Waken Baby Syndrome

How to get political campaigns to stop calling and waking the kids.

Originally published October 29, 2010

Being a new parent during an election season can be frustrating. Friends of ours know not to call us too late, as they’ll wake the kids, and we’ve managed to get ourselves off most telemarketing lists. But political calls are a completely different story.

Because Muffin and Squeaker were born last year, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the possibility of them being woken by campaign phone calls. But then, about one month after they were born, Senator Ted Kennedy died, triggering a special election here in Massachusetts to replace him. The special election took place on the kids’ six-month birthday, with the primary six weeks earlier on Dec. 8, meaning that the kids were still tiny babies when our phone began to ring.

And ring.

And ring.

And ring some more—why not?

The first calls I remember for the primary election were robocalls coming in from the Stephen Pagliuca campaign. Come to think of it, those were the last calls as well; I don’t recall any other calls from candidates before the primary. But then the general election race between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley kicked in.

We got so many robocalls from the Scott Brown campaign, Nomi decided that she would never vote for Brown because he kept waking our kids. A friend of ours whose son was about 18 months old at the time received a similar torrent of calls from the Martha Coakley campaign, and she made the same decision about Coakley that Nomi had made about Brown.

Right now, we’re in the middle of the 2010 midterm elections, and as Brookline residents we live in the 4th congressional district, represented by Barney Frank. Frank has been challenged by newcomer Sean Bielat, and a lot of national attention and money is being focused on this race.

Nomi, as a registered independent voter (or Unenrolled voter, as we call it in Massachusetts), gets a lot of phone calls from all over the political spectrum. She received one or two calls from the Bielat campaign early on, and then she started to get them more frequently.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, around 8:15 pm, we received a call from a volunteer with the Sean Bielat campaign. Nomi took the call and once again expressed her frustration at the caller, as this was the third call in three nights after 8 pm, and all three calls had woken Muffin and Squeaker. Nomi had told the campaign the very first time they had called, a few weeks back, to remove our number from their list because we had one-year-old twins at home, but apparently her request had gotten lost in the shuffle. She had made the same request the previous two nights, and obviously, it had been to no avail. It seemed that unless one of the volunteers at the phone bank actually made sure to pass along our request, we were either going to have to turn the ringer off until the beginning of November or deal with two wailing kids each night.

And then I was hit by inspiration: Sean Bielat lives in Brookline! I dug out a phone number, picked up the phone, and began dialing.

“What are you doing?” Nomi asked.

“I’m calling Sean Bielat directly.”

She looked at me, unsure of my chutzpah. “You’re calling him at home?” she asked.

“Why not? He’s calling us at home.”

I got the Bielat family’s answering machine, which began with a message asking people who were calling about the campaign to hang up and call a different number. Although I was admittedly calling about a campaign issue, I waited for the beep and then left my message. I made a point of being as polite as possible, and I left a message something like this:

“Hi, Mr. Bielat, my name is Michael Burstein and I’m one of your Library Trustees here in Brookline. I’m calling because my wife and I have one-year-old twins, and for the past three nights your campaign has called for my wife after 8 p.m. and woken our kids. We’re wondering if you could take us off your list; we’d really appreciate it.”

I ended the call by giving my email address and asking him to get in touch if he ever had any questions about the library; after all, he is a constituent.

Very much to Bielat’s credit, the phone calls stopped immediately. To this day, we haven’t received any more calls from his campaign, and with election day coming up next week, I’m breathing a sigh of relief, because it would appear that we’re finally out of the woods. Except for one teeny, tiny thing. In 2012, Muffin and Squeaker will be three years old. And it’s a presidential election year . . .

Kids, sleep now, while you can.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2010 by Brookline Patch.

About Michael A. Burstein

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