Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama Mama

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.

But me.

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?”


Astarte said...

I homeschooled for a year, first grade, before we moved to our current area, because the school system where we used to live was horrendous. It was nice, but it was also nice for Josie to have the exposure to other children and thoughts other than mine. I think it's important to share my ideas, but she'll never form her own unless she's exposed to a lot of ideas, from a lot of sources. So, I'm good with her having to make choices every day. I have to rein myself in on the school suggestions, too, but I volunteer pretty extensively in the school, so I see what's going on with the kids.

I think it's important for us to be careful what we tell the kids, politically. I'm a hard-core liberal, and the kids know what we think about the current administration, although in nicer terms than I use with adults, but I don't want them to freak out if Obama loses. I, myself, will cry and gnash my teeth and consider moving to England, but they shouldn't worry about it. That's not their job, and I don't want them to be afraid, because that's my job.

Janet said...

I might cry a little if Obama isn't elected and I don't even live in the U.S.

I think hope for the future rests with thoughtful little boys like your Noah. But I agree that he should focus on being a kid right now. There is plenty of time for worry and political despair over when one is grown. ;)

Sus said...

hey, kate - i've missed you! i didn't realize you were one of those amazing home schooling moms. go figure. here's what i've loved best about frannie being on her own at school (at 3 - better moms probably would sob at the very thought of it): when she comes home knowing thing I definitely didn't teach her, and when I see her holding hands with a little girl I don't even know - holy cow, a friendship she's created all by herself.

As for Obama. Thank you, Noah! You have proved my thesis that one of the most important reasons we need to elect Obama to instill a desire among GOOD KIDS to be president someday. So we don't have to wonder about the morality and sanity of anyone who would want that awful job. We need to turn it into a good person's job again.

I'm headed for the Netherlands if McCain wins, myself. I've racked my head trying to think of one place on earth with a smarter electorate than Americans appear to be. It's the only place I can think of so far. Other Ideas?

Heather of the EO said...

what an amazing child! Holy cats, lady. You must be doing a whole lot of things right. Amazing. Beautiful post about a boy with a beautiful heart.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is powerful. What a sensitive and in touch son you have. How old is this Noah? You have touched on so much in this entry and I applaud you for doing so, even though there are no answers. Our kids do and will see us as we are and come to internalize our politics. That's ok - within limits - the limits you confront so powerfully here. Well done! Keep writing. Always keep writing!

Midwest Mom said...

It's so good to read your writing again. I have missed your blog.

In terms of the school, what you call 'neurotic' or 'control freak' I call commitment (and not the guys in white jackets kind...) It is a good thing to be involved at your child's school and to support the teachers who are giving their time and talent to teach your child.

I am with you in terms of politics, but I do shield my children from it in a small way... I just know that I've been disappointed before, and I don't want them to share in that feeling. The economy, also, profoundly worries me. It seems there is little the white house idiot has not found a way to ruin. But now, I have to guard against sharing the depth of my fear with my kids. You are right -- their lives should be about games and fun and friends.

I have one suggestion: if you can do it dispassionately. And that is to work with Noah's teacher to lay out the candidates' positions on issues -- education, healthcare, war, economy, business -- and let the kids themselves work out their views and have a mock vote. I firmly believe that Obama is on the right side of issues and, going forward, that is what matters. If you can help to teach the kids to make informed choices, they will be well-served in the future (and less likely to spout garbage about one candidate or the other... wouldn't that be refreshing?)

Best to you, MM

*tiffany* said...

Oh, my gosh! What a great kid!! How old is he?? I love kids that are that deep of thinkers at a young's refreshing. And you are probably entirely to blame for having a child that CAN think outside of Gameboy! Good Job! More mommies should be like you!

abbyjess said...

That is AWESOME! You son sounds like a kid I would have fallen all over myself to get on my class roster when I taught public school. Instead, the day after the last presidential election, I was faced with chants of "Bush, Bush, Bush" by my beaming first graders. I nearly wept.

Your son sounds brilliant. When will he be old enough to run for president? I will absolutely vote for him.

Oh, and your involvement in schools is what public education needs more of... and I was a public school teacher for 6 years.

womaninawindow said...

OK, first off, I'm so glad you're back.

Secondly, love, love your son. My son is 6 but is pretty concerned with George Bush. We've been trying to keep the whole Palin thing quiet with him and I'm afraid we've failed to introduce O'Bama to him too much yet. Still betting on that hope. But then we're a country away, but he sure knows who he wants out of office, both in Canada and in the States. Got to focus on that hope more, the who would be better for the change. Therein lies the more important message.

(One of his favorite things for the last few years is to shake your hand and introduce himself saying, "Hi, I'm Stephen Harper and I'm a moron." Just sub in George Bush and the joke runs smooth.)

Amy Hanek said...

Oh Wow!! That kid's goin' places. I mean it!

I'll remember to vote for him in about 30 years. Don't worry.

Robyn said...

Noah sounds like an old soul. And what a wonderful relationship you two have.

I think it's important to give our children a foundation to either build on or rebel from as they grow up and reach their own understandings, whether that foundation is political, spiritual, or something else entirely — as long as it's based on good.

Zip n Tizzy said...

You have a thoughtful and perceptive kid.
Clearly from being that way yourself.
The fact that he's not complaining about the school experience, despite the obvious debates he's been handling, shows what a strong sense of self he has. My only hope for our times, is that people be shaken enough to care. It seems that too much comfort frequently builds apathy, but, that doesn't mean I don't hope for change.

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

My friend Amy said, "You better go to this blog," and here I am. Thanks for sharing a touching story that brought tears to my eyes. It's really hard to shield them when your 12-year-old daughter comes home from school and tells you another one of the little girls has a picture of Obama morphing into a monkey on her cell phone! And the principal is black! What are the parents teaching these kids?! Try explaining that to your child. I have been torn about advising my daughter how much to say. I don't want her to get into arguments with these kids (she's in the minority--they're all McCain/Palin crazy around here)especially since we're new to the area but I am also a big believer in standing up for what you believe in and speaking up about what's wrong. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. But this is my baby. I don't want her to get picked on.

I'm writing a story about this for my own blog as a matter of fact. It will be up in a day or two and I hope you'll take a look.

patsyrose said...

First, I love your blog and your writing skills impress the heck out of me.

Second, you are raising a special child in Noah. He will be "somebody" one day who can use his idealism for the public good.

He has very strong political views for such a young boy and I'm sure they originated with what he overheard in his home. He'll no doubt form his personal views as he ages but, in the meantime, try to teach this truly amazing child that it always pays to listen to the opinions of others even if he doesn't agree with them.

I'm a Canadian who has high hopes for Obama and I also gag when I see or hear Palin.

Emily said...

You nearly made me weep, Kate - thanks for sharing this great story. It's very inspiring and almost makes me want to have kids...but I'd need some kind of guarantee that he/she would turn out like Noah. :)

Ruth said...

Your story made me cry!

I look forward to the honor of voting for Noah for president. May he continue to respectfully disagree with those whose political views he does not share and always hope!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Hey Kate. Thanks for the comment on my blog about the sneakers, lol.

I couldn't figure out how to e-mail you. I put the story up on my blog now about the election and racism and my daughter's introduction to it.

Anonymous said...

my mom, louise harrison, showed me your blog. i am so proud of you. and so proud of your crazily intelligent son. i was never home schooled, but some of my schooling was definitely questioned. your son is gifted with an open mind and i hope all goes well!

Mamasphere said...

I think you have a kid that's going places, lol. What an amazing mind he has. I didn't even KNOW about politics when I was 9.

And good for you for being so involved in his education. There are by far more parents that aren't, and we need to turn the tide. School administrators are paid to deal with school issues, including parents who want the best education for their children, so never feel bad about being outspoken (though I have a hunch you don't). My daughter is only four, and I'm already concerened about the quality of education she's going to be receiving. I'm considering homeschool, too, at least for the elementary years. Time will tell.

So glad I found your blog- it's fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Kate, I stumbled across your blog somehow and love it! Noah is a wonderful child and you can tell him he has my vote. Griffin knows Obama's name too, and when he teases one of his little buddies(as three year old's do) he says "You're a Palin!" I think somehow he has picked up from the dinner table that that is not good thing to be. Tone of voice says it all! Keep up the great writing! I will be back.
Tracy in H.S.

raehan said...

I saw your comment on my pitiful blog that I am neglecting terribly and without thinking much, I clicked on your name and imagine the thrill to find an Obama lover (me too), with three kids (me too), wiho has a son with the same name as mine, and who just happens to look like a very good friend of mine who moved back to Ireland a few years ago.

I am so happy to have found you!!

raehan said...

And holy moly, we have the same jumpy. (in the photo below this post)

Carol said...

Sounds like Noah is more educated on politics than half your nation. Good for him.

Giving up homeschooling must be a total wrench for you. But if he's happy I guess that is the most important thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate! I'm Pinky, thanks for visiting my humble blog. I appreciate your comment so much. I have three babes, too, and I homeschooled for two years, as well as doing University Model Schooling. We're not jumping into public school, right along with you. Looks like we have a few things in common. ;-)

It's tough to find that balance between being a passionate woman, politically, and not indoctrinating our little ones along the way, isn't it? I try to teach mine about liberty, freedom, history, and patriotism. I know that with age and wisdom they will form their own ideas and come to understand politics and where they stand on the issues.
It's exciting as a mama to see them grow their own wings, isn't it?
Enjoy the journey, sister!
Looks like you have some wonderful kidlets under your loving care!

littlehouse said...

we should be friends. Face Book??

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Yeah, this is another one of those fine lines.

I can say without a doubt that I LOVE THAT Barack-n-roll shirt!!

Laurie Rodak said...

Hey Kate,

I met my best friend (to this day) when our first grade held a mock vote and she and I bonded over bashing Bush to the point we were asked to sit in the library until the 'election' was over.

It might be something Noah's grade would be interested in doing. If discussing politics is allowed in schools these days.

Problem is, he might know more than the teachers and be sent to the library too!

Thanks for sharing your well written blog posts on parenting with us.


Darren King said...

I think the applicable phrase is, "out of the mouths of babes..." write openingly and daringly...hope, or the idea of something or someone that gives hope, that is hope, is everywhere these days. We are a people wanting build things again, to hope in something and design our own live up to the idea of communicate well the importance of instilling this into our children...great piece...great blog...Regards, Darren King

Anonymous said...

I know this is a late comment from your original post. But I just read your comment on Catherine Newman's and wanted to check you out. I too am still getting teary eyed and can't seem to get the smile off of my face. I loved your writting and also the story of your son. You are doing a wonderful job with him. I can only hope that my 5 year old son is as astute (sp?) when he grows up.

My family is also excited that we will finally after 8 LONG years have a President that is smart! I'd buy that T-shirt that your son talked about. :-)
Shari in NC