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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kindergarten, Narcissists, and the Harkin Steak Fry

Two weeks ago Monty and I dropped off Abby for her first day of kindergarten. She clung to my hand as we walked towards the classroom, her pink cotton dress getting mussed by the too-big, empty backpack that rested against her shoulders. When we arrived at Miss Mandy’s classroom, a young, bright-eyed, ponytailed woman greeted us.

“Hello!” Miss Mandy cried. “What’s your name?”

“Abby,” my daughter replied, her voice confident and clear. Then she peered past Miss Mandy, making a beeline into the room and towards one of the activity tables. Abby quickly went to work, putting together a block puzzle, while Monty and I introduced ourselves to Miss Mandy and put Abby’s backpack in her cubby. Then we stood off to the side, idly watching and realizing that we weren’t necessary, that it was time to go.

Monty approached Abby first. “Bye, sweetheart,” he said, “have a good day!”

My voice caught in my throat as I chimed in. “We’re so proud of you!”

“See you later!”  She said, not looking at either of us. Abby could barely be bothered to wave goodbye. She was already chatting up the other kids at her table, telling them her life story.

As we walked out I felt ridiculous for crying, but I’ll admit, my tears were leaking a little. I wasn’t the only one who was sentimental. “It seems like just yesterday she was a baby,” Monty mused, “and now here she is, ready to take over the world.”

I sniffed and wiped my eyes. “I wouldn’t say that yet. She’s still our baby.”

Monty squeezed my shoulder and kissed my cheek before he veered off towards his car. (We drove separately so I could leave for work.) “She’ll always be our baby, but mark my words: she’s taking over the world. Our Abby could be president one day.”

It seemed like a strange thing to say, so I just told him to have a good day, and I drove to the community college where I teach. It was the first week of classes and that day I taught History of American Politics. So it’s a question I’m used to pondering: what makes a president?

Monty’s statement nagged at me all week, and that Saturday, as we gnawed on overdone meat at the last Harkin Steak Fry, I realized why. “Do you think Abby’s a narcissist?”

Monty roughly swallowed his bite of steak before answering. “What? No, I mean, she is, but all five-year-olds are. Why do you ask?”

“You said she could be president.”

Monty squinted against the sun, leaned back in his metal folding chair, and peered off at all the “Ready” signs the Clintonites had decorated the area with. “I meant that as a good thing,” he replied. “Don’t turn it into a criticism.”

“But all presidents have to be narcissists. Otherwise, they wouldn’t believe they’re up for the job. Do you really think Abby sees herself that way?”

He laughed and widened his eyes. “She’s five!” Then Monty looked around at all the people who were waiting for Hillary to make her appearance. “Be careful, Luce. People might overhear and think you’re making a dig at their candidate. You don’t want to start a riot.”

I sighed. “Do you think she’ll announce her candidacy tonight?”

“Who? Hillary or Abby?”

 I answered him with an eye-roll and Monty leaned in, speaking in a loud whisper. “Do you think she’s narcissistic enough to be president?”

“I don’t know. She’s not Bill, and that’s always been her problem.”

He smiled, thought lines creasing his forehead. We’ve been married long enough that he can answer most of my questions without me needing to ask them. “I only said that thing about Abby being president one day because it’s fun, imaging your kids growing up and surpassing you.”

“I suppose,” I responded. “But it’s also fun to enjoy the moment, while they’re still young.”

“I agree.” And his fingers brushed the bare skin of my arm. “So let’s enjoy the moment, right now.”

My fingers found his, they locked together, and somehow we found a quiet, peaceful moment in the midst of a massive crowd. That day, Hillary did not announce her presidency, but pundits still saw her speech as the beginning of her campaign, perhaps even the beginning of an era. But the crowd wasn’t so analytical. As they sat beneath the Midwestern sky, listening to Clinton, there was a hope and enthusiasm that’s missing from our society most of the time now, at least when it comes to politics.

So what makes a president? Is it narcissism, or is it just being the right person at the right time, with the ability to get elected? Because this week, Ken Burn’s Roosevelt documentary stressed strongly that nowadays, FDR would not be elected. Not a chance.

I mean come on: Imagine if we had a great leader, except he’s in a wheelchair, oh, and he’s admitted to having affairs, and now he has a secretary that’s almost like his wife. But speaking of his wife, his real one is outspoken, liberal, and she has a special female friend who will be living in the White House with them. Do you think reporters would stay away from that? Do you think photographers would agree not to take pictures of him getting lifted out of his car? And if, by some miracle, he did get elected, would Congress pass the New Deal? Would conspiracy theorists not circulate a rumor that the polio had affected his brain?

No wonder hope and enthusiasm are absent from politics lately.

But the nice thing about hope and enthusiasm is that they’re renewable. I was reminded of this when I tucked Abby into bed the other night.

“Sweet dreams,” I said. “Get a good night’s sleep. You have another big day tomorrow.”

“Mommy,” Abby said, giving me a hug. “Do you think that tomorrow I’ll learn how to read?”

I cocked my head. “What do you mean? You already know how to read.”

“Only some words!” She cried. “I want to read all the words!”

“You will,” I told her, and I stroked her curly hair. “Don’t worry. You have a lot of time.”

She shook her solemnly. “But there’s so much I want to know, Mommy. There’s so much I want to get done.”


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