During the night of the presidential election last year, around 10:30 p.m., after everyone else had gone to sleep, my 15-year-old son and I were in front of the TV watching the poll results come in state-by-state until something started to happen and I almost dropped my drink. Something unexpected started to happen (at least unexpected for me) and I motioned toward the TV with my hand and said to him with an incredulous look, “What the heck is going on? She’s LOSING!?!”
“Good,” he said.
And then all of the sudden it felt like the rhythm of the room had shifted and the proverbial needle skipped on the turntable.
“Huh? You’re not mad? I thought you were for Clinton?” I asked.
With a look like a kid scared of his mother after he just accidentally walked on new, white carpet with mud on his shoes said, “No, I like Trump.”
I bit my tongue until it almost bled, cleared my throat and asked, “You do?”
“Yeah, I like Trump,” he said, sitting up with a new air of confidence. Like a son that just came out of the closet to tell me that he’s been gay all along and all these years he really didn’t like football and hot wheels, his G.O.P cat was out of the bag. He became, literally, the elephant in the room.
But I couldn’t ignore it. I was really surprised by what he had just said. All of the sudden the poll results weren’t important anymore. I turned down the volume and asked, “But why?”
And then all of these things that he was certain about came out of his mouth – things about NATO and Immigration and the TPP and NAFTA and Patriotism and Russia. Russia? Listening to his thoughts about Russia, I thought, clearly he is not the communist-feared Generation-X child raised by “The Day After”. He talked about his patriotism and his earnestness to defend our country if needed, in a way that left me proud, but I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know where it came from. He had been raised by pacifists, liberals, people who recycled, donated money to Planned Parenthood and shopped at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. We have a metal peace sign on our front lawn, for Pete’s sake.
Admittedly, I understood that his thoughts and ideas were not completely outrageous and he articulated his opinions well and backed them with real research. I also learned that he has liked Trump for quite some time, but in a family full of liberals, didn’t feel like he had the comfort level to speak his mind during the election season. I thought about my civically-minded, staunchly Democratic parents that once stuck a bumper sticker on my chest using me as an adorable lackey during a local election:
Right away I felt bad that maybe I wasn’t really listening to him and thought about this picture:
However, the difference between my experience is that I ended up as a liberal anyway. I’m aware of the fact that he is still young and has lots of years to form his opinion but, he already sounded like a person with real political conviction and he sounded really smart. We talked about all kinds of things and we both had some middle ground, realizing that neither of us were bleeding-heart liberals nor ultra-conservatives. But I just couldn’t help but think to myself, how is he possibly growing up to be a Republican? It felt like we landed on an 80s sitcom into a family called the Keatons.
After we hashed out all the world’s problems and when it seemed his preferred candidate was on his way to victory, we went to our respective rooms to call it a night. But that night, which was in many global ways an important night, was also in many ways personal because it opened a different dialogue with my son. Not that we weren’t talking before the election, but maybe I was still looking at my teenage son as a baby. Like any other mother out there, if I sit and think hard enough, I can still feel the little newborn lying on my lap.
I remember the first night home from the hospital and how both of us cried for hours under the glow of a red nightlight. We cried for hours because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. It wasn’t the first time I didn’t know what I was doing about something and it wasn’t going to be the last.
Election night, which will be one of those nights I will never forget, turned out not to be about politics at all. It was about growing up. The 6’3” baby was growing up. The relationship with my son was growing up.
He’s got a few years until he flies the coop, but until then I hope he continues to be smart. Conservative OR liberal.
I have a pretty smart kid. Maybe I’ve done something right, maybe I was doing something right after all. And one of those days when he leaves me in the dust, I can only hope that one day he will remember this night, too.
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