I took my kids with me to cast my vote Tuesday. I took their picture to record the moment.
My 11-year-old son interrupted me on my third or fourth outburst to ask, “But why is this so exciting?”
During the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton remarked that her mother was born before women won the right to vote. Some 88 years later, her daughter, Chelsea, was able to vote for a woman in the presidential primary. And just 43 years after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, a black man was on the top of a major-party ticket.
This list of facts does little to explain why I was so excited to rouse the family before dawn just to stand in a line.
My son, the only of my three kids older than 2, has studied slavery in school. He understands that this is wrong. But I wonder if he will fully understand how exciting this moment is until he is a parent.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he writes of the difficulty of explaining to his daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that was just advertised on TV. He writes of having to answer his son when he asks, “Why do white people treat colored people so mean?”
I imagine what Sarah Palin might have said to her daughters in line at the polling place. I wonder if she told them that there are no limits to what they can achieve. Speaking with reporters outside her polling location, she praised the country for moving beyond racial barriers and breaking through the glass ceiling.
I imagine what Barack Obama whispered to his daughters as he marked his ballot. Asked about the 2-year campaign, Obama told a reporter, “The journey ends, but voting with my daughters, that was a big deal.”
For so many, both joy and pain can be amplified when you’re a parent. I took one last look at the polling place before we pulled out of the parking lot.
In a way, I’m glad my son had to ask what the big deal about Tuesday is. It could be his youth, but I like to think that the question means we’re moving toward a place where the question is unnecessary; a place where a woman or an African-American on the presidential ticket is commonplace.
It’s hard to imagine what King felt when he explained to his daughter that, “Funtown is closed to colored children.” But I couldn’t vote Tuesday, nor could I tell my son about the significance of this vote, without imagining it.
Robert Lundberg of Phoenix is a full-time student at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.