Monday, September 29, 2008
A few days ago, Noah tagged along on an evening grocery store trip, just to talk to me. Let me relish in that statement for a moment: just. to. talk. Sigh. The transition back to school this year, after two blissful (at least that’s how I’m choosing to remember them) years of home education has been tough (on me). For Noah, there is this whole new world of kickball, a classroom with rats and a tarantula, and some kid who drinks milk through his nose at lunch.
Pitiful me has been walking around with tears always ready to break over the banks. Pitiful me has become the obnoxious presence in the principal’s office, “Do you need a healthy snack flyer?” “Do you really need to allow children to bring Game Boys on field trip bus rides? I mean, there are books to read, right?” “Could I offer you up some information on the latest in experiential education? You do know what that means…”
I will admit to being a bit of an, um, control freak (by this I mean totally neurotic to the point that most of my friends are wary to talk to me at the moment) about Noah’s return to school experience. I want him to love it. And yet, I think some part of me wants him to not love it, because I liked being his teacher, and I miss him. So I find myself in this constant tizzy of fear and frustration with the school system, even though Noah is perfectly happy just about anywhere, including his fourth grade classroom. He so detests shopping of any variety, however, that I assumed this trip to “talk” at the grocery store was to espouse protest about the nature of mindless homework and public school life. Imagine my surprise when he instead said:
“It’s politics, mom. The kids at school just do not have the same politics that I do. And I don’t know what to do about it. You talk to anyone who will listen about Obama and his good qualities. And I thought I could do that too. And then a lot of kids started saying crazy things, like he is a terrorist or stupid or a liar. A liar, mom. I just don’t know how to deal with it.”
Oh boy. I should pause here to say that having a mother who is a tried and true liberal, who makes “Bush is a total moron/war monger/children’s health care initiative slaughterer/red neck with poor grammar” common place dinner conversation does perhaps taint one’s abilities to NOT lean left or possess burgeoning interest in the political happenings on our planet. And Noah, being Noah, has been a Democrat sponge for as long as I can remember.
In 2006, he begged to go to Washington, DC, so he could see “where he would be” as president someday. During that trip, he created a plan to reduce homelessness (I’m serious) and decided all wars would be played with chess pieces, not people (Arlington cemetery did a number on him). In 2008, we returned to DC, per Noah’s request. He stood outside the white house and yelled at George W. about his many, many mistakes in office. I thought this was funny, until a family clad in matching flag leather jackets almost jumped us. And the morning coffee shop conversations went something like this:
Noah: “Mom, if Bush is so terrible, how did he get elected twice?”
Me: “There is this man named Karl Rove….”
The next day: “Mom, the democrats need a Karl Rove.”
Obama, for Noah, has been something of a dream come true. He has read biographies and memorized parts of his speeches. He has watched me be moved to tears as I talk about the hope of 2008, and he has cracked up at his little brother, dancing to the Yes We Can montage while wearing his “Barack and Roll” t-shirt. An outspoken nine year-old, Noah is always discussing politics with adults, listening with that true ear of a child, and responding with thoughtful comments, like “Yes, but McCain voted for the war, and for 90-percent of the other stuff George Bush wanted. Not to mention he is really old, and um, I wouldn’t want my mom running the country, even if she is a really nice person.”
I have vacillated on how much I should encourage this penchant for politics. On one hand, I believe it is important for my children to see to understand the importance of using our voices, to vote in ways that protect the greater good. On the other hand, I worry about moments like this one. I worry that political problems are too big, too deep, too, well, much for a child. As a member of Mothers Acting Up, I try to focus my energy in joy, even when it comes to the hard and sometimes heartbreaking work that goes with standing up for the world’s women and children. I try to hope for the dream of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals; I try not to get bogged down in the depressing reality of the Iraq War, the state of public education, health care, and anything else our cowboy president has blundered, or even the paralyzing fact that 11 million children in this world still die every year because of extreme poverty and easily preventable diseases. And yet, this election, I find myself struggling to not get on a soapbox. I struggle to be an understanding friend to those whose political views may differ from my own. My newest Pavlovian instinct is to vomit upon hearing the word “Palin.”
So I started to fill Noah’s steel trap memory with facts to be regurgitated when his playground banter turns political. As I’m loading him up with the Blueprint for Change, however, I notice his eyes looking down at the grocery store’s linoleum flooring. His lower lip is sucked in and his shuffling his feet.
“I-I-I just don’t want to have to argue with anybody. I just want to believe that the person who has the right heart, who is good and kind to win. I thought Obama is supposed to be the hope we can believe in, Mom.”
I stopped and dropped the box of Cliff Bars I’d been debating over into the grocery cart. My eyes met my sons, and I saw that image of oneness that is hard to describe, and harder to find as our children grow. It struck me that in this place of unbalance our country is in, how my desperation for change has put my son in a place far too old for his pure and waiting heart. I scooped him up in my arms, his legs so long now that his feet almost still touched the floor.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, as he wiggled free, checking the aisle to make sure no one under 80 had seen.
“We just need to hope mom,” he said, patting my hand before he steered the cart back toward the cookies.
The words flowed off his tongue with ease and with honesty.
“Yes, yes. Hope,” I responded. “It is what this election is about above all else, and it is the place I need to operate from too. You should worry about things like kickball and leave this presidential pooh-bah to the grown ups.”
Noah nodded slowly, and then added with a (slightly wicked) grin, “Thanks….but by the way, where is my “Obama: I’d like a smart president this time” t-shirt?”