A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Red, blue, purple... rainbow

“Mamaaaa!  Molly isn’t sharing …”

Lizzy’s wail was interrupted by her twin.  “You know what Mommy’s going to say.  She’s going to tell us to work it out ourselves.  And listen.  And play fair.”  Her parody of middle-aged grouchy exasperation did a fair job of making a six-year-old’s voice sound… exactly like mine.

Well, not how mine always sounds – at least, I hope not.  But it was late afternoon on Election Day, for heaven’s sake.  Weeks of punditting had pushed me to the point of just leave Mommy in peace while she stuffs this apple into a lunchbox shaped like a cartoon owl, ok?

As I slathered garlic cream cheese onto potato bread, it occurred to me that it might be unreasonable to expect my first-graders to respect differences of opinion, initiate intelligent and logical discourse, and broker civil compromises. After all, I wasn’t sure that we grownups -- We The People, we the red-and-blue electorate of the not-so-United States – had been doing such a terribly good job at any of those things, lately. 

Based on most of my political leanings, I’m a deep-indigo-blue liberal – not the bleeding-heart kind so much as the dorky-scientist kind.  I wallow in reams of statistics about the effects of climate change, or the linkages between education, reproductive rights, and female autonomy.  I desperately want America, as the supposed leader of the free world, to exemplify the same kind of logic, generosity, level-headedness, and deep compassion that I want from my kids.  I want to be governed by teamwork, not divisiveness – but, of course, as a practically-socialist left-winger, I want those teams to understand that denying someone education, health care, civil rights, or basic personal freedoms can never lead to a rich society in any sense of the word.    Is that too much to ask, I wondered? 

As I doled out peanuts into baggies and listened to too-early-to-be-useful speculation on NPR, I felt my hopes falter.  Were we doomed to squabbles, tantrums, cookie-jar-grabbing, fingers jammed in ears (“I can’t HEAR you, nyah, nyah!”) and shrieking matches based on fabricated versions of reality?  Was that red and blue map nothing more than the grownup version of “I wish I never, ever had a twin sister!”

Well, but my kids didn’t always behave like that, I reminded myself. Indeed, the bickering in the other room had died down.  It often does, these days – but I still recall my amazement the first time a twin argument (twingument?) achieved peaceful resolution without parental intervention.

The kids were three at the time, still newbies at preschool, and still unsure, at home, whether they wanted to behave like locomotives on separate tracks, or actually interact with one another.  In this instance, they were attempting to play “house” or “families” or some other proto-game that required that their motley collection of stuffed beasts and humans stand in as offspring.  “I want to be the Mommy!” A pause.  A second voice, even more irritatingly pitched: “No, I want to be the Mommy!”  Obviously, as I can attest, being the Mommy is always the most awesomest job ever.  Just as the shrieking told me that I ought to arbitrate, for preservation of intact juvenile bodily organs if not my nerves… it stopped.  “Wait,” said Molly.  “Susie* has TWO Mommies!”

Lizzy absorbed this for a couple of seconds, as if the mental calculus were more than a little taxing.  Then, in tones of joyful, breathless wonder, she concluded, “We can BOTH be the Mommy!”

Yes, it’s a little-known fact that lesbian preschool-parents can do wonders for your children’s behavior.

Now, three years later, the kids have absorbed even more of the diversity in their little orbits.  They know single parents, international adoptees, multi-racial families, and stay-at-home dads.  The doctor, the dentist, and the school principal are female.  Mommy chops wood and Daddy mops the floor. The President is black. To them, none of this is “liberal” or freighted with any sort of symbolism.  It’s not a statement of redness or blueness.  It’s not remarkable.  It’s just… normal.

I put away the lunch boxes for the next day, and tried to calm my nerves during the kids’ ice skating lesson -- even as polls closed in the eastern time zones.  I was biting my nails by seven o’clock.  Our community dinner that evening was a cacophony of shouts and laughter alternating with hushed attention to the radio and to three different internet-connected devices.  And then the results started to come in.

The kids reveled in the camaraderie while the adults reveled in the champagne.  Molly, as it turned out, had political opinions about everything from tax policies (“rich people should pay more!”) to polling practices (“we did Kids’ Voting at school, and we used computers – why don’t you?”) She went on to explain that she had voted for Obama because she thought he was a good President, and because she remembered “how happy everyone was when we got rid of Bush.”  Floored, I pointed out that she had been two years old at the time.  “So? I remember everyone at dinner was really happy,” she insisted.   Lizzy claimed to know nothing of Congress or Presidents.  But when I explained that gay marriage was an issue on the ballot in four different states, both kids were equally confused.  Wasn’t it already ok?

And, as it turned out – it was.  For the first time in American history, gay marriage was approved not by legal challenges put forth by those with a direct stake in the issue, but by millions of voters without any stake at all, other than a sense of fairness, of sharing, of listening and playing fair.  And this happened not just in one state, but in four.  No, they weren’t landslide votes.  But they happened.

I recalled, then, the elderly woman who lived up the street from my family when I was very small.  My big sister, always a history buff, interviewed Mrs. Weaver for a class project.  Sarah was eager to ask questions about specific events that this woman born in 1884 might recall.  How did she feel, for example, when, at the semi-ancient age of 36, she was finally granted the right to vote?

I can still see the old woman half-shrugging, smiling her mostly-blind smile, and saying simply, “I went out and voted.”

Sometimes change feels like an epiphany.  Often it’s the culmination of years of struggle, and a victory over years of oppression.  For those at the front lines, there is agony and joy.  But at the same time, I realized on Election Day, change also happens in the background, so quietly that no naysayers or Tea Partiers can do anything about it. 

Most of the Americans who voted for Barack Obama were white.  A whole lot of male-type-folks in New Hampshire (with chest-hair! and testosterone!) decided that they wanted to be represented in D.C. by folks with nary a Y-chromosome among them.  And almost a hundred years ago, all of the people who chose to give women the vote – albeit after decades on hardship and unremitting work by the suffragettes – were men.  We no longer question five-day work weeks or the concept of “retirement.”  Last century’s Extremely Controversial Liberal Cause is this century’s yawn.

I thought about who, among all my Facebook friends, seems to post the most messages in favor of gay rights.  The two that sprang to mind are not the most irreligious of my clan, nor the most politically liberal. In fact, neither is either left- or right-affiliated.  Neither is gay.  But, at less than 25 years old, they are the youngest of the contingent.  To them, I suspect, gay rights are not red or blue or even rainbow-hued.  They are just… normal. 

Yeah, it may be a long wait, with lots of ups and downs.  Yeah, things may sometimes get ugly and divisive.  But, over the long haul, I think We The People are learning to share… and work it out ourselves… and listen… and play fair.

*not her real name, but you two mommies know who you are, and I never DID say thank you…

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