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'Mom, Can We Go Vote?'

A frazzled mother hasn't studied the issues, but her 11-year-old has it down cold.

October 19, 1996|SARA ARDITTI | Sara Arditti is an illustrator and writer. She lives in Mar Vista

I remember the thrill of finally being old enough to vote in the presidential election of 1980. I voted in nearly every election for years afterward. But then I became a single mom and I didn't have enough time or mental energy to keep up on local election issues, so those fell by the wayside. I missed an election here and there, figuring life would go on.

That was my state of mind on the last primary election day, March 26. The cool gray of evening is settling on the traffic jam that I am stuck in with my son, 11, after a tiring day full of work, errands and multiple child transports. I am frazzled, hungry, tired, and thinking of my evening schedule: get home, cook dinner for my two boys, get myself to an evening seminar, come home, fold laundry and pack lunches for tomorrow. "So Mom, did you vote today?" Justin's question pierces my overloaded brain.

"Well, no. I almost always vote, but today I didn't have time."

He turns to me in alarm. "But Mom, you have to! There are a lot of important issues on the ballot! We spent a whole week learning about them in school!"

"I know, you're right, but unfortunately I haven't studied them much. I'm not sure I can make an informed decision about some of the local candidates, either. Besides, we all know Bill Clinton will be nominated no matter what."

Justin is digging through his backpack. "Okay, look Mom, here are all the issues, and the pros and cons on each one. I could read them to you."

"Justin, the thing is, I don't have time to stop at the polling place tonight. I have to be at a meeting at 8:00." I glance at the papers on his lap. The propositions and arguments for and against are laid out concisely in columns. He has written notes in the margins. I am impressed.

"Okay, read them to me. But I still won't be able to go vote tonight."

He launches into an earnest recitation. We discuss. We debate. We differ on some propositions, but that actually pleases me. My son, a Citizen of the World. At the end of our traffic-jam civics lesson comes the insistent question, "Please Mom, can we go vote? I know where the polling place is. It's that church near our house." I feel torn now. I'm already running late.

"Justin, I really hate to say this, because I don't really believe it, but in this case, one vote won't make a difference." His eyes go wide. He is flipping through his binder. "Listen to this poem, it's about what you just said." He reads it to me, with feeling. Something about a young well-to do professional who encounters his friend on the street in Manhattan. When asked if he has voted that day, he replies, "Nah, why bother? You know one vote doesn't make a difference anyway!" They laugh in agreement.

Cut to a rural village in South Africa. An old black woman, bent with the weight of her life burdens, walks slowly along a long dusty road in the broiling sun. It is a day she has always dreamed of but never thought she'd live to see. Today she has walked many miles to vote for the very first time in her life. Nothing in the world could possibly stop her from exercising her hard-won, precious new right.

The action in the poem switches back and forth, contrasting the attitudes of the characters. I am riveted and deeply moved. We are nearly home now. I make a turn in the opposite direction and smile at my son. He smiles back knowingly.

We enter the polling place, a church decorated with California and U.S. flags. I take him into the voting booth with me and let him punch the ballot with the stylus as I instruct him. It is a brand-new experience in his young life. I relish his unjaded enthusiasm. I am suddenly very glad and proud of him for persuading me to do the right thing.

On the way out to the car, I slip something into his shirt pocket. "Here, keep this as a souvenir, and take it to class tomorrow to complete your lesson." He grins as he reads the ballot stub. "I have voted--have you?"

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