In the first week of school this September, Aaron informed us he was going to run for Third Grade Class Representative. The announcement shook up the dinner table. In our family, he is considered shy, not a seeker of the limelight. Of course, everything is relative. Next to his cousins (who came out of the womb singing “Watch ME!!”) he is a lamb. We figured when the elections rolled around, he’d be too busy playing football on the playground, and would take a pass on student government. I was wrong.
You can’t fight history. Politics is in his genes. His grandfather ran for elective office four times over three decades. (Never mind his 0-4 record, the point is he tried.) I myself was, ahem, Senior Class President. But the most significant relatives in this regard: the aforementioned cousins. Seventh grader Rebecca is on student council this year. Fourth grader Noa was a Class Representative last year, and this year had decided to run for Vice President. The precedent was set. He knew his course.
I want to be clear: he did this with no prompting from me. I did not tell him to do it. I did not ask him to consider it. I never once mentioned the word “resume.” He wanted to do this, I swear. At every step I expected him to bow out, change his mind. But he was committed: He wrote a speech! He memorized it! Without being told to!
On election day, I waited for him after school in my usual spot on the sidewalk. The clear blue sky enveloped the school’s red tile roof. Parents mingled, younger siblings played tag, all of us waiting for the bell to clang. Kids trickled out, found their adults and left. After a while Aaron emerged on the terra cotta stairs.
“Mom, I won the election!” he exclaimed, his face like a kitten that had swallowed a light bulb, all sweet and glowing. I was thrilled! I was proud! (Of him, yes, but also prideful in that icky, unhealthy way, like I had done something. I can admit it.) Most of all I was relieved that he got to have a joyful afternoon, instead of a morose lesson in losing gracefully.
On the walk home, I asked him how the rest of the election went. I wanted to know how his cousin Noa had fared. His responses provided fascinating insights about what moves a guy to pull the lever. Pundits take note:
First, there is oratory. Aaron explained that he voted for one girl because she ended her speech: “Vote for Lily, I’m not from Philly, but I’m silly!” This masterful rhyme moved him to vote for someone over a girl he has known since he was three. I’m just saying . . .
Then there are special skills, or perhaps they could be called special effects, as in: “I voted for Sophie for President because at the end of her speech she did an amazing backbend!” Her opponent, whose name he could not remember, threw confetti at the end of his speech. I tried to keep my mouth shut, but had to probe. “Besides the backbend, do you remember anything she said?” In fact, he did: “She said she’d be Green for the earth, and then she did the backbend. It was awesome!” Lesson: certain issues matter.
Finally, there is loyalty. In the crowded Vice-Presidential race, cousin Noa was one of seven candidates, including boys who featured their basketball skills as qualification. That could have swayed a lesser boy than Aaron. Heck, it could have swayed him. After school, Noa came over and took an exit poll to see how Aaron had voted.
Keep in mind that these two children, who live half a mile apart and have been together all their life, drive each other mad at times with their quasi-sibling rivalry. I’ve seen Aaron flummoxed beyond despair by things Noa has done or said. I’ve seen Noa pushed to the brink and beyond by Aaron’s actions or words. I’ve also seen them play for hours, and beg me for sleepovers. I was not at all sure which way his answer would go.
There in front of school, in front of the carpool line and the crossing guards, in front of the whole wide world I heard him reassure her, in a voice infused with devotion and the inconceivability of such an unfathomable betrayal: “I would never not vote for you, Noa.”
And there it was. There was the result of constant striving, limitless hoping, and quiet praying that something we’re doing as parents, as aunts and uncles, will create a bond of family that will carry our children forward when all of us grown-ups are gone. Her question, his answer, let me believe that we’re on track toward one of parenting’s holy grails: that our children will stand by each other through their biggest challenges, that they will remain steadfast, unflinching, united. Together. That was the best (and least expected) election return I ever witnessed.