On November 4th 2008 I was just a bit over 2 weeks into recovery from the emergency c-section that had brought P and Pie slip-sliding into this world.
I was determined to vote, and left my wee babies for either the first time or one of the first times with my husband. I showered and dressed, excited to not be wearing house clothes that were mostly determined by their function and ease of use. I put on socks and shoes, brushed my hair, kissed my family and walked to the driveway to get in my little car.
I drove to the local polling precinct (a local Baptist church, as are most of the polling places surrounding me), prepared to stand in line for hours.
This was a pretty unnecessary mental preparation. There wasn’t much of a line, but the poll workers took one look at me and pulled me to the front of what meager line there was.
This is pretty embarrassing if you think about it. I had showered, for cripes sake. Clean clothes were on my body. I was not wearing yoga pants, and my shirt had not been marketed in any way as a nursing accessible shirt. I felt the very best I had felt post-natal. Yet, I still looked so much like death warmed over that they carefully walked me to the registry, and to the voting stall. They gingerly held my hand as though I might fall down or start spitting pea soup at any minute.
Nevertheless, I found the strength to do my bit and even enjoyed a tiny afternoon out afterward.
The rest of the day is lost to memory for me. What I do remember, though, is watching the returns that night. Myself and my husband watched as the votes were counted and history was made. Our babies slept peacefully through the process.
When the election was called and it became apparent that our 44th President would be Barack Obama my heart swelled. I did not have any incredible great hopes or expectations tied to that feeling. I voted for him because I thought his was the best and most credible plan. I considered his personal history and life record and thought that they embodied something worthwhile for the Oval Office.
That wasn’t what the heart swelling was about, though. It was about the fact that we had managed to elect a black guy. Not just any black guy, though, a black guy with a name like Barack Hussein Obama. During a time when a name like that should have basically been the end of any political career.
I didn’t think that racism was over or that xenophobia was now a thing of the past rather than a force that was alive, well and still kicking the shit out of a lot of people.
What I did think was that the odds had just gotten pushed into a slightly better arrangement. That was worth a bit of heart swelling. So swell my heart did. I held my children and my heart swelled and I kissed their heads and whispered into their ears that they were alive and here when something amazing happened.
This time around, my heart was slower to swell. I wanted the outcome that happened, sure, but what happened had already happened.
Halfway into the night, though, I had a realization.
The newborn infants that I had whispered into the ears of four years previously were gone. In their place were two rambunctious four year olds. In four years when this happened again, those preschoolers that I knew would be gone. In their place would be two eight year olds. Instead of sleeping while this happened they would likely be awake and present for most of it.
Not only that, but, and this is where my heart started to swell, the only President they had ever known would be about to be replaced. For the first eight years of their life the head of their country will have been President Barack Obama.
They will not be children of Johnson, Nixon and Ford as myself and my husband are. They are not the children of Carter, or Reagan, or Bush one or two. They are not the children of Clinton.
I don’t really entirely know what that means or will mean to them. It does feel more hopeful in this age when we are looking forward, though. The landscape and possibilities of humankind are changing at a drastic rate right now, at speeds that I can’t even quantify.
The invention of the silicon chip followed by the invention of the Internet has laid a new field down. Science and research are taking jumps that seemed to be previously mired in treacle. The political implications have already been earth shattering and somewhat unpredictable all around the world. We’re still trying to get our feet out from under us as to what the social landscape is in this new world.
To our children, though, this isn’t a new world. It’s just the world. There has always been internet. Phones were always flat things that one carried in their pocket. We’ve always had a map of the human genome. It’s always been possible to video chat with someone across the world. Barack Obama has always been President.
Will they someday look at the family’s new 3d printer the way my brother, sister and I looked at our family’s new microwave? Will it also be incorporated into their lives the way the microwave was incorporated into our lives? Will they print out models for school assignments? Will we use our phones to take a quick scan of their bodies instead of going to the doctor?
I do know, already, that their friends will be here, there and everywhere the way my friends are. Not because my friends migrated, but because the Internet makes it possible for me to befriend someone from New Zealand even though I never left the US.
Now, all that has little to do with our 44th President. His re-election made me consider that, though. The current hand wringing and grief over losing the election, typified by Bill O’Reilly saying on air that “the white establishment is now the minority” and “it’s not a traditional America anymore,” points out how tied to the past we were. The election went to the youth, to the minorities, and to the women who could no longer stand by while they lost all that their mothers and grandmothers had fought for.
That’s a really good thing. You can’t step forward when you’re satisfied with where you are standing. The white male establishment was, as a whole (though not necessarily in parts), satisfied with where they were standing in the US.
My children strive forward into a future that I do not know.
I sort of think that’s a good thing.