Tag Archives: family milestones

Tete-a-tete: Here in New Hampshire, we don’t take voting ‘for granite’

For many states, the presidential primary is a brief, contained event. Candidates campaign in their states for a few weeks, perhaps a few months, before votes are cast, and the interruptions to daily life are relatively minimal.

Here in the great Granite State, where we have the first presidential primary in the nation, the campaigning season is, shall we say, somewhat more extensive. Presidential hopefuls may venture out among the people of New Hampshire as much as two years before the primary to see if there’s enough interest to mount a campaign.

As for the months leading up to the primary, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a candidate or one of their campaign workers.

With the incredible amount of attention candidates give to New Hampshire, there’s no better place to be a first-time voter. You can meet the candidates in person at any number of events (both small and large), ask them about the issues that are important to you and even score tickets to the official debates.

This happened to be 18-year-old Youngest Brother’s first primary. I’d like to say he took full advantage of our first-in-the-nation status, attending events and talking with the candidates in person in order to make an informed decision, but the truth is that he didn’t really need to. The candidates did quite a thorough job of reaching out to our household without us having to seek them out.

Sometimes this eagerness to engage the common man can get a little overwhelming. Every week night for perhaps six months leading up to the primary, our land line would ring multiple times from 5-9 p.m. Nine times out of ten, it was a polling firm asking for our input for a political survey or a robo-call inviting us to events or to participate in telephone town halls.

After the first month or so, I did my best to avoid these calls. I’d let them ring over to the answering machine or, if I had to answer the phone, hang up quickly if the caller took too long to reply. If the caller takes a few moments to respond, it’s generally an indicator that a robocall is processing what you’ve said and preparing to reply or that you’re being patched through the system of a call center.

The emphasis here is on the word “generally.” I accidentally hung up on my uncle once, who called back rather mystified.

Mom, on the other hand, loves taking these calls. She considers them an invitation to make herself heard and have what matters to her, not just to voters in general, represented in poll results and campaign plans. If she doesn’t share her opinions, she reasons, who will?

It is a noble perspective, to be sure, but in the practical, these calls can be rather disruptive. It’s challenging to appreciate the benefits of our first-in-the-nation status when you’re constantly pausing the TV show you’re watching as a family or delaying sitting down to dinner.

Mom’s enthusiasm, however, has made it difficult for me to justify avoiding these calls. By the night before the primary, I was willingly giving my opinion to the pollsters and wishing I had done so more regularly throughout the polling season.

Grandpa, a lifelong resident of New York state, was visiting us during this time, and he remarked on the volume of the political calls and mailings we received. He assumed that this was because Mom had once volunteered with a campaign a number of years ago and our family’s contact information was now in our political party’s system.

He was absolutely flummoxed when I explained to him that this was simply the natural result of living in New Hampshire. Everyone, whether or not they’ve volunteered with a campaign, gets inundated with event invitations and requests to participate in surveys. Other states don’t receive nearly as much targeted attention.

Though Youngest Brother isn’t receiving this attention himself just yet, he certainly benefited from the attention the rest of the voters in our household received. He would hear the kinds of questions we were being asked and listen to the new information we’d learned about the candidates, participating in the conversations and forming his own opinions.

The most important part of his first primary, however, occurred at the polling place, after he voted. One of the selectmen announced that a first-time voter had just submitted his ballot and pointed out Youngest Brother and said his name. Everyone at the polling place applauded and cheered for him, which really reinforced to him not only the general importance of voting, but the importance of him voting.

In addition to this primary being Youngest Brother’s first voting experience, it was also the first presidential primary since I graduated college where I haven’t been working in a newsroom. I can honestly say that I do not feel any less informed about the candidates as a regular citizen than when I was, for lack of a better term, a “media insider.”

And that, to me, is the wonderful thing about having the nation’s first presidential primary. Any candidate who’s really serious about being elected president goes out of their way to make themselves accessible to the everyday voter. You don’t have to have special connections to hear them speak in person or to ask them a question. In fact, you might not even feel the need to meet them in person after spending so many nights participating in telephone town halls.

Though the sheer number of opportunities for political engagement can get overwhelming, they serve as important lessons to first-time voters like Youngest Brother, as well as reminders for those of us who have been through a few election cycles.

Your opinions matter. Your vote matters. And they have the power to shape our political reality. There’s really no better place to learn this than New Hampshire.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published March 3, 2016


Leave a Comment

Filed under Tete-a-tete

Tete-a-tete: An Eagle takes flight in another family milestone

Milestones tend to occur in groups. All of your grandchildren start graduating high school and college, for example, or all of your friends start getting married and having kids. After a season heavy with similar milestones, we generally anticipate a break of some sort, as there are only so many family members and friends who are likely to experience the same social landmarks around the same time.

With the last of the engaged couples in my circle of family and friends having married last fall and many of the married couples busy with infants or toddlers, I mistakenly assumed we were due for a break. And then, I was blindsided by the reality that 16-year-old Younger Sister and 18-year-old Youngest Brother are now reaching their own set of milestones.

It’s not that I’m oblivious to the events taking place in the lives of my youngest siblings. I remember quite clearly when they both got their driver’s licenses, when Younger Sister was hired for her part-time job and when Youngest Brother received his first college acceptance letter. Indeed, I was part of all of these processes, whether it was offering advice or simply offering the use of my car.

These achievements, however, did not prepare me for Youngest Brother’s Eagle Scout court of honor. There’s a significant emotional difference between a family celebration with a congratulatory cake and a two-hour-long ceremony with a color guard and presentations by our state senator and representative.

Eagle Scout, as you may know, is the highest rank attainable for a Boy Scout. The requirements are rigorous and culminate with a service project that demonstrates the candidate’s leadership skills and benefits the community. After conferring with the Brookline Conservation Commission, Youngest Brother decided to take on the daunting task of better distinguishing the Cider Mill Pond Trailhead to increase the visibility of this hiking area.

His project consists of three parts: a kiosk where maps and information can be posted, a sign marking the site and a gravel parking lot. Before Youngest Brother’s project, the trailhead was just an overgrown field, and if you weren’t in the know, you’d have no idea that it’s the starting point for roughly three hundred acres of trails.

If you have a degree of familiarity with Eagle projects, you can see that his project was actually three projects. Completing any one of those three components for the trailhead would have been sufficient to fulfill the requirements for Eagle. Youngest Brother realized, however, that to really make the trailhead visible and maximize the usefulness of his project to the community, he would need to do all three components.

Due to the sheer scope of the project and obstacles imposed by the weather (you can’t put a signpost into the ground if the ground is frozen), the project took about two years to complete. It was a lot of hard work for Youngest Brother, his troop members and the family members, friends and other volunteers who helped.

Numerous presentations were made at Youngest Brother’s court of honor, with Scout leaders, government officials and leaders from veterans organizations all saying wonderful things about his dedication, perseverance and leadership ability. Hearing their words – and knowing them to be true because of everything I’ve seen over the years – made me realize for the first time just how grown up he is.

See, my typical experience of Youngest Brother is him sprawled on the couch in his pajamas, asking me to fill him in on the plot of the TV show I’m watching because he wandered into the living room partway through it. This is on the rare occasion that I see him at all – he’s constantly busy with school and activities and has a thriving social life. Witnessing him standing on the podium at his court of honor, impressive in his full uniform with all his badges and insignia, was a proud and surprising moment for me.

And that’s when it hit me: I am not going to make it through high school graduations without crying.

The reception that followed the court of honor was another opportunity to marvel at the passage of time. I used to see Youngest Brother’s friends fairly regularly when they’d come over to the family homestead to play video games or have all-night movie marathons, but that changed when they began reaching the driving age. Instead of spending time at each other’s houses, they now meet at fast food restaurants and movie theaters and gaming stores, enjoying the exercise of their newfound freedom.

As a result, I had difficulty recognizing some of Youngest Brother’s friends because they had grown a foot taller or acquired considerable facial hair since last I saw them. Once I managed to figure out who everyone was, we had pleasant conversations about the court of honor, college plans and how fantastically envious they all were of Oldest Younger Brother’s lumberjack-grade beard and mustache.

I’ve become so accustomed to the milestones that define my own age group – people getting married, having babies, earning promotions, buying houses – that the milestones for the teenage set kind of snuck up on me. Youngest Brother’s court of honor has served as a wakeup call in that respect. He’ll be graduating high school in June and departing for college in the fall. Next year, Younger Sister will do the same.

I look forward to celebrating their achievements and seeing what new things they’ll accomplish in this next season of their lives. In the meantime, I intend to focus more on enjoying those ordinary moments I have with both of my youngest siblings, having been reminded that they won’t last forever.

Also, I’ll be stocking up on tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Feb. 4, 2016


Leave a Comment

Filed under Tete-a-tete