The past few months, the entire family sometimes stands mesmerized by the political coverage on TV. I've even allowed us to eat at the counter a couple of times, letting the smooth tones of Lester Holt from NBC News beat out the normal family dialogue.
The kids, at 17, 15 and 10, have strong opinions on the presidential candidates. The fifth grader reports nearly daily: "Everyone in my class likes Bernie." The freshman snorts at the lowball antics, mud-slinging and verbal sparring between the candidates. The junior listens and shakes his head, unable to believe the promises.
I came up with an idea: I would take them to a political event. I didn't care which candidate – but they were very determined who they would not go see. "I will NOT sit there and listen to that one!"
In the end, the one candidate that all three agreed to, completely and fully, was from our home state, Senator Bernie Sanders. They had seen him already in the Heifer Stroll, and watching him give a stump speech up-close-and-personal would be fun, they informed me. "But only Bernie. We want to see Bernie."
I shared the idea with a friend, and our plan was hatched: we'd take the kids to a rally. New Hampshire didn't work. Undeterred, we vowed to wait for Massachusetts. So when Bernie announced that he would visit U-Mass Amherst on a Monday, the kids all agreed that they wanted to go... except that there was pre-season running and weight-lifting. "We can't miss the weight room," the boys told me in no uncertain terms. But didn't they want to see Bernie, I asked? "Yes, on any other day. Monday is weight room."
I made a couple of calls. By 1:30, I had four high schoolers, and my friend had the middle school and grade school contingent. "I can't believe you called Coach, Mom," my sons said, shaking their head at me.
The event listing only said, "Doors open at 4:30; arrive early." If we were driving down, we were getting in. So we happily fell into the "Feel the Bern" line that snaked around the auditorium, all checking in with our cell phones and plastering on the campaign stickers.
My friend agreed to stand in the line with her phone for entertainment. I took the posse of kids to the student union. Admittedly, with three high school juniors in tow, I intended to use some of this waiting time to see the potential for college. However, U-Mass in late February is not a fair comparison to a perfect July day at Cornell. That stop-on-a-whim last July may end up costing me roughly $55,000 a year, times four years, times two kids.
After fortifying ourselves in the cafeteria, we rejoined the line, and went through security. "Just like the airports, folks," the National Transportation Safety Authority yelled out. "But you get to keep your shoes on!"
Inside, volunteers offered to let us stand with a wrist band, to be "closer to Bernie." I refused, because I thought kids would mutiny with no seats – and because I wanted us all to be able to see. My friend remained convinced that Bernie would be there "soon," no more than 5:30. I looked at the empty press area and groaned inwardly.
Apparently the last rally that Bernie held in western Massachusetts — the only candidate for either political party who stopped in, according to the security guys I quizzed — was three weeks ago. They had it somewhere that held 3,200. But 5,000 showed up. This time, they went with a location that held 10,000.
We settled in for the long haul, watching an older woman who danced around with a blanket that said, "With every rise a breeze is felt." Or something like that. I didn't understand it then, don't still now, but she waved it about very enthusiastically.
We listened to two musical groups (U-Mass a capella group and a band) and three "get-'em-hyped" speakers. The guy who brought a water bottle to the podium was greeted with wild applause; we thought that meant Bernie was much closer than he actually was. As the phone batteries started to die and the kids mumbled about how they "could have gone to the weight room and then come down," we spied secret service coats, and the press.
Finally, Bernie came out, with his hit commercial of "America" playing on the screens overhead. The crowd roared. The kids cheered — and then we settled in to listen (and join in the clapping) to normal stump speech.
As we drove home, the political conversation continued. "Which candidate would you vote for?" they asked each other. "Can he really do that? Where would the money come from? Would the loopholes really be closed that easily? Would Wall Street really pay? Did you hear what he said about wealth distribution? But what would happen if we raised the minimum wage? What about free college? Is it only community college?"
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at email@example.com.