children, if everything goes according to plan, democracy will live to see my burial, and not the other way around.
The night after the riot, as always, I sang lullabies to put the kids to bed. But because it was a particularly exhausting day for democracy, I offered it this special lullaby, along with these words:
Forgive me; I must have been distracted lately and haven’t given you the attention and direction you need. You need to know that I feel your pain. And you need to know that you have hurt me as well. But, dear child, one thing you should know today and always: I will never give up on my children. I will never give up on you. So, sleep tight. You need to rest to wake up and continue doing those things only children can do so naturally: bring more light and joy into the world. Your job is to be a child; I will roll up my sleeves, do the dishes and the laundry and be the parent, to the best of my ability, for your sake and the sake of all the children yet to come.
Sheila Nesis is a cantor and mother of two. She served as Cantor at Temple Sinai in Denver, Colo. from 2014 to 2019. Prior to that, she served progressive congregations in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. She grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina.