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How Campaigning Taught Our Family About Hard Work and Resilience

My reflections on being the wife of a gubernatorial candidate

Image courtesy of  fredrocko/ Getty Images

Twenty-four years ago, I fell in love with Alec Ross, the teacher across the hall. We were both placed teaching 6th grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School through Teach for America. This past spring, we celebrated our twenty-year wedding anniversary. We postponed celebrating because Alec was in the middle of his gubernatorial campaign hoping to become Maryland’s Democratic nominee. The primary election was last month and did not turn out how we had hoped. I’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on my participation and the participation of our children in Alec’s yearlong candidacy.

When Alec was considering a run for governor, we sat the kids down and explained for what and why daddy wanted to run. You see, when Donald Trump won the election in November 2017, our household was devastated. Like so many others, I felt compelled to take action. Alec had worked for Hillary Clinton for four years as the Senior Advisor of Innovation at the State Department. While she is certainly not without flaws, during Alec’s time working for her, she was a wonderful boss and always mindful of the families of her employees. We were absolutely rooting for her to be our next president. Trump, on the other hand, holds many values in stark contrast to our own. So when Trump won, my dear friend and I pretty quickly planned and carried out a postcard-writing party. Hundreds of post cards were sent with urgent pleas to senators and congressman. After the event it felt good to have taken some concrete action. Shortly after, Alec told me he had decided how he would take a stand. “Another postcard party?” I wondered. Nope! He decided that he wanted to run for governor. Maryland is a blue state with a Republican governor and Alec felt he had the ideas and ability to run the state better. So, after all of us in the family heard Alec out, we all agreed this was an amazingly noble goal and action and we wanted to support him however we could. Of course, at that point, none of us knew what that meant.

Initially, I imagined that I would be all over the state campaigning with Alec and on his behalf and it is true that I went to some events here and there. In a very short time, it grew apparent that in order for me to fully participate it would mean a major disruption to our family. My kids are now 11, 13, and 15. It turned out that supporting Alec meant attending occasional fundraisers, participating in video and photo shoots and writing emails to be used by the campaign. What I had imagined, traveling around the state by Alec’s side or on his behalf, day in and day out never really materialized. While that was certainly an option, and one that would have been greatly appreciated by the campaign, we ultimately had to make a choice. I realized that if I decided to throw myself fully into campaigning for Alec it would mean outsourcing the care of our children. After real thought and not a small amount of guilt that I wasn’t supporting Alec’s run enough, it became very clear to me that I could best support Alec by making sure our family didn’t fall apart. Alec and I have long since been referred to as the micro/macro couple. We were coined thus nearly 20 years ago when we started giving annual lectures to a group of Australian college students each year when they visited Washington, D.C. Inevitably, Alec talked about geopolitics, tech policy, our elections and anything else the Australian students asked him about and I talked on the micro level sharing stories of my students and my classroom experiences. Strangely, this combination worked. Once again, our micro/macro partnership was put to work. Alec ran to be the governor of Maryland in an attempt to improve the lives of all Marylanders and I chose to hunker down and focus on my family and my students. It was a choice that I do not regret.

When folks ask us about the run now that is over, it is inevitable that our responses reflect this micro/macro approach that we have taken over the years. Alec speaks to the wonderful people he met around the great state of Maryland. He describes attending every possible type of religious service and seeing first hand that from religion to religion, culture to culture, far more is the same than different. He talks about running a campaign he can be proud of, one rooted in policy and without all of the negativity found in most campaigns. He speaks about his need to take action and that while he did not become the democratic nominee, in life he is only ever upset when he fails to do something, not when he puts himself out there and takes a risk. 

While I am proud of Alec for all of those things, when someone asks me how the race was for the kids and me, my answer is a bit different. I think about how grateful I am that Alec taught our children three incredibly important lessons. First, he taught them that if you see an injustice, you should take action. It doesn’t have to be such a big action but it can be. Alec’s run was bold and we are all incredibly proud of him. Throughout his candidacy, Alec and his team put out many policy papers. We discussed these policies and ideas at dinner and Alec credited the many folks throughout the country who helped him to develop the ideas, experts in the field of childcare, smart gun reforms, and marijuana legalization, for example. Through this, my children learned about collaboration and seeking out experts in areas you want to learn about. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Alec taught our children that sometimes, hard work does not yield the desired outcome. In all honesty, it is hard for me to remember Alec working at something and not being successful. Instead of falling apart, Alec is taking some time to focus on his health and wellness and to figure out what is next. Inevitably, Alec will be back at the “macro” again soon, writing another book or trying to tackle another global challenge and I am excited to take on a new “micro” challenge as the gifted specialist at a k-8 school in South Baltimore. For now, we are all enjoying spending time together at home, enjoying the lazy days of summer and continuing our micro/macro conversations around the dinner table.  

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