Sunday, October 7, 2012

Put On a Sweater!

"We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent. There is no way we can solve it quickly. But if we all cooperate, and make modest sacrifices, if we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust, and to make our society more efficient, and our own lives more enjoyable and productive." 
  -- President Jimmy Carter to the American People, February 2, 1977

I was six years old when I sat in our living room and watched President Carter on TV tell my family to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.  He looked like Mr. Rogers, sitting there talking in his calm, concerned voice, wearing a cardigan sweater.

Fred Rogers' sweater, on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History

I liked President Carter.  I felt bad that I had accidentally voted for his opponent, Gerald Ford, during our kindergarten mock-election that previous November.  When I went inside the curtained partition to cast my vote, I blanked out.  My parents had been talking about the upcoming presidential election the night before at the dinner table, but I couldn't remember who Mommy said she was going to vote for.  I just remember my dad getting red in the face and that vein popping out of his temple like it did as he shouted, "You're going to cancel out my vote!"

When my classmate on the other side of the curtain started to complain to the teacher that I wasn't letting him have a turn, I put a big "X" next to Gerald Ford's picture.  I'd seen his picture before and I was pretty sure that was the guy Mommy said she wanted to be the leader of our country.

When I got off the bus and walked inside our house, I happily declared, "I got to vote today, Mommy!"  I felt so big.  As the youngest child in a large family with much older siblings, I often felt left out of all the games older people got to play.

"Oh, yeah?  Who did you vote for, Carter or Ford?"  Mommy asked.  She had wheeled our dishwasher over to the kitchen sink and was screwing the hose to the faucet.

"Um.  Uh..."  I stomped on the metal lever that made our freezer door pop open.  I shut the door and stomped on the lever again and again until my mom told me to stop.  "Um.  Ford.  Yeah, I voted for Ford.  That's who you like, isn't it Mommy?"

"No, Sugar.  I voted for Jimmy Carter."

Dang it!  I was so mad at myself for getting it wrong.  I had accidentally voted for my dad's guy.  Ugh.

In November 1988, my mom would do me a favor and vote for Michael Dukakis.  I wouldn't turn eighteen for three more weeks, and I was terribly disappointed I wouldn't get my say in ending the Reagan-Bush years.  Mom offered to vote for anyone I wanted, and she did.  It was the first time Mom, a staunch Independent, ever voted for someone who lost the presidential election.  In our family, my dad was flame red, I was midnight blue, and mom was passionately purple long before pundits began assigning colors to political affiliations.

I wonder if Katie will have a mock presidential election this year?  I hope so.  It's fun to get kids involved in the political process, even if they don't understand what the heck they're doing.  Neither do grownups.  Katie's the same age I was when I first got to pretend-vote.  I was in kindergarten and she's in first grade, but just as I was one of the oldest kids in my class she is one of the youngest in hers, so we're about the same age.  She's luckier than I that she won't have to take sides between her parents' picks since Will and I are both registered Democrats who plan on voting for President Obama.

Last night at the dinner table Katie asked us why some of our friends on Facebook had posted a picture of Mitt Romney and his wife serving Big Bird on a platter.  

"It's a joke.  Romney said he wants the federal government to quit giving money to PBS.  So the artist of that meme was joking that Sesame Street would no longer be able to afford to make shows and so Big Bird would be served instead of a turkey for dinner," I explained.

"Oh."  Katie sat quietly for a moment and ate her potsticker.  Will cooked them this time so we didn't have to disassemble the smoke detector.  When she finished her bite, she announced, "We don't even watch PBS, Mommy.  We don't have cable anymore."

"Well, we watch it online.  You play games on," I reminded her.

"Yeah, but I could just play them on Nick Jr. or Starfall," Katie argued.

"That's true.  But if there was no PBS there'd be no Big Bird.  No Mr. Rogers."  Katie had recently discovered some old Mr. Rogers video clips and she really enjoyed them.

"That's ok.  I could watch other things."

When Katie was born, my friend Brent joked that she'd naturally turn out to be the next Alex P. Keaton with hippie parents like Will and me.  I looked for signs of some kind of innate conservatism inside my child, but so far I don't see it.  She's just like me.  She likes to argue.  I'm surprised she hasn't asked if she can be a Devil's Advocate for Halloween yet.

"I don't know.  I'd miss Mr. Rogers."  I countered.

"Mommy, why does--what's his name?  The guy who wants to get rid of PBS?"

"Mitt Romney.  He doesn't want to get rid of PBS.  He just doesn't think the federal government should pay for it.  He thinks only people who watch it should pay for it.  Like if we wanted to watch Mr. Rogers, we could pay our local PBS station so we could watch it."  I set my fork down.  This would take some explaining.  Einstein was right.  If you can't explain it to a six year old you don't understand it.

"And that's one way to think of it, that people who watch shows should be the ones who pay for them," I continued.  "But you know who watches lots of PBS shows?"  I stopped to see if she was still with me.

"Who?"  She was.

"Little kids.  Even littler than you.  Preschool kids.  Or kids whose moms and dads don't have enough money to send them to preschool.  But kids don't make any money, so they can't pay for the shows.  They have to rely on their moms and dads to pay for the shows they watch.  But sometimes moms and dads can't afford it or they just don't care.  I'd rather my tax dollars go to pay for kids to learn their ABCs and 123s on PBS than to pay for bombs that are dropped on kids on the other side of the planet."  I stopped ranting.  I was afraid if I went on for too long Katie's head might end up in her plate.

She smiled and set her fork down on her own plate.  "Kids need to learn their ABCs and 123s, Mitt Romney!" declared my little Mini Me.

Kids are easily influenced by us.  If they respect and admire us, they tend to want to emulate our behavior and subscribe to our philosophies.  If they don't like us, they tend to react by going down an opposite path.  When I'm stuck on a difficult parenting challenge, I think to myself, "What would my dad do?" and I do the opposite.

Will Katie grow up to be a liberal like her parents, or will she find her influences elsewhere?  Probably both. I certainly escaped my conservative upbringing and found my way along my own progressive path.  Whatever political path my child treads, I'm just happy she's paying attention.

This morning, I awoke to an intense chill in the air.  I hopped out of bed, put on my wool Ugg boots and broke out my fuzzy robe.  Ahhhh, my fuzzy robe.  I live in it all winter since my frugal ass sets our thermostat at 68 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night.  I can't help it.  I payed attention to what President Carter told me to do.  When it gets cold, I put on a sweater.

When I shuffled into the kitchen in my wool boots and fuzzy robe to make coffee, I glanced over at the table and saw Katie's doll Bacca, all bunded up, ready to "find ways to adjust".  I was 2262 days old when I saw President Carter on TV in his sweater, encouraging us to find ways to conserve energy.  He was right.  "There is no way we can solve it quickly."  Fixing our nation's energy problem will take time.  Decades.  Generations.  But I still have hope.  Katie is 2269 days old and she already knows how to conserve energy and still keep her dolls warm.