Four years ago, I voted with three kids in tow. Two were basically babies, and the third was a very mature first grader. We walked down the street in New Jersey and huddled behind a curtain to take turns punching numbers. My big girl first grader was jumping up and down, telling me to make sure and vote for Hilary, her cousin’s namesake. She refused to believe that Hillary wasn’t on the ballot. The subtleties were lost on them, but four years later, they remember the booth, remember the vote, and were adamant that I should wait for them to get home from school to vote.
Today, I voted with four kids. We walked across the street in Illinois. There was no curtain to shield the other voters from the spirited discussion at our electronic voting booth.
Jack: “Vote for Mitt! Mom, vote for Mitt!”
Bella: “Jack, you big IDIOT. You just want to vote for Mitt because of the YouTube video. You do realize that’s just an actor, don’t you, that’s not the real Mitt Romney.”
Jack: “It’s not the video, and I am NOT an idiot. I want Mitt Romney to win because I like him. I like the way he talked in the debates. And I like that he wears red ties. Red ties are cool.”
Bella: “Well, whatever. Mom, you do realize that your vote doesn’t even really count, don’t you? It’s all about the electoral college. But I still think you should vote for Obama. Just in case.”
We don’t talk politics much here in America. Our phones have been ringing off the hook with telemarketing calls from candidates and our TV programs have been held hostage by increasingly angry commercials, but around the playground, political discussions are definitely in poor taste. It took me years to learn that lesson. In college at parties, tongue loosened by a few drinks, I would get fired up about a particular topic: the death penalty, gun control, or the performance of a particular president, and everyone around me got silent. Things got worse after graduation, whether at work or at play, politics is a topic best discussed in the privacy of your home.
Growing up in France, discussion and argument was just part of the dinner routine. Anyone who voiced an opinion had to be ready for a challenge; my father loves a good debate. I have still not managed to fully bury in my subconscious the shame of arguing in favor of communism (a few chapters into Animal Farm) or the death penalty. But regardless of how heated our debates got, it was great to be at the table, trying on big ideas for size.
At kindergarten pick up the other day, another mom was talking about how hard she tries not to influence her kids about the election. She explained that she didn’t want to color their opinions with her own. I disagreed. Let the opinions fly: mine and theirs. That’s what politics are all about. We need to talk, argue, and talk some more to try to win each other over. Politics are welcome at my dinner table anytime. Bring on the debate, we need it to create our future’s leaders. But let’s cool it on the idiot name calling.