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A visit to Maxine’s house

November 11th, 2012 by Joyce

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Election Day

November 7th, 2012 by Joyce

Several days ago, I was driving C&D back toward home from dance class and stopped at a red light in front of our local early voting polling location.  The polling location parking lot was full, so while I sat at the light I watched people of all shapes and ages and colors and dress enter the crosswalk after parking at the shopping center across the street.   Suddenly I heard David say from the back seat, “Look, Mudder, a big CHICKEN!"(*)

I looked down at the crosswalk in front of the car.  Chicken where?

“Look, THERE!”  Carmen added.  I looked toward the treelawn to the right—no chicken.  Then I looked to the left.

A big yellow bird, about seven feet tall, stood right at the driveway entrance of the polling station.  It looked a little scraggly, a dirty mustard yellow and short on feathers, but those of us raised on PBS would have immediately known that David’s “big chicken” was nothing other than Big Bird.

Big Bird held a sign between his wing-hands.  “What does it say?”  David asked. 

I squinted.  The sign had been printed with a computer on a large piece of paper.  “Tea party . . .” I couldn’t read the rest.  And then the light turned green.

As I continued down the street Carmen and David showered me with questions from the back seat.  Why was somebody standing there with a chicken costume on?  (Carmen corrected David, “Big Bird!”)  Well, people are voting there for the Metro referendum and stuff.  He wanted to get everyone’s attention as they passed by or drove into the polling station parking lot.  Why did he have a sign?  To tell people how he thought they should vote, I guess.  What did his sign say?  I don’t know, the letters on the sign were too small.  Why were the letters so small?  Maybe he thought it was big when he made it, I guess.

Then without really thinking things through (a usual condition of mine) I asked, “Um, would you like to hold a sign like the Big Chicken” sometime?

The response from the backseat was immediate and unanimous, as if I had asked if C&D wanted a sorbetto on the way home.  “Yes!”

(People who however around polling stations terrify me a little.  They call me over, talk too fast, and shove handouts into my hand that I don’t want to read, even if the line is too long and I might get bored.  They wave signs and sometimes wear beautiful suits of the kind that will never grace my closet.  But parenthood has made me brave, I guess.)

C&D wanted first to make a Metro GMP referendum sign.  They enjoy public transit, and understand that a good public transit system can help contribute to less air pollution, both the dirty kind that chokes us here, and the less-obvious-to-the-nose greenhouse gas kind.  They had already attended meetings about the referendum (including a very long one at the Metro offices downtown, where I spoke) and were fired up to do their part.

In the following days C&D worked on sign ideas.  Their first sign, about the Metro referendum, was made out of old engineering drawings taped together.  It was big and floppy and the crayon didn’t show up well against the white paper.  We recycled it.  Then today before breakfast, I gave C&D each a piece of our heaviest, largest, watercolor paper with a few squirts of paint and a couple of paint brushes.  C&D discussed their sign slogans and got to painting.

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David liked his slogan because he thought it rhymed a little: 

YOU vote no for Metro TOO. 

The demand, slightly muffled by the elementary school kid-writing and friendly red bus at bottom, reminded me of when David was very small.  “Mommy, let’s have snack, okay?”  He came into the negotiation expecting consensus.  Let’s have a snack, okay?  Okay, sure.  You’re voting no on the Metro GMP referendum, okay?  Okay.  Fine.

After their signs were done, C&D made more.

Last week C&D decided that they wanted to support another cause, Proposition B.  Prop B approved funding more Houston parks and trails.  What kid doesn’t want more of those?  What parent doesn’t want more of those to keep the kid happy, healthy, and in touch with Houston’s urban nature?  So this morning they made Prop B signs, too.

Then we had a quick breakfast, and were on with our day:  art class in the Museum District, dance class in Montrose, lunch, vision therapy in Bellaire.  At home we rested, completed some chores, and began to get dressed.

We had already seen a Big Chicken/Big Bird during early voting, and a picture of a dancing Metro-smart banana on Facebook today, so it made total sense to C&D that the way to become politically active was to dress up.  And, after all, city parks have bunnies, right?  Right.

Even I dressed up, with a plain white turtleneck, smart cotton candy pink linen blazer, and lipstick.  Wait, lipstick?!  C&D immediately began expressing their displeasure.  Why are you wearing lipstick?!  David asked me to take it off.  But when I told them I was wearing their stage makeup from this year’s dance recital, they felt much better.  Everybody has a part to play, and has to look the part under the pressure and lights.  So I got to keep the lipstick, and tried to remember not to lick my lips.

And that’s it.  This afternoon during rush hour  C&D treated a large street in Houston to two waving, curb-hopping, sign-holding park bunnies.  When they caught a smile or wave behind a windshield, they waved and hopped some more.

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After the sun slid behind the trees and the bunnies got hungry, C&D refueled in the grass then moved to the edge of the school parking lot, where the bunnies met unsuspecting victims voters as they walked into the building with the voting machines.  In nearly every instance C&D were greeted with a smile; I hung back with the signs and answered questions for those who needed more information. 




After all the hopping by the street and standing in the parking lot, C&D started spending more time sitting on the curb or grass.  David poked his fingers into the cool, broken soil of the lawn next to the curb.  But the bunnies didn’t want to leave.  They were having too much fun, and felt they were doing very important work.

So we stayed, hopping and handing out more literature.

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In between voters we made a new friend, and even ran into Sherry and Roy.  What luck!

Finally, at seven, the polls closed.  We said goodbye to our new friend and the poll worker picking up signs, then despite their apparent exhaustion C&D ran again, this time all the way to our car.  We picked up dinner on the way home and then the bunny-had-beens gladly went to bed to hear poll results in the morning.

The results are not final, but we already know how a lot of things are going to turn out.  Barack Obama (D) will begin his second term of the presidency next year; Sarah Davis (R) will begin her second term in the Texas House of Representatives.  Soon the City of Houston will being selling bonds to finance park projects throughout the city, build up its library system, and spend money on its schools. 

And maybe because some voters were confused, or maybe just because some Houstonians value new streets over new transit, the Metro GMP has been approved by a very, very wide margin.

C&D are going to be awfully disappointed about the last one.  They like being free to travel without the car, and were hoping for expansion of the light rail system.  In fact, we moved to our new neighborhood in part to take advantage of the light rail line that was going to be built a block away.  Plus with the light rail would come infrastructure improvements, traffic calming measures, and a smooth way for people to get up and down one of Houston’s most important arteries, connecting universities, art, shopping, parks, hospitals.  A series of bad decisions and a shaky economy prevented our light rail line from being built on schedule, and now the issue won’t be even revisited for years—Metro just doesn’t have the funds. 

Sorry, babies.  We’ll win some, and we’ll lose some.

But if there’s an issue you get excited about next time, I’ll help you make posters and stand with you at the polling stations again.  Maybe we’ll be able to persuade people to see things our way, or maybe they’ll just stay quiet and smile before getting in line.  And maybe we’ll dress up.

* ”Mudder”  David likes to call me “Mother,” like Ralph in the Little Britches books.  When David says it I hear “Mudder” and hope I will be called that name always.

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