Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The audacity of hope

An open letter to my younger daughter:

My gorgeous, my darling, you wretched little insomniac,

We watched Michelle Obama's speech last night. You, Daddy and I, we watched it together. You were wide awake. And Daddy said why not put her in the bouncer. That's how she often falls asleep at school. And I thought of the stories my father tells me about my infancy. I never slept, either, and he used to put me in front of the TV. This was pre-cable, pre-remote controls, of course. The news channel was a blank screen, no graphics, with scrolling text. And he'd put me in front of it until my eyes glazed over, and that's how he got me to sleep.

So I said sure, let's try it. And you, you lucky 21st century girl, you get to fall asleep to live coverage of a nation's destiny turning around after eight long years off course. But of course, you didn't fall asleep.

The eloquent Mrs. Obama spoke of the landmark achievement 88 years ago when American women secured the right to vote. Much of your family wasn't on this side of the Atlantic yet 88 years ago, so your American history begins with your voting rights secure. And she spoke of the accomplishments of the civil rights movement less than half a century ago, in which equal rights were won for black Americans. Your Jewish heritage is the reason your family is in this country; the antisemitism your family left behind in Europe is not so different in treatment, in social consequence, from the racism of segregation that this country can be proud of leaving behind. That the first year of your life was a Presidential election year, that the Democratic nominee's two leading candidates were an African-American and a woman -- what a great first year of life for an American. Of all the emotions I wear on my sleeve, my patriotism isn't usually one of them. But I'm so proud of the Democratic party, and of what this means for our country. I'm so happy for you and your sister that this is the future being built for you.

Daddy was sitting on the floor behind you as we watched the speech. He was trying to corral your absurdly large collection of books. I was swooning for Michelle's rhetoric. You were still not sleeping. Michelle was marking history; she was making history. You kept sitting upright in the bouncy. (That's not supposed to happen. That's not even supposed to be able to happen. We're so dismantling the two bouncy seats this weekend.) You decided to add your touch to the sense of posterity. Daddy looked at you and said shush! Go to sleep! And you smiled, turned around to face him, and waved.

Your teachers, who love teaching their babies all the standard baby tricks, have been trying to get you to wave for weeks. You've just mastered clapping hands. Clap hands! Clap hands! We'd seen no hand waving from you, however, until last night. Perhaps you sensed the history in the making. Perhaps you sensed how important was Michelle Obama's time on that stage. Perhaps you just love to keep us in awe of you. Or maybe we should read this as a warning, that you're going to be just as sassy as your sister. But you sat straight up, turned around, smiled and waved. You little vixen. You little stinker. You gorgeous, growing, apple pie girl.

It didn't occur to me until today that maybe you watched the thousands of delegates in Denver respond to Michelle's waves to the crowd and the cameras. Maybe you were simply mimicking; maybe you felt, as so many of us did, the personal resonance of her message. Whatever it was, last night was an important night, and you made it a magical night, too. I'm so glad we watched that speech with you.

I hope fervently that Obama wins in November, and when you and your sister ask: what was it like in 2008? what was it like for America to elect its first black President? I'll be able to start the telling of that memory with the story of last night, when Michelle Obama moved the nation to tears, and moved you to wave. I hope he wins this election. I hope this country reconsiders its priorities. And I hope, I really, really, really hope, that one night you'll SLEEP.

With much love, and all the audacity of hope,
your Mommy Pin It