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Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Choice, in Honor of Election Day

My older twin, Dulce, wants the brown hat.  No, now she wants the pink hat.  Now she wants no hat, but she definitely wants a coat - the green coat.  No, not the green coat, but the polka-dotted coat with buttons. 

We make similar personal choices everyday as adults.  We don't think about them anymore because choosing is our right and our habit - so that when I matched my black top to my jeans and heels, the clothing choices didn't register in my mind.  When I ordered my Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, the hundreds of other drink selections and dozens of other coffee shop choices did not bombard my brain.  I did not fret about whether I had made the best choice - the most sensical choice, the most feasible choice, the most ethical choice - for my oufit and drink.  I just did it.

For toddlers, choosing is a luxury, a treat given on the capricious whims of fickle parents (or so it must seem to them.)  Too many choices can send toddlers into hysterics.  They lose control over the situation, having not yet been trained to automatically rule out any options.  They also have no system in place for evaluating those options, leaving each selection equal to the next.  And how can you choose something over something else if each has completely equal value?  So that if I do not limit their choices each day to small things and give them only two choices at most, if I do not step in as their heads swivel back and forth between the grapes and the cheerios to tell them they are eating the grapes first, and then the cheerios, they quickly whip themselves into a frenzy of indecision, unable to take a step toward the cheerios without stepping right back toward the grapes, in case the grapes were really what they wanted in the first place.  But, then again, what about the cheerios?  And it goes on. 

Parents frustratedly say, "they don't know what they want."  And that's true.  But how can they know when they have so little experience to go on?  Making a choice seems impossible when you're just barely grasping the concept of cause and effect and have no idea what consequences or rewards either choice may bring.

And might that be why so many of us don't vote?  To truly understand which candidate will do the best by you and your family, you have to research policy, you have to take an interest in legislation, you have to make an effort to understand and predict how each candidate will affect the governance of your area.  If we do not take the time to familiarize ourselves with our choices, each choice has equal value, making it impossible to choose.

As I help Dulce with her coat, my younger twin, Natalina, wants something to drink.  No, she doesn't want juice.  She doesn't want water.  She chooses milk.  No, she doesn't want milk in a sippy cup; she wants it in a bottle.  When told that her choice is not available, she instantly breaks down into tears.  She's forgotten all about the milk in her fight over the container in which it comes.

When it comes to political candidates, we'll never find one that matches our standards perfectly.  We cannot shut down when the choices given to us fall short of our ideal.  But we do.

In some ways, I am already training my toddlers to discard certain choices, or, rather, make their lives easier by allowing them to choose instinctively what is theirs.  Natalina will only drink from the pink sippy cup, for instance.  Since they've been using cups, I have given her the pink one, perpetuating the illusion of ownership and allowing her to automatically discount the purple one, which is for the best, since that's Dulce's cup for the same reasons.

Party affiliations make choosing easier, come election time.  Conveniently, candidates run under two different general sets of beliefs, allowing us to do less research and simply vote along party lines.  While not the best alternative, it works in a pinch.  After all, we have laundry to do.  We cannot be looking up every candidate's position on every issue.  We just don't have the time for that.  And that's okay.  An automatic choice is better than no choice at all.

Freedom of choice is a powerful thing.  Our babies struggle toward it everyday.  Meanwhile, we adults have had it so long that it no longer means anything to us.  But maybe it should.

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