“I Was There”

At inauguration

I wrote this in 2009, after I had traveled to Washington DC with my then 17 year old son to witness history as Barack Obama was sworn in as President. Knowing Ari was able to go again today gave me such a thrill, I felt to share the piece again. 

Up at 5:30 (that’s 2:30 in the morning, California time, where our bodies still think we are.) We’re on the train by 6:00 a.m. amidst throngs of people all going to the same place, for the same reason.

We get off the train near the National Mall with throngs of others, the light in the sky shifting from a dull grey to a hint of blue and rose. The atmosphere is electric already; people of every age, shape, color and demographic all having pushed through some obstacle—or many of them—to be here for what they feel is a once in a lifetime experience.

Ari and I wait for several hours in the tunnel on 3rd street surrounded by thousands of fellow adventurers, sharing stories with whoever we’re beside for those few moments until the movement of the crowd separates us and we find ourselves with a whole new group of friends. That’s how it goes. Helping someone find a lost glove. Giving our hand warmers to the teenage girl who wasn’t quite prepared for twenty degrees. Sharing with the young man from New Orleans or the older ladies from Memphis why, despite the crowd and colds,  we each felt we should come.

The day unfolds magically. We eventually emerge through security, believing we’ll now be able to move onto the Mall, but instead we’re told we have to walk 15 blocks to another entry point. Finally, five or six hours after setting out this morning, we find “our spot” and the people within our fifteen feet radius become our family for the next few hours.

The night Obama won the election, my son looked at me after his acceptance speech and said, “We have to go.” As a political junkie and a kid passionate about history and international relations, I saw this as a chance to stoke his fire.

But a power outage in my neighborhood the night of the election meant that I booked airline tickets sitting in front of someone’s house, stealing internet access with their signal and my laptop. Tickets I held while looking for a better deal disappeared by the time I came back to compare them with my new find. I leapt, and booked flights; it wasn’t until the next day, when I could research the whole thing, that I discovered two interesting things: One, hotels were $500.00 on up and two, you needed tickets to go to an inauguration.

But it turned out to be one of those “leap and the net will appear” experiences. Pamela offered her parents house; her folks picked us up and took care of us like we were their own, until we moved to a friend’s empty apartment in Silver Springs.

So we had our adventure. And now I sit in the Baltimore airport, watching Ari chat with a young man who worked for Obama’s campaign in the Asian-American contingent. Across from where they sit are two ladies covered in Obama buttons, hats and scarves. Ari has on his “I Witnessed History” t-shirt. I have my “I Was There” button.

When my son was little, I used to think that when he got older, parenting would invariably be a lot less fun. I considered the idea of having a teenager sort of like a consolation prize; they haven’t actually left home yet, but it’s a lot less sweet than when they’re little boys who run to the door when they hear you come in.

But I have to say, despite the yucky moments and teenage attitude, my son’s adolescence is in many ways the best part of raising him so far. I get to see him discover parts of himself that are just waking up. I get to watch him start exploring what he’s passionate about.

I get to see him turn to the older lady from Saint Louis he’s been standing beside for hours on Inauguration day and give her a big hug as the the crowd goes wild. I get to listen to him discuss Obama’s speech with the history professor from Rhode Island on our airport shuttle. And I get to see the look on his face as I see him listen to the speech of a man he so deeply admires.

Many have said that they went to the inauguration to witness history. As true as that is for me, what I can say even more fervently is that I went to witness my son take one more step along his journey towards becoming the fullest version of he is meant to be.

I Was There. And it was pretty cool.

 

Mom & Ari at inauguration

 

 

 

Recently, I had the delicious opportunity to spend hours looking after the one and a half and three and a half year old children of good friends. From the moment I arrived and was “required” to snuggle with the older one while the baby slept, I was in kid heaven. We made a fort, read books, walked to the park, and ate lots of snacks.

But one thing struck me about my time with my little friends that I would love your feedback about. I found myself frequently wanting to (“needing to”) check my phone for texts or emails, becoming painfully aware that each time that I did, I was announcing to my little friends that my device was more compelling than they were.

I reflected on life when my son was small. I was a working parent, and used email on a regular basis for most of his childhood. But somehow, there wasn’t the same urgency about checking in that there is today. Why, I wondered, did I so frequently feel called to dig my Android out of my purse the other day? Yes, I had a family I was working with who was in crisis, but they had my phone number.

It seems to me there’s something about the ever-growing, increasingly insistent pull our devices have on us that I believe has the potential to model for our children a rather unhealthy way of engaging with the world—cyber and real—that may not serve them as they grow up.

Given the challenge most parents have with older children and teens about getting them to disengage from Facebook and cell phones to reconnect with family, I had to wonder how a child’s experience of a parent constantly switching on their electronic devices contributes to that child modeling the same behavior.

In one of my recent articles, I referenced a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance which said that ninety-one percent of teens reported their parents frequently talked on a cell phone and fifty-nine percent said they sometimes sent text messages while driving. These same teens said their parents were their primary driving influence, admitting to repeating their parents’ poor driving habits. When our kids see us unable to resist the ping or beep, how can we expect them to do the same?

I’m not saying that checking emails and texts should be forbidden whenever children are in the room. Nor would I suggest that we shouldn’t take care of things that are important to us in favor of giving children our constant undivided attention. Kids need to learn to entertain themselves, and are not served by believing that they are the center of our universe. But I do think we need to raise our awareness about the message we send when we remain so tightly entwined with our devices in the presence of our youngsters.

It’s now common to see nursing mothers texting instead of attuning with their babies, or chatting on the phone–with someone else– instead of interacting with the toddler they’re strolling. It seems to me that we have to find a way to manage the intense pull our screens have on us, lest our kids learn that being grown up means disengaging from the real world in favor of the digital one.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and with you, discovering how we can manage the pull of those highly demanding electronic devices without shortchanging the little ones in our midst. This conversation is a vital one. I hope you’ll weigh in on our Facebook page, or via email.

Unwrapping the Gift of a Child

I remember well the time when my son was a precious newborn, an adorable four-year old, a goofy nine-year old, and a challenging fifteen-year old. At each step of the way—even the teen years—I had the sense that this phase was my favorite. I loved the miracle of watching Ari transform from infant to baby, lamenting that one day he would begin to talk and our wordless exchanges would end. I adored his preschool years, fearing that once the innocence began to fade, parenting wouldn’t be as sweet. And on it went; at each stage, I wished I could freeze time, holding on to where we were because I couldn’t imagine that things would get even better.

But they do. This isn’t to say that as I write this, my heart isn’t a little sad at the thought that instead of being in his room down the hall as he was for the past week, my son is somewhere in the sky between Los Angeles and Washington DC. I loved having him home, and am comforted by the fact that he’ll be back for the holidays in a couple of weeks.

But when he tosses around ideas of what he may do when he graduates from college—which in the most bizarre time warp I have ever experienced, will happen this May—I find myself more easy with the things he’s considering (including working in the Embassy in Burundi). There is something thrilling about watching him more fully stretch and grow fully into his life. After all, isn’t that what parenting is ultimately about? Helping our kids be and become who they’re meant to be?

I still miss the days when he was a baby, a kid, even a teen. I still savor the times when I can mother him, whether it’s helping him edit an essay or serving him a great meal. My favorite role in life will always be Mom. But I’m understanding more deeply the strange truth that raising a child really is about raising an adult, and that my job as a parent has to move from nourishing and protecting to guiding and inspiring.

Wherever you are in your parenting journey, I hope you savor each moment without trying to hold on so tightly that you don’t allow for the surprises that are around the corner. Because believe me, there is nothing quite like watching the magnificent “gift” of that newborn unwrap itself into the young man or woman waiting to emerge.

Emptying the Nest, V.2

Dear Reader,
I wrote this a little over three years ago, as my son was approaching his high school graduation. Next month, he begins his senior year of college. Don’t ask me how this is possible; I remain bewildered.

And still, it is all good. I know some of you can’t wait till your kids move on and move out, but there are others who can’t bear the idea that your kids won’t be under your roof without feeling your heart crumbling into little pieces. I just wanted to say–from this end of things–that it all works out, we do find our way with letting go, and it really does keep getting better.  [Read more…]

Fixed in the Broken Islands

To get to the Broken Islands, you fly into Vancouver, and then take a two hour ferry to Vancouver Island. From there, you drive an hour to Port Albernie where you catch a three and a half hour ferry ride to to an outpost, rent kayaks, and paddle for several hours until you arrive at a remote island where you can camp. It is a long journey—one that I recently returned from—and an unforgettable one. The beauty and stillness is stunning. Something about those Broken Islands fixed something in me that made the adventure more of a life-changer than a vacation.

Before heading off to British Columbia, I had been noticing that little by little, my connection to the real, 3-dimensional world had been getting whittled down. As months and years go by, my digital devices have become more and more ubiquitous, constantly beckoning me to dive in, causing me lose track of thirst, weariness, even hunger. Screens have infiltrated my life in ways I could not have imagined and have found increasingly difficult to reverse.  [Read more…]