A 16 Year Old Gets His Driver’s License

When most sixteen-year-old kids walk out of the driving test with their new license, they can’t stop smiling. They know that they just earned themselves a new level of freedom…. and for some, a car.

“You’re a good, safe driver. You passed!” said the nice lady with the clipboard at the DMV.

We both grinned.

But his smile was much bigger when she asked, “Would you like to preregister to vote?”

It was fun to see for a mom who used to love politics.

A week before, he hounded me to fill out my mail-in ballot and read out loud from various websites as I considered each candidate and ballot issue.

A few nights later, he stayed up late watching the mid-term election results slowly roll in. I was surprised by how much he knew about the candidates from each state (not just ours), and how, when he didn’t know, he looked them up.

“Do you know your Party affiliation?” the nice lady at the DMV asked.

It was fun to see for a mom who used to love politics… even though…

He couldn’t contain his glee, “Should I really pick my Party, Mom?”

I guess, at least for now, we’ll just cancel each other out.

“I get to vote in the next election!”

But he’s reminded me what it feels like to love politics.

Political Reporters: The View from Fifth Grade

“It’s so funny,” said my fifth grader the morning after the election. “Those news reporters all pretend they’re on the NFL Channel. Like the election is as good as a football game.”

Later in the day, I attended a lecture by former Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who joked that the only news he watches is on ESPN.

Perceptive little fifth grader, eh?

When the Governor Came to School

Recently, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper came to talk to the kids at my sons’ school. Parents were invited, so of course, I showed up to hear what he had to say to a gym filled with 4-12 year olds. The article I wrote about it was published on Yahoo.


How Children Succeed

I started reading Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed for my book club, which focuses on parenting and education books. I thought I was going to get ideas for how to help my own kids have the grit and discipline and strength of character to be successful in school and beyond. Instead, it made me think outside of my own family to the bigger picture of children and adolescents around the country. It made me want to find a way to reach the kids Tough writes about, who do not have the advantages of a safe neighborhood, good school and comfortable home. His book makes you wonder if the only way to improve our schools is to work with one student and, as important, their family at a time.

Please read my book review on Yahoo Voices.


Taxes in Third Grade

I got an email from one of the mothers in my third grade son’s class. Apparently, my eight year old is brainwashing the other children in regard to the upcoming Presidential election. He has apparently decided who he is voting for (if he could), even though I have not.

His friends, I hear, are jumping into their carpools after school telling their parents that Obama is going to raise taxes, and that’s a bad idea.


“Because,” my son is warning them on the playground, “if taxes go any higher, you won’t be able to afford to buy as many BeyBlades or Skylanders or Puffles.”

He sure knows how to hit ‘em where it hurts.

The good news is that he has yet to get sent to the principal’s office for spouting off from his blacktop soapbox.

And the mom who sent me the email was trying not to laugh as she explained the difference between income and sales tax to her third graders. And you gotta love that we are educating our kids early about their finances… no matter who they vote for in 2024.

A Family Trip Across South Dakota

During Labor Day weekend, we took a road trip to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands of South Dakota — a caravan of two minivans, two five-person families, two Star Wars videos and a cooler full of snacks.

The trip fell right in the middle of the Republican and Democratic conventions, and as always happens during election time, I think in speeches. I start crafting the speech I would write for this politician or that one. I edit the ones the candidates give – he should have said this, or she didn’t say enough of that, or that made him look like an idiot.

So as we drove through South Dakota and hit several national parks and memorials, I imagined the speech I would write for someone seeking votes there. And it was all about how South Dakota’s history is a model for what it means to be a family, to stick by the ones you love, to follow in their footsteps, to carry on against the odds in the name of… family.

First, as we drove across miles and miles of brown prairie, spotted only occasionally by a small house, a barn and some old tractors, I thought about the approaching winter. I thought about the families who live in those houses and how they must not get out much. I thought about how hard winters must be on them. And then I wondered if anyone new ever moves in. Or are these huge ranches that feel like they are alone on earth stuck in the same family for generations? Do they change hands, or is there some familial understanding that the son or daughter continues to work the land of his or her parents and grandparents? It’s a different life from the lives and expectations of most of us these days – one driven by family ties.

And then I imagined the homesteaders traveling for miles with their families in search of land on which to build a home. They braved the brutal summers and bitter winters. They knew they might encounter those (beast or person) who would do them harm. They knew they might run out of food. But in many cases, a family came along in support of one person’s dream of owning a piece of land. And they battled the elements with the dreamer. Those who crossed South Dakota were certainly tested. Many starved. Many must have turned back or kept moving west.

The Lakota people who lived and hunted in South Dakota also battled a harsh reality in the plains. How they survived the winters, I cannot imagine. They must have been a hardy, resourceful people. And they must have depended on the strength and spirit of their families for survival.

South Dakota’s more recent history continues the story of familial ties. The creation of both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial were possible because sons and daughters followed in their sculptor-father’s footsteps, taking on the work their parents dedicated their lives to. A father-son team led the work on Mount Rushmore, and the wife and children of a sculptor are continuing to raise money and work on Crazy Horse.

The success of Wall Drug, the biggest drugstore in America, is another tale about a family finding home on the South Dakota plains. As the story goes, a young couple, preparing for the birth of their first child, wanted to open a pharmacy. They hoped to purchase one in a small town with a Catholic church. It was 1931, and when they found a pharmacy in Wall, the entire town was living in poverty, unable to recover from the dual hit of drought and the Great Depression. The baby was born, and a father worried that his young wife had given up her dreams of teaching for a lost cause in Wall. During the first weeks there, no one bought a thing. He was sure they were ruined.

But family sticks together in South Dakota. And his wife came up with an idea. Travelers along the barren, lonely roads of that state just had to be thirsty. And so she set her husband and a neighbor high school student to work making large posters offering free ice water. They put the posters up, and before the end of the day, their pharmacy was full. Thirsty travelers drank the water and then bought their supplies. More than eighty years later, Wall Drug is the biggest pharmacy in the country. The posters, now billboards, line the highways of South Dakota promising free ice water, five cent cups of coffee, homemade ice cream and pie. And it is still a family business.

Driving through South Dakota with my family, I kept thinking there is a lesson here in the fields that I should pass along to my boys. Stick together. Some winters of life will be hard. You will face challenges. You may feel like the road to your dreams is long. But you have family. And with your family, you can achieve great things. Two hundred years ago, you could build a life on the frontier. In 1931, you could build a lasting business out of a Great Depression. Today, you can honor a Lakota hero in the side of a mountain. With family.

I watched another night of politics last night, and I kept thinking that every story of success we hear from either political party is one of a strong family. Families making sacrifices for each other. Families working harder for each other. Families sticking together when times get tough. Families driven only by their dreams for their children.

Is there a better story to be told? Is there a more valuable lesson those politicians can teach us? The Republicans aren’t saying, “if you go it alone, and don’t worry about anyone but yourself, you can be successful”, and the Democrats aren’t saying “government handouts can make you successful.”  They are both up at the podium telling the story of the family who made them strong, the mother who worked harder, the grandfather who dug deeper, the father who showed them the way, the brother or sister or wife or husband who told them to go for it.  Every time they speak from either party’s podium, it is the strength of family that leads to success.  That is the American story.

So the speech will always really be about the spirit of South Dakota.

That is what I took home from my Labor Day road trip in a caravan of two minivans, two five-person families, two Star Wars videos and a cooler full of snacks.

My No Soliciting Sign

I put up a No Soliciting sign today. I just can’t face the prospect of another political season without it. You may not be selling magazines, but you are selling a politician, a party, a cause. You are the same.

I hope my new sign works.

In this day and age, people should know that opening your door to a stranger is not necessarily safe…especially if you are a woman home alone with your kids or it’s after dark. No campaign for any person or cause — no matter how worthy — should be asking us to take that risk.

And yet the doorbell often rings at 6:00pm, and we open it because it might be one of the neighbors’ kids coming to see if the boys want to play. Sometimes it is. But often it is not. And my kids scold me for being rude when I say, “Not interested,” as I quickly shut the door in the stranger’s face. They don’t know that although you are supposed to be kind to strangers, there is no requirement that you listen to their spiel just because they rang.

The problem is that on more than one occasion, a solicitor has pushed back. I’ve been yelled at and insulted for saying they should put something in the mail rather than intrude on my evening. They have told my kids that I don’t care. One yelled as he walked down the street that I was to blame for innocent children being shot in the projects. You’ve got the wrong girl.

And that’s not fair. They don’t know me. They don’t know what I do for those I care about. They don’t know how many causes I support. How dare they stand on my doorstep and pretend they do.

To me, it’s trespassing and an invasion of privacy. I did not invite the campaign worker to my doorstep….even if I will eventually vote their way or donate to their cause on my own. I may be a believer too.

But really, who is ignorant enough to make their decisions about politics or religion or philanthropy based on a stranger who showed up at your door one night while you were multitasking between the kids’ homework assignments, cooking dinner and finishing your own project of the day?

It’s absurd.

And there are other ways they can get their message to me without jeopardizing my safety or intruding unwanted on my evening with my family.

I will take the time to read a campaign email on my own time. I will read editorials in the paper written by respected politicos and thought leaders. I will check out a campaign website, listen to a speech, watch a debate. I will take note of an ad in a magazine. I will talk politics, religion, philanthropy with my friends, whose opinions I have grown to trust and value. But now that I have a No Soliciting sign, don’t ring my doorbell. I won’t listen, and I may not vote your way just because you didn’t bother to listen to me.