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Parental Indiscretion

All Politics is Familial

By Rachel Laing | Illustration by Kristina Micotti

Parental Indiscretion

Sectual Harassment illustration

Parental Indiscretion: Burning Questions

Rachel Laing

Rachel Laing​

For several years, my kids had the dubious distinction of being some of the only elementary-schoolers in San Diego who knew when the city’s budget was released by the mayor’s office. Spring was in the air, and mom had flown the coop. It was the height of the Great Recession, and as a member of Jerry Sanders’ press team, communicating to the media and public about the coming fiscal year’s dismal spending plan was an 18-hour-a-day affair one week of the year.

Any especially hectic period evoked the query from my kids: “So… is it budget week or something?”

My son is very inquisitive about politics. I take great pleasure in how he eavesdrops as my husband and I talk about politics, and laughs at the appropriate time during The Daily Show.

Because he asked, I’d explained in simple, digestible but honest terms the immigration debate, Democrats vs. Republicans, what “47 percent” means, and, of course, the all-important topic of why Dennis Rodman’s Pyongyang visit was ill-advised.

Then along came Bob Filner. My husband and I specifically avoided talking about the sexual harassment allegations in front of the kids. And then one night over dinner, my eight-year-old daughter asked what “sectual harassment” was. I asked where she had heard the term and found out the kids knew much more than we’d discussed in front of them. All their little friends knew, too.

“I wanted them to believe that even very powerful people suffer consequences… And that regular people can stand up to them.”

I had personally been more than a little obsessed—and incensed—by the reports. The stakes were high; the message that impunity would send to professional women would all but ensure none would ever come forward against a public official. But now my kids were watching. Lots of kids were watching. What happens to powerful men who abuse women?

What would the lesson be?

Schoolyards are full of bullying and intimidation that goes unreported. They understood more than many adults why someone might endure abuse quietly rather than suffer the consequences that come from reporting it. But I wanted them to believe that even very powerful people suffer consequences when they do something wrong and that regular people can stand up against the powerful for what’s right. I joined the may- oral recall campaign as its spokesperson, putting the domestic neglect of Budget Week to shame. Instead of waterskiing with the kids on our vacation, I was tap- ping out press releases on a laptop and doing live radio from the cabin bathroom.

They learned that standing up for what’s right isn’t always easy or convenient, but in the end, we won—proving that regular people can have a big impact.

Now San Diego is preparing to pick a new mayor, and my kids are sharing their backseat leg room with Fletcher for Mayor yard signs and forever sharing my attention with a phone (my stupid, detestable phone!).

The election will decide our city’s fate soon enough. Our lives will return to normal and we can go back to talking politics at the dinner table like a normal family. At least until budget week.

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