Politics is a dirty business, as the saying goes. So, along with the real identity of Santa Claus and where babies come from, we try to avoid talking politics with our three kids.
Until the neon YES and NO signs popped up across our town. Suddenly, on an innocent drive to the grocery store, I was forced to have “The Talk”.
“What’s going on at the library?” my 7-year-old daughter called from the back of the van. “That sign says YES! Library.”
“Um, there’s a vote for the library.” I said vaguely.
“What do you mean FOR the library? Where is it going? Is it going to CLOSE?” she wailed.
“There’s a car with no top!” yelled 5-year-old Josh. “And Caroline says the library is closing!”
“Wait, wait, wait…” I start to explain.
“NO LIBRARY! NO LIBRARY!” 2-year-old Kitty started chanting.
After calming the rowdy van crowd, I tried to explain that there was a vote (“What’s a vote, Mom?”) to decide if people will pay more taxes (What are taxes, Mom?) for the library.
“It’s a library.” said Caroline matter of factly. “Why WOULDN’T you want to pay for it?”
Great point. Sometimes it takes the mind of a child to simply say what adults seem to screw up. I explained that people had to work hard for their money, and some did not want to pay.
“Can’t we help them pay?” she asked.
“I have some money,” pointed out Josh. “I found a penny in Caroline’s room.”
I tried to explain a millage (“A million, Mom?”), why some people weren’t happy with the city and after a lame Civics 101 lesson… Silence.
“I don’t care,” said Caroline. “I want our Library.”
So for the next month, it became the back seat obsession. The kids proceeded to count every YES and NO sign they saw sticking out of front lawns (81 yes, 28 no). They wanted to know if people were going to burn the books if the library closed. (Yes, that is what one lawn sign said. In jest. Try explaining that.) It was amazing to me that their first real understanding of politics had to come from the least political place I know.
Libraries are escapes from the real world. Quiet (thanks to the drill-sergeant-shusher-librarian) and full of possibility. The library on the chopping block happened to be the one I grew up going to. The magical place where I could take out the same “Ramona” book over and over again. The same place, where I slathered on green eyeshadow in preparation for a study date with a high school crush. They still have some of the same decorations on the wall (like the poster with the hot air balloon that says “Aim High!”). And when I had my own kids, I took them to story hour. My son took his first steps reaching for a puppet in the children’s area.
The day of the vote, I realized we had an overdue book in the house. You know, after taking out a stack of 15 books, one magically (kind of like socks) found itself wedged far underneath the bed. So I returned it. The library was quiet, the cafe was closed, the library gift shop locked up and dark, all in anticipation of what would happen in the election. I stood there and realized that perhaps this was the last time I would be in the library. My eyes got watery. It must have been dusty in there.
The next day, we got the good news. The millage passed. Big cheers from the kids, and a big list of books they wanted to check out next. I hoped it would be awhile before I had to have my next political conversation with the kids.
“What’s a debt ceiling?” asked Josh, one day later. “Is it next to my ceiling fan?”
“Yep.” I said.