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Posts by Kristen


The Right Lunch for School

Posted by Kristen on August 2, 2010 at 6:52 AM in picky eater
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"Mom. Mom. I only like hot food. What am I going to do at school?"

The look on Ethan's face was priceless. When faced with the prospect of going to all-day kindergarten in a month, he zoned right in on his daily lunch dilemma. I'm more concerned that he still wants to write his name in all caps, which naturally leads us to his outside voice being his inside voice as well. Neither makes a teacher very happy.

I had a flashback to the time the preschool teacher asked Derek to stay after pickup so she could talk to him. I had just had Mason.

"Ethan insisted that we heat up his food today. I told him that we had no microwave to heat up the food and he insisted that he had seen one in the teacher's lounge. We did it today but we won't be able to do it again."

My child insisted they heat up his food. I had sent him with very, very hot macaroni in the morning and I was guessing it would be warm enough when lunch time rolled around. I'm pretty sure it was warm enough.

K: What did you say to her?
D: I said okay.
K: Did you say, "oh, my gosh. I'm horrified my son asked you to heat up his meal in the teacher's lounge?"
D: Why would I do that?
K: Why didn't they just tell him no? Why can't anyone tell that child no? TELL HIM NO.
D: Pretty good that he called them out on the teacher's lounge micro though.
K: I don't even want to know how he knew there was one in there. He's 4.

I had blocked all this out until the conversation the other day. Luckily it appeared that he had already forgotten the teacher's lounge possibility but was still left without a solution.
We ran through a list of possible foods he could eat that required no heating. Cereal. That leaves us with a whole different set of problems.

I went online to find one of those insulated food containers. I let him pick it out along with the lunch box. The matching set had dinosaurs pictures and names. I had a brief moment where I second-guessed whether or not I should be buying one of those character lunch boxes so he wouldn't get beat up at recess but clearer heads prevailed.

Not two days later the lunch box arrived. One lunch box. I had only ordered one because I only have one child going to kindergarten in a few weeks. Nathan promptly opened up the lunch box, put his sandwich in it and proudly proclaimed how much he loved "our" lunch box. He completely lost it (which is a whole other post) and I gently explained why Ethan needed the lunch box. I reminded him about Ethan going to kindergarten. I finally talked him off his little ledge and dove into my "how steel conducts heat" lecture with Ethan that would have made the scientist in my husband proud.

I just hope it works.


Passive-Aggressive Parenting

Posted by Kristen on July 26, 2010 at 6:37 AM in Raising Boys
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993.JPGI remember the first time I took Ethan to the mall playground and watched in horror as the big kids climbed up the slide. Sometimes they watched out for the little kids and sometimes they didn't. I was mortified. There are rules. "Up the stairs and down the slide." Even in the days before smart phones and excessive texting, the parents of these kids weren't paying attention. I glared at the big boys. These would probably be the boys that later on would offer my innocent children cigarettes under the bleachers on the football field in high school.

Fast forward to last Friday when I met a group of friends at the National Building Museum to check out their Lego exhibit. We invited one of Ethan's extremely well-behaved friends so I had four kids under the age of six. No problem. Piece of cake. We all know how well I do with three. Ha.

I thought things out ahead of time. I strapped Mason onto my back in a Babyhawk carrier. Limited movement for the Baby in a Lego free play exhibit with tens of thousands of Legos upon which to choke? CHECK!

We arrived and I reached over my shoulder to hand Mason what I thought was a large Lego brick. It was large enough that I wouldn't need to do the Heimlich. Ten minutes later a woman runs up and taps on my arm.


She was actually yelling. I mumbled an "oh, um, thanks?" and directed Ethan to reach back behind me and take the Lego out of his mouth. The woman said, "I'll do it" (insert your own idea of her tone and then multiply it by a thousand) and she handed me a slimy Lego. I'm not sure but I think The Baby growled at her. I thought about it.

I could see that The Baby's entertainment was now gone so we all went down to the play area downstairs for kids 2-6. I figured that 3 out of the 4 kids I had were in that age range, so we were good. Except by 2-6 they really meant 0-2. Maybe 0-3. The place was packed with babies.

The three older boys ran into a corner away from the smaller kids and found erector set pieces that they promptly made into weapons. A mother of an underaged toddler glared at me as she said to her son, "Honey, be careful of those boys. THEIR mom lets them play with swords."

Seriously? Did she just say that? Don't get me wrong. I remember the days when I was pretty sure my precious snowflake was going to be ruined by the world, lady. I yanked the erector set pieces out of the kids hands but only because they had somehow figured out how to make them do this projectile thing like arrows. I turned around to find Nathan making a gun out of those huge soft blocks. Across the room I could hear a woman on her cell, bemoaning the big kids who were (gasp) running around in the corner, shooting each other.

My kids got light sabers for Christmas last year from a dear friend who has now been written out of our will and they got their first toy guns in the form of those miniature Lego policemen for their birthdays this year. I don't even let them have water guns (which is cruel since we are rounding out a month of 90+ temperatures). But we all know they watch Star Wars on loop, so it's not like they are experiencing a violence-free life.

I'm not anti-gun per se, but don't judge me because my kids made swords with erector set pieces. It's not like I was over there giving a tutorial on how to make weapons. Everyone knows boys are going to make guns out of sticks or Legos or whatever they can find if their cruel parents refuse to buy them.

I just really hope that when Sword Lady's son picks up her 2 pound hand weights, points them at the neighbor kid and yells, "I'M LUKE THE SKYWALKER" one day and the neighbor kid's mom glares at her, she remembers me.


Getting Your Kids to Eat

Posted by Kristen on July 19, 2010 at 6:50 AM in Eating
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IMG_7853.JPGYesterday, I got on a plane to Atlanta for work. As I got out of the car at the airport to leave, no one seemed even remotely interested that I was leaving. Part of me felt really bad that my children did not even remotely care that I was leaving and part of me thought, "Yay!!!! No one will be glaring at me on the plane!!"

I was leaving my children for three days. My husband is very competent. They are his children, too. I am always surprised when someone comments on how helpful he is, because I have just always assumed that his participation would be complete and engaged. I mean, no one ever compliments him on how helpful I am. I thought that since it was 2010, it was just assumed that he would actively participate in the rearing of his children. I wouldn't have had more than one, if things had been different. We have three children by choice. His choice.

To be honest, I told him that I thought he would be perfectly fine if I were to die in a fiery airplane crash. As is always the case, my husband asked me not to say such things since it is bad luck. As is always the case with me, who does not believe in bad luck, I continued to speak.

I told him that my only concern was the feeding of my children. You see, my husband will answer seven thousand questions about how grass grows or why there are rings around Saturn or how many layers of skin there are. But when it comes to food, he has a short attention span. He tries for about 10 minutes, and then he gives up. You eat, yay for you. You don't, too bad. So sad.

I would typically land my helicopter there, but my children are a little feisty when they don't eat. We all know this. They come by it honestly from their father. I can get to 7 p.m. before I think, something is wrong here. Oh, I haven't eaten since yesterday. My husband? Eats on a clock. There is that moment of the evening when dinner is behind schedule, and the whole family melts down. Despite being married to my husband for nearly seven years, it took me having children to realize that blood sugars and happy days are synonymous.

So, to be honest, it sometimes surprises me that my husband does not see the correlation between his children's grumpy faces and their need for food. He gives up too quickly, and then everyone is angry and upset. He gets upset, everyone gets upset and no one understands that this is all about food.

I called today and there was screaming in the background. Apparently the boys decided that they wanted to go to the store to get hoola hoops (???). Then everyone cried on the way, while they were there and on the way home. It only took a few minutes in a conversation after they got home for me to determine that lunch had been sketchy and breakfast was even sketchier. I suggested a snack. No one cared.

They will be perfectly fine until I get home. I should probably plan a big dinner though, since it looks like dinner might not be happening any time soon. Is that bad?


Boys Will Be Boys

Posted by Kristen on July 12, 2010 at 6:10 AM in Raising Boys
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We went to the old pioneer house and the guide started with her schtick.

"In a few minutes we are going to show you the saws that the pioneers used on the Oregon Trail over one hundred fifty years ago, and then we are going to let you saw a piece of wood. It will be great fun because normally your mom and dad won't let you use a saw."

My children got on that saw, and the girl was worried they were going to build a log cabin right then and there. It was fairly obvious they had handled adult tools before. I didn't even have the energy to apologize for my three-year-old being able to wield a bow saw better than your average settler.

This was not the first time my three- and five-year-old had taken matters into their own hands this week. While on vacation, my husband took them for a ride in the paddle boat and showed them how the rudder works. Not twelve hours later I found myself diving off the dock onto the paddle boat as Ethan and Nathan were leaving to take the paddle boat for a spin.

Ethan: BUT MOM!!! Dad showed me how to do the paddle boat.
K: Ethan, Dad showing you the paddle boat is not the same as you taking your brother for a spin alone on the lake.
Ethan: But I KNOW how to do it.

You see, the disconnect is "knowing" how to do it and it being safe enough to do. They wear their life jackets, so of course they feel perfectly safe. When I caught Ethan backing the kayak down the embankment at my in-laws house yesterday to take it for a spin, I nearly lost my mind. The rapids aren't horrible but certainly out of the realm of reality for a small child. Just tonight I flipped the kayak over on the river and it took everything to hold on to the kayak and dodge the looming rocks. My right shin shows the evidence of my failure.

Everyone seems to have a suggestion with how to deal with my "active" children but now I'm just tired. I've given up explaining WHY you can't do something and have resorted to going to all lengths to make things impossible. We don't leave keys in accessible places. The kayak was pulled up in front of the house and was too heavy to move. The paddle boat? Well, we just had to leave that place.

One of the cousins asked me if I thought it was just boys. I mean, her kids are the same age and none of them have ever stolen a paddle boat and taken it for a joy ride. In fact, I know NO ONE whose child has left in a paddle boat when the kids were five and three. I'll admit that I have apparently reached my "boys will be boys" fill since my heart cannot absolutely take one more drama, at least today. It's not much of a consolation but right now it's all I have. That and making sure the keys to the lawn mower are hidden.


When the Little Kids Want to Play With the Big Kids

Posted by Kristen on July 5, 2010 at 9:51 AM in Raising Boys
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"Mom, I want to go to the Secret Hideout with my cousin."

We are out at the lake at the family reunion and things have been awesome. But for the first time ever, Ethan is someplace where there is no one his age with which to play. Sure he has his brother (who will play whatever his older brother commands) for hours but for once, Nate has someone exactly his age who is keeping him busy.

In lieu of playing with the little kids all day, Ethan has discovered his older cousin Hayden. At eleven years old, Hayden is such a wonderful boy and has been nothing but extremely kind to his much younger cousin. He is so kind that I can see that he doesn't want to say "no" to Ethan when asked if he can tag along. He has taken him along a few times. The trouble is that Hayden really wants to be with his friends who are his age. I have absolutely no idea what eleven-year-old boys discuss but I am pretty sure it is way over the head (or should be) of a five-year-old.

Hayden is a very fast runner so I have noticed he has managed to escape a couple of times. A few times I have run interference so he can get away but he really shouldn't have to sneak away to be with his friends. I understand completely how Ethan feels though too. I never had anyone my age at family reunions and I wanted to be with the big kids.

My memories of the big kids seem to be the same ones Ethan is experiencing now. Everyone was always kind to me and they just disappeared when they wanted a break.

In addition to the conversational difference, the big kids stay up later. Before we left for vacation, Derek expressed his desire that the kids be able to embrace the Kid Anarchy he always experienced on vacation at the lake in summers when he was young. I reminded him that his memories of staying up late probably were not from when he was five years old and even if it was, too bad. Just like that old saying, "anything you can do after (insert your curfew), you can do before your curfew."

My kids do that crazy thing where they get up earlier if they go to bed later. I don't know why but I know it will happen as sure as I know the sun will come up in the morning. I told Derek that the kids could take a nap during the day if they wanted to stay up late or he could do morning duty at 4:15 (hello, time change). Unsurprisingly, he came around to my way of thinking.

As for playing with the big kids, I just sat Ethan down and explained it to him. I told him that he could be with Hayden every once in a while but that Hayden needed his space. I told him that Hayden was allowed to do things that Ethan was not because Ethan was still too young. I told Ethan the time would come when Ethan could do what the big kids are doing. I gave him all his choices for things that he could do so he didn't feel completely left out.

I think it worked, at least for today. What would you have done?


Tips for Quiet Plane Trips with Kids

Posted by Kristen on June 28, 2010 at 7:31 AM in Traveling
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The flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. You read that right: 6:00 in the morning. We are traveling on miles so you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes. I asked my mother if she thought I was projecting my airplane stress on my 1, 3 and 5 year old kids. I didn't actually wait to hear her response, because I was already starting to ramble about the possibilities of drama.

This stress of mine was clearly heading down the wrong path. It's a long way to the West Coast from the East Coast, but we are going to have to get there somehow, some way. I took a step back and came up with a whole new plan for the trip tomorrow. We fly a couple times a year. Some of the following things we've had success with in the past and some a new things we are going to try:

Forget the sugar.
Every once in a while we suffer from amnesia and promise the kids a lollipop on the plane if they are good. This can never work out. Trust me. Okay, perhaps it can work out for 5% of the population, but the rest of us will be pulling the kids down from the overhead bins where they are now swinging after getting that lollipop they'd been impatiently awaiting for however many minutes. Bring snacks that chill them out rather than crank them up. Everyone around you will thank you, too.

Try a technology freeze before the trip
. My kids haven't watched television in four days. They are pretty sure they are going to die if they don't watch something soon. I have found in the past that the most effective and silent television-watching occurs in the one to two hours after a long term of total technological deprivation. It's not to say that this will necessarily work, but it is worth a try.

Get rid of that energy. We joke that it would take less time at our airport if we actually walked from home since the terminal is so far from check in. This is a WONDERFUL opportunity for walking ("we're walking, we're walking"). Factor in the extra time, but count yourself successful if you reach your gate with children complaining from the long walk. As a parent, your work here is done.

Stick with tried and true. There are certain things that always hold my children's attention. Certain books will stop them in their tracks and keep them riveted for a solid 30 minutes. There is a certain cartoon that I am sure they can watch one billion times and still they will sit at attention. There is an allure to bringing new things as well, but be sure to have a balance of the new with the old in case the new fizzles instead of sizzles.

Remember that you can only control what you can control
. I think that 16 to 20 months is the worst possible age range to travel on a plane. Chances are your child has recently learned how to walk and would love to practice RIGHT NOW in that teeny aisle on the plane. Do what you can to move around the plane by taking lots of walks, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrangle a cranky toddler. As a person who has put quite a few miles on her carry-on luggage before having kids, I always carried ear plugs. To be honest, I still carry ear plugs. When someone turns around to glare at the screaming baby who cannot be consoled, I think, "why didn't you buy a pair of dollar earplugs?" I'm pretty sure that on one trip, my sister Jen passed out ear plugs to the passengers around her in anticipation of angry stares regarding crying babies. Sometimes babies (toddlers, preschoolers, even parents) cry. The flight will eventually be over. Roll with the punches.

Do the best you can with what you've got
. I've gotten into ridiculously long conversations with parents about traveling before naptime, during naptime, taking red eyes, etc. Only you know your child, and there is still a good chance that your child who acts a certain way every single day is going to act completely different on that plane. If your child sleeps in the car, you might want to bring his car seat. My pediatrician once recommended giving my kids Benadryl for a particularly long flight. I tried it out ahead of time and guess what? My kids are not even remotely moved by Benadryl. It was a sad moment, but good to know ahead of time.

Relax (as best you can) and let it all roll off of you. And share with us your great tips for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. We can use all the tips we can get.


Safe Is a Relative Term

Posted by Kristen on June 21, 2010 at 6:21 AM in Raising Boys
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My workshop is in the basement. Many a day I put the baby down for a nap in the morning, and I head down the stairs to get some work done. I can print shirts with The Baby around, but I spend more time keeping him out of vats of ink than I do actually printing shirts. He also likes to speed up the dryer, which is not helpful in the least. The other two wander around the basement at will, moving from one adventure to the next. They really aren't a problem.

The other day I was slammed with work, and the boys asked if they could hang out with me in the basement. I was barely paying attention as I murmured an affirmative and I headed off around the corner.

The thing with my parenting is that it is nearly all audible. My children come by their mouths honestly, and they almost never stop talking. They literally talk all day long. When they do stop talking, I know it's time to make my presence known. This works for us. The combination of my excellent hearing (thanks, Mom, for never letting me go to those rock concerts that permanently damaged my husband's hearing) and their chattiness, crisis can be avoided 99% of the time.

The thing with audible parenting is that you should also LISTEN to what your children are saying. This is where I find myself faltering. Especially yesterday.

Nate: MOM. Dad's saws are here. There are tree (three).
K: (distracted) Nate, stay away from whatever you found. Don't touch Dad's stuff.

I kept working and never thought about it again. Well, until the next day when I walked down the stairs for some reason and this is what I saw.


Hmm. The set for a certain popular serial killer drama? Nope. Just my husband leaving his tools out for a job for another day. I called Derek.

K: Hi. You have all these SAWS on the ironing board.
D: I was trying to fix that WALL.
K: You are raising your voice at me?
K: You left a cornucopia of saws out for the kids to get into.
D: They were up.
K: On an ironing board?
D: It's high.
K: It also only requires about a half pound of pressure to knock over. I'm pretty sure both boys can see over the top of the ironing board. I wondered what Nate was talking about yesterday when he said he saw saws.
D: I'm sorry.
K: I have a tough enough time with these children without offering them their own weapons. Forget intent. Nate's clumsiness alone could have resulted in a lost limb.
D: I thought they were safe.

Safety is a relative concept. We had to take every single movable chair off of the first floor because The Baby has taken to climbing onto counter tops and throwing glasses and plates off. I got tired of glass shards, if you know what I mean. So I'm thinking that right about now I could use a little help in the safety department, at least with the big ticket items like saws. I don't think I'm asking too much.


Tips for Staying Cool in the Summertime With the Kids

Posted by Kristen on June 15, 2010 at 7:55 AM in Family Activities
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Summer is upon us here in Washington D.C. I seem surprised every single year when the thermostat reaches 90 degrees and I'm not sure why.

Take your walk early in the day. It may be humid when you wake up but humid and 75 is much better than humid and 90. Get out of the house as quickly as possible after breakfast and head to the park or take a walk through the neighborhood. It will wake you up for the day and take the edge off of the kid's energy before it gets too hot to do anything else. Explore to your heart's content.

Do a cool art project
. Lay out a piece of butcher paper on the ground in the driveway or out back and let the kids finger (or arm or foot) paint to their heart's content. When you are all done with your masterpiece, give everyone a chance under the hose. Even better, give everyone a chance to hose each OTHER off. This always results in a ridiculous amount of laughter in our house.

Take time out for an energizing snack. Frozen grapes or blueberries are such a treat when the weather is so hot that you feel like you can barely breathe. You can try this Gooey Tasty Dip Stuff if you want a little extra pick-me-up.

Put your kids in charge of the garden. Ethan and Nathan are out every evening when it has cooled down a little, helping to weed the vegetable beds and to pick the raspberries that have already arrived. Kids can learn about healthy fruits and vegetables, the importance of using organic practices to keep our food safe and how to be conscious of our water usage. I have Ethan working on a drip irrigation system as we speak, and I swear we will figure it out by the end of summer.

Go catch a movie. Movie expert Sandie Angulo Chen offers some tips for surviving summer movie mania. There are lots of options this summer. Check out free family movies showing all summer long or check in your area for outdoor movies playing for free in your town.

Let's hear your ideas for things for kids to do to survive the summer heat.


When Parents Don't Say The Right Thing

Posted by Kristen on June 14, 2010 at 10:12 AM in Raising Boys
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I was talking with a group of friends the other day about the latest stitches incident in our house. I believe it was the gushing head wound that was the result of one son throwing a train track piece at his brother. Someone mentioned that she was impressed that I was telling the story so calmly since it was so horrible. I told my friend (with girls) that this is my life and I have just figured out how to plod through and save up my hysteria for the really, really bad things if they happen.

Fast forward to last Friday. I was busy trying to get ready for a food and wine show. I was loading up the van with crates of clothing to sell as my kids wandered around somewhat aimlessly. Ethan was around the side of the house with Mason (or so I thought) and Nate was standing on the driver's seat turning absolutely every single lever on that he possibly could.

I had one eyeball on the driveway and one eyeball on the back of the van. I looked up to glare at a loud truck barreling down the road above the unenforceable 20 mile per hour speed limit sign on our dead end residential street. He wasn't going much faster but I have grown weary of diving into ditches off the street on walks down our usually deserted street.

Thirty seconds later I heard a yell on the street.

"Hey, buddy, STOP!"

I turned around in horror to see fifteen-month-old Mason standing at the top of the driveway in the street. He laughed and ran toward my neighbor. He was around the side of the house seconds before with his brother and then he was in the street. I ran up the driveway and snatched Mason from my neighbor's arms. I scolded him and turn to apologize to my neighbor.

"You shouldn't be sorry. You should be terrified."

Well, that's one way to tell me. I mumbled thanks and walked back down the hill. I looked at Ethan and he looked back at me. He's five. It's not really his job to watch his baby brother and for me to expect him to watch Mason is really not acceptable. I had done the math and decided I had three choices. I could strap him in his car seat (in 92 degrees), I could leave him in the house unattended until I finished or I could let Ethan watch him. Clearly I made the wrong choice.

The thing is, while I'm sure my neighbor was just as upset as I was, his judgment of my outward emotions was incorrect and completely wrong. If I freaked out every single time something horrible possibly could have happened to my children, I would have to be committed. I'm sorry I didn't SAY I was terrified and I'm sorry I didn't collapse in a puddle of tears like he thought I should. From here on out, Mason gets strapped into the car seat. Life is full of "but-for" lessons and I learned mine. That's enough emotion for me.


Is a Political Balloon Just a Balloon?

Posted by Kristen on June 7, 2010 at 7:30 AM in Activism
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balloon.gifI was selling my wares at a local fair when my husband and children stepped into my little 10 foot by 10 foot booth. I looked down to find my children covered from head to toe with stickers bearing the name of a local politician running for reelection. They each clutched balloons with the candidate's name upon them in bold lettering.

I looked at my husband in disbelief.

K: WHY are your children wearing THESE stickers and holding these balloons?

Let me start by saying my moral superiority was openly misplaced. It wasn't my district. It wasn't my politician. But I knew of this politician and he did not represent the values I espouse. Or my husband's values, for that matter. This is the time of year for campaigning and everywhere we go this summer, politicians will be out shaking hands and kissing babies. Apparently some will have balloons.

D: He had balloons. The other guy didn't have balloons. The kids wanted balloons.

People are very passionate about politics these days. Having sat around doing next to nothing for much of our lives, our generation finds itself with lots of opinions, causes and avenues to express them. That's cool. Express yourself. If you want to cover the entire back of your car with this or that, I am all for it unless you also clog the left lane doing 10 miles below the speed limit. Then I associate your causes with negative things rather than that neutral stance I feel when I see a bumper-sticker laden car.

But handing out balloons to kids? Is a balloon just a balloon or is it a little odd for a child to be making a political statement? I was already creeped out by Politician A walking down the street asking if kids wanted candy from the bucket he was carrying. The guy must not have kids or he would know that many a mother would vote against him just because he gave her child candy from a bucket in the middle of the morning.

Why can't politicians do it the old fashioned way? Candidates driving down the street during a parade, riding in a convertible borrowed from the local car dealership, and hurling fistfuls of candy in the direction of the kid-infested curbs? Now there are balloons? Don't get me wrong. I have always wanted balloons with my name on them. How awesome would that be?

Last election we were a divided household with our five year old voting for one candidate and his parents voting for another. It did not matter since he cannot vote anyway but I imagine he would like to have had his views represented by his parents (more candy, later bedtimes for everyone!). I'd like to think that politics is about the beliefs and values of your politician, but maybe it really is about the stickers and balloons. What do you think?

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