by Kuae Kelch Mattox
It was just past 4:30am the morning of January 20th and my three children were standing before me, groggy eyed, as I helped them pull on the layers. Thin socks, thermal socks, long underwear, layering tops, sweatpants, snow boots, down jackets. Hats, check. Gloves, check. Scarves, check.
“We’re going to see Barack Obama today. He’s going to be our new president!,” my five year old daughter Evan declared. “Mommy, is he going to come talk to us?”
We were on a mission, to make it to the National Mall from Vienna, Virginia sometime over the next few hours, use the port-a-potties before they got too icky, stake out a spot in front of a giant video screen and stay there until our new president took his sacred oath… and until Malia and Sasha displayed their oh so cute smiling faces.
An endless line at the Metro station, a long train ride, a nap and three Nutrigrain bars later, we arrived on the mall, pockets loaded with tissues, wipes, bottles of water, Rice Krispy treats and an Epi-pen. Thermal blankets in hand, we stood on the mall shoulder to shoulder, my husband and our three little saplings amidst a forest of trees.
“Pick me up mommy, pick me up. I can’t see the screen,” Evan said. Their eyes were wide with anticipation. It didn’t matter that it was bitter cold. They knew that they had come to witness history, a history that they were only just beginning to understand.
“I can’t believe it, I’ve never seen so many people before,” Evan said. “Wow mom, this is so awesome,” my nine-year old son Cole shouted. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” said my 11-year old daughter Teddi.
My children weren’t just witnessing history, they were living it, feeling the pulse of the crowd and standing on the very ground that their grandparents stood, more than 45 years ago, on August 28, 1963 to watch another charismatic and inspirational leader named Dr. Martin Luther King lay out his dream for America. That dream, though yet to be realized, helped lead us on the path to today.
President Barack Obama. Madame First Lady Michelle Obama. My children, our children, will grow up in a world that many of us could not have fathomed, a world where they dare to dream, and dream big. Already my daughter has run for president of her student council. My son is contemplating a run for president of the United States. “How old do you have to be?” he wants to know.
The potential impact on America’s children, particularly young African American children, is enormous. The belief that they can fly, that they can soar, that they can do anything and be anything. Priceless. The knowledge that someone who looks like them and who has defied the odds, will shape the future of our country, their future, speaks volumes.
Yet on this inauguration day, my daughters’ eyes were on Malia and Sasha, who appeared on the screen beaming, wearing colorful J. Crew outfits.
“I think I like those outfits,” Evan said. “They’re so adorable and they are taking everything so well at this age,” Teddi said.
Cole was fascinated by the security on top of buildings, the police officers and the Secret Service in cars with blacked out windows. “Is that an Escalade or a Suburban?”
But while the crowd ooed and aahed at the first sight of Michelle Obama, my 11-year old fashionista said she didn’t like her outfit. “She needs a better sense of style,” she declared.
With the first shot of the motorcade and police escort heading toward the Capitol, our hearts began to pound. “I’m getting really excited,” Teddi shouted.
And then there he was. Barack Obama, standing alone in the hall. “Why does he look so stern mommy?,” Teddi asked.
It didn’t take long for my children to understand the seriousness of his stance. Obama’s presidential address drove the point home that despite the pomp and circumstance, it was time for the country to get down to business.
As tears welled up in my eyes, Cole turned to me, studying my face. “I can’t believe it. He’s really our president,” he said.
It was an emotional moment that warmed my soul.
Creating a chain link of hands, we wove our way through the crowd, walking for block upon block to find our way home. We waved goodbye to the sky as President Bush’s enormous helicopter flew overhead, my children, eyes still bright, prancing on their feet, piecing together the stories in their heads that they would tell for many years to come.
On the ride home the endless fascination with the Obama girls continued. “Do you think Malia and Sasha will have a royal hairdresser?, Teddi asks. “They’re not going to be able to wake up in the White House and go to school without being fashionable. They’re going to need a royal outfitter too.”
“There’s a swimming pool in their house mom!”
I just took a deep breath, and smiled.