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Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, A Mother Confronts a World on Fire

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

Let me mention a small joy of my life. One afternoon and evening a week I take care of my 5 -year-old grandson, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we take care of each other. We always stop for cookies -- grandparents being allowed, according to The Official Rulebook of Child-Rearing (see p. 349), to shamelessly feed sweets to their grandchildren. We draw strange pictures together, practice doing our numbers -- believe it or not, I have a curious habit of writing mine upside down and regularly have to be corrected! -- wander the neighborhood checking out the local pet barbers as they clip dogs of every imaginable size and shape, sample food in stores we pass, and go swimming. (He's a genuine eel, capable of remarkable underwater feats.)

And then there's always that one moment -- I never know when it's going to arrive -- where I suddenly find myself thinking about a future world that won't be mine but will someday be his and my heart sinks. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not thinking of the ordinary ravages of our present Trumpian world extended into the future. That's just run-of-the-mill stuff of human history, even if it's hitting this country hard right now. Autocratic figures come and go. Bad kings, bad rulers, bad presidents: they and their terrible decisions are part and parcel of ordinary history, The Donald included. No, when that moment hits me it's because I'm imagining something that isn't part of human history at all. I'm imagining a world at least four to five degrees Celsius hotter than the pre-industrial one (as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted back in 2014) or even hotter than that. I'm imagining rising sea levels that could someday make the coastal city my grandson and I regularly wander through a flood zone. I'm thinking of mega-droughts, staggering heat waves, and fire seasons of unprecedented length and destructiveness. I'm conjuring up refugee flows that leave the present ones in the dust. I'm mulling over the fact that a near-majority of the American people elected a man dedicated not just to ignoring the reality of climate change, but to accelerating it via the loosing of the fossil fuel industry on the environment, aided and abetted by a rogue's gallery of climate change deniers and oil company stooges.

I look at my grandson and try to envision him so many decades from now in a world beyond my imagining, one no longer ruled by historical time but by planetary time, by environmental phenomena that, unlike autocrats and dreadful rulers, can't be rebelled against, voted out of office, or toppled. All this, at the very least, makes the Trump era a desperately lost opportunity. Again, don't misunderstand me. It's not that I have no hope. You can't look at a 5 year old and not have hope. You can't spend time with one of them and not feel a certain wonder at human ingenuity and creativity. So I continue to hope that somehow we'll respond in ways clever enough and determined enough to leave the worst of what might happen to the dystopian dreamscapes of fiction. Still, that sinking feeling's there and it's not going away, which is why I felt an instant connection with today's piece by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan on her fears for her own children in a world that can easily seem as dystopian as hell itself. Tom

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"Do Kids Die, Mom?"
Facing the Future With Trepidation in the Age of Trump
By Frida Berrigan

As a mother and an activist, here's what I've concluded as 2018 begins: it's getting harder and harder to think about the future -- at least in that soaring Whitney Houston fashion. You know the song: "I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way..." These days, doesn't it sound quaint and of another age?

The truth is I get breathless and sweaty thinking about what life will be like for my kids -- three-year-old Madeline, five-year-old Seamus, and 11-year-old Rosena. I can't stop thinking about it either. I can't stop thinking that they won't be guaranteed clean air or clean water, that they won't have a real healthcare system to support them in bad times, even if they pay through the nose in super high taxes. They may not have functional infrastructure, even if President Trump succeeds in building a yuge gilded wall on our southern border (and who knows where else). The social safety net -- Medicare, Medicaid, and state assistance of various sorts -- could be long gone and the sorts of nonprofit groups that try to fill all breaches a thing of the past. If they lose their jobs or get sick or are injured, what in the world will they have to fall back on, or will they even have jobs to begin with?

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The country -- if it even exists as the United States of America decades from now when they're adults -- will undoubtedly still be waging war across the planet. Our Connecticut town, on a peninsula between Long Island Sound and the Thames River, will be flooding more regularly as sea levels rise. And who knows if civil discourse or affordable colleges will still be part of American life?

What, I wonder all too often, will be left after Donald Trump's America (and the possible versions of it that might follow him)? Will there, by then, be an insurgent movement of some sort in this country? Could Indivisible go rogue (please)? Maybe they'd have a nonviolent political wing the way the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua in the 1980s? With the help of volunteers from all over the hemisphere, they eradicated illiteracy, brought in the coffee harvest, and vaccinated against diseases (while their armed wing fought against the U.S.-backed Contras). Maybe in our city, my grown-up kids can harvest potatoes -- no coffee grows here, not yet, anyway -- teach reading, and write revolutionary propaganda.

And when it comes to dystopian futures, I've got plenty more where that came from, all playing in a loop on the big screen in the multiplex of my mind as I try to imagine my kids as adults, parents, grandparents. Please tell me I'm not the only one in America right now plagued in this fashion. I'm not fixated on passing our modest family house down to my three kids or making sure that our ragtag "heirlooms" survive their childhood. What preoccupies me is the bleak, violent, unstable future I fear as their only inheritance.

It's enough to send me fumbling for a parental "take back" button that doesn't exist. I just don't know how to protect them from the future I regularly see in my private version of the movies. And honestly, short of becoming one of those paranoid, well-resourced doomsday preppers, I have no idea how to prepare them.

Recently, I had a chance to school them in the harshness of life and death -- and I choked. I just couldn't do it.

Death and Breakfast

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"When will I die, mama?" Madeline asked at breakfast one day recently. She'll be four next month. Her tone is curious, as if she were asking when it will be Saturday or her birthday.

"Not for a long time, I hope," I responded, trying to stay calm. "I hope you'll die old and quiet like dear Uncle Dan."

"I want to die LOUD, mama!"

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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