Thursday, November 8, 2012

After the Election: The Critical Mom

In our small German city, the networks were beating the bushes for Americans to interview, which is how my husband and I ended up on local TV--me looking frumpier than Angela Merkel on a bad hair day. The interviewer wanted to know what I thought, but he wanted to know it auf Deutsch, "Because zen I don't have to over-voice it," he added, in English. 
"Dub it," I corrected sourly.  And told them, auf Deutsch, that we'd gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to watch the polls and that naturally I'd voted for Obama.  Cut to my husband, who discoursed authoritatively, the lucky native speaker--and he's really good-looking, too.
I was relieved when my part was over; I had the usual problem of sounding like an ungrammatical four year old with an accent that--after this election--would not have to be lied about.  I'm happy that I don't have to insist that I'm Canadian, when people ask.  Germans tend to think that I'm English or American, and now I can reveal that I am indeed American--I'm confident I can even do so for at least the next four years.  Yes, my fellow Americans, I denied my country of origin repeatedly during the Bush years, and was all set to do so again should the Age of Romney (known, in some alternate universe, as the Last Age of Humanity or The End of The World) have dawned.   
That evening, the three kids, my husband, and I all crowded around the TV at 7:30 in the evening and saw how forty-five minutes of interview could be boiled down into four minutes.  Gone were the parts where I told them I was so nervous watching those exit polls that I baked a New York state cheesecake--even though I said it auf Deutsch--because I looked directly at the camera instead of conversing with my colleague and my husband.  Hadn't understood those auf Deutsch instructions again.  I usually understand around seventy percent of what people say, but only under stress-free conditions.  Gone were the parts where I told the interviewer--slipping into English--exactly why Romney's humorless, business-oriented, heartless leadership would have been all wrong.  Gone even the part where I walked down the hall and entered my office--because I fumbled with the key.
All this gave me a genuine admiration for people who stand in front of a camera, smile, look good, and make sense all day long on a campaign trail.  Wow.  I saw myself up there on that screen and wanted to shout:  "Sit up straight and don't look so crabby!  And couldn't you have combed your hair?  And of all days to wear your glasses!  AND YOU LOOK SO OLD!"  A phrase I could not stop repeating to myself, so that when my daughter was hopping around saying, "Mommy!  You were on the news!  You and Daddy were on the news!"   I couldn't help mumbling, "But I looked soooo old."  
"Aw, Mommy," she said, waving her little hand, "Everybody has times like that! Don't worry."  It made me think of our good luck: first, our luck with this very close election, since whatever happens in the next four years, we know it could only have been worse with Romney, whose most telling failure is his utter lack of humor (after Hurricane Isaac saying he was grateful to be on dry land, or cracking that no one ever asked to see his birth certificate).  Obama may make mistakes but he loves a joke at his own expense--calling a voter in the west sometime on election night, he said the guy "didn't know who I was."  He loves his wife, loves that America fell in love with her, and says so.  It is just his honesty and freedom of emotion that Romney looks down on.  A lack of humor is the last thing we need in these increasingly desperate times.  Good leaders usually have a good sense of humor.  Think of Churchill's hilarious quips about everything from Hitler to his own old age (when someone told him his fly was open, he said, "dead birds don't fall out of nests.") 
I felt lucky as well that my husband and children are with me and doing so well.  I thought again of the heartache of the Krim family and then of how in the past mothers lived through crises we don't want to imagine:  Mary Rowlandson, the seventeeth century colonial American settler was kidnapped with her young daughter by American Indians whose land had been stolen.  Rowlandson's relatives were tortured and disemboweled before her eyes and her daughter, who was the same age as Lulu Krim, died slowly of her wounds during their captivity in the woods.  And I thought of Mary Shelley, daughter of a brilliant feminist who died of sepsis after giving birth to her (and whose grief-stricken father was unable to love her) enduring during her fifth pregnancy, at 22, a miscarriage that nearly killed her--she'd already written Frankenstein, and she'd already lost babies to illness, dystentary and everything that a quick call to the pediatrician could fix today in a minute.  Her heartbreaking journal chronicles dreams after the death of a baby: "Dreamed my little baby was alive.  Awake and find no baby."  Not to mention the utter failure of Percy Shelley as a husband and father--and it was just her luck that he went and got drowned.  How did these women cope?  In the only ways possible:  Rowlandson convinced herself that her tragedy had meaning--the meaning seems bizarre today, namely that God had planned every horrible event in order to make her a better Christian--but that belief sustained her to a ripe old age.  Mary Shelley, as we all know, wrote and wrote and wrote, making enough to send her surviving son to the best British boarding school.   Faith if you can manage it, work if you cannot:  these are the keys to survival.  I urge all my readers to support the arts education LuluLeo Fund founded by the Krims in memory of their children.

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