When my daughters, Addy and Emma Nozell, otherwise known as the Presidential Selfie Girls, decided to set a challenge to listen to and snap a photo with each of the Presidential candidates in New Hampshire, none of us knew it would be an experience so filled with positive life lessons.
Even if the girls didn’t completely agree with each of the candidates, they all had a valuable bit of life advice to pass on. Below are some of our favorites.
1. Lindsey Graham (R) – family matters – a lot
Lindsey Graham is a “go down to the bar and have a beer” kind of guy with a great sense of humor, He’s a born storyteller who artfully delivers jokes with the precision of the most accomplished comedian while still giving off an “aw shucks” kind of vibe. But under those jokes lies a deep well of pain. Graham’s mother died when he was 21 and then a year later his father died leaving him and his 13 year old sister orphans. It is a huge emotional and financial challenge for a young man to keep a family that has been so deeply damaged like that together.
Graham could have abandoned his sister and the family pool bar, but instead he stepped up to the plate, took over the business and made sure his sister was taken care of while he attended college and then law school. At one point he even adopted his sister so that she could receive his military benefits.
After all this, Graham went on to be a public servant. Both of my girls were awed by Graham’s family loyalty and his inner strength to do the right thing even though it may not have been the path he might have chosen. It’s your reactions to life’s curve balls that ultimately define who you are.
“You get up again and again and you do what you have to do for your family – no questions asked” was the important message my girls got from Graham.
2. Carly Fiorina (R) – women can play strong roles
Because both my husband and I have worked for Hewlett Packard, we have some pre-formed opinions about her, but when I took my daughters to hear one of the earliest versions of her stump speech, Fiorina brought out her Lady Liberty and Lady Justice analogy.
“Lady Liberty stands strong, clear eyed and resolute. She doesn’t shield her eyes and faces outward to the world while she holds her torch high because she knows she is a beacon of hope in a very troubled world. Lady Justice holds a sword by her side because she is a fighter, a warrior for the values and principles that made America great. In her other hand she holds a scale which symbolizes that all of us are equal in the eyes of God.
I don’t care what you think about Fiorina as a candidate, conjuring up such powerful images of women as warriors and protectors of justice is the kind of message that all young women need to hear.
3. Hillary Clinton (D) – let’s have recess again
Oh sure, there were many lessons that Hillary gave to my daughters during her speech including lessons about the importance of women’s rights, gay rights, and human rights. But it was her response to a teacher’s question that really caught my daughters’ attention.
“Any education plan begins with listening to and respecting teachers. Start at the beginning with a focus on Early Childhood education. If we don’t do all we can to prepare our littlest kids to do well in school, we can do all the reform we want but we’re going to leave a lot of our kids out. Childcare and universal free kindergarten. Too much test taking in our schools today. The tests were intended for the teachers to understand the strengths and weaknesses and what she needed to work on. It was a diagnostic tool. What we are doing now is testing for extraneous reasons that group all of our kids together and which are used in a punitive way We’ve got to have good measures of accountability but what matters most of all especially with little kids is what habits and values they’re learning that you cannot test for. Part of the problem is that we have swept out of most of our schools many of the experiences that help kids learn better values and habits, better character and better success. I had music in elementary school I had art I had drama. I learned a lot working with the other kids. When you remove the arts you really hurt kids who learn that way. We need to have enough in our school curriculums that each kid has a chance to be successful. What is the most important thing? It’s for a child to feel that their effort is paying off. That they are getting better at something they are trying to do. When you say there’s only one way to learn and there’s only one way to test then you are cutting out a lot of kids and you are making them feel like they are not successful from an early age.
“I think it’s a mistake in those districts that have cut back on physical education and playground time. I believe that a lot of young people need that letting loose that running around, that time to let off steam. I learned some of the best lessons of my life in gym and playground, how to be a member of a team -why do you like some people and not others when you’re choosing up people, and what do they have to offer that maybe the other person doesn’t
At this point Addy was enthusiastically clapping her hands, “Yes”, she said, an obvious fire having been lit under her, “I loved recess! We need to have recess in high school!” It was after this speech that Addy starting saying that she was interested in going into human services and education.
4. Chris Christie (R)– leave nothing left unsaid
Chris Christie has one of the greatest mom stories of all times. In his speeches he talks about how his mother was the single biggest influence in his life. Christie’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer on Valentine’s Day in 2004, her disease progressed extraordinarily quickly and by the end of April of that same year she was near death.
At the time Christie was the US Attorney for New Jersey and he was off at a national conference when his brother called and told him that his mother had gotten significantly worse and if he wanted to talk to her again he needed to get home “now.” Christie immediately flew home and went to the hospital. When he got there they had started to give her morphine which signaled that the end was near.
He wanted to stay with his mother, but she, noticing it was a workday told him to go to work. She said this not because she was pushing him away, but rather it was because she had always lived her life by the adage “leave nothing left unsaid.” If she was mad, people knew it, if her kids had a problem, they told her. At the end of her life when her children had gathered to support her and tell her that they loved her, it wasn’t necessary because she already knew, it had already been said.
It was after this event that Emma turned to me in the car on the ride home and told me that she loved me.
5. Ted Cruz (R)– how to go about getting something done
Ted Cruz is the son of a preacher man and as such, he has the cadence and delivery of a preacher. He’s very good at rallying and inspiring the troops. Although the girls didn’t agree with all he had to say, they did pick up his plan for attacking a situation.
Cruz told the audience that “we win when we effectively articulate what we believe.” The girls appreciated the value of that advice that transcends parties and politics. Clear communication is important for anyone to get what they want.
Cruz identified his 3 steps when fighting ISIS. We should, he told the crowd,
- Have a clear objective
- Use overwhelming force
- And then we should get the heck out.
It’s a great strategy for addressing any kind of a challenge – know what you’re going to do, do it well and then move on. It’s timeless advice for anyone on or off the campaign trail.
6. Bernie Sanders (D) – if you can’t say something nice…
Bernie Sanders brings a lot to the table. The girls sat in the audience while he outlined his plan for building up areas in America that needed some assistance like college affordability, our jails, climate change, and holding people and agencies accountable.
At one point, Sanders raised his finger and said, “I have won all of my elections without running a single negative ad.”
“Wow” said Addy. “I never really thought about it, but all the political ads we see on TV are mostly negative.” Addy and Emma started pointing out negative ads when they appeared. Their eyes had been opened to something they had previously seen as a given – if there is a political ad, then it will be negative.
Sanders taught my daughters, that it is possible to win without being negative to your opponent.
7. John Kasich (R)– don’t do drugs
The girls were invited by the Kasich Campaign to join him at a restaurant before he left to walk the main street in a New Hampshire town. Kasich talked about the economy, the military, and about the Heroin problem in New Hampshire. When he talked about drugs, he specifically pointed to the girls and said, “The best way to not have a drug problem is to not do drugs.”They listened to what he had to say and when he was done, he came over to greet them.
Kasich talked to the girls and asked them some questions. He told them about his twin daughters at home who were roughly the same age. At one point he put his hands on the girls shoulders, looked into their eyes and said “One of the most important things you can do is don’t do drugs.”
Important life advice for everyone – if you don’t get started, you won’t have a problem, so don’t do drugs.
8. Martin O’Malley (D) – be authentic
We met Martin O’Malley at a Pints and Politics event where he was being interviewed for a radio show. O’Malley rolled up his sleeves and toasted with the rest on his panel. He then proceeded to have a conversation that highlighted his achievements and depth of knowledge.
Although I could see the girls were nodding their head in agreement to what he had to say, it wasn’t until after the event when Martin specifically came over to our table to talk to “that family” that he really won the girls’ hearts. O’Malley joked with us, he asked questions of my son who goes to Norwich University and when it was time to take that selfie he was ready and enthusiastic to take it.
In most interviews, if you ask Addy who gave the best selfie, she often refers to that one taken with O’Malley. It shows that being relaxed, open, and presenting yourself as likeable is an important trait in any kind of relationship.
Of course you need to know your stuff, but if you smile, joke, and are interested in the person you are talking to – if you are perceived as truly authentic, it’s going to count for a lot.
9. Jeb Bush (R), Mike Huckabee (R)– just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean you’re a bad person
We went to see Jeb Bush at a local town hall event. At one point they heard him explain his philosophy with regard to the other Republican candidates. “Look,” he said. “Just because I don’t agree with them doesn’t make them a bad person.”
It was a quick, unrehearsed and off-the-cuff response to a question from the audience. But I recognized it as the life lesson that it really was.
“Did you hear what Jeb said?” I asked the girls in the car on the ride home. “About people not being bad for holding different opinions?” You need to remember that bit of advice for the rest of your life. While you might disagree with someone, they are entitled to their opinions and it doesn’t make them a bad person. Just as you are not a bad person for sticking to your beliefs.
Later in their selfie challenge, the girls were invited to attend a Housing Summit in New Hampshire where Gov. Mike Huckabee was going to speak. He was the last Republican candidate they needed to get for their selfie challenge
Neither girl was too excited about meeting Huckabee. Although they had attended some of his political events in 2008 (where they got to meet Chuck Norris and taste clam chowder for the first time) all they knew of Huckabee was his current involvement in the Kentucky clerk Kim Davis situation.
The girls disagreed with Kim Davis for several reasons. The Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage so they felt it was wrong for anyone to deny gay couples a marriage license. Kim Davis had run for and had been elected to her clerk position and in denying marriage licenses to gays, she was not doing the job she had been elected to and agreed to take. In my Northeastern, growing up on Glee, and “some of my friends are gay” daughters’ minds, Kim Davis was wrong, which of course meant that Mike Huckabee was wrong.
“Uggh” was the word uttered when we got to the event.
The girls were ushered into the green room where they got to meet with Mike Huckabee and his staff. The Governor warmly shook their hands and then spent the next 20 minutes asking them questions and telling jokes. Huckabee’s jokes were funny and the girls found themselves genuinely laughing and feeling comfortable around him.
After a while, the girls were taken to the holding room, where again Mike Huckabee came by and joked with them. While there, he was asked by a member of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to answer a question about his philosophy on working with both parties to get things done. His answer was thoughtful and logical.
Before the girls were put on stage, Mike Huckabee joined Ayla Brown and played Bass guitar with her band while she sang a rocking tune. Rack up another point for coolness.
“Wow, he’s a really nice guy” said Emma. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
And that right there is one of the of the most important life lessons that came out of taking our daughters to so many political events for the last few months. You don’t know someone until you meet and listen to them. And more importantly, just because you don’t agree with someone, it doesn’t make them a bad person.
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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