About a month ago I was with my in-laws in California, and one of my darling nieces was with my daughter in our hotel room. They were watching cartoons, and scanning through the channels, when a political advertisement came on the TV. I can't remember who the commercial was for, but my niece asked my daughter, "Do you like Obama?" It was kind of the same way that you ask someone if they like brussel sprouts or kissing someone of their same gender. Like, you can't imagine that they would, and if they do, you don't really want to know.
But Shelby, quickly and without hesitation, answered in the affirmative, "I LOVE Obama!" Her cousin looked crestfallen. Knowing that this cousin's family members were big fans of Romney, I could see that she was trying to reconcile her unconditional love of my daughter, her best-cousin, with the stuff that she'd overheard on the TV news channel her parents watched regarding those who would support Obama. How could her favorite cousin be one of those people?
My heart broke a little for this cousin, as I knew the turmoil that she was currently processing. She could not not love Mitt Romney. He was practically her Uncle. In most LDS families, when it comes to Mitt Romney, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game turns out to be more like two degrees, thanks to polygamy. An Aunt in the family shared the same great, great grandfather with Mitt Romney, which is not all that unique when you understand that this man had 12 wives. And so was the reason that Mitt's name was spoken with reverence amongst her family. Even if they are not perfect, you don't diss your own family members.
Yet here was her favorite cousin, who was like the mirror image of herself. Someone who she thought she knew everything about and with whom she felt completely safe around. Someone who she would always be completely loyal to. But how could she stand by someone who loved the enemy? And more importantly, how could her cousin not love Romney? He was so nice and good. He loved serving people in his religion. He was honest and hard working. Plus he was so handsome. It just didn't make sense.
Shelby was equally shocked to find out that her cousin supported Romney. Her wheels were turning in her little head trying to reconcile the same issues. The things that she'd heard on her parents news channel about that man were awful. How could her best cousin like someone like that? And more importantly, how could she not love Obama? Obama was kind of like an adopted uncle in her family. Her mom had a shirt with his name on it. His logo was on her car bumper. The family talked often of all the good that he did to help the poor, make people of other races feel included, give help to college students and people who fought in the wars. Plus his wife was so beautiful. It just didn't make sense.
And it was at that point that the truth of what most people in the United States honestly feel, came out of this 8 year-old cousin's mouth.
Spoken with tears in her eyes, she dejectedly said, "I just wish it was over." What this little love was saying was that for the past 3 years of this election season everyone was divided up in to two camps. There were people who were supposedly safe because they were like her family. And then there were those who sided with the other camp and were supposedly different and bad. For her little eight year old self, it was stressful (and probably a bit scary) trying to figure out who was safe and who was not.
She just wanted everyone to be on the same team.
It's kind of like in grade school, when you are playing red rover for recess, and everyone in your class is divided up in to two teams. It's fun for a while, out there in the sun, shouting and daring the other team to try to break your invincible bond. But as your classmates come barreling towards you, one after another, from across the field, charging at you to infiltrate your team and win someone away to their side, you grow tired of trying to withstand that force.
It stings to have friends who have been won over by the other side. They seem happy over there, and it's hard to understand why they wouldn't be just miserable on the enemies side. You have to chant louder and cheer harder to convince yourself and others that yours is the right team to be on.
After a while you secretly wish for that recess bell to ring so that the two teams can dissolve back in to one united group. And when that bell rings, the tally of who'd conquered more team mates, and whose team was winning instantly vanishes. The promise of the rest of the day is what is most important as classmates who once stood on opposing sides, walk shoulder to shoulder back in to the school building.
I tried to comfort her. "I know" I said, "It's almost over." She and Shelby both quickly spouted off diplomatic ramblings about how really both men were good people, and were doing the best they could. How either way, things were going to be fine in the end. It was enough to put these two besties at ease, so they could go on watching Adventure Time without the slightest bit of contention.
My thought, after I was humbled by these two wise eight year olds, was that rather than sitting out the game, because of the stress of choosing sides, we should be engaged, learn the rules, and play with our best effort. The team you're on does not have to be concrete. People change sides all the time. The point isn't whose team you are on. It's that you played the game with integrity. A little rabble rousing makes the game fun, but at the end of the day, we're all on the same team.
Thank you darling girls.