This post originally appeared on DC Metro Moms on October 10, 2008
Yard Sign Blues
I checked my notes from the Freecycler’s email. This was the house. But it can’t be. There’s a John McCain sign in the yard.
I looked back at my toddler son and thought, “Baby boy, your mama just politicized a little plastic wagon.” At first what gave me pause was the sheer irony (obvious to me, anyway) of someone participating in Freecycle to give old things a new home and keep things out of landfills when she supported a guy who doesn’t even know how many homes he has. Do you imagine John McCain knows what Freecycle is? Oh, wait, Freecyle is on the computer. Two strikes against.
Then I reviewed our email exchanges in my head. This woman was nice.
She replied to my “WANTED” request. I imagined her the other night: maybe after cracking an anti-liberal joke with her husband, she turned off the TV without even considering watching Stewart or Colbert, got on her computer and wrote me a note: “It has a bum wheel, but it always worked for us.” And then the next day, “Actually, I saw that it has two bum wheels, but it works fine. You’re welcome to check it out and leave it if you don’t want it.” That’s thoughtful. That’s nice. That’s a Republican?
As I shook my head and blinked my eyes on my way up to the patio to check out the wagon, I started to question myself. Who was I to make assumptions and categorize half the country? Hadn’t I learned – and taught – in graduate school for women’s studies, not to mention while working in at a feminist non-profit, that generalizations are dangerous?
Sure, but I also maintained during my twenties that everything was political, and it just would never have happened that I would have chosen to associate with people who didn’t share my core beliefs. When you’re super committed to something, you want to save people from making a horrible, terrible mistake. What difference is there really between a religious conservative and an unapologetic progressive? One witnesses to a non-believer so he/she will be spared an afterlife in hell, and the other witnesses to a non-progressive so that lots of other people will be spared a life in hell on earth.
There I go again. Painting issues as black and white when I spent so much time theorizing about shades of gray and constructed, contextual realities. It seems I haven’t figured out what it means to be an adult – a woman who expects to never see herself on the Red side of almost any issue and yet who mingles with folks who do. These include neighbors and people I’ve met because I’m a mom. You have a dog or a kid, and you’re going to talk to a lot of different kinds of folks.
So here’s some proof I’m not as tolerant as I might want people to believe:
1)When a friend I met while pregnant asked if we could talk about the election and then disclosed that she didn’t “trust” Barack Obama and probably wouldn’t vote for him if he were nominated, my reply was, “Actually, could we just cut up these apples instead?” I didn’t want to hear where her fear came from. I just wanted her not to have it and for her to be like me!
2) The Freecycle thing (see above)
3)The urge to have a family kicked out of my son’s preschool when I saw a Moms for McCain sticker on the perky blond’s mini-van.
Proof I’m not as consistently committed as you’d think based on the reactions above:
1) I haven’t done anything for the Obama campaign outside of donating money and plunking down $5 for a yard sign at the farmer’s market (after the campaign staffer gave my son a sticker). I later learned from an article in the Washington Post that there’s been some controversy about the limited availability of Obama yard signs in Virginia. But the article didn’t mention them being sold at farmer’s markets. Does this make me a maverick?
2) I went ahead and contacted the neighbor girl about babysitting even though her parents had a McCain sign in their yard. It’s not her fault; she’s just a kid. She couldn’t really brainwash a two-year-old, could she? I did, however, wonder if her mom would forbid her from watching my son if she saw our Obama sign. So far the girl’s schedule is, I’m told, just too packed to take on any sitting jobs. Sure.
3) I smiled politely when I found out that the husband of the woman who’s watched my son several times (without asking for reciprocating childcare! what a generous spirit!) works for the Bush administration. Well, that’s not true. I first blurted, “He works for __________(insert high-ranking name here)?!?!” The excess punctuation could have been construed as awe of power, regardless of party preference, right? I’m sure I smiled and nodded after that. I don’t know if she’s walked past my house on the way to the park since I put my sign up.
There are a couple of moms in the neighborhood I just met, one of whom used to work for a Republican governor. I wonder if my sign will push them away. And if it does, is that a problem? If we don’t agree on fundamentals like priorities a government should have, how can we have a meaningful relationship? I never understood those bipartisan couples like James Carville and Mary Matalin or the Governator and His Girl Kennedy. And yet, failing to believe that I can hold two possibilities in my head at the same time is both so un-post-modern and also not a great model if I want my kid to have an open mind.
Then I think of my son’s food allergies (and our no junk food snobbery). Maybe I can take a cue from the way we talk to him about what he eats. No food is bad or wrong. It’s just that we don’t eat certain kinds of food because they don’t work for our bodies. So we just don’t vote for some people … because they don’t work for our bodies.
What happened with the wagon? Well, I reasoned, my babysitter had asked for one so my son and his friend could amicably get to the park during our four weekly hours of childcare. Those bum wheels didn’t seem to make a difference. So I hoisted the tired Little Tike off the porch, found it was too big to fit it in the trunk and then worked on stuffing it into the front while my son snoozed in his backseat Britax.
A passerby nodded as he made his way past me up the sidewalk. I cringed a little, both for standing just two feet away from The Sign and for looking like an imbecile trying to fold down the red seat flaps and maneuver the wagon’s wide blue body into the front passenger seat without first thinking to move or even tilt the seat back.
Later, as I hosed the wagon down (for dirt, not for Republican cooties, I swear!), I mused about what the nice Freecycler mama had done with her children and told them about life while they sat in that wagon. And I continue to wonder about her reactions to debates and strategies as the election draws closer.
My farmer’s market Obama sign purchase happened the following week. My son and I first brought it inside. I wanted to clear it with my husband who had once stuck in our yard — without my consent — an “Impeach Him” sign a canvasser gave us. I put my foot down on that one because I felt like I couldn’t intelligently defend that position. (And because I had a student coming over to be tutored. Instead we used it as a sled until it shredded.) But this time, the issue is a forward direction that I really hope our country takes.
Still, I dragged my feet for a few days, worrying I’d be judged as I had judged. Then, unceremoniously, my husband stuck it out by the magnolia, set back a respectable distance but still highly visible on our corner lot. There we were: out to all. The funny thing is, I have a son who notices every tiny little detail, constantly asking “What’s that, Mommy?” to things I gloss over. I can’t stop looking at signs, but after ours left our living room for the front yard, my son has never remarked on it. Or on anyone one else’s.