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Raising a Child in a Bipartisan Family

We are a house divided. And every four years, I wonder if we can stand. Three weeks ago, a neighbor canvassing for Obama came to the door. I let her in and filled out an application for an absentee ballot. “Does your husband want to fill one out?" she asked.

Dave was sitting in the corner of the dining room, arms folded across his chest.

“No, he’s Republican.”

She smiled at Dave. “Oh, can you tell me why?”

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I stepped in between them. I know it’s her sworn duty to convert any stray Republican she finds, but it’s Dave’s house. I love him, no matter what he thinks about taxes and I knew how well the conversation would go, because I’ve tried it too.

“He’s a hopeless case,” I said. “I’ve given up and moved on to her,” I pointed to Ellis sitting on the floor holding a spatula.

“I’m hoping she votes Democrat because she does have a vagina.” The neighbor laughed and I ushered her out.

Two weeks later, the morning after the first presidential debate I woke up, ran, showered and got Ellis out of her crib. She was wearing a pink Romney/Ryan shirt.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!?” I angrily asked Dave.

Dave giggled and sprinted toward the door. Like I said, some days I don’t know how we stand.

Dave and I have always been opposing political forces. In high school, when I was threatening to join Green Peace and bomb oil companies, Dave and his friends littered my front yard with conservative political signs. When we got married and moved to Iowa, I registered Republican only so I could caucus for Ron Paul, just to signal to the Republican Party I wasn’t happy. Then, I voted for Obama. I don’t think they got the message. So, I switched my registration.

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Dave came out of the womb in an Eddie Bauer polo and ranting about tax rates. He often says goodnight by telling me, “The President is ruining the economy, I love you!”

I’m not much better. This morning, after we snipped at each other over the debate, I sent Dave an email with the sign off, “Next time, no more partisan rancor before 8:30 a.m. I love you.”

But we aren’t always like this. Our life is a day-to-day push and pull of dishes, laundry, "where the hell is the pacifier?" and discussions about why I don’t like Firefly as much as he thinks I should. We agree on most things. We agree that we should volunteer in our communities and give back any way that we can. We agree that we should save our money, buy antiques, pay taxes, hate March Madness, raise our kid to say “yes ma’am,” and eat all of her vegetables or die trying.

But we don’t agree on who to vote for. And part of me worries that our daughter is going to grow up in a rancorous household—used as a pawn in the machinations of her parent’s political schemes. Is she going to resent us? Probably, let’s just hope it’s not for politics.

Before she was born, Dave and I discussed some boundaries on how to raise our daughter around election time. We will be respectful of each other’s intelligence and not mock one another in front of her. We won’t use her as a prop for campaigns. If we fight in front of her, we will apologize in front of her. As we discussed those rules, it became apparent that we weren’t just discussing rules for politics; we were discussing rules for life.

Once, after a heated argument about health care, Dave and I had to revisit our rules.

“Let’s just say we’ll be kind to one another,” Dave said.

“Right, and let our daughter make up her own mind.”

Dave raised his eyebrows. “That’s such a liberal thing to say.”

I glared. Sometimes enforcing the rules feels a little bit like being on a UN peacekeeping mission—all the moral authority with no power whatsoever. But the important thing is that we keep trying. Seeing past our policy and loving one another for the heart, the humor and the intelligence behind each comment.

We won’t always do politics perfectly. But I hope that no matter what, our daughter grows up knowing that the heart of a person is more important than the circles they fill out on a ballot. And that having push and pull, thesis and antithesis is what life is all about and the most important thing is to learn to live in that space between.

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