Morning and afternoon school runs are some of the most satisfying times I spend with my kids, and not just because they're strapped into their seats and can't hit each other. Leo sits in the back, creating atmosphere by happily bopping to whatever music is on (or he's making). The girls consider it Forum with Mommy Rosenberg time; it's when we have some of our best discussions.
This morning, as we were halfway down our hill, NPR announced that David Souter would be stepping down from the Supreme Court. "Woo-hoo!" I yelled, not because of any antipathy towards Souter, but because of President Obama's pre-election declaration about what he would look for in future justices:
"We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom," Obama said. "The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criterion by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.""Yeah, baby!" I crowed, "Let's put some liberal moxie back into that court!"
Which of course led to a discussion of what is liberal and what is conservative, and no, eldest daughter, belonging to a Unitarian congregation in town does make our town liberal. We live in a mixed town, one with representation from various classes, cultures, countries, and political creeds, and that's the way we like it.
I told her that while it's nice to be around people who think just like we do and hold the same values, we don't learn as much that way, and we can also feel pressured into behaving a certain way. She said, "But we're liberals! Liberals don't do that!"
I told her that liberals are supposed to believe in personal freedom, but that liberals can be every bit as conservative as conservatives when it comes to herd-think.
I told her that in certain liberal strongholds, I might not feel entirely comfortable sending her little sister to a party dressed in her favorite Dora the Explorer gown, clutching a Barbie doll. I would both feel -- and fight -- the need to explain that the gown was a gift from her grandmother, the doll was a hand-me-down and oh my god surely you don't think I participate in mindless consumer culture because we don't even let our kid watch commercials!
I told her -- with the loaded, anxious sincerity of a mother to a blossoming tween girl -- that it can be really hard to be yourself, without apologies or explanations.
And then we were cut off by another driver in front of her school, saving her from some truly maudlin preaching on The Value of You.
I remained in Role Model mode, reined in my impulse to shriek at the other car, and told Iz, "We all have impatient days. Well, everyone except Buddha!"
"Even he had impatient days before he reached Enlightenment," she chirped back, and bounced out of the car.
We are reaching a tipping point, the two of us. My ten-year-old daughter and me. There is still respect and love and wisdom (and occasional irritation) flowing from both sides. Does it have to end? Do we have to become victims of stereotypical tweenhood polarity?
I hope not. I am hoping for our own versions of liberalism and Enlightenment, instead.