One of the things I remember best about when we had our first baby was developing the “one thing” strategy of coping. That first baby can feel overwhelming because it’s such a dramatic change of lifestyle, and previously simple tasks seem insurmountable. So Ian and I both decided that in a typical day home alone with the baby that it was possible to keep the baby alive and also do one thing. Sometimes that one thing was to make dinner. Sometimes that one thing was to clean a closet. That one thing could be a trip to the grocery store, or even to just to take a shower. Sometimes the one thing was not possible to get to, but that was okay. It was just one thing anyway.
The learning curve on parenting is really remarkable, though. You get past those precarious beginnings and into surer footing, and with time and subsequent children become someone different and stronger. After dealing with three small children alone during Ian’s deployments there is not much in the day to day life of regular parenting that I don’t feel I can handle and still get in a shower, get to the grocery store, make dinner AND clean a closet. I flew to New York and back alone with my kids when they were five, three, and five months so I have graduated beyond the “one thing” level long ago, but still, some days I’m impressed with how much we can do. Like Sunday.
On a typical Sunday we don’t do much. I work on Saturdays and just want to have lazy time at home with my kids come Sunday. We eat breakfast late, we cuddle, we lounge around. Sometimes we’ll get out to something special and that saps all our energy and then we are extra lounge-y when we get back home. But this Sunday was ridiculous.
I don’t know why I have to drag all my children out of bed on a school day, but on the weekend they are up and noisy at 6:30 in the morning. Sunday was no exception, and they were up and squeaky, and Mona wanted to help me make popovers for breakfast. She’s good at cracking eggs and melting butter in the microwave, and she asks me periodically as we’re cooking how far I would be without her help. Usually I tell her I would be only at the point of opening the recipe book and she looks very pleased. Anyway, we made popovers with strawberry butter (that’s just butter whipped together with strawberry jam but it’s really tasty), and then we all went to the Y. Ian got in a run on a treadmill while I played with the kids in the small pool, and then he played with the kids while I swam laps. On a typical Sunday a trip like that to the Y would be enough of an event. But no!
Ian decided we should drive to Madison.
The protests taking place at the capitol have reached historic proportions, and he wanted the kids to see it. With all the upheaval in the Arab world right now, with so many people risking everything to reshape their governments, he wanted our children to see what a healthy disagreement looks like in a stable democracy. We know people with strong feelings on both sides of the issue at hand, but most of them side with unions being able to retain their collective bargaining rights. Personally, I do too, because at its core it seems rooted in the basic freedoms to assemble and speak. I don’t have any interest in joining a union, but I think everyone should have that right. The fact that teachers and other state workers have agreed to all of the pay cuts the governor has asked for and are protesting purely to retain the right to collective bargaining suggests to me that this is less about budget issues and more about destroying unions. The governor is overreaching and I understand why people are upset.
So we packed a lunch for the car and drove the 90 miles to the state capitol. Somehow Ian managed to find us a parking spot only two blocks from the statehouse and we marched the kids toward the protest signs and drum circles. It was very interesting. The giant crowds of reportedly 100,000 people were on Saturday, and that would have been difficult to navigate with the kids, but there were still long lines of people waiting to get into the capitol building. Everyone was friendly. There were people handing out bottles of water to protesters. One man was dressed as Santa and there were dogs wearing banners so there was a lot to see. Ian told the kids to take a good look because a real protest of great size in action was a rare event. We walked at Quinn’s slow pace the entire distance around the capitol building, reading signs and fighting off the cold.
It was fascinating to watch Aden. Since she’s old enough to understand what is going on we did our best to explain to her specifically what she was seeing. (Mona’s cute, but she thought we’d left Wisconsin entirely, so we still have some basic information to drill into her before she’s ready for a good civics lesson.) All the kids kept asking why people were chanting, or carrying signs, or drumming, or making noise. We kept reminding them that they were trying to draw attention to themselves. The whole point of a protest is to be noticed, and those were all ways to be peacefully heard and seen. Quinn trudged behind and Mona kept running ahead, but Aden stayed by my side, asked me to explain some signs, and smiled when she understood the meaning of some on her own. She was looking for her teacher or some of her friends, but I told her most of the people from her school came out on buses on Saturday instead. Most of it made her uneasy. I could see that, because usually large numbers of police officers at a gathering implies something unsafe. But her main concern turned out to be the same as mine. She felt it wasn’t quite right to observe an event where people were trying to make a difference and not help. I felt a little awkward just being there to observe as well, but I reminded her that being counted among the numbers was helping. I pointed out all the satellite trucks from the news stations lined up nearby and explained they would not be there if it were not for the large crowds, of which we were a part at that moment.
When the kids became too cold and tired to find the protest interesting anymore we popped into the nearby children’s museum for a moment. It was way too crowded to be a comfortable refuge for longer than warming up our feet but we promised we would bring them back there and check it out soon. Instead we got them back in the car and headed for Ella’s Deli. We hadn’t been there since the day Ian returned from his most recent deployment in Iraq. It’s filled with carnival and game themed everything and it’s a real treat for the kids whenever we’re in Madison, so that was an event in itself.
And after all of that we attempted to go to the circus. We had a couple of free passes to the last night of the circus in town, and not only have my kids never been, I found out Ian’s never been to the circus either. I felt like we should try. We gave the kids one more round of snacks and headed to downtown Milwaukee. Unfortunately the lines were too long and after waiting for about 20 minutes we decided we were never going to get in and I promised the kids I would make it happen next year. They were so good about it, and frankly had been so good all day that we took them to Leon’s for frozen custard. Because that’s what you do in Milwaukee when it freezing cold; you wait in line outside for a frozen treat.
We went home, the kids got into their pajamas and brushed their teeth, and then I found some clips of the circus on YouTube that we watched snuggled together on my bed. On a school night that worked out for the best anyway.
It’s so easy to lose sight of how lucky we are to have the way of life we do. When you live in a country with real freedom and are fortunate to be among those with the resources to enjoy it, you can start to feel as if this is the natural state of the world. I’ve talked to people who have expressed discomfort with Ian’s role as a soldier, and I remind them that the only reason they have the luxury to live the way they do is because people like him are willing to defend it. It does not have to be the case that my daughters are encouraged to get an education. It does not have to be the case that when we disagree with our leaders we can say so publicly. It does not have to be the case that I could make my own reproductive choices, live where I want to live, marry whom I want to marry, and run my own business. It sounds like a little thing that we went to the Y, or took the kids to Ella’s Deli, or that we waited in line for the circus but went for a treat instead. But that’s not little. That’s everything. That’s more than most people in the world could ever hope for, and for us it was just an unusually busy weekend. I’m hopeful as I watch the uprisings taking place all at once in countries where people have suffered so much and not known real freedom. I hope one day those families have so many good choices that they can take expecting basic human rights for granted. I hope in the not too distant future a protest against the government is just another activity they can take their kids to on a Sunday afternoon.