When in doubt, should you take the kids?Ada Calhoun
When my I was doing last-minute planning for our D.C. trip to Obama’s inauguration, I saw on a few websites, including our own Strollerderby, that a great many people were bailing on the trip because it seemed too hard to bring the kids.
It was going to be cold and crowded. There would be no heated areas, no changing tables. The ticketed areas banned strollers and food. Some commenters over at BabyCenter insisted it was “child abuse” to even consider taking a toddler (ah, the “everything is child abuse” gambit). One writer told me he was going to leave his infant daughter with her grandparents, but tell her later she had been there – maybe even that “Obama had brought her up on stage, Courtney-Cox-style.” NPR cautioned, “Think Twice Before Bringing Kids to Inaugural.”
I wondered if we should cancel the trip.
But my best friend and her kids were expecting us, and we couldn’t exchange the train tickets. Besides, we wanted our son to be a witness to history, even if he wouldn’t necessarily remember it. “I just wanted to be here” was the title of the CNN homepage the morning of the inauguration, and that’s exactly how I felt. I liked the spirit of this SD commenter: “TAKING the kids to the Inauguration. TAKING. For God’s sake.”
So we packed a bunch of warm clothes, decided we’d try to watch from back of the Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial, where it wouldn’t be so crowded, and bring a ton of goldfish crackers.
We were cold, yes, in spite of our many layers. I had to hand-feed my son a sandwich because he couldn’t concentrate on eating. I had to walk him around for the hour leading up to the oath, while he complained about the wind. “It is magical here,” I quasi-ironically texted my coworkers while standing inside a Port-a-Potty while my son repeatedly opened and closed the lock for entertainment.
And there were definite hassles: When we got off the train in D.C., we faced a two-hundred-person-long taxi line with no cabs in sight (who knew there would be a black-tie party at the train station the very night we were arriving?). If we’d been alone, my husband and I could have just walked across town in the cold and dark without worrying about our son freezing or about what we would do with the car seat. (Thank goodness his well-chosen Godmother drove into the swarm of tuxedoed humanity and rescued us.)
But once we were there at the event itself, actually on the Mall watching Obama take the oath and deliver his Inaugural Address, every annoyance seemed utterly insignificant. I’ve never experienced anything like being in a crowd of almost two million silent, rapt people, nor will I probably ever again. I looked down at my son, sitting on my lap under a sleeping bag, staring at the Jumbotron, hypnotized by Obama’s face and voice, and the speech hit home in a way it might not have had I been unencumbered.
Obama said: For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Showing up, toddler in tow, was a product of faith and determination. I looked around us at our fellow American people on the Mall and I just liked them. All of them. There were two people in wheelchairs in front of us, a little girl and her mother to our side. There were people from every state and from abroad. No one had an easy time getting there, but once in the crowd together, we became one mass of joy. When Obama was proclaimed president, it was like a cork coming out of a bottle, everyone crying and laughing and hugging each other. An old white woman and old black man linked arms next to us and spun each other in a circle. I’ve never felt prouder to be an American or more hopeful for our future.
A week later, it’s funny what my son remembers of that day on the Mall. One woman on the news said she had been there for the March on Washington, but that this was different, because we had all gathered not to protest, but to give thanks. There were high-fivers lining the pathways when we entered the Mall, and everyone on the grounds smiled at each other. When my son said, “Barack Obama!” the people standing around us rushed to give him fist bumps.
It’s funny what my son remembers of that day on the Mall. He tells people that it was cold, that the pool was made of ice, that he saw “Barack Obama’s car” (the motorcade made a big impression). He fondly remembers the Port-a-Potties. He wishes he could have given Obama cookies like he did the neighborhood firefighters at Christmas. And he recalls “a lot of people standing.” When he gets older and realizes why they were standing, and laughing and crying all around us, I hope he will be as grateful as I am that he was there.