A Rusty Ride

By Justine Dorton

I LOVE POLITICS. I love the thrill of negotiating, the high-flying movements of strategizing and creating a buzz in a community. I was heavily involved in politics in college, and stayed in local politics after college working at the local Chamber of Commerce. I loved mixing with the “good-old-boys” establishment and stirring the pot. Strategy lunches, public relations retreats, campaign pow-wows. I ate it up. My husband Don would laugh at the frenzy I could work myself into.

Fast-forward eight years. I have four children, haven’t worked inside the thinking adult population for eight years. Haven’t tested the “strategy” lobe of my brain in eight years. Been watching Sesame Street and listening to nursery rhymes for eight years. I kind of assumed I had become a different person and left those passionate days of glory behind. The love of the fight hasn’t left my heart, just my brain. I have encompassed myself in my kids, and frankly have been enjoying it too much to think much about returning to the world of savvy policy debates and backroom deals. Yet for eight months, a long-time family friend who is on our local city council has been trying to lure me back into politics.

Eight months ago he offered me a job. He wanted me to create a political action committee and work for him. He was going to find me office space, hire me a secretary and get me going. I flatly, and easily, refused him. I had no desire to get a different job. I loved the one I had. Since that time last summer, he has been persistently and slowly hammering away at me. Slowly he has morphed what he wants me to do into something, anything, he thinks I would be willing to do.

Last Tuesday, he came to me with a proposal. “Here’s what I need. You do it on your time table. You work ten minutes a day if you want. Do it at home. What you want. When you want.” He was surprisingly convincing. The more he spoke, singing the song he knew I wanted to hear, the more I buckled. I agreed to a meeting with some contributors to flesh out the expectations I would be under. I determined to hold off any final decision until I heard from the “money men” if they felt as loosely about my time commitments.

So here we are at the present. I am digging through my closet this morning, wondering if I still own any clothes that aren’t denim, corduroy or stretch cotton. Finding a couple of things that aren’t entirely awful, I get dressed. The mere act of doing this makes me nervous. I walk out to breakfast and the kids go nuts. “Wow! Mom, why are you dressed like that?” “Are we going to church today?” “Are those your clothes, Mom?” It occurs to me my children never saw me in the glory days, when power suits and wool blazers filled my closet. I smile and sit down to eat, hoping and praying I won’t drop my hummus and toast on my only white oxford shirt.

After aunt Wendy shows up at the house, I tentatively pull out of the driveway and head for the Country Club for this power meeting with fifteen filthy rich, politically-minded businessmen. Pulling into the parking lot, I immediately notice the strangeness of my car. I park my domestically made mini-van amidst hordes of quite obviously not domestic, not mini-van cars. I start to shrink. I’m nervous! What is this feeling I’m having? Where did the Justine from a decade ago disappear to? This used to be second nature. This used to run in my veins. I sit in my car for a few minutes wondering if I’m crazy for even thinking about this. I call my husband who offers me all the encouragement he can, telling me it’s like riding a bike, telling me how wonderful and smart I am. I hear him, and know that as my husband, he’s supposed to say those things. I try to remind myself about all the high rollers I worked around every day those many years ago. I remind myself of the couple of friends we have that are very successful. They are just regular people. They don’t freak me out. I’m going to be walking into a room of people, not alligators, I tell myself. I say a little prayer, partly for peace, but mostly to try to reconfirm to myself that what I’m doing is okay with the Lord. I feel strongly that I’ve made a covenant with the Lord to raise these children, and I don’t want there to be anything that restricts my ability to do that.

After a moment, I have the presence of mind to walk toward the entrance. I see my council member friend walking across the parking lot, and join him. We walk into the club and to the private room set aside for our meeting. Everything’s good. Nice people. Nice introductions. Polite chit-chat. Menus, ordering, more chit-chat. Then we finally get down to business. Everyone pulls out what seem to be identical black leather binders. I reach into my bag and pull out my cute pink, green, and yellow striped notebook from Old Navy. Note to self: get black leather binder. I open up to my notes and thoughts from the previous few days, and my brain starts to speak to me a bit—slowly at first—but nonetheless the tones are audible. I feel myself gearing up. This is like riding a bike, the phrase keeps echoing in my head. It’ll all come back to me. We start to discuss some meat of the issues we’re addressing and we come to some action items. Everyone who hasn’t already done so pulls out a pen, most of which are likely real silver or platinum or titanium or something. I reach into my purse, almost absentmindedly, and pull out my daughter’s pen, covered in butterflies with the large words Hogle Zoo written all over it. I almost laugh at the ridiculousness of my plight.

Do I belong here? I wonder to myself. I quickly exchange the pen for the next best pen I can find in my purse—a blue pen with my bank’s name on it. I consider the possibility that anyone else has noticed. I hope not. I try to extract myself from the madness going on in my head and get back into the game. I ease myself into the conversation, but just a little. I know these men spend their entire days surrounded by other successful adults, having the kinds of conversations successful adults have. I spend my days talking to little people. Wonderful little people, but nonetheless, little.

Half an hour into the meeting, my nerves have begun to settle and I realize that I know just as much as this group of men does about a lot of the things we’re talking about. I start to jump in a little more, and find I’m enjoying myself. We go on and on for a couple of hours, and ultimately accomplish a good deal. I feel great!

After this two-hour exercise for my brain, I ease out of the parking lot, still unsure how I feel about my large mini-van, but feeling decidedly better about my ability to interact in the adult population. At home, I change back into my jeans and polo shirt, and start to answer the questions. “Mom, are you getting a job?” “Are you going to leave us with Aunt Wendy and start dressing fancy all the time?” “Did you spill anything on your shirt at lunch?” I smile and address each of their concerns in turn.

“No, I’m not going back to work, but I might help these people with some things sometimes.”

“No, I’m not abandoning you to your aunt or anyone else. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Yes, I made it through lunch without spilling anything!”

All around, “Way to go, Mom!” choruses through the room. Maybe Don was right. It is like riding a bike. Like riding an old, rusty Schwinn that squeaks and groans as I pull it out of the garage to use for the first time in ninety-five years, but nonetheless still glides down the street on two wheels, in need of dusting, grease, new tires, new paint. Not pretty, but moving.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

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