Sunday, November 16, 2008

All Grown Up Now

On election night, amidst all the talk of "historic moments" and "monumental firsts," I suddenly realized I'd just passed over a meaningful tipping point.

For the first time in my life, I am older than the President of the United States of America.

But not by much. And therein lies one of the emotional reasons I chose to support his candidacy. Barack and Michelle Obama are of my generation. Our daughters are in the same age bracket. Their personal concerns are my personal concerns. Lest you think I am a left wing nutjob who votes the blue state equivalent of "I
love Sarah Palin! She's just like me!," know that ultimately my choice was reason-based. But I'd be lying if, now that the election is over, I didn't 'fess up to the identification thing.

Barack Obama is old enough to be President, and so am I. Welcome to true adulthood. The place and time where we take the reins.

Every campaign - indeed, every presidency - is like a lifetime in miniature. Some presidents, like some individuals, never quite grow up. They either chase rainbows or pick on the weak or live out their lives thinking the world literally revolves around them. The drama of youth plays out on the world stage, damn the consequences.

You know who I'm talking about.

I truly believe that is about to change.

Across the street from my elementary school, a vacant lot was blocked from our daydreaming eyes by a cinder block monstrosity known as The Brick Wall (deep in the Cold War, the Berlin Wall probably had a lot to do with the moniker). We were pretty good kids, and closely supervised, so disputes were usually shut down before they erupted into anything physical. But diplomacy isn't always effective when you're ten. Occasionally, whispers would drift through the halls and notes would change hands; our covert skills rivalled those of any Le Carre' spook: "Fight today behind The Brick Wall." The game was on.

I never made it ringside since my mother picked me up promptly every day, but I heard tales of the rollicking violence that blacked eyes and ripped shirts before the principal would amble over and break things up. He could usually set things right by requiring a handshake, mutual apologies, an honest admission of who started it, and a classic punishment such as writing "I will not fight behind the Brick Wall." 100 times. He was an outstanding example of a grownup in action. Thanks to his leadership, such fights were rare.

This presidential campaign had much of the schoolyard brawl about it. Spitballs. Dinner rolls across the cafetorium. Glue in the chair. Every day brought another taunt, another challenge. Rumors. Lies. Stabs in the back. Every day, someone from the McCain camp was spoiling for a fight, showing up Behind The Brick Wall, ready to kick some ass.

But there was one big problem. No one showed up to fight. Obama wasn't a chicken. He wasn't worried about getting in trouble.

He didn't fight because he is a grown up.

Over the last few days, as I've thought about the election, as I've watched the Obamas do their best to live authentic lives, what has struck me is how remarkably consistent he man is. How grounded. How controlled. How reliable. How disciplined. Just as he was throughout the two-year process. During the primary, he didn't change his wardrobe or his accent to fit the venue as Senator Clinton often did. During the main campaign, he maintained a calm, strong demeanor in the face of outrageous accusations and falsehoods. In doing so, he presented an admirable counterpoint to a ticket that drew each day's talking points from a grab bag, hoping feverishly that one would hit home.

Yes, we are going to have a grownup in the White House.

And I am optimistic that our nation may also be coming of age.

On election night, my friends and I watched the massive crowd in Grant Park - exuberant yet peaceful, so peaceful. Tens of thousands of fully enfranchised Americans, individuals of every shape, size, and color, waiting in hope and joy and grace. I recalled the hate-filled shouting that peaked at McCain rallies in the final weeks before the election, and I thought again of children and adults. I believe the inherent good in us all will eventually make the first example the overriding norm.

My hope is that wise, adult leadership will calm the remaining angry, fearful bullies in our country. That we will hear fewer calls to meet Behind The Brick Wall and more to Hang Out in The Park Together.

Guidebooks for parents and teachers are a dime a dozen, but share core principles:

Be Consistent.
Don't Raise Your Voice.
Support and Challenge Those in Your Care.
Be The Adult, Not a "Friend."

When parents and other grownups follow such advice, we do not call them weak. We call them wise.

When a president follows them, we call him a true leader, a statesman.

When a nation follows them, we can call her mature and truly triumphant.

America, here's to your majority.


Christy Raedeke said...

So true, Kelly. I watched Obama on 60 Minutes last night (had to click off quickly before hearing Andy Rooney's whiny and woefully out-of-touch voice) and was thinking about your assessment of him as a Real Grown Up. Watching him is almost as good as a psychotropic mood stabilizer; I feel my blood pressure dropping and serotonin flooding my brain. It's so nice to have a mature and steady individual at the helm for the first time in a long while.

bluelikethesky said...

Due to the vicissitudes of Direct TV’s local access policies, we can’t watch CBS without paying through the nose for local cable as well (and while ads for local vacuum cleaner repair shops with costumed Chihuahuas were charming for a bit, we decided to spend our programming dollar elsewhere). I was desolate about missing the interview in real time, and I hope it did some good.

So what kind of book do you want if no one else comments?

Sarah said...

I agree with your post completely. When I watch Obama I feel calm and secure, as if he is a man I can trust absolutely.Having watched Bush with an ever growing sense of incredulity and horror I am relieved at the prospect of a grown up in the White House.Let's hope he fulfills our hopes. S

bluelikethesky said...

Welcome back, Sarah! I wish I were winging your way this week; my UK cousins are having a big party in north Wales (i know that's not exactly close, but realize that I'm a Texan, so distance is relative).

I'd love to hear more about UK perspective on the US.

And, so far, you're in the running for a book (although yours may take a while to arrive).

Christy Raedeke said...

This particular post is a Myers-Briggs ESTP, but overall your blog is an ESFP.

You'll have to come to my blog to see what I'm talking about! How's that for blog bait?