Skipping School for Democracy (OPINION)
"My eye itches," eight-year-old Camille said one morning as she rolled out of bed.
"Scratch it," I said without looking at her. It was a cool March morning, and my husband and I were headed out of town for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, where we were "working" the first Presidential straw poll of the 2008 season. Even though it was two years before the election, I'd spent the last few months trying to get people to vote for Mitt Romney. No, not Matt. Mitt. And yes, he's from Massachusetts. People hadn't heard of him, so I'd tried my best to persuade them to vote for him instead of any of a number of southern politicians.
"But it hurts," she protested. I put down a bag of buttons that read "Romney – Yankee Governor with Southern Values," and looked at her. Her eye was swollen shut.
My stomach sank. Pink eye? I'd planned to take the kids to school, and the babysitter would pick them up afterwards. I didn't have childcare during the school hours, and I couldn't send her to school looking like she'd been hit in the eye.
"Well, I guess you're both coming with us," I said, as I dropped medicine in her eye.
The next day, my husband and I found ourselves standing in a convention center, handing out tee shirts, pamphlets, and talking to anyone who'd listen about the guy we hoped would be the next President of the United States. "Mitt," I'd say. "Like a glove." The kids happily played behind our table, laughing and putting Romney stickers on their faces.
"Want to help me hand these out?" I asked my six-year-old Austin, who dutifully stood at a busy intersection near the main hall and handed out buttons. Because it was the first straw poll of that election cycle, the press corps was out in full force, and soon Newsweek had a camera on him.
"Who are you supporting, young man?" the reporter asked.
"Mitt Romney," Austin nervously responded.
"Are you skipping school to do this?"
"Yes, he is," I interrupted, "but Romney believes in education."
That was when my kids were thrust into the political realm in which our family has lived in for the past seven years. In an amazing upset, Gov. Romney came in second place in that straw poll, causing a media frenzy. Other straw polls followed, and this time we made sure the kids were with us. They skipped school to help us work the 2007 Values Voter Conference straw poll in Washington, DC (which Romney won), and the next 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference (which Romney won), and the 2012 Conservative Political Action Committee (which Romney won). We also created an organization called Evangelicals for Mitt, and our Romney advocacy work has appeared in almost every major news publication, including the New York Times, USA Today, NPR, and FoxNews. At every turn, the children were with us — with a bag full of buttons ready to distribute.
Since we began our Romney effort, our family moved two times, went through a deployment when my husband went to Iraq, and adopted a daughter from Africa. Yet, all of this went on against the constant backdrop of a single goal: getting Mitt Romney into the White House.
Instead of sheltering the children from politics, we decided to let them fully engage in the process. At first, this was difficult, and I occasionally had to yank them out of speeches — for example, when Ron Paul talked about abortion or Newt Gingrich spoke about gay marriage. After all, they didn't need to learn about these topics before memorizing their multiplication tables. But over the years we explained the issues. Just as naturally as shooting basketball in the backyard, we discussed immigration, contraception, terrorism, and education reform. We taught them how the government works... and sometimes doesn't. Some parents choose not to "indoctrinate" their children about issues of faith and politics. However, we believe it's our responsibility to transfer our values to our children and to help them think critically about the issues of our time. Democracy, after all, demands engagement.
Over the past few years, they've learned not only about politics, but about the world. They've witnessed events in person, only to read mischaracterized accounts in major newspapers. They've seen their parents maligned in the mainstream media and even in some conservative publications. They've experienced little victories, and crushing defeats. My daughter now is taller than I am, borrows my clothes, and can eloquently explain the difference between Romneycare and Obamacare in four easy steps. My son, who was terrified of the Newsweek reporter, has since happily appeared on CBS News. And our newly-adopted daughter fell immediately into our fast-paced political lives. When I took her to an event close to Christmas, she leapt into Gov. Romney's arms. As a photographer snapped a photo, I was almost overcome. She'd recently been an orphan in one of the poorest countries in the world...now she was being embraced by someone who might soon be President of the most powerful nation on Earth.
What a country!
As I wrote this, my husband and I were on a flight to Boston to the official election night celebration of the Romney/Ryan ticket. The children were in the row behind us, chatting anxiously, playing on their iPhones. Though we thought we were going to a victory party instead of a disappointing concession speech, we're thankful we've done this together, as a family. And by the way, if the headmaster of Zion Christian Academy is reading this, the kids will be back to school on Thursday.