Thursday, February 5, 2009

Save the Obama drama for your mama

My parents raised my sister and me to be kind, tolerant, empathetic people. In my case, it actually worked. Kidding! My sister’s lovely. Really.

I think tolerance is one of the most challenging things to teach a child. They see everything from such a black-and-white perspective: good and bad, right and wrong, winners and losers. I work hard to show my child the shades of grey, and to demonstrate acceptance of differing viewpoints.

Well, we all fall short of the glory.

During the presidential campaign last fall, my son Adam (who was three at the time) and I were putting together a puzzle of the United States. When we got to Arizona, I said, “There’s a crazy old man from Arizona named John McCain.”

This was NOT my finest moment as a parent, clearly. I realized I shouldn’t have said it as soon as the words left my lips.

But I thought it would go right over his head. He was three, after all. Instead, he reacted by shaming me (and he was right). “John McCain is NOT a bad man,” he said. “He’s good. Don’t say that mommy.”

I quickly went into damage-control mode. “You’re right honey,” I said. “Mommy was just trying to make a joke, and it didn't work. John McCain is a very good man, and he’s done a lot of good things for our country. But I like Barack Obama better.”

“Well I DON’T,” Adam responded. “I like John McCain.” I cringed to myself, thinking that I may have created my own little Alex P. Keaton in that very moment. But I was back in good parenting form.

“That’s OK, honey,” I said. “You’re allowed to like John McCain. Lots of people do. But I happen to prefer Barack Obama.”

“No, I want you to like John McCain,” he said. “He’s good. Barack Obama is bad.”

Deep breath.

“They are both good, sweetheart,” I responded. “You can like John McCain, and I can like Barack Obama, and it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. People can have a different opinion. That’s what makes our country great.”

Later that day I thought I would show him photos of the two candidates on the Internet. I found photos of them side by side, and asked him who he liked better. He pointed to Barack Obama.

“That’s Barack Obama,” I said. I pointed to McCain’s photo, “That is John McCain.”

Realizing he had inadvertently contradicted his earlier declaration, he replied, “No it’s not.” Touching the photo of Obama, he said, “That’s John McCain.”

And so it went throughout the campaign. Each time Adam would see Obama on television, he would gleefully shout out, “Look mommy, it’s John McCain!” I would attempt to correct him every time, but he wasn’t having it. He had made a firm statement that he liked John McCain, and disliked Barack Obama. But he had also said he liked the picture of Obama the best. So he had to make it fit somehow. Stubborn little bugger.

At varying points Adam begged me to vote for McCain, getting to the verge of tears in the process. I could have just lied to him and said that I would vote for McCain, and that would have been the end of it. But while I respect others’ opinions, there are two things I won’t budge on: politics and sports. I was also trying to teach a lesson at the same time: it’s ok to agree to disagree. In truth, I was trying to show that it’s more than just ok; it’s requisite for getting through this world with your relationships and sanity intact.

So, I would say, “Honey, I know you like John McCain, but you can’t tell other people how they should vote. It’s a personal choice. In 14 years, you’ll get to vote for whomever you want.” (I neglected to mention that the odds of McCain being around then were slim.)

Adam stuck to his guns, telling anyone who would listen that he liked John McCain: grocery store cashiers, neighbors, teachers at school, family members. He even cheerfully agreed to wear the Obama/Biden shirt I bought him, but would quickly tell anyone who asked him about it, “Yes, but I’m voting for John McCain.”

Election Day came and went, and we all know what happened. Adam was in denial at first. He was convinced that McCain won. In a few days, he came to accept the outcome. “Obama won,” he would say. “But I voted for John McCain.”

Talk of the election and the candidates tapered off, and several weeks passed with no discussion of them. Then on inauguration day, Adam saw Obama on TV. “I like Barack Obama,” he said. “They had him and John McCain mixed up for awhile.”


  1. Hysterical blog! Your son is quite a wise little man. He'll be debating the policies in the next election. Lol.

  2. Wow -- I'm crying. This is too funny. I want to meet your son!

  3. I'm playing catch-up with your blog, so I'll just say this: You're a good mommy, and that was a fabulous story. :)

  4. Thank you. :-)

    He is quite a character!