When my middle and high schoolers were assigned the homework of watching the presidential debate, I never expected my eight-year-old to get glued to both the set and the concept of getting out the vote after a candidate announced his intention to pluck Big Bird and the rest of the PBS lineup from his life.
It seemed like such a simple parenting moment as I switched on the debate and hunkered down with our sons, ages 13 and 17, to help them navigate the salient political points of the debate. I was a political science major and did my internship at the United Nations Association in New York, so I am the go-to parent for political homework.
The boys were prepared to be bored silly until candidates began interrupting each other and the moderator, Jim Lehrer, swiftly lost control of the carnage. Suddenly my living room was alive with the sound of rooting, catcalls and chagrin as the boys answered the candidates themselves.
This kept our son Quin, 8, who has Asperger's, from getting to bed, and he asked if he could come and watch.
Figuring this would be the world's best cure for the insomnia of a third grader, I agreed and he bundled onto the couch beside me just in time to hear the president say he was going to add 100,000 more math and science teachers. Then Obama added, "If you're lowering the rates as you describe, governor, it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals or burdening the middle class. It's math, it's arithmetic."
Quin leaped up and fist-pumped and began to jump on the couch and shout, “Woot! Woot! Yeah! Go math! Go science! It's your birthday! Woot!” He may be struggling with his reading comprehension, but the kid is two grades ahead in math.
His brothers looked slightly put out.
So Quin was now glued and invested in the debate, despite knowing next to nothing about the candidates. He's the ultimately undecided voter – he chose his party, platform, and candidate last night while watching the debate. He was also very upset to hear that the president's grandma had died.
“That's terrible," he said. "And he came to the debate anyway.”
This took a bit of contextual gymnastics and explaining, which made us miss a bit of the shouting on the dais.
Avery, 13, was deeply frustrated that neither candidate seemed to strict to the time constraints and that Lehrer wasn't more firm.
“Can you imagine if Pop was running this debate?” smirked Ian, 17. “It would be on time, on topic and they would debate each other and NOT him.”
So apparently the debate needed a papa at the helm, at least according to my crew.
And then it happened, and I think every parent knows what the "it" was. Governor Mitt Romney uttered the fateful words, "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually, [I] like you, too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”
At first the boys laughed, all being past the Big Bird age. Then the dawn broke and we missed a great deal of the debate as one broke out here in my house. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Avery the cellist to Ian, who plays double bass. “Isn't that where the great concert series are on?”
“Yes! Isn't it where 'Dr. Who' is on?” Ian added in dawning horror.
Yet it was Quin who was red in the face and huffing, “Ruff Ruffman? 'Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman'? Is this that math problem with the 47% I keep hearing about? I can probably help him with this if it's just the math.”
Oh, such a long, long night, followed by a longer morning.
At 6 a.m., all three boys were like dogs with a bone. TV pundits were on while the newspaper was spread on the coffee table.
“Romney won the debate,” said Avery. “That's what everybody's saying, that he won.”
The boys were incensed that while no official winner had been announced, the talking heads were “telling us what to think” about who won the battle.
However, Quinny was uncharacteristically silent until we got in the car at 8:30 to drive to school. He broke his silence a block from the house with, “So obviously if we want things to go the way we want, then we all need to vote right?”
Sorta. Yes. Well, yes.
“So when do I get to vote?” he demanded. I informed him that would be happening in about 10 years.
He chewed on this and said, “Well that's no good, so then I have to go and get people who can vote to go vote.”
I am not going to argue with anyone who wants to work to turn out the vote. We live three blocks from Old Dominion University and I promised him I would call the campaign office nearest us and get him some materials he can give out on registering to vote.
When Quinny gets home, we are going to go there and I am going to support him in his effort to get people to go vote because I strongly believe that even the smallest voice can make a difference. Here comes the Mighty Quin.
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