February 25, 2021

Peekaboo, America

Guest Opinion
By Mary Keyes Rogers | Jan. 30, 2021

As infants, we take delight in playing the timeless game of peekaboo. 

Mommy or Daddy’s happy, loving, and reassuring face momentarily disappears, only to return with a loving smile and a happy face when we uncover our eyes. This is more than just fun and folly. In playing this game, babies learn the lesson of object permanence, the concept that even though you can’t see Mommy with your eyes, she still exists. 

Seems like a good thing to know. Right.

This makes a baby feel safe. Even though out of sight, the teddy bear, favorite blanket, and Grandma and Grandpa still exist. I can’t see them, but they’re somewhere. 

The flip side of the peekaboo lesson is less comforting. Though out of sight, the dreaded boogeyman is still here, the three-headed monster under the bed is still there, and the evil witch is still perched on a branch of the tree outside your bedroom window. Yikes. 

Of course, we know that the boogeyman, the monster, and the witch exist only in your imagination. As fully functioning grownups, we tangle with the fear of those scary-in-real-life people operating outside of our view.

We’ve looked away for only a moment or two, but like the victim in a horror movie, we immediately walk down the creaky basement stairs, holding our flashlight against the darkness: “Who’s there?”

We can’t see them, but we know they are still there and mean us harm.

It is possible, that out of view, your mother-in-law is scheming to ruin your life, and your boss is checking your timecard. Those scenarios are just your imagination at work, but it is what the mind does when we mistrust others, feel unsafe, and can’t see the culprits of our possible undoing. 

As any parent of a teenager out past curfew can tell you, our imaginations can scare us beyond reason when we can’t see and touch our kids. So we check on them, and check on them, and check on them, feeling only momentarily reassured until we check on them again or have them in front of us.

In my mind, Donald J. Trump has been sitting in the tree outside my bedroom window while planning the demise of all I hold dear.

Yes, it was real. The frequency of my checking on him has been both incessant and totally legit. Not to make sure if he was safe. Quite the opposite. I was checking my notifications and alerts to be sure we were safe from him.

“What has he done now?”

“What is he going to do next?”

We all became more than a bit obsessed with checking the news, just in case. These last four years are the first period in which it was routine to hear that people were taking a break from the news as a positive measure to improve their mental health. And it was really, really difficult to look away.

I’m not naive. I know he’s still out there. He remains a potential danger — but one without the levers of presidential power at his pudgy, greasy french-fry fingertips. I would liken the danger to an encounter with an impotent rapist in a dark alley; he can’t really do anything, but his thug friends might show up. 

Here, in the nubile post-Trump presidency world, I am weaning myself from playing constant peekaboo with news outlets “just to check.”  

I find delicious comfort in Dr. Anthony Fauci practically giggling at the podium, speaking of his newfound freedom to speak of science, unrestrained and unfiltered. I take solace in White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s frequent and lengthy press briefings. 

Like Dorothy back in Kansas, awakening to the faces of Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto, I cry out “We’re home! Home! And this is my room! And you’re all here!” 

Yes, of course, we still need to keep an eye on our government. And yes, we still need to keep battalions of eyes on radicalized Trumpists. But for the first time in a very long time, we can look away and feel relatively safe from the “this is not normal” reality of the Trump years.

In no world should citizens of a nation feel the fear-driven need to monitor the actions or sanity of their president, prime minister, king, or queen. One sure sign of a healthy nation is that the citizens do not even have to think about their government daily or experience their leader as a source of constant concern.  

It appears that the guardrails of decency, tradition, and transparency have been restored by the Biden administration, and we can again — in safety — play peekaboo. 

Mary Rogers is the host of "The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife" and an actively engaged citizen of Grand Traverse County. She lives in Traverse City.

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