Mama Madison: Introducing kids to voting

Take a small friend with you to your polling place

Walking home from soccer practice the other day, my 8-year-old daughter wondered out loud why there were so many signs in our neighborhood 'advertising' Feingold. She was very upset. Her sense of outrage, though, had nothing to do with the economy or the war in Afghanistan. No, she was annoyed that everyone in Ms. Feingold's third grade class (Russ' first wife teaches at Randall Elementary) had gotten a sign with their teacher's name on it for their yard and no one in her class had. This was when I realized I have probably not done the best job of schooling my kids in the American political process.

I think some of my ambivalence regarding heavy-duty political discussions with the kids stems from my own upbringing. While I went to grade school in suburban D.C. with the offspring of both Democratic and Republican senators and congressional representatives, my parents were entrenched in the arts. They never once mentioned elections at home; I am guessing they voted, but I couldn't have told you for whom.

My only childhood political experience was going to vote in the 1972 presidential election with my Brooklyn-born grandfather. I went into the booth with him and asked him how the voting process worked. He said, "Sari, you just press this lever -- it's for the straight Democratic ticket". Enough said. And so I went, all through college and young adulthood, voting party line, without engagement. I am sure I voted for Rod Blagojevich at some point. I lived in Chicago, I probably voted for him twice-- in the same election.

It wasn't until I moved to Madison, where campaign involvement was more common, that I started to get more invested. It is one of the many beauties of a smaller city: the feeling that your vote really matters. I made a point to know my alders and school board members

And my husband and I got so caught up in "The Change You Can Believe In" that we took off to D.C. for the Obama inauguration. The kids came along as well, but were probably more inspired by the "Yes We Can" cookies they scrounged in Herb Kohl's office than they were by actually meeting their senator.

I think things will be a little bit different when I enter my polling place this coming Tuesday to cast my vote. First, I will make sure that all three kids are right there with me in the booth. Getting them there shouldn't be hard. I'm sure there will be brownies for sale, once again underscoring the clear relationship between democracy and baked goods.

I will show them the name of each candidate running and let them know why I made the choices I did. I will probably even let my 8- year-old wield the pen when I cast my vote for Feingold -- the Senator, not the teacher.

I want them to know that while I often tire of hearing them yell in the house, when they reach 18, the polling place will be an excellent place to have their voices heard.

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