My Son Didn't Help Me Vote

He didn't help me vote, not really. Except he did.
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Photo credit: Brett Nellson via Flickr Creative Commons

By Alison Stine

People say vote for your children, but I didn't. I also didn't let my son help.

I couldn't. I was concentrating on keeping my 5-year-old by my side, not letting him peek around the booth, and not letting him chant the name of the person for whom we were voting--like he tried to do the last time.

It's hard to take children to the polls. They're...well, children. Frequently, you have to wait, and waiting is never a kindergartener's strength. There are no snacks at the polls, sadly. There is, at our local board of elections, an office cat, a fat tabby who, sadly, was not present when my son and I showed up.

Mercifully, the lines weren't long when we voted in our small Ohio town. But voting is boring for children, and, especially in this election, tense and stressful for their parents. I always feel nervous. Am I doing this right? Is everything correct?

These will be counted for the election, right? the couple in line before me asked of their early ballots. I shared in their anxiety.

Even as an active, experienced voter, I have nervousness about the process. In some states, you can verify online that your early vote went through, but Ohio doesn't have this option. I shook a little through the procedure. I asked my son to please be quiet while I concentrated.

He didn't help me vote, not really. His hand wasn't steady enough to shade those ovals; they're still working in school on how to color in the lines. The booth was too high for him to see over. He didn't like the smell of the envelope moistener used to seal the ballot.

He didn't help me vote, not really.

Except he did.

I saw how one candidate treated a mother with a crying baby at one of his rallies; he had her thrown out, after using sarcasm and mocking her publicly for something out of her control. I witnessed how the same candidate called a nursing lawyer "disgusting" because she needed to feed her child, and how he called pregnant workers "inconvenient"--and therefore, undesirable--to business.

Becoming a mother allows you to view people at their lowest like this. You witness firsthand what it's like to be unwanted--hated even--the first time your baby is upset on a plane, or the first time your toddler throws a tantrum in the supermarket. In my case, you can add in solo mother. Certainly others have it a lot worse than we do, but poor single mothers are often scapegoats. As my friend and fellow solo mom says, you're under extra scrutiny when you're a single mom. People are just waiting for you--expecting you even--to screw up.

So I try hard never to be a second late bringing my child anywhere or picking him up. And I was devastated to realize my kindergartener, who likes to pick out his outfits, once went to school in pants with ripped knees, pants I had set aside to recycle.

But motherhood--maybe especially solo motherhood--also allows you to see people at their very best.

I learned this shortly after giving birth, when strangers arrived at my doorstep with meals. I learned this the first time a woman at a store offered to hold my baby while I fumbled in my bag for my wallet, when a man carried our pizza out to our car. I learned this when a cashier at the bakery put an extra, free muffin into our box, when a fellow mother offered to watch my son during my parent teacher conference.

I was reminded of this when I voted, and a stranger's child ran up to us as we waited, asking if my son knew Rock, Paper, Scissors. The kids played together as if they had been friends all their lives. I was reminded of this after voting, when, as I struggled to buckle my son into his booster seat, I realized my car was blocking an older man's vehicle. I apologized, but he said to take as much time as we needed, asked if my son was in safely, asked: did we need anything?

The question I am grateful to be asked, more than any other, as a solo mother, is: Do you two need anything?

People are by nature, good. And helpful. I learn this every day.

My child helped me vote because he turned me into the person I am now, a person who is maybe more than ever keenly aware of suffering and of its opposite: great kindness. And though he couldn't see over the table of the booth, and couldn't manage the pencil,

I held him on my hip, and without prompting, he put his tiny hand over mine, and we shaded in the name of our president.

Alison Stine is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.