Why Voting Makes Me Cry

sweaty votes count!

Ahhh...politics! Such an engaging, pleasant topic that always brings people closer together.


I don't talk politics on my blog or on Facebook. Many of my friends have differing views and opinions and since I'm both a Libra and a Minnesotan, conflict of any kind makes me twitchy. I will "like" political posts, and depending upon where I am in my cycle, will comment on them (comment sections are like Midol for me)...but I tend to go old school where this type of conversation is concerned: keep it close to my vest. If someone were to ask me, point blank, then yes, I'd spill the beans. But until then, let's stick to generalities.

*starts singing Kumbaya*

I am an Easy Weeper. Tears don't need much coaxing from me, they seem to be at the ready 24/7. It's not really a surprise then, that I found myself dabbing some of those salty droplets from my eyes a few nights ago, after exiting the local polling place.

I had just voted in a seemingly "unimportant" primary: the one which will determine who gets to be on the general ballot for the Minnesota Supreme Court election. My friend Andrea, who is an attorney, sent out an email urging people to vote and I'll be frank: if it wasn't for the email it might have slipped my mind, entirely. Come on: it's August, the summer air is steamy and turbid, we're all already sick and tired of hearing about elections.

But her words touched me, and after I was done with the evening's carpool duties I dragged my swampy ass (sorry, no a/c in my car) to the tiny fire station where I have been voting for a better part of my adult life.

I was the sole voter in there, the election judges and other voting day personnel seemed bored but delighted to see me. The entire process took about two minutes, they gave me my sticker and then I got into the oven/car where I promptly began a soft weep.

Crying a little after voting is nothing new, so it wasn't completely unexpected. I'm one of those moms who proudly dragged a herd of writhing children into the polls with me, daring anyone to make a comment about the audacity of kids being in such an important, adult-ish place. Showing my brood that their mom made her civic duty a high priority was key. And also it was always fun to have them fight over who got the "I VOTED" sticker. GOOD FREAKING TIMES. Bless the hearts of the kindly sticker-givers who handed out more than one, right? More than once I cried in my car after those experiences.

My mom might not have done a stellar job protecting me as child, but one thing she did do was stress the importance of voting. As a teacher and a rider of the Women's Lib wave of the 60's and 70's she was obviously a liberal-leaning Democrat and that's what I soaked up. Imagine her surprise and delight, then, when my succession of boyfriends and then eventual husband/baby daddy were staunch Republicans. And imagine her disappointment when I decided they were right in more ways than one.

As life wore on I learned that my father was a diehard Republican. Aha. Freud is pursing his lips and stroking his beard somewhere right now, I tell you. Vy don't ve discuss your fazzer some more, Jenny.

After my divorce, I no longer had someone there telling me why "we" should vote one way and not the other. During the time I was a financially comfortable SAHM certain issues which didn't affect me weren't even blips on my radar screen. When I became a financially uncomfortable single mom struggling to raise 4 human beings on my own, those same issues not only showed up on my radar, they invited themselves in and had a seat. Shortly after I cast my vote in the 2008 presidential election, and proudly announced it, my former-BFF burst through the front door of my house. She was livid, screaming at me for making such an idiotic choice. She leaned against a wall and sank down onto her haunches, crying "When my family is homeless in four years, I guess we'll have you to thank." Seeing as how now, 8 years later, she and her hubby own two homes, she doesn't work and their kids drive nicer cars than me, I'm thinking they're doing just fine. 

But anyhoo. Let's not get into left and right and all other angles and sides here. As several annoying memes have told us, we aren't going to change anyone's mind with silly things like words and facts and ideas on the Internet.

What we can do, though, and I wish more people would, is TALK ABOUT VOTING. Brag about it, take selfies, share polling locations and times, email, text, post. Social media is such an odd beast, right? Who would have thunk that there'd come a day when we'd be taking pictures of our dinners and putting it out there for all the world to see? If we can use this medium for such trivial things, why can't we use it for more pressing matters? Don't get me wrong: I love a good shot of a cheeseburger just as much as the next lady but I also love to see people flexing their 'Merica Muscles. It may feel as though we don't have voices in this system, that we are less-than cogs in a bloated, vile and corrupt machine but dammit: people died for this right. Women? We have only been able to vote since 1920. For some of us, that means our grandmothers were alive when women had zero say in who represented us in the government. Can you even imagine? I can't.

Maybe that's why I cry when I vote. Thinking about all of those brave, strong ladies who sat there in their un-airconditioned houses, taking care of a million kids and husbands and elderly relatives and doing it all without a single one of the modern conveniences even the brokest of us now enjoy and said "WTF? My voice doesn't matter? Umm...bullshit, fellas." Okay, so they probably didn't actually say that but they did eventually say something, and thank goodness they did.

Or maybe I cry because there are women in other countries who just recently, some as recently as THIS YEAR, were granted the right to vote. Yep. 2016 and women in Saudi Arabia can finally vote. Still can't drive, wear makeup or open up a freaking bank account without their husband's permission, but baby steps, right? (spoiler alert: this might be why I cry because as I typed this out I started bawling. Tell your daughters how LUCKY THEY ARE!)

I do know they aren't tears of regret. Not once have a looked back and thought to myself, Jenny? That was a total waste of time. Even when the results aren't what I wanted, I know that by voting I earned the right to bitch about it.

This upcoming election is already proving to be one of historical importance, even if only for the amount of chaos and mudslinging produced thus far- and we haven't seen the worst of it yet. Just wait until Saturday Night Live comes back!

This fall, I will be casting my vote for our next President. Three of my four children will be doing so, as well.

I predict the tears falling after this one will be monumental. Whether they're happy or sad tears, that's up to us.



It's Just Like Riding A Book

One of my earliest, clearest memories is sitting down, book in hand, and reading. It was Richard Scarry's Busytown and the name "Lowly" confounded me. What kind of name is that? How do you say it? In my mind, I have never not known how to read. It came naturally, just like walking and talking.

Lowly wasn't the only bookworm. I was right there, too. Devouring tomes from the library, from my ever-expanding bookshelves at home and those at school. I read whatever I could get my hands and eyes on...even the musty, outdated Encyclopedia Britannica set we had in the basement.

I remember being so stoked for the annual MS Readathon. This was back in the Stone Age, remember, when everything was done via snail mail and when that packet arrived in our mailbox I'd rip it open, grab a pen and start canvassing the neighborhood for pledges.

It was 5th grade, I was ten years old and we were living in a brand new neighborhood. My parents had been divorced for a couple of years by then, and my mom and her new husband had bought a little house in St Louis Park, Minnesota. My already-bookish tendencies were becoming deeper and bookier thanks to the discovery that the new stepdad was a real 'hands-on' kinda guy. When everything you do, including breathing, has the potential to set someone off you learn pretty quickly to try and disappear, to fade into the woodwork so as not to draw attention to yourself. Books, more than ever, became my escape. The portal to places safe and less scary. Or, in the case of the Stephen King novels I discovered that year, places with even more terrifying citizens- which was oddly comforting.

After all, would you rather be dealing with the meaty fists of a mentally deranged mere mortal, or a teenage vampire hovering outside your bedroom window?

Back to the Read-a-thon. If you're not familiar with the premise: kids had a month to read as many books as they could, which they'd record in a folder from the MS Society. Prior to that, they'd go around and gather signatures and pledges from family and friends and neighbors...people usually pledged a nickel or a quarter per book. Sometimes you'd get a real high roller who'd go up to a buck. All the money raised went to the MS Society. So, the month began and I dove in, rarely coming up for air and when I did it was to mark another book on my list and to grab a new one. I read 55 books that month and when it came time to collect my pledges, people were astounded. "Wow!" and "Great job!" and then, from one nasty old coot, "Liar." I was standing there, on her front stoop, my collection-gear at the ready: my reading log covered in the titles and author names and number of pages in my hand and the collection envelope provided by the MS Society. I'd given her my results and explained how much her pledge amount came to and "we take cash or checks, ma'am". Again, she said: "Liar. How dare you say you've read that many books! I don't believe you. I'm not paying." The screen door she slammed in my face was decorated with scrolled aluminum curlicues, which I looked at while quietly stating, "But, I did."

I'd been book-shamed!

That didn't deter me, however, it only taught me that even kindly looking matronly ladies could be dicks. Later that year I received a letter from the MS Society informing me that I'd read the most books in my age group, along with two complimentary tickets to ValleyFair, a nearby amusement park. Suck it, mean lady.

As I grew older, the reading continued and eventually I began writing, too. When I was in the 6th grade the Star-Tribune, official newspaper of Minneapolis/St.Paul, announced that they were starting a weekly pull-out section. It was called The Smile Factory and it was a mini-paper for, and by, kids. I was hired as a reporter and contributor and it was the first time someone paid me for my words. Writing became second nature to me, and in the pre-computer days I filled up journals and notebooks with handwritten ramblings. Of course once Al Gore and his Interweb came along, I set up shop here.

I went through reading phases: poetry, Oprah's picks, historical autobiographies, self-help. Eventually I ended up married with kids and it became my job to instill a love of books into my soft and impressionable babies. Which I did, and succeeded. All the while, I still read. Not at the pace of my youth, of course. Who has time in the midst of homemaking? But the nightstand always held at least one book and when there was energy and quiet, I'd read.

Then, the divorce happened. And just like that, it seemed as though the reader in me died.

Actually, a lot in me felt dead then. It was the equivalent of a deforestation, a clear-cutting of my soul. When you go into survival mode, the tiny luxuries of your past life fall by the wayside and your vision becomes tunneled. I had one goal, and that was to make sure my kids had what they needed. When I wasn't with them or working or sleeping or crying in the shower, I was burying my head in the soothing sands of coping, of getting by, of making it to the next minute/hour/day/week/month/year. Reading was replaced by mindless Netflix binges, nights out (or in) with friends, wine and food being gobbled up instead of words. The old me no longer existed and for a long, long time I didn't crack a book.

But like those decimated forests, the old me wasn't really dead. It was just sleeping. And slowly, as the pieces of our lives started falling into their new places and the matter of the kids and I surviving was no longer up for debate, it woke up. It's almost as if something inside of me switched off in order to conserve power, like the SuperSaver switch on our air conditioning unit. Somehow I knew that for me, reading a book was a little bit like falling in love- and I didn't have it in me to do that.

The ALL CLEAR finally sounded and old me tentatively peeked out...checking to see if it was safe. One book at a time- page by page and chapter by chapter- I came alive again. I had forgotten what it felt like to get lost in another world, to let someone else tell their tale and take me by the hand as we traversed the roads they'd been on. I found my reading spot, which is our porch, and although I now either have to wear my drugstore readers or else take out my contacts in order to see the print on the page it's just as easy as it ever was to submerge myself into those pools of prose and float, peacefully.

I knew I was back when I found myself sobbing, as softly as I could, one night. Over something in a book instead of something in my life. 

This has been my summer of reading. My summer job is a lot like my school year job (secretary) except this summer we are in a different location and there is nothing for me to do aside from help the occasional walk-ins with enrollment questions and to buzz the door open for the summer school families. At first I killed the time by perusing Amazon but after I found a 2 lb bag of Gimbal's gluten-free licorice in our mailbox I knew there had to be a better and less-fattening way to while away the hours.

It all started with a battered copy of Where'd You Go, Bernadette which was languishing in the staff lounge and went from there. I dug out a Jodi Picoult book from the back seat of my car, pried off the grape Jolly Rancher that had adhered to the page edges and ate it up (the book, not the candy- gross!). A lovely parent at school loaned me her copy of The Widow. A blogger friend wrote a steamy novel, Beyond the Break and much to my lonely libido's dismay, I read it. My daughter and I hit the thrift store one day and there was a Jennifer Weiner book I'd somehow never read, Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

You wouldn't believe how many pages you can get through when you're tethered to a desk and all the fun websites are blocked (about 250 pages if you really want to know, figuring in lunch and bathroom breaks and the aforementioned "work").

Next week, it's back to the normal grind: back to school time means a crazy-busy couple of weeks for those of us in the office. I'll be losing this forced quiet time, these rare and beautiful hours with nothing to do but bounce on my ball-chair, greet people and let myself get lost in someone's story.

I won't stop reading, though. Not this time.


August is National "I'm Bored" Month

Really. Look it up. Except it's pronounced differently than it's spelled.

You pronounce it, "I'm booooorrrrrrrrreeeeed." Usually prefaced with "Moooommmm".

Remember that scary and dark section of the clock, usually about 4:30 in the afternoon or so until about 6:00, that's lovingly referred to as the "arsenic hour"?

Welcome to my arsenic month.

Here in the great midwest, our kids are on summer vacation from the beginning of June until about the first week of September. That's three months. The first two months usually fly by, filled with Park and Recreation activities, camps, vacation Bible school, etc. You get the idea. Sleepovers during the week are still fun and exciting, there are hours of shows on Netflix you haven't watched yet, days and nights are spent blissfully schedule-free.

And then August rears her humid, bitchy head. Hello, my pretties, I imagine her cackling.

August. The month when all of the activities are finished, the lakes start to stink, the mosquitoes are more prolific and annoying than the Kardashians. The month when it's a pretty safe bet that most moms you run into are getting desperate for something, anything, to fill the hours that make up the long, endless days. It's also a pretty safe bet that those bottles of "Diet Coke" they're toting are actually bottles of "scotch". Seriously...watch those mommy reflexes snap into high-alert when a kid tries to mooch a sip. "That's MINE, honey."

This is the month when every flat surface in your house is coated with a fine, sticky film made up of powdered Cap'n Crunch, Capri Sun and dried tears.

Time moves slowly in August. Slower than the bowels of a child who has ingested nothing but string cheese, GoGurt and bananas for a week. Tick. Freaking. Tock.

In my house, this is the month my child whom I secretly worry is a future basement dweller starts becoming fixated on one of his online games. I find him standing next to my bed at midnight, mouth-breathing and pleading, "Just $9.99 mom, please, I can get new armor for my character!!!". The youngest of my crew starts roaming the neighborhood with his little tween boy posse, I can hear them yelling from a few yards away right this second. They beg me for daily trips to the hardware store to procure duct tape and scrap lumber. I am afraid to ask what they need it for.

I stay in my pajamas until noon on these days. Just because to get dressed is to give my kids the signal that I'm ready to go somewhere. Somewhere that costs a lot of money and is sure to be non-air conditioned.

But don't worry, this isn't all doom and gloom. August is also the month that you can walk through the front doors of Target and are greeted with a whiff of Eau De Crayola. Big cheery signs that say "School Supplies Ahead!" lead you to the corner of the store that's crowded with sweaty weary ladies clutching supply lists and pushing a cart filled with crap that we swear we have at home somewhere. The registers are like bar closing time back in the day except the only thing we're going home with now is a ten-foot long receipt and seventeen plastic bags full of hope.

You start to go through the kid's dresser drawers, looking at and touching longingly, the corduroys and the sweaters. Soon, my loves, you whisper to them. Soon.

I stop to remind myself that as summer winds down it means the onset of alarm clocks, homework, kids reminding you that they're out of lunch money as they walk out the door in the morning. It means endless curriculum meetings, choir concerts, conferences and book fairs.

But that's ok. Because we need this balance, this yin and yang that makes up our parenting-calendar. These stop-motion days of August will be the days I dream about in January, when every single mitten and glove I've ever purchased has mysteriously disappeared and wet boots are flung hither and yon throughout my house and I'm trying to psych myself up for the daunting and painful task of hauling the bone-dry Christmas tree out to the curb.

And so, as hard as it may be, I will put on some pants, make another jug of lemonade and see if I can find the duct tape. All while giggling to myself: Fall is coming

Originally published Aug. 11, 2010 (oh my how times have changed...)

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