Friday, November 09, 2012

My Daughter Learns to Vote

Creative Commons licensed image
by League of Women Voters in California.
At her preschool, my daughter voted on favorite Disney characters. More specifically, since her room is unintentionally girls-only, they decided to vote for their favorite princess. Ever since Bambi, I can’t get into Disney, so the things my daughter knows about the princesses, we’ve learned haphazardly and I doubt that I could pick out a princess from a line up, but she can.

Here’s what she learned about voting:
  • You go into a little booth.
  • Everyone gets to vote one time.
  • You put a check mark by only one princess.
  • You fold your paper so no one can see. It’s secret.
With all that knowledge in the bank, I took her with me to the polls. She was super excited and asked a lot of questions along the way:

Will you go into a booth? 


Will you put a check mark?


So it’s just like me, but you aren't voting for a princess. What are you voting for? 


What is that? I voted for Sleeping Beauty, but don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret. 

We’re voting for presidents.

Okay, but what kind of thing is a president?

[I decide to frame my answer carefully, avoiding the word man if at all possible. I want her share my belief that someday, a woman will lead the country.] It’s a…well, a…person who gets to be the leader.

But what kind of person? [Now I’m just confused. Say what you will, but, I’m giving you the abridged version, and we’re 50 questions in.]

They’re men. [Crap. I said it.]

Are they daddies?

Yes. [Finally, a question for which I have an answer. It feels like a victory.]

Mom. You should have told me that. 

End of questions.

We vote at the Civic Center. And I live in a smallish place, so it's like the SUV of voting centers. We are not crowded and there's lots of walking space between the voting booth and the voting machine. This also means we have a lot of visibility. It's in this space that little daughter becomes confused by the ballot: “Where are the pictures?” She stops walking. She is truly alarmed. I can see in her eyes that this is not right.

"We have to look for the letters," I whisper and sort of pull on her hand to get her to move again.

"Which letters?" she demands. She doesn't move.

"We can pick O or R," I whisper.

"O? Did you say O? What was the other letter?"

"Shhh, it's a secret, remember?"

Finally, she relents, and we get to the booth. And later, as we're walking through the large room, she stops again, this time half way to the voting machine, and nearly melts because I haven't folded the stiff ballots.

“People will see. It's a secret!” I pick her up and half-run to the voting machine, carrying her, our coats, my handbag, and the two ballots. I let her feed them into the machines. But she's still worried. "You should have folded them."

So I do what every parent does when in a public place and completely frustrated. I point to the table with stickers and say, "Oooh, look, stickers!"

It works every time.

As we receive our “I voted” stickers, she tells the woman, proudly, “I helped pick the daddy.”

And so there you have it, the reason I will spend the next four years explaining that people other than daddies can be leaders, too.

If she were older, I’d show her this video by young adult author Robyn Schneider, who recaps some awesome results about women elected to office this year:

The next day, our daughter learned something else about voting: Your princess may not win. And when that happens, you should not say mean things about the princess who won. And if you do, you should say sorry.

At least we came out of this with one lesson that I hope sticks.

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