The Home Front

The High Cost of Watching the Recent Economic Debate with a Toddler

We watch the GOP debates in the French household with the amount of intensity most families reserve for football, as David and I live-blog, tweet, and Facebook our way through the evenings. Our two older kids watch in amusement as we nervously hope that our candidate emerges unscathed. Once we were so into it that none of us would leave the set long enough to tuck our three-year-old daughter Naomi into bed. After the debate, we all exhaled, high-fived over our candidate’s performance only to realize Jon Huntman’s jokes had mesmerized Naomi into a deep sleep. Who needs the bath, books, and pajamas if debates can cause her to conk out so thoroughly?

We anticipated the most recent economic debate especially, since this was our candidate’s wheelhouse. After I finally found the Bloomberg Channel, I settled down to watch it when my neighbor dropped by to see how far I had come in my recent home renovation. I hurriedly showed her the newly installed hardwood floors, the dining-room table, my sectional sofa, and a rug that I’d spend too much money on. (I’d splurged, thinking it might be worth the price tag. But when my neighbor and I viewed it on the floor, we agreed I should return it.)

“Okay,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back to the politics at hand. “You must stay for the debate. David’s out of town, and it’ll be fun!”

She looked at my laptop, open to Twitter and Facebook, and at the crazed look in my eyes. “Why not?” she said as she settled onto the bar stool in front of the television. Our kids played while we began to talk about the various candidates. About ten minutes into it, Naomi toddled into the room with a basket of nail polish, cotton balls, polish remover, and nail files. This “fun box” is what we break out to have “girl time,” a container that included a new bottle of black polish to go with a costume my older daughter had recently put together.

“Not now,” I said, pointing to the television screen. “We’re watching Governor Romney!”

I should’ve known something was wrong when Naomi left without complaint, and I didn’t hear from her for a while. Eventually, she walked back into the kitchen and smiled. “Look!”

I wish I hadn’t.

Her feet and hands looked like Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez spill. She’d “painted” her toenails and fingernails with the black polish and had come to show me. When I looked up, I saw black nail polish splotches on the floor, where she had pitter-pattered through the kitchen. Instantly, the noise and excitement of the debate receded into the background.

“Camille,” I called to my oldest daughter, who ran down the stairs to see what caused the panic in my voice.  When she got to the kitchen, I held up Naomi and said, “I don’t have the courage to find out where she’s been. But go look around and see how bad the damage is. Then, come back and tell me . . . very gently.”

That expensive rug — the one that I’d taken on spec — was still on the floor in front of our new sectional. But I didn’t have the heart to peer around the corner to view the damage. 

“Well, how much do you love your sofa?” Camille asked, very quietly.

I knew exactly how much I loved it, because I still had the receipt in my purse.

“Mom, there’s a big spill on the rug in her room,” my son yelled from upstairs.

Upstairs, I thought? That was enough to propel me out of the kitchen and into the crime scene, but it didn’t take CSI to discover Naomi’s path. She started in her room, where she apparently dumped out the polish and dipped her toes into the spill. Then, she went down the stairs, across the brand new floors and across my sectional.

I stood next to the expensive rug but couldn’t force my head to look down at it. David was out of town, and I couldn’t imagine explaining why I spent so much money on a rug I couldn’t even use. 

“Can you examine the rug?” I asked the kids, as I heard the candidates droning on in the background. My friend likes to say, “Politics is downstream from most people’s lives.” Never has this felt more true.

“Mom,” my son said. “I think it’s okay.”

“Yeah,” my daughter added quickly. “I don’t see anything.”

Miraculously, Naomi had managed to walk across the rug without getting nail polish on it though the formerly beige couch now had black stripes to match the black dots on the new hardwood. That’s when I realized that toddlers and new furnishings get along about as well as Rick Perry and the good folks of Utah.

Did Mitt Romney win the economic debate? 

By this point, I no longer cared. I only knew that my own personal economic condition had taken a turn for the worse. 

And no candidate was going to fix it.