This has been a grueling political season, full of rancor and too much ugliness to catalogue. Some days, I just want to hide under the covers and pretend it’s all a bad dream. But then I think about my children.
Having children is, at least for me, the ultimate act of cockeyed optimism. There are so many reasons to be fearful of bringing children into the world, of exposing them to the awfulness to which human beings can lower themselves. But then of course there is the profound, unparalleled opportunity to try to shape another human being by the values and beliefs you hold dear, and that is in many ways irresistible. Not to mention sometimes just flat out joyous fun.
I’m often struck by how hard my husband and I have worked to model for our kids who and how we want them to be in this world. Notice I didn’t say,“How much we’ve told them” who and how we want them to be. Sure, we’ve had discussions over many years about any range of topics, from friendship to texting to climate change to Middle East politics. I’ve certainly not hesitated to share my beliefs about these topics and many more. But it is how my husband and I behave, it is what we do in this world, that leaves the deepest imprint. And that imprint is left on all of our children, including our autistic son.
Noah is twenty now, but years ago, when he was probably ten or so, we took him and our daughter Ariel to deliver holiday food packages to elderly, impoverished Jews on the Lower East Side. A year or so before that, we took them to plant a garden on the grounds of Usdan, an arts camp. We have all put money into our family tzedakah boxes. And we made charitable donations in honor of Noah’s becoming a bar mitzvah, as we did with Ariel and her oldest brother Sam, when their turns came.
My point is that Noah’s IQ, his profound lack of understanding, does not prevent him from being a good citizen, from giving back, from being a stand-up and stand-out human being. And that brings me back to politics.
I think about Noah and his deep and lifelong struggles. But I also think about his kindness, his decency, his warmth, and his loving nature. And I am struck by how none of that requires great wealth, fame, or special access. I know my other kids are taking note as well, and seeing through the veneer of a tall man of small stature, an angry, pricked man of perhaps deep pockets but most assuredly deeper stinginess, realizing that human decency, kindness, empathy and caring are cultivated traits. I shudder to think what some people never learned, or were incapable of learning. And I continue to be amazed at all that Noah has imbibed in spite of barriers that make learning anything and everything a steep challenge.
My son does not know about elections, but for the first time, we will register him to vote. Why? Because even a young man with an IQ in the mentally retarded range needs to stand up for himself and for his rightful place in our democracy. It is especially those who are easy to abuse, those who will always rely on the kindness, compassion and assistance of others in this world, who need to be counted. A nation is judged, ultimately, by how it treats those least able to care for themselves. There is no choice in this election. There is only a powerful calling, to stand up and be counted. May Noah’s vote help put the only worthy candidate over the finish line.
Nina Mogilnik's professional career has encompassed work in the philanthropic, nonprofit and government sectors. Nina is presently consulting to a select group of nonprofit and foundation clients. She also serves on the boards of Birch Family Services, and the Good People Fund. Nina is also an avocational writer, and has had a number of essays about her experiences dealing with her father's Alzheimer's and her son's autism published in Haddasah Magazine and in The Jewish Week. Nina's proudest accomplishment — and hardest job by far — has been as a mother. Nina has degrees in philosophy from Union College (B.A.) and from the University of Chicago (M.Phil). She lives with her husband and kids outside New York City.