Voting Like I Parent

I abruptly stopped sleeping last night at three a.m. and stayed awake for over two hours, until Max’s phone alarm signaled what I already knew—5:30, time to get up. Only then was I able to doze lightly, which I did for an hour, the comforting sounds of my boys starting their day drifted in with the smell of the coffee Hugo had brewed.

Until I was in my late 20s, I slept deeply through the night, every night. My days in college and graduate school at Ohio State University were long–each day I walked miles to and around campus and worked most nights. I had a boyfriend who marveled, was jealous even, at how easily I dropped into solid sleep for eight to ten hours.

This ended, irrevocably it seems, when at 28 I gave birth to my first child. Not only did I wake to nurse him, I roused if he coughed, cried or just wiggled. Before he moved into his own room, I had another baby and then another. All four of my boys moved into their own rooms long ago and baby Lyra has slept through the night since birth (she’s a jackpot of a baby). Yet I often find myself awake at night, most commonly at three o’clock or, as I call it, my Fretting Hour. I fret about issues both personal and global, mostly stuff I have little or no control over and that seem all the more important because in the middle of the night my rational mind can be hard to locate.

However, since mid-August when Lyra was born, I have had little trouble sleeping through the night. I’ve been physically whooped due to the birth, the many visits to doctors’ offices and Akron Children’s Hospital. And then there are the other four children who still need attention, food, driven to school. It’s all good.

What kept me up last night started on Saturday when we were trick or treating in our neighborhood. “I didn’t know they were Republicans,” said my son Jules, dressed as a mad scientist, as we walked past the house of friends. When I assured him that they weren’t, he pointed to the Romney-Ryan sign by no means hiding in our friends’ front yard. I must have had visual denial to have missed it. These friends, like me, voted for Obama in 2008 and abhorred the Bush presidency and what it seemingly stood for—a prioritization of political party interests over those of the nation, like they’re playing some crazy football game in Washington D.C. These friends also believe in the full array of civil rights for our GLBT citizens and that women should receive equal pay for their work and have full access to health care. And I thought that they believed in a safety net for those citizens who need it.

Though Obama and his administration have worked towards long term goals for our nation and not politically expedient goals for his re-election–goals like averting economic disaster and rebuilding the economy, ending the war in Iraq, ensuring the rights of all citizens, rebuilding our relationships with our allies and, yes, bringing affordable healthcare to all Americans–these friends of mine want to fire Obama. I have been walking around gobsmacked because I now see that the race must really be as tight as the media says it is and perhaps Obama will lose.

I have long been a Democrat, but I didn’t start out that way and who knows? If the Republicans at all resembled the party that they were in the mid-twentieth century, when states rights, personal and fiscal responsibility were the hallmarks of their platform, I may yet have continued to vote for their candidates. Like Barry Goldwater, who had little to no tolerance for religious extremists, Christian fundamentalists who twist and turn history to convince themselves that our founding fathers would have us become a theocracy and expect the Republican party to swear allegiance to their agenda. Or Bob Dole, who became a staunch supporter of Food Stamp Act in 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The key difference between the pre- and post-Gingrich era Republicans seems to be an understanding of poverty. Older, if you will, Rockefeller Republicans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II did not view poverty as a character flaw but something that can happen to anyone. Now working class Americans are, according to Romney, a group who consider themselves victims and have become dependent upon the government and whom Romney does not take into consideration. He’s written them, including my children and me, off.

How did the Republicans win the hearts and minds of people who directly suffer from the consequences of their trickle down policies? How is it that my friends can reasonably blame the Bush Administration for getting the economy in such an abysmal state and then turn around and want to fire Obama for not fixing it fast enough and, furthermore, want to hand the reins of government back to the Republicans who will return us to the policies that got us in this mess to begin with?

I don’t have the answer to that question because I cannot imagine voting for a party that has become so ideologically extreme and capricious with power when they have it. I don’t reward my children for behaving irresponsibly, so why would I do so with my vote?

Consider my second son, Hugo, to whom everything comes easily and who has required by far more of my parenting time, energy and creative approaches than all of my other children put together. From the time he was toddler until quite recently, he has resisted being held accountable for his actions. Even if he had done something on accident, say bumped into another child causing him or her to fall, Hugo could not stand to apologize and would get in more trouble for his reaction to being busted than for the initial infraction. But I’ve continued to hang in there with him, show him that his behavior has consequences while trying to cultivate in him empathy for others. Sometimes I’m less graceful at this than others. Just ask Hugo and he’ll happily tell you how I once chased him through the house and up into his top bunk bed only to tell him if he ever went to jail I wouldn’t bail him out. He’s now fifteen and last spring I found myself constantly having to ride him to do his homework, household chores and manage his money. He wanted me simply to give him money when he needed it, clean up after him, drive him where he wanted to go and, ironically, monitor his schoolwork.

We had gotten into a cycle that was, for me at least, chronically frustrating. I would tell him repeatedly to do his homework and housework, he’d repeatedly agree to do it, but then wouldn’t. Instead he’d make excuses as to why he didn’t do what he said he would and continue to ask for money and rides. When this cycle of him telling me what I wanted to hear but never delivering on it became clear to me, I pulled the plug. I stopped monitoring his homework and I made him pay in cash to have his room vacuumed and dusted. I also stopped giving him money and rides. If he wanted to be treated like a roommate, so be it.

Hugo relaxing between school and marching band practice.

But as his mother, it’s my job to push him and I did so by putting his passion on the chopping block. Hugo plays in multiple bands and sing in multiple choirs at his high school, but it’s not what he does, a musician is who he is. I never have to tell him to practice music but rather often need him to put down the guitar in order to do other things (like homework and chores). Beginning this fall, I warned him that if his grades slip below a 3.7 I will pull him from one of his bands. I don’t check online to see if his homework has been turned in, I don’t ask about his grades. It’s his responsibility to organize himself, he’s old enough. The result? Hugo is exercising more self-discipline and I’m not haranguing him. He has all As on his first grade card of the year. And he’s frankly more pleasant to be around. This only works because Hugo knows, from experience, that I am not bluffing. I don’t play poker with my children when I tell them what consequences they can expect for their behavior, both good and bad. I always follow through (and truly it can at times be harder on me than on them to do so when I have to follow through on consequences for the bad).

The Republicans love power, they love being in power. To be fair, so do the Democrats, but so far the Dems still seem to generally remember that the best interests of the country, not just the party, are why they are in government. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out in the September 22nd issue of Newsweek, a second term for Barack Obama may just shake the GOP enough to move them away from the extreme right cliff they’ve found themselves on and back towards the center where good government and the majority of Americans can be found.

By this time next week, we will know if more of the electorate agree with me or if, like my friends, they believe the unsubstantiated promises of the GOP. In hopes of a better night’s sleep tonight, I went first thing this morning to my county’s Board of Elections and voted for a second term for Barack Obama and will follow up by volunteering for the campaign in the days ahead. I hope you will all join me.

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