April 30, 2008

Carpooling 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 carpooling has taught me more about my children than any other school related activity. Carpooling is the legal equivalent to truth serum. From the bowels of the back seat, children reveal incredible things. If you just listen long enough without interrupting or prompting them, you’ll find out more than you ever thought possible about their friends, their teachers, and their views of the world.

The other day after school, I picked up my kids and two of their friends, Dana and Delaney. After the usual shuffling and maneuvering of 80 lb. bookbags and cumbersome musical instruments, we got situated and buckled in.

At first, the conversation from the back was like any other. Talk of crushes from the older ones and disgusted protests from the younger set. I had the radio on and a local dj was commenting on the primary results here in Georgia that took place earlier this year. He mentioned that Barack Obama had won the Democratic primary and began taking calls concerning all the presidential candidates.

As soon as the dj finished his commentary, my 8-year-old son piped up, “Yes! He won! 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 a reason far different than mine.

With a horrified gasp and raised eyebrows, our 5th grader Hannah lunged toward her brother. And 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!” replied my obstinate offspring.

I wanted more than anything to jump in and correct her horrible misconception (and his Freudian slip), but I just bit my lip and continued to listen with the utmost curiosity, wondering what his retort would be.

I didn’t get a chance to hear it because before he could reply, the second eldest politician in the car chimed in, “Plus, Brandon, Democrats don’t believe in God.”

I couldn’t believe what was taking place – full on propaganda from the innocent little prepubescents in the back seat! I knew it was time to step in and carefully straighten things out, but I didn’t want to make the girls feel bad for simply repeating what they’d heard. After all, suburban Atlanta is one of the most Republican counties in the country. It makes sense that kids would hear some disparaging comments about Democrats in one way or another, but this was ridiculous.

So, I took just a moment to compose my thoughts before laying out a careful explanation.

“Girls, that’s just not true. There are millions of both Republicans and Democrats who believe in God and see their political choices as a way to serve God. And both Democrats and Republicans have lots of different views – even amongst themselves - about money and trade with other countries. 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 – and that includes you, even though you’re young. You should figure out the things that matter to you and find out what the candidates believe about those things before you make up your mind.”