There it was, sitting in the mailbox: The voter registration form for my almost-18-year-old daughter. I couldn’t have been more excited. Soon, she would be a full-fledged citizen of the United States.
Soon, she would cast her ballot for the very first time. My little girl would help elect our next president. I placed the form in the middle of the kitchen counter so she couldn’t miss it.
Three days later, it was still there. Unopened.
Thus began a week of gentle reminders, followed by mini-lectures on the role of the citizen in a democracy (imagine how that went … ), followed by, well, nagging. Finally, I filled in the form, handed her the pen and stood over her as she signed. “All right,” I said too brightly, “You’re almost a voter!” She gave me that look. You mothers of teen daughters know exactly what look I’m talking about. “Whatever,” she said.
Had I raised a slacker, an apathetic nonparticipant?
Whatever? Why wasn’t she thrilled at the prospect of voting for the first time? Didn’t she know this was a rite of passage into true adulthood? Had I raised a slacker, an apathetic nonparticipant?
“I just don’t care about politics,” she told me with an audible sigh when, a few days later, I pressed her about this apparent lack of enthusiasm. But why? I wondered. Maybe she didn’t know enough to care. So I asked her if she knew who was running for president. She did. (Whew.) I asked her if there were social issues she cared about. She mentioned two. (Yay! ) I asked her if she knew how the two candidates stood on those social issues she cared about. She did. I asked her if she thought it would make a difference which guy was elected. Yes, she figured it would.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “You know what’s going on. Why wouldn’t you care? Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?” She was beyond tired of this conversation, only putting up with me because we were sitting at our favorite coffee hangout, and I had just bought her a nonfat iced white mocha.
“There are, like, millions and millions of people who vote,” she said. She was straining to be patient with me. “If I vote, or if I don’t vote, it doesn’t matter.” Later I would deliver the mini-lecture on individual responsibility. At that moment, though, I was quiet, thinking about how, at 18, you could easily see yourself as voiceless and powerless. After all, your parents had made all of the important decisions for you so far. School had given you few meaningful choices for independence. She had yet to experience that she could make a difference.
But she was on the brink. Her time was coming. Maybe voting—which I would strong-arm her to do—would be the first step toward that sense of empowerment.