Election Day & Mr. Orange Hand Traffic Signal - How I taught our kids to have their own minds about politics
We the people, in order to really screw things up...
We really got ourselves into some next-level mess this time, didn't we, folks? The 2016 election was one of the biggest circuses in modern history, no matter what side you were on.
It's okay to admit it. Surely we can all crawl down from our collective high horse long enough to admit that, regardless of what side we were on, there were painfully obvious issues.
Neither side had the person to lead this country. End of story.
Let's face facts: Trump probably ended up as President after throwing his hat in the ring just to stir up a political poopstorm that might rally a qualified candidate out of the shadows. Well, guess what, Mr. Trump? As the old saying goes when someone does something stupid, "Heeeeeere's your sign!" It says, "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," and you get to hang out there for four years. Have fun with that.
And what can we say about Clinton? The nation is more than ready for a female president, but she was perhaps not the best candidate to be the test case if for no other reason than the fact that there are not enough bellhop buggies on the planet to carry all the baggage she brings along. Even if you like her, you have to admit that she comes with more than her fair share of skeletons, earned or not. If the Democrats had dropped her in favor of Bernie Sanders (or her running mate Tim Kaine or pretty much any other breathing Democrat or passable life form at the last minute), there's a good chance both Democrats and Republicans would've voted for him just to keep Trump out of office.
Yeah, the election was that big of a mess.
Throw in the third party candidates Johnson and Weld who spent more time making jokes and trying to be the comedic relief, and you had a recipe for disaster all the way around. They had great ideas, exceptional records in their home states and zero ability to take over where either the outgoing president was leaving off or either major political party would be willing to meet them in the middle.
What to do, what to do...
Like many Americans, I was lost. What would I do when I pulled that curtain closed behind me and had to make a choice? Not voting wasn't an option. I had to do something. Voting is a privilege denied to many people around our world, and I did not want to spend the next four years knowing I didn't let my voice be heard in some capacity
But what did I want to hear when I finally let my voice be heard? I had no idea.
So I wallowed in the bed on election day. I cried. I prayed. I hoped Divine Intervention would intercede and beautifully, amazingly send the answers I sought.
Our school is a polling place, so the girls were out. Normally on days like that, I would have them involved in something fun. Instead, I put them in front of the digital babysitters and texted with my husband throughout the morning. He was understanding about my dilemma and listened, as I knew he would, but he couldn't make the choice for me and didn't try to persuade me one way or the other.
Now and then, S. poked her head in to see what was wrong. My cautious oldest child is the "mother" of my three girls, always making sure everything is okay and that everyone's world is as it should be. She was worried about me, and I really had no good news to give her other than to tell her the truth.
"Mommy is very upset about this election," I said. "There isn't a good choice, but I have to vote. I have to go behind that curtain and choose one of these people, and I just can't."
She asked why not, so I started explaining my feelings in terms a 9-year-old could understand. Her 7-year-old sister soon joined us and proclaimed loudly, "I'm voting for the GIRL!"
"Really? If that's the case, you better know what that girl stands for before you cast that vote. Do you know what she believes in, what she stands for, what type of person she is," I asked her. "If you want to vote for her, that's fine with me. Every person has to vote for the person they believe is best, and it's not for me to tell you who that is. But you cannot vote for someone just because she's a woman or just because he's a man or just because you like one particular thing about that person. If you're going to vote for that person to lead our country for the next four years, you better make sure it's the right person for the job."
The girls sat down and listened for about 30 minutes while I explained each candidate and some of the things they had promised during the campaign. I introduced them to Johnson as well, and, to my surprise, they were already familiar with him. They had several exceptionally insightful questions, and I swelled with pride as I realized that our naïve little girls are growing into aware, interested, motivated young ladies who are interested in the world around them and how the pieces work together to keep things spinning and turning and functioning at the larger level to make sure their local level works effectively.
After all that discussion, though, I still didn't know what to do. Talking with the girls highlighted the fact even more dramatically that neither candidate was right for me.
Divine Intervention is a funny thing.
Still unsure of what to do mid-afternoon, I was 99.9% sure I was going to do the unthinkable and just not vote. As the girls and I ran errands around town, I could tell A. was deep in thought. From the back seat I heard a tiny voice with such a serious question.
"Why can't you just vote for someone else?"
"Well, you can if you want to, but lots of people would tell you that's a wasted vote, and I've had more than my share of people telling me that throughout this campaign because I openly questioned whether Johnson was a good candidate," I told her.
I explained in terms both girls could understand that many people believe if you don't vote for one of the major party candidates you're throwing away your vote, but that is simply not true because only you have to be happy with your vote.
"There is no such thing as splitting the vote, sweetie," I told her. "People will tell you that if you vote for Johnson, you're giving the election to Clinton because you're taking votes away from Trump or if you write in Ben Carson, you're giving the election to Clinton because you're taking the votes away from Trump. I assure you neither of those things are true because I would never have given my vote to Trump in the first place. I have personal reasons that I don't want to go into right now, but just be assured that wouldn't happen. So telling me I'm taking away votes from Trump isn't true. And who's to say I'd be taking them from Trump. I might just as easily be taking them from Clinton as well."
We were driving down the road at the time. As we pulled up at the light at Cypress and Bell Lane, I pointed across at the orange hand on the traffic signal.
"Do you see that orange hand on the traffic signal," I asked her.
"Yes, ma'am," she answered, clearly wondering where in the world I was going with this question.
"If I want to write in Mr. Orange Hand Traffic Signal for president because I think he's a better candidate than what we have to pick from, I can. It doesn't matter. It only matters that when I pull back that curtain, I can honestly say I made the right choice for me and that I can walk away feeling good about the choice I made and live with it for the next four years, regardless of whether my candidate won or not. Does that make sense?"
Both girls laughed, but they said they understood.
S. said, "You have to decide what's right for you. It's not anyone else's choice."
A. snickered and replied, "We might already have one orange president! Do we need two?!"
We needed that laugh. At least I did. We drove away saying our goodbyes to Mr. Orange Hand Traffic Signal, now known in our car as Mr. Presidential Candidate, and vowing to return to that spot on Inauguration Day and take a picture with our candidate, regardless of who won.
There it was. In the midst of trying to explain the election process to our girls and explain why I was struggling with my choice, that Divine Intervention I had sought washed over me, and I knew what I wanted to do. In fact, I knew what I had to do. We drove straight to the school, and in less than five minutes, I had voted.
No more wallowing, whining, crying. Civic duty done. Happily.
Oh these girls of ours...
The girls knew better than to ask what I decided when I came out from behind the curtain, but A. asked anyway. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk on the way to the car and pondered for a minute.
"I'm tempted to tell you, but I won't. I've never told anyone who I voted for, even your Daddy, and I'm not going to start now. The only thing I'll say is this - I'm happy with my choice, but the thing I'm the happiest about is that I exercised my right to vote."
They seemed quite pleased with this answer, so we left it at that
Of course, when my husband arrived home that evening from work, they couldn't wait to tell him all about Mr. Orange Hand Traffic Signal and how Mommy had finally made a decision about which candidate was the right one but wouldn't tell anyone, "so don't ask her 'cause she won't tell you either." I doubt one bit of it made sense to him from the perspectives of a 9-year-old and 7-year-old, but hearing them tell their political adventures with such joy and fire made my heart swell tenfold that day.
Our girls gave a damn. I don't know any other way to put that. At that moment, I looked across the room at those two little ladies and saw in their eyes a love of life and knowledge and engagement in their world and more than just a growing understanding of it. They love it. They want it. They enjoy it. And they plan to be part of it. Not just on a cursory level where they function but on a deeper level where they become something meaningful and important.
At 9 and 7, I'm sure we all thought we could and would conquer the world. At 19 and 17, maybe that spark had grown to a fire, but maybe by 29 and 27 the spark was dulled a bit. Life sure has a dampening effect sometimes.
It doesn't have to, though.
Our motherly, intelligent, cautious S. has turned 10 since the election and is growing into such an interesting, talented young woman. She wants to make everything right and just and rule-driven in the world, but her anxiety about her own portion of it gets in the way sometimes. Our bubbly, tenderhearted A. is 7 years old and the light of any room she enters. She wants to make the world beautiful and comfortable through acting, music, and prize-winning, perfectly turned phrases, and her song-writing will bring you to tears. Unfortunately, our forgetful little girl's ability to swim from one side of her world's fish bowl to the other and remember what she was doing is not very well refined at the moment, but she'll get there.
Maybe they'll conquer the world some day. Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll just explain to their own children the importance of voting and not letting others sway their opinion when it comes to making a choice.
Either way, they will still have conquered the world, in my opinion.
When you can teach a child to have their own mind, to understand the world around her and to go against what others are demanding she believe in favor of what she knows to be right in her own heart and mind...well, my friend, then and only then will you have taught her to conquer the world.
On Inauguration Day, we returned to greet our candidate Mr. Orange Hand Traffic Signal.
© 2017 Rebecca Mixon