Monday, April 21, 2008

Carpool, Unicorns, and Barack Obama

Carpool is an underrated parenting tool. True, you have to be willing to trade your clean car and peaceful commute for chaotic chatter and OKR (other kids’ residue), but I have found that it is well worth the sacrifice. Why is that? Because carpool has taught me more about my children than any other school related activity.

The other day, I was bringing home my kids and those of my business partner, Dave Markert. I had the radio on and a local dj was commenting on the fact that Barack Obama will likely win the Democratic nomination. I didn’t think anyone in the car was listening except me until my 8 year old son piped up and said with gusto, “Yes! I love ‘the rock Obama’. He’s just so cool.”

I was simultaneously surprised by Brandon’s enthusiasm for the candidate and amused by his mis-hearing of Obama’s name. I was about to correct him when my daughter beat me to the punch – but for reason far different than mine.

With a horrified gasp and raised eyebrows, our 5th grader Hannah lunged toward her brother. With all the urgency and seriousness she could muster, she whispered through clenched teeth, “Brandon!!! …..He’s a Democrat!”

“So?” came his reply.

“So?!?! Democrats just wanna take our money and send it to people in other countries!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I wouldn’t have been more shocked if she had suddenly announced her intention to join the circus. Before I could address the propaganda that my innocent little prepubescent was spouting, a second voice from the peanut gallery chimed in. This time, it was from the other family represented in the car. Dave’s sweet nine year old daughter agreed with Hannah and added, “Yeah, you can’t be a Democrat. They don’t believe in God!”

After almost swerving off the road, I determined that it was time to step in. I took just a moment to compose my thoughts before laying out a careful explanation.

I said something like, “Guys, that’s just not true. Millions of both Republicans and Democrats believe in God and see their political choices as a way to serve Him. I know it’s sometimes hard to understand, but instead of just assuming something about all Republicans or all Democrats, it’s always best to get to know the individual and what they believe in. After all, everyone has their own beliefs. You should figure out the things that matter to you and find out what the candidates believe about those before you make up your mind.”

I was pretty proud of myself. I peeked in the rearview mirror to see how well my articulate little speech had landed. Some had blank looks of acceptance on their faces while others carried looks of confusion. Delaney, however, the youngest of the bunch, had a deeply pensive expression.

With a furrowed brow and an inquisitive heart, she asked, “So, do Democrats believe in unicorns?”

I stammered, “Um…. No sweetheart, I don’t think they do.”

Without missing a beat, she nodded her head and said confidently, “Well then, I’m a Republican, ‘cause that’s what matters to me.”

After Dave, Hal and I shared a good laugh, we agreed that most parents tend to steer clear of political discussions with their kids. Children are on their own to splice together the bits and pieces they get from the airwaves and in the hallways. We decided to be a little more proactive and we came up with three principles of politics to start implementing with our own families:

Model What You Don’t See Enough--Our kids will catch most everything we say, so let’s try to model political conversations the way they should take place - calmly centered on the issues at hand.

Let Our Kids Disagree with Us—encourage them to do so. Not only will such discourse grow their thinking skills and sharpen our own, it will drastically increase the mutual respect in your home.

Fight for the Right to Fight --Disagreement is not the issue—the issue is whether or not we can freely disagree without violence or hatred or dirt. Think of the change for this world if our kids grow up practicing ScreamFree politics.

Like I said, I learned a lot that day. I learned that kids are always listening. I learned that they need guidance in sorting out all of the stuff that they think they understand. I learned that apparently, my skills in unraveling complicated political intricacies need some work. And I learned that by matter of default, if nothing else, Republicans have a staunch supporter in the 2nd grade who is really hoping for a win this November, for the sake of all the unicorns out there.