Obama's Second, My Fourth

I sat on the grassy expanse outside the U.S. Capitol with a guy from New York and a woman from California, both of them gray-haired and a little less robust than many of the youthful faces around us. 

"Do you want a muffin?" the woman offered.

"Did either of you volunteer on the campaign?" the man asked.

The camaraderie and fun that erupt almost immediately among strangers thrown together in a shared experience might be my favorite aspect of presidential inaugurations.

It was the fourth time I traveled to the city to celebrate a president's swearing-in. I watched from a spot in a sea of people on the National Mall when Clinton took the oath of office the first time, saw G.W.'s first from a ticketed section in the shadow of the Capitol and celebrated Obama's first historic inauguration in a heated rooftop pavilion with my youngest, then just four-months-old, hanging from a Bjorn.

My new friends and I met about 7:30 a.m. in a grassy area near First and Pennsylvania reserved for Orange ticket holders. Each of us planned to make our way to a separate section directly in front of the Capitol, but we were thwarted by the early, unexpected crowds. We shook our shoulders and settled down beneath a tree. So we were off-centered a little bit, our view slightly obstructed? So what.

"I'm so happy to be here at all," we told each other.

We sat like that for hours, exchanging stories about Obama, family vacations, Metro stops, everything and nothing. Cell phone service was down for all of us, so we made small talk, sat in silence, exchanged raised eyebrows when new folks stumbled into our space.

My most lasting, most visceral memory of Clinton's Inauguration was the way Maya Angelou's poetry crawled under my skin and up my spine and made me shiver with awe and hell yeah!

I remember the cold, wet misery of G.W.'s and the palpable hate of the protestors. It was a wretched event.

I jumped up and down at Obama's first and braved the windy, bone-chilling temps, with a baby beneath my coat, to wave to him on the parade route. I rushed back to the hotel after and told everyone he waved at me. "Right at me!" I screamed. It felt like it anyway, such is the power of the president.

I think what I'll remember most this time around, though, is much simpler: a few hours beneath the tree in the happy company of two strangers with kind eyes and generous hearts whose names I never learned.

"Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution," President Obama said. "We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I didn't look at my friends much during the speech, but I could hear them whisper "Amen" or "Right on." I felt them nod when I did. We lingered for a bit after Beyonce closed the ceremony, then we smiled at one another, waved and walked on, anonymous faces in the crowd of our democracy.


Lego #1

I love what Tobias makes with the Legos so much that I've decided it's time to keep track of his creations. Presenting, the obviously named, "Car Truck." 

"It's mixed up," he told me. "'Cause it's a car and a truck."

Stand by for future inventiveness.


Role Model for Love

I don't know what got a hold of Josephine, but she spent the day making Valentines for her classmates, a full month ahead of the holiday. After she finished, she asked if we could put a piece of candy on each one. "No," I told her. "Valentines Day is about love and kindness, not candy." Take that Hallmark, Hershey's and every other business pimping the holiday.

Besides, I groan at the Valentine's candy haul every year, no way am I going to contribute to it.

Josephine walked away to her bedroom and emerged an hour later with three friendship bracelets attached to several of the cards she already made. 

At 9:30, I went to check on her in her bedroom, tell her to turn out the light, it's way past bedtime. More card/bracelet combinations were strewn across her floor and she sat in bed weaving yet another bracelet. My heart pretty much exploded at the care she'd taken, the love she'd shown.

"I don't know what we did to have a daughter as kind and generous as you," I said. "We're so lucky."

She twisted her mouth into an embarrassed but knowing smile and continued making presents for her friends.


Wish Tree

Our family tradition of a walk on New Year's Day took us to the National Mall this year and one of several stops we made was the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. I met a local artist in December who told me about an intriguing sculpture in the basement of the museum - a towering, naked giant. Only in my recollection, the artist called it a monster. 

Cowering in a corner, the man who wasn't a monster seemed angry at first but the longer we looked, both Kent and I were struck by a profound sadness. The piece was eerily lifelike and I thought the in-your-face nakedness of it all might unsettle the kids. But no. I didn't hear any tittering, just curious comments. 

"I think he looks like a baby giant," Desmond said. 

The Ai Weiwei exhibit blew me away, particularly "Straight," the collection of rebar reclaimed from the schools that collapsed in the Sichaun earthquake several years ago that killed 68,000 people. "Cube Light" wowed the kids. 

"It looks like an angel's body," Tobias said.

But the piece I think I'll remember most was a tree in the sculpture garden that I've surely walked past before (it's been there since 2007) but only really took notice of this day. It's called "Wish Tree" by Yoko Ono and it's one of many she's installed at museums worldwide. 

The tree is filled with tiny tags that flitter in the wind, an especially pretty spectacle in the drab leaflessness of winter. A little girl wished for nail polish, many hoped for peace.

"I wish I wasn't like this," one read. Another: 

I couldn't get over how perfect it was to come across the tree on the dawn of a new year, to consider our goals and hopes and dreams for 2013. "I wish for a jet pack," Tobias instructed us to write. 

Desmond hoped for a good school year, Esme wants to fly (and get a new dog) and Josephine wished that every day could feel like a day in Maine. 

As the kids read other wishes and busied with hanging their own, I puzzled over my own blank tag. I couldn't decide whether to go big - I wish for my loved ones to stay alive - or something smaller - Please bring a new dog for us to love. In the end, I decided on something specific and selfish: I wish to be healthy enough to finish the Raleigh Half Ironman

I signed up for the summer race despite the fact that I don't run. I'll learn, I thought. Only since August, I haven't been able to get through a day without extraordinary, exhausting back pain and an MRI showed a heap of complications in my lumbar spine. Hopefully, the physical therapist I'm seeing now can get me squared away and my wish won't seem as impossible as it did the day I wrote it. 


Happy New Year

Because we ended our first date here, then got engaged here, I'm always a bit awed when we're all here together. Our family of six, happily playing in the place where we began. Here's to new beginnings, especially the kind that start simply and blossom so outrageously.