Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Benefits and Consequences of Choice

Just returned home from voting. Yes, the Good American that I am fulfilled the duty-pinnacle of what it means to be a thriving member of our society. I can’t help but feel like someone who has purchased 100 dollars in lottery tickets for the billion-dollar pot, hoping my numbers will be drawn. Like when I hold two movies behind my back for the kids, because they can’t seem to agree on what to watch- the nation is holding those movies behind it’s back and I’m jumping up and down with my fingers crossed hoping mine gets picked. My husband voted earlier in the day, and since he has been home from the voting booth, the TV has been on, and will remain so until a winner is announced. In fact, there are only a few times in our lives when TV watching becomes the meth-drug we can’t live without; the OJ Simpson trial, the Bush-Gore presidential race, and the events of 9/11. My husband and I will be sucked in again, and no one-I repeat, no one- will be allowed to change the station. Not even to watch the weather, and we watch the weather channel a lot.

I admit it did feel good to vote, even if my vote doesn’t really count. I know everyone says all votes count, but not really. Those electoral votes are the ones that count-not the popular vote in which each person’s voice is really heard. (Remember the Gore-Bush election? Good ol’ Al did rise from the ashes to make a pretty fab documentary though.) But the fact that I get to make a choice, that I could walk into that voting place, fill in the bubbles of my choice, and then drive home without threat to my life, or the risk of bodily injury is one great benefit of our freedoms.

Regardless of who I voted for, when it comes down to the winner, I’m going to have to be satisfied even if it wasn’t my pick. That’s the consequence of choice- that there will be a majority, and the majority will win, even if it wasn’t my majority. If the person I voted for doesn’t get elected, I have more choices still. I can choose to bitch and whine about that person for the next four years-blame him for all the problems in our nation and rant and rave about how “I’m not responsible, because I didn’t choose him.” Again, I’ll be free to do this because I live in America, and as American’s we have a fundamental right to complain. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a presidential race where someone didn’t say, “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils,” or express their belief that our choices just “aren’t that great.” And when the winner is announced all heck will break loose (I hope I'm wrong here) as people claim voter fraud, miscounted and uncounted votes, and general election mishandling. After all, it’s only a fair system when your movie is chosen at random from behind your back. The other person no doubt, got screwed.

The ability to choose things in this great country has trickled down to the younger generations, where we give children the right to choose their lunch options at school, what they want to wear each day, how they would like their meals prepared, and what they want to be for Halloween. In fact, the ability to choose has gone a little far when it comes to Halloween and trick-or-treating.

When I was a kid, you went door-to-door, said the obligatory, “Trick-or-treat,” and then held out your bag while the man or woman holding the door open plopped something in your bag. Once home, mom and dad made you dump the sugar-booty onto the carpet, where they sat to inspect said merchandise. The pinnacle of the night (for me anyway) was to organize that candy into similar groupings. After grouping those treats, it was then you realized that the majority of your candy consisted of Dum-Dum lollipops, Double-Bubble chewing gum and Tootsie rolls. There was the sprinkling of mini-sized chocolate bars, to be savored for sure, because even my father was prone to steal those out of our bags, leaving us the stupid hard candy, gum and Laffy Taffy. They call those lollipops Dum-Dum for a reason.

The climate of choice has now drifted into the long-standing trick-or-treat tradition and forever changed the I-only-got-candy-that-sucked atmosphere. I had to farm out my older two children this year for trick-or-treating, because my husband was out of town on business. I was not able to watch them scamper up to doors, ring the bell, say thank you, and run to the next house. So my son trots home after a few hours, and proceeds to dump the contents of his pillowcase (I know, how gluttonously horrific) on the kitchen table. Piles of candy spill out, including 5 or 6 full size candy bars, and tons and tons of chocolate. One piece of Double-Bubble, and only two Dum Dums. Mind you, we only visit houses on two streets-the same two streets each October. “Wow,” I exclaim. “The neighbors sure were generous this year.” My son nods, and begins choosing the 20 pieces I let him keep. The rest gets put in a bowl for my husband’s office.

About an hour later, in waltzes my daughter with her normal size Halloween bag, and proceeds to spill the contents out for inspection. My daughter easily has less than half the amount her brother collected. Almost everything in my daughter’s pile is a Reese’s peanut butter cup. “Did you go to both streets?” I ask her. She nods in affirmation at which point I yell: “SON! GET UP HERE!”

My son trots in (again)—“What?”
“Why do you have so much more candy than your sister?”
Shrugs with creeping smile.
“Did the neighbors let you pick the candy?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he replies.
“Did you take MORE THAN ONE PIECE?” I ask incredulously.
“Well, they all kept telling me to take a handful, take a handful, so I did.”
“You actually took handfuls of candy from the neighbor’s bowls? I don’t even let you keep all that candy? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
Shrugs again. “I was just doing what they said,” he tells me.
Sigh.
I’m wondering what Emily Post would suggest in my situation. Apology notes for the whole neighborhood? Personal door-to-door handing back of excess candy taken? Wear a black bag over my head in ridicule for having a 9 year-old boy act like a 9-year old boy? When did kids start getting a choice in what they received in their trick-or treat bags? When did neighbors start lowering the bowl and state, “Choose what you like honey?” And when did the candy morph from crappy starlight peppermints and Dum Dums, to all chocolate bars?

Choice. While my son chose to pillage the neighbors bowls (they asked him to of course), he still had to choose only 20 to keep. All that extra bounty for nothing. My daughter chose to take the high road and only take one, but the same one over and over. She is now getting sick of peanut butter cups and wants to trade with her brother and her friends. In good American fashion, they’re both complaining that they never get enough candy-they wish they would have gotten different stuff, they made a mistake, next year they're going to...blah, blah, blah.

Looks like they’re on the road to becoming good voting citizens.

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