Our new house is right around the corner from our town’s middle school, which is so close I’d be ashamed to have someone see me get in my car to drive there. Our old house was pretty close too, but now instead of crossing a busy county road and cutting through a town parking lot – past the public tennis courts – to get there, our new route to school takes you through the quiet streets of my neighborhood past about a dozen neatly-kept homes.
I bundled up Tuesday morning to make the five-minute walk to school to help out with the student version of Election Day. Along the way, I counted exactly one Trump sign and one Clinton sign decorating neighbors’ front lawns.
But if you drove around this small town, you’d find mostly Trump signs. It didn’t surprise me when I started to see those navy blue signs crop up on lawns this summer. Even though we’re in New Jersey, a traditionally blue state, our neck of the woods bleeds red politically. There are a lot of Wall Streeters around here. Not a lot of diversity. Pretty conservative. So folks tend to support Republican candidates. I mean, it was kind of a big deal a few years back when a Democrat was elected to our historically all-Republican borough council, even though the man could not be less controversial.
Which leaves me in the minority around here and that’s hard because I really like being a part of the majority. I really like doing what everybody else is doing. Being part of a collective. A community. That’s why it felt natural to join a sorority in college and when I’m searching for something on Amazon I use the “most popular” filter. I want to do what everyone else is doing,
This character trait definitely influenced my very first presidential election back in 1984 when I’d just turned 18.
I was pretty clueless back then, a couple of months into my freshman year at a fairly big state university, but I did have the wherewithal to procure an absentee ballot. This ingenuity also came into play when I figured out how to get someone to buy me and my roommate a case of Busch Light our first night in college (which we had to lug about a mile home in her father’s Army duffle bag). Somehow my excitement over our vice presidential candidate cut a swath through all the thoughts of beer and boys in my brain and I was ready to support her and the other guy on her ticket.
But as I went about filling out my ballot in our dorm room one night in October with the vice presidential debate playing on our small television – long before cable became de riguer in dorm rooms and reception came through carefully arranged antennas and positioning the set just so – my roommate and I started talking about the election.
My roommate had very different opinions about the candidates and as the conversation progressed, I started to become less sure about my decision. This is long before I learned I could easily be talked out of or into anything. Before I embraced the courage of my convictions. Instead, I went along with her. I nodded my head as she derided my candidate and, as Ms. Ferraro stood onstage in Philadelphia and broke through the first of the glass ceilings here in our country, I checked the box for Ronald Reagan.
And I can’t tell you how bad I have always felt about that knee jerk decision.
Sure, we’d learn later that her husband turned out to be a bit of a crook. But, ladies, you are either old enough to know now or will someday learn – either the hard way through personal experience or over wine and tears with a girlfriend – that we can’t be held responsible for our husbands’ actions. They do not define us. And sometimes – a lot of times – we do what we have to do for our families. We smile and swallow bitter pills and smooth things over and sometimes, that can work forever and other times, you just can’t stuff one more pill into your mouth.
But I digress.
Right or wrong (and really, is there ever really a “right” or a “wrong”?), I should have gone with my gut and been proud of that decision. Just like my roommate should have felt proud of her own and very different take on that long ago election.
The middle school had sent out an email a couple of weeks ago looking for volunteers to help the kids with their own presidential election and I quickly signed up for a morning spot and joked to my kids that I was going to secretly engage in electioneering. Honestly, I really just love saying the word “electioneering,” but it would be nice to sway some of those budding baby Republican voters in the meantime.
The teacher running the “election” for the school divided the eight of us parents up into groups of two to help with each grade’s voting and I ended up at a voting booth set up at the top of a stairwell outside the double doors leading to eighth grade’s floor with a very nice dad.
The first wave of students came through and I looked their names up on their class list and helped them sign their ballots, which they then brought over to the very nice dad who took their ballots and directed them to the laptop set up behind a screen to vote. We explained to the kids that the process was just like the one their parents would experience that day when they went to cast their own vote in the election and I felt a sense of civic pride sharing that info with my fellow young Americans.
We made small talk with the kids as they stood on line and waited their turn to vote. We asked them about how sports were going and marveled at how they’d grown and eventually the stairwell was empty again.
It turns out, we had a lot of downtime in between classes coming in to vote during their social studies periods so we filled the time with very pleasant conversation. The nice dad is a former member of our town’s borough council, so we talked a little bit about town stuff but mostly we talked about our kids. We compared notes on the differences between boys and girls lacrosse programs in the area and, because of his work in law enforcement, he shared some of his concerns about Internet safety for our kids.
The very nice dad told me about how I could monitor the battery use on my son’s iPhone to see just how much time the 13yo spent on various apps. He walked over to show me how to get to that bit of data using his own iPhone and I noticed when he got to that screen that he’d been spending a majority of his mobile time on the Fox News app that day.
He noticed it too and laughed and said he’d been checking election results all morning and then we talked about our kids some more. That was the only time the real presidential election ever came up. Up until I saw the Fox News thing there was nothing about our conversation that led me to believe he and I weren’t on the very same page.
I thought about that a lot on my walk home after I finished my shift at school. It’s the perfect time of year here in the Northeast and the weather on Election Day really pulled out all the stops. The sky was a clear blue with big puffs of white clouds and the leaves crunched under my sneakers as I walked along the sidewalk towards home. Even the political signs seemed quaint and part of the whole quintessential small-town diorama.
I thought about how much we really are all the same, regardless of the apps on our phones and signs on our lawns. We want to be good parents and keep our children safe and live in safe communities. And we want what’s best for our country.
But sometimes it’s the means we adhere to in the getting there – the keeping kids and families safe and our communities and country great – where we begin to disagree. Where we seem to hit snags.
And this is where tolerance comes in, along with a big dose of respect for our differences in all areas. I can disagree wholeheartedly with your decision to not use a playpen for your one-year-old – personally, I don’t know how any young mom can expect to poop or wash her hair without one – but I need to respect that decision. Plus, my kids are grown now – with varying results – and I can poop and flat iron my hair til the cows come home.
My friend Dan loves guns. I do not understand them and think they are an extension of the male … ego. At any rate, we’ve had a few conversations on the issue and I’ve come to the conclusion that we are never going to change each other’s minds about it. We agree to disagree and are still friends and I really respect his stance because I respect him as a person.
Then there’s my friend Robert. Another one I don’t always see eye-to-eye with on the issues. He’s a former Army guy and I remember having very heated discussions back in the 1990s about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (a position he tells me he has come to rethink). But we’ve both softened over the years and have started to see things in less black-and-white terms. And he’s a voracious inhaler of information, from all news outlets. He says he listens occasionally to a New York Public Radio talk show I told him about and on election night toggled between Fox News and MSNBC.
We still have conversations about topics we don’t agree on but in the end, respect each other’s points of view and move on.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up to a nasty text from one of my brothers (I have four), which was interesting because the only time he ever reaches out to me is to attack my perceived political leanings. Like, even on my 50th birthday.
In that birthday exchange, in which he derided me for writing about being a Democrat – not that in the three or four years I’ve been publicly writing about my life has he ever mentioned anything else I’d ever shared –he asserted my candidate was a “scumbag.” He ended the long tirade with some smiley-faced emojis, as if that would take the edge off his assault.
I brought the whole incident up with my therapist during an ensuing session and she pointed out how angry my brother seemed to be. She said that we could not ignore that such a large segment of the American population felt so disenfranchised by our government and reminded me that people were totally entitled to their feelings.
So that’s how I framed that interaction. I felt compassion for my angry brother and closed the door on that issue.
At 1:53 a.m. he texted a tweet that Trump had been elected president and a rant about how Attorney General Giuliani would prosecute Clinton “for her many crimes.”
“What a disgusting piece of garbage,” he ended.
And I have to hand it to my brother, he was able to get me more upset and sad about something other than that Trump was to become our nation’s president. Not an easy task.
But in the end, I decided – with a little help from some friends who talked me off the ledge – that that type of vitriol is not what I want in my life. Being intolerant of others – who they are and their opinions – is not who I want to be.
I mean, my own mom voted for Trump, as did my brother’s wife and, well, my mom is my mom and my sister-in-law is probably the nicest person I know. For reals. I keep waiting for her to show her evil side and so far, I just see her as a wonderful wife, mother, daughter and sister-in-law. I love them and respect their opinions and would never even consider wrecking our relationships over something over which we ultimately have no control.
My mom and I didn’t talk for a while in the 1990s because of politics and I never want to go down that road again. I love her too much and my life is too short.
And I know in my heart that we are all just boats against the current – the quagmire of politics and the great highs and lows of this one big life – and all we can do is beat on, whatever that looks like. And we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we are all, each and every one of us, struggling.
And respect that.
(PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.kxro.com)
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