“I know why Republicans don’t like abortion,” Ethan said one morning at breakfast.
He spoke in the tone he uses when he finally grasps a math question from his homework. His Oh, I get it voice.
“Why, honey?” It’s good I put down my mug to ask this. Had I been sipping tea when he shared his epiphany, it surely would have gone up my nose.
“It’s because they want more Americans to tax.”
I burst out laughing. Afterwards, I hope I gave him the diplomatic yet true response that abortion is a very complicated issue. Admittedly, I just as likely told him, “You’re giving them credit for something they rarely do — plan for a future past their own lifetimes.”
For a long time now, Ethan has understood that our current government cares about money way more than it cares about people. A few years ago, Dan and I took him to a demonstration against the war in Iraq. We marched the streets of New York chanting, reading protest signs, and wishing we’d brought one of our own. When we arrived at the demonstration site, Ethan went up to an information booth and asked the woman there if they had any extra signs.
“No, but I have oak tag and markers. You can make one.”
Dan and I sat on the ground and fed his guide dog. When Ethan joined us again, he had his poster. The caption read, What’s Inside Bush’s Brain? Below, he’d drawn the outline of a brain divided by a thin line. One side was filled with dollar signs, the other with cans of oil. He was eight years old.
Now he’s almost 12 and the war rages on, though weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq, and the terrorist attacks from which we sought protection were in no way connected to the Iraqi government or its people. Suddenly the soldiers risking their lives don’t seem all that much older than Ethan. This enrages and frightens both of us. Together, we’ve placed our hope in the results of the coming election.
“I made up a slogan,” I told Ethan one day. “Another Mama for Obama.”
I loved how, in so few words, it reflected the important connection between my parenthood and my politics.
“You ought to make t-shirts,” he said. We looked it up online and found someone had beaten me to it. I ordered one and made sure to wear it on a trip we took soon after to Washington, DC.
Walking slowly through the Vietnam Memorial, I read names aloud to Dan as he trailed his fingers along their grooves. The last time I visited this monument was long before I’d become a mother. I’d been moved to tears then, but this time I felt more angry than sad.
I watched Ethan stoop to read a note left propped against the granite.
May that good strong body never be used as a weapon, I prayed.
A few weeks later, Ethan and I turned the television on in time to hear Edward Kennedy speak at the Democratic National Convention. We high fived when he said, “. . . young Americans in uniform must never be committed to a mistake, but always for a mission worthy of their bravery.”
Ethan fell sleep while Michelle Obama spoke, just as he did the following night with Hillary Clinton. I sat with his head in my lap, buoyed by the good company of these smart women who care deeply about the world we are leaving to our children.
On the final night of the convention, Dan listened to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech with us. As Senator Obama described his plans for an America where children are provided with affordable health care and funds for college, are kept out of harm’s way, and inherit an earth we’ve nursed back to good green health, Ethan kept asking, “Who wouldn’t want this?”
“No one in their right minds,” we told him.
It wasn’t until the next day that we heard the name Sarah Palin for the first time, and the day after that that we learned of the kind of country she envisions for us: one where creationism is taught in schools but proper sex education isn’t; where safe legal abortions are no longer a woman’s right regardless of her circumstances; where books can be banned and librarians fired for attempting to protect them; and where the dangers of global warming will continue to be downplayed and ignored.
Not that McCain’s running mate addressed these issues, or many issues at all, in her acceptance speech. Instead she filled it with snide jabs at Barack Obama. A chill went through me as I realized who she reminded me of. She was like girls I knew in high school — not the deep thinkers one could imagine running on a presidential ticket one day, but girls who were brash, overconfident, and terribly mean-spirited. Yet, inexplicably, they were always popular.
She’s someone’s mother, I reminded myself as if that would help me find her humanity. But she’s a mother who admitted to not giving much thought to the war even though her son was about to be deployed to Iraq.
I recalled Michelle Obama’s words: “[My] girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world — they’re the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. Their future — and all our children’s future — is my stake in this election.”
“Mine too”, I said aloud, as though renewing a vow.