“Don’t touch anything, children. Do you understand me?”
In unison, “Yes.”
Older Brother, Little Sister, and I huddle close to Mom as she closes the curtain behind us.
Older Brother: “What are we doing here?”
Mom: “I am voting. That’s what we’re doing here.”
Little Sister: “Voting for who?”
Mom: “Voting for President of the United States of America.”
Me: “Who are you voting for?”
Mom: “That is none of your goddamn business, young lady.”
Me, eyes downcast: “Sorry, Mom.”
And so it went 30 years ago.
Waldorf: “Is our guy going to win?”
Kenyan: “I hope so! Hang on…whose side are we on?”
Me: “What are you boys talking about?”
Waldorf: “President. We’re talking about the election.”
Kenyan: “Yeah, most of my friends want that guy to win.”
Waldorf: “Mine too! Is that who we want? Or do we want the other guy?”
Waldorf continues: “We should want the guy John wants…his Mom is really smart. She has a real job, not like you, Mom. She gets dressed up and goes to work.”
Kenyan: “Oh, she must be way smart. No offense, Mom.”
Waldorf: “But John’s Dad is not as smart as Daddy. Cuz Daddy got a perfect score on the math part of his SAT’s.”
Kenyan: “I know! Wait, what are SAT’s?”
Waldorf: “They’re a test. You have to take them to get into college. You need a good score to go to a good college. And you need a great score to go to an Ivy League college.”
Interrogator: “I’m not going to college. I’m living with Mom. Cuz I love her.”
I smile. My sweetest boy.
Interrogator: “And she’s beautiful.”
Is it any wonder?
Waldorf: “Oh, God, you can’t say that about Mom. She’s our Mom. She can’t be beautiful.”
Me: “Or smart. I can’t be smart either.”
Kenyan: “Whoever we want, I hope our team wins.”
Waldorf: “So, who are we voting for?”
I know this is a teaching moment.
So why do I feel compelled to say, “None of your goddamn business”?
One of the greatest things about this country is that I have the right to cast my vote. I have a voice. I get a say. I have the opportunity to support who I believe will be the better of the two choices to lead our country for the next four years.
But damn these election years. The political talk is everywhere. And. So. Are. My. Children. Tempers run high. Adults speak uncensored…probably more freely than appropriate…and often within earshot of kids. If my young sons and all of their friends were forced to wear earmuffs, my job as a parent would be so much easier.
I grew up watching Family Ties. I had a mad crush on Alex P. Keaton. I loved the way he argued so passionately with his parents over politics. Not necessarily because of what he argued, but because of how he argued. I envision my kids growing up with voices. We are raising them to educate themselves, formulate opinions, and speak their minds proudly.
Once they’ve had some life experiences. Until then, it’s meaningless rhetoric.
Right now, my kids are parrots. And so are most of their friends. They think their parents’ word is gold. They think we know everything. They believe us infallible.
I’m still working on teaching my older sons to use their utensils properly. And to place their napkins on their laps during mealtime. And to use those napkins (and not their sleeves) to wipe their mouths. My 6 year old just mastered skipping. My 4 year old can barely get through the day without an afternoon snooze. The only debates taking place at my dinner table are over who wants butter on his noodles and who prefers sauce.
So the election issues…these abstract concepts are difficult for my kids to grasp…and possibly more difficult to explain.
- individual interests
- party interests
- equal pay for equal work
- don’t ask/don’t tell
- gay marriage
- Roe v Wade
- gun control
We stumble through an explanation. Personally, I struggle to keep the passion and anger and fight out of my voice. Because these issues are ones I feel passionately about…the ones I get angry over…the things I’m willing to fight for. I pause a great deal…searching for the words that will not color their naive view of our world…remembering that the points of view of the adults in their lives may be in direct contrast with one another. I choose my words with precision. Because, at this age, my children are parrots. Because they think we can do no wrong. Because they have years before they realize that some of the adults in this world have more growing up to do than their 10 year old peers do.
Me: “Now, you have to decide which issues are most important to you. Then, figure out which of these two gentleman will better represent your interests. Who makes your issues a priority?”
Waldorf: “I know what’s important to you and Daddy…you’re always telling us blah, blah, blah…”
Me: “Well, I’m glad you’re listening to us.”
Kenyan: “So, does that mean you are voting for this guy?”
Waldorf: “Then, what does the other guy stand for?”
B&B: “He stands for this, this, and this.”
Kenyan: “So, he stands against those 3 things that are so important?”
We nod again.
Waldorf: “Who would vote for him?”
B&B: “John’s parents. And many of your other friends’ parents.”
Kenyan: “No way!”
Me: “Those 3 things are so important to Daddy and me. And they’re probably important to John’s parents. But not quite as important as these other 2 things are to them.”
Me: “Make sense?”
Kenyan, eyes narrowed: “Yes. But I don’t like it.”
Nor do I, little man.
When they are a little bit older, when they’ve experienced more of life…after they’ve witnessed the sting of prejudice, after they’ve heard silence from a piggy bank that once rattled full of coins, after they befriend a girl who believes she has a right to make choices concerning her body and befriend another girl who believes that she gives up that right once she is pregnant…that’s when they will know more about the men they’re destined to become. Their life experiences will bring clarity to their convictions. That’s when I hope we’ll sit around our dinner table. It is then that I’ll remove my Mom hat. I’ll finally speak to them about these subjects with the passion, anger, and fight that I feel. Years from now I will speak uncensored.
Until then, I have to reign it in. Caution them not to judge. Remove the urgency and exasperation from my voice. Dumb down the adult stuff and attempt to spin it into something remotely relevant for these little sponges.
I’m eager for the election to be over. I’m tired of the lawn signs. The debates stressed me out. The phonecalls drive me batty. I press mute when the commercials run. I roll my eyes at the FB likes. SNL is at its best during the election years. And many Americans are at their worst.
In the wake of the strongest storm ever to hit the East Coast with another storm close on its heels…as the November nights grow cold and so many are still without homes and even more without power, as the residents of New York and New Jersey wait on line for gas for hours, before rebuilding has even begun…there is a bigger takeaway than this election.
Over the weekend, Entergy Louisiana drove into my neighborhood to help those still without power. They came all the way from Louisiana. To ease PECO’s workload. And to help my neighbors.
“Remember those trucks that lined our neighborhood on Saturday? Those men and women came all the way from Louisiana. To help us. They left their families. Forget about the election. Remember that they came all the way from Louisiana to help us. That, gentlemen, is what this country is about.”
I’m lucky I have a vote. On election day, I will exercise that vote.
Want to know who I’m voting for?
It’s none of your goddamn business;-)