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Preschoolers at the Polls

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Election Day got off to a rousing start over breakfast when my nearly three-year-old son stubbornly announced that he would not be going with me to “boat” because he did not want his feet to get wet. This, as his precocious twin sister pointed to a glamorous shot of Governor Sarah Palin in the newspaper and proudly exclaimed Palin should “win” because, “She looks like a princess!” Welcome to my world.


Our family had been discussing this roller coaster of an election season with the kids since Hillary Clinton was considered a shoo-in. Back then, my preschoolers amazingly memorized the names and faces of the candidates. They LOVED saying Huck-a-bee. And of course, O-ba-ma was another fun one to for my chatty little guys to scream over and over. In the liberal and politically active neighborhood where we live, you could barely walk a block without spotting those campaign signs with the iconic image of the now President-elect and the slogan, “Hope.” It made an impression.


Through the historic primary season, the conventions, and the debates, we didn’t have to try very hard to keep their little minds interested. They listened to my husband and I casually debate the issues over morning coffee and were star struck any time they caught a glimpse of any of the presidential hopefuls on TV. They haven’t quite grasped what the White House is or even where it is or what it stands for. But there was something really sentimental to us about teaching our toddlers what we could about the race electrifying the country.


I had been anticipating taking the children with me to the polls for months. Now that the day was upon us, I realized it might not be as easy as I planned. The weather forecast called for rain. But I wanted to walk—since maneuvering two very active two-and-half-year-olds in and out of the car can be fraught with pitfalls. With record turnout expected, I thought we’d hit our station after the morning rush and still have time to make it to Mommy & Me.


After a bit of explaining, I finally convinced my son that voting has nothing to do with “boating” or water for that matter. “Just wait and see,” I told him. “And,” I offered, “you might even get a sticker.” That attractive prospect motivated both of the little monkeys to quickly find their Crocs and get ready to go.


By 9:30, we were loaded into the stroller and on our way to the Methodist Church hosting the balloting. Along the way, I looked at the campaign signs posted on lawns and taped on telephone poles with fresh eyes. I pointed out the flags and the people wearing the I Voted stickers and campaign related garb and buttons. I suddenly wanted to take in everything about this day and I didn’t want the babies to miss a thing. I had no idea that voting for the first time as a mother would mean so much to me. Somehow the stakes this year resonated with me on a totally new and different level. The possibility for real change in this country moved me in ways I hadn’t considered before parenthood.


The lines were indeed long. I fretted for a minute over forgetting to bring toys or books with us. But once we took our place among the droves of voters, the children seemed curious and engaged by all of the activity. We had snacks, counted flags, played I-Spy, and soaked up the excitement in the room. So many other parents also brought along young children. It was heartening to feel a collective sense of citizenship—a kinship you don’t often feel with strangers just strolling down the street. I barely felt self-conscious when my son started belting out the ABCs.


Thirty minutes later, we finally took our turn at the booth. I tried to explain to the kids without holding up the line what I was doing. By this point, though, they were getting restless. The crowd graciously waited patiently when I lifted each child out of the stroller to see my ballot card. My princess-obsessed daughter beamed as she handed it over to the election worker. Tantrums averted. Mission accomplished.


With the red, white and blue stickers adhered to our jackets, we proudly strolled out into the late morning sun and set off on what would turn into a truly historic day—one I hope my little ones will remember, too. I know I will.

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