“Do not tell me who you are voting for!” my daughter Rachel announced from the passenger seat. “I am making up my own mind.” Being that it was November in Virginia, it was time to vote.
Having grown up in a political family, Rachel has participated in many elections. She’s worked the polls, signed up volunteers, knocked on doors, attended debates, and put up more than her fair number of signs, but she had never voted until this year. The ultimate expression of republican freedom, her voice in who would represent her in government, had always been temporally out of reach.
“This is a very big deal,” I reminded her as we pulled in the parking lot.
Her eyes rolled in a way reserved only for mothers of daughters. “Do you think this is my first day in this family?”
“You are becoming a fully franchised adult,” I reiterated. “I really can’t overstate what a big deal this is.”
“You’ve mentioned it a few times,” she replied, her voice heavy with the burden of being homeschooled by a history-buff/political activist mother for 11 years.
“You have your ID, right? You’ve researched the issues? You know there are two referenda on the ballot, right? Do you have any last-minute questions or things you want to know about?”
“I should have come alone,” she huffed, shoving her airpods in her ears.
I leaned over and loudly declared, “You know that was never going to happen.” I saw her punch up the volume on her phone.
Contrary to most people going in to vote, Rachel was extremely kind to all the poll workers, and I noticed her taking care to make eye contact with them and thank them for standing out there, no matter which party they were promoting. I knew she knew all too well the numbness they must be feeling in their chilled feet and the monotony of repeating, “Would you like a sample ballot?” over and over for hours as harried voters rushed into a polling place. Her forays into the election day process had regularly ended 40 feet from the entrance of a church or school, in the cold, covered in stickers, passing out colorful pieces of paper listing people she was too young to vote for.
As she stepped up to the election official’s table and handed them her id, I had to restrain myself from shouting out to the entire room, “It’s her first time voting! I am so proud of her. Aren’t we all proud of our first-time voters? Let’s give them a round of applause! Three cheers for the first time voters!”
Repressing all of this was a bit like dropping Mentos into Diet Coke and then trying to screw on the top; I was a mess and may have cried a little. I think she could sense this and gave me a side-eye hard enough to crack plaster. “Mother. You better tap that ish down and get some control over yourself.” I swear, she said all of that in one look.
I didn’t mind waiting as she took twice as long as me to vote; I knew it meant that she was being very deliberate. However, as she slipped her ballot into the machine and collected her “I Voted” sticker, I might have clapped a little and maybe quietly squeaked, “You did it! You’re a voter!” Thankfully I was not on the ballot, because her expression said that she would not have voted for me for anything other than The World’s Most Embarrassing Mother.
Her embarrassment abated as soon as I suggested celebratory Starbucks for fulfilling our civic duty. She even let me drone on about history with nary an eye roll. After having me as her teacher for nearly her entire educational life, she knew it was easier to let me get it out of my system once I got on a roll.
When I stopped, she got very serious and said, “Mom, I am a black woman voting in the South. I know the debt that I owe all the people who came before me to make sure that I could cast that vote today. You made sure that I knew that, and I promise that I will never forget and I will never miss a chance to vote. I just wish that more people would.”
I thought that watching my daughter vote for the first time would be my proudest moment this chilly November morning, but I was wrong – it was hearing her tell me how much it meant to her.