By B.J. Hollars
One Saturday in the midst of primary season, I, like any informed member of the electorate, performed my civic duty of buckling my children—Henry (4), Eleanor (22 months)—into the double stroller and wheeling us toward the Bernie Sanders rally. I did so in a near-blizzard.
Let the record show that this is neither an endorsement of Bernie nor blizzards, and in fact, after a lot of soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am anti-blizzard, especially when they strike in April when I’m expecting flowers.
Instead, that morning we were greeted with snowfall, a momentary whiteout making it difficult to determine just how far that Bernie line stretched. When conditions cleared it became obvious: it stretched forever.
Ahead of me, the line overflowed with the most rare of species—college students awake at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I tried to blend in as best I could, but something (maybe the double stroller?) pegged me as an outsider. In a good faith effort at parenting, I attempted to keep the kids warm by creating a cocoon, draping a blanket atop the stroller and tucking it around their legs. Every few minutes I’d peek inside to find Henry and Eleanor belting out their off-key rendition of the Daniel Tiger theme song in the hypnotic glow of the Kindle. Which is to say: they were having the time of their lives.
Meanwhile, the conditions outside that cocoon were less than ideal, and after a lot of highly visible teeth chattering and salvos for sympathy (“It’s okay children, just keep moving your fingers!”), a kind-hearted field worker took pity on us, offering hand warmers and a promise to get the kids out of the cold as fast as he could. He was good on his word, and a security pat down later we were in, taking our seats on the front row of the arena bleachers.
“OK,” I said, wiping the snowflakes from my watch as reality set in, “just another three hours till Bernie.”
There are only so many ways to kill time at a political rally and we tried all of them: peeking into the press room, chatting with the band, waving to the news anchors until they just stopped waving back. We talked to the people behind us, in front of us, all around us, and when that game wore thin, we even tried talking to each another.
At around 10:00a.m.—two hours till show time—the kids began to grow restless.
“Dad,” Henry whined, “I’m hungry.”
I reached into my pocket to unearth a half-eaten candy cane.
“Is it still good?” he asked skeptically.
“I don’t see an expiration date, do you?”
That candy bought us a good hour, at which point the sugar crash set in. I attempted to neutralize the situation by returning their attention to the Kindle, which they watched contentedly, while I watched the battery deplete at an alarming rate.
Stay cool, I thought, you got this.
And even if I didn’t, I figured that if my children—inspired by Bernie—attempted their own revolution, the secret service would have no choice but to come to my rescue.
Yes, things were looking up, right up until that battery died.
“Dad…” Henry said, “I’m still hungry.”
By this point Eleanor had taken the liberty of eating the granola bar belonging to the young woman to our left, and when that didn’t suffice, a woman six rows up read the situation perfectly and came bearing a bag of crackers.
In my mind’s eye, that woman wore a halo round her head, floating down from those bleachers to a crescendo of harps and sopranos. It was just what we needed just when we needed it, and by the time my ravenous children had worked through those crackers, our city’s favorite son, a Grammy-winning rock star, took to the mic to introduce the presidential candidate.
I’ll give Bernie this: he was punctual. And he knew how to get college-aged folks to cheer. What he didn’t know was how to persuade my young children to cheer at appropriate times. Instead, Henry and Eleanor provided a call-and-response to Bernie, hollering like a couple of tent revival parishioners taken by the spirit.
This, of course, was hilarious to precisely them and nobody else. By this point even the most polite progressives had begun to tire of us, and though they continued to brandish their tight, forgiving smiles, I knew it was time to take our leave. We retreated to the edge of the stage where I could stand, shush, and rock as appropriate—anything to keep them quiet.
Henry demanded my phone so I handed it over (“Right away, sir!”), and for the next minute, watched miserably as my 21st century child snapped selfies of himself. As the photos momentarily froze on the screen, I noticed a blurry rock star directly in the background.
Great, I thought, not only is my kids’ behavior ruining a rally, but we’re probably pissing off the rock star as well.
All of this might have been avoided, of course, had I better prepared for our adventure. Yet in my haste to give my children a memorable experience, I’d forgotten the basics: food, water, and backup Kindles.
Conscientious parents often exaggerate how bothersome their kids are in their own minds. Maybe there’s a chance everyone in that arena actually appreciated the adorable distraction my kids provided. Maybe…
But in the event we were as bad as I think (and I think we were pretty bad), allow me to offer a public thank you.
Thank to you the field worker who kept us from freezing, and to the woman who gave us her granola bar. Thanks to the angel with the crackers, the rock star with the patience, and the political candidate whose hearing kept him from hearing us. As a voter, I’m still undecided. But as a father, those people in that rally won my vote.
B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit: http://www.bjhollars.com
photo credit: Bill Hoepner