Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Civics In The Livingroom

We gave our children the opportunity to stay home from school today for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I think it should have been a national holiday. Every inauguration should, just as every national election should too. Both are the ultimate civics exercises, when we get a chance to do something very few in the world are afforded.

No matter your political bent. No matter what color your state is or the letter you put next to your politician's name. You have to be moved by the ascension of a common person to the position of Leader of the Free World.

So we sat and we watched and we said nothing, witnesses to history on many levels. The obvious: Barack is our first black president. The not-so-obvious: Barack is the first president whose father was born in Kenya and whose mother was white. The not-so-known: Barack openly admitted to experimenting with drugs in his youth, an admission that would have ended his political career not so long ago. Or how about the fact that he's our first president with an iPod and BlackBerry. Probably our first who knows what the term "I got Googled" means, too.

I admit here, proudly, that I voted for him. I also admit that, not too long ago, there was rumor Colin Powell would run and I was ready to vote for him. He was a staunch member of both Bush administrations, let's not forget.

I would have voted for Hilary, too, who is also making history even if not quite what she wanted.

But what I really like about today is that Fallon, Harrison, Alyssa and Ty all said yes when asked if they wanted to stay home from school to watch it.

These are not kids who miss school, folks. They are all honor students. They have sports and tests and homework due that will now be late a day because they stayed home. They did not sleep in. They would not have been allowed. Nor would we have extended the invitation if we thought they would abuse the privilege.

I was not surprised, honestly, that they sat, in silence, and watched. They're much more politically astute than my generation was. I never saw Carter or Reagan or Bush inaugurated. I saw Clinton, but by then I was an adult and knew the magnitude of the moment. And I watched H.W. Bush too.

What did surprise me was that our day care children clamored for a seat before the television too. Not one of them could tell you the names (other than Obama, whom they argue is brown not black, something they were told in school I guess) of the people on the television. But they understood that this was a magnificent, momentous event that deserved their attention.

They giggled when Aretha Franklin sang, because they had never heard of a large black woman named Aretha, apparently, but maybe it was the hat she was wearing. And they pulled a face at the name of Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist who played with three others. I didn't dare confuse them with the bit of trivia that the man who composed the piece was the same who composed the Star Wars, Superman, and Jaws movie themes.

Either way, it was a moment that they can now proudly look back upon and remember having taken part, if not on the ground in D.C., at least on television. The same way many saw the assassination of Kennedy, the first man on the moon, and the Columbia disaster, to name a few.

What happens from here - the ramped up expectations, the critics champing at the bit, the foul economy that has clouded everyone's future - remains to be seen.

But it will not take away from the fact that my children saw something historic on this day. There's just something about that that makes a missed day in a stuffy classroom worth it. I think they would agree.

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