"So, Kittyko, who are you voting for?" asked an 8-year-old student as she was opening her piano book.
As I prepared an adult-y, neutral non-answer, her slightly older sibling quickly told her that she's not supposed to ask people that.
"Oh. Why not?" she asked, perplexed as to why adults have rules for not talking about the most important things. Eyes wide, she looked up at me. I realized that I now had two questions to figure out how to address.
"Because it's not polite," said her older sister.
"But why? Some people like Hillary Clinton and some people like Kevin Cramer...or wait," she said, trying remember how we adults have arranged things.
It was clear that this was not going to morph smoothly into page 23 and "The Singing Piano Pumpkin," so I said, "Well, some people like things that both Kevin Cramer and Heidi Heitkamp have said and done, and some people don't like things they've said and done. I'll be thinking a lot about all of those things when I do vote. Sometimes people like to just think about that stuff privately," I said...knowing that children generally cannot be tricked with non-answers.
"But who will you vote for?"
And then I remembered the ultimate avoidance strategy that children have perfected--answer a question with a question. "Is your school going to have mock elections? Like when the kids get to cast a vote?" I countered.
"No, not this time. But most kids just vote how their parents vote," she said casually, even with a little shrug.
"Oh, I can see how that could happen," I replied, trying to find neutral ground with my sweet interrogator.
"I don't think it needs to be a secret," she said. "I mean, what's wrong with telling people that my family is voting for [name redacted and not the one I'm voting for]?" she earnestly replied while looking up at me.
This prompted a theatrical groan from Older Sister, which caused my inquisitive student to wonder if she was going to be judged by me for possibly saying something bad.
Through my smile and nod (which was authentic), I told her that voting is a wonderful thing, and I asked her if she's looking forward to voting some day. With a "that's-so-yesterday" shrug, she explained that she's voted lots of times, like when they were trying to decide if their classroom reward would be a pizza party or extra recess. And that even though she voted for pizza, she was still going to be friends with ones who voted for an extra recess.
Yup, she gets it.
Note that while this may seem like a long, drawn out conversation--especially when children are there for a music lesson--it really lasted only a minute or so. Although it's true that lessons are not the place for political discussions, it's also no secret that we are in some turbulent times. And kids have questions--and they still haven't yet figured out that adults don't have all the answers.
But we can model. Even if we don't have answers or solutions, we can still be kind. We can model how to listen, be respectful, or how to draw a boundary if we prefer not to talk about it.
And how to keep making music in the chaos.
I never did reveal my voting plans, of course--and that's okay. Even so, our discussion about politics may have been the most pleasant discussion about politics in North Dakota that day.