As the 44th President took oath among the seas of people crowding the Mall, it was a moment in history no doubt. As a D.C.-based Mom and Mommy Blogger, it was impossible to not see the event through the lens of a parent. The parenting challenges that lay ahead for Michelle Obama, in particular, as she raises two young girls in the spotlight, are immense. And while President Obama’s inauguration speech had many messages, why not focus for the time being on the parallels to parenting.
His theme – that it won’t be easy, but we will get there – is one that easily could be one parents would teach there children as they face any uphill battle. And his quote, which again, could apply as easily on the playground as it does on the political landscape, is one I really loved, that we should “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and rebuild America.”
I attended the Every Child Matters Education Fund (ECMEF) Children’s Inaugural Ball at the Historical Society, and I thought this non-profit organization’s message and mission were a most appropriate post-Inaugural story to report on to parents nationwide. Everyone has an agenda, as you know, and the ECMEF’s is one that is near and dear to every parents’ heart in that they advocate for our kids – “focused on making the needs of children and youth a national political priority and…stopping child abuse, helping working families with child care, expanding pre-school education and after-school programs, and ensuring that children receive good health care.”
They also distributed “Homeland Insecurity: Why New Investments in Children and Youth Must be a Priority for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress.” Written by ECMEF’s President Michael Petit, it “shows why it is important for the nation to make new investments in children…(and) includes the framework for a proposed 10-year, $500 billion Invest-In-Kids Agenda.”
Some of the staggering statistics included in this report include the following:
• More than 8 million U.S. children don’t have health insurance
• 3.5 million children are reported abused and neglected
• Almost 13 million of America’s children live in poverty
Here are abbreviated/edited highlights some of the action items the report suggests that we can each do to help kids nationwide:
• Register to vote, and vote in all federal, state, and local elections.
• Ask elected officials where they stand on issues, and tell them they need to support children, youth and families to get your vote. Also, urge them to adopt Invest-In-Kids plans. Contact information is available at ECMEF’s website.
• Write a letter to a newspaper to discuss children’s issues.
Note – You can also sign up for e-mail updates from ECMEF to stay abreast of issues related to children and politics.
Another interesting document they handed out was “Presidents Helping Children.” Not only was the front of the Historical Society adorned with flags of past presidents and platforms they had that helped kids, but this booklet was a great walk down the pages of history from the eyes of out littlest ones. For example:
• President Theodore Roosevelt held the first White House Conference on Care of Dependent Women and Children (early 1900s) to bring together leading child welfare advocates to keep families together despite income. This came on the heels of a trend in which poor families were separated with kids sent to orphanages based on the families’ inability to provide for them.
• President Franklin Roosevelt ended child labor (1938).
• President Truman signed The National School Lunch Program Act (1946).
• President Johnson announced Project Head Start (1965) – the program has served 22 million kids since.
• President Nixon enacted the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program (1972) since many pregnant and lactating mothers and their children were malnourished.
• President Clinton created The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (1997) to “help states provide coverage to uninsured children whose parents’ incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid,” according to ECMEF. The program covers more than 6 million children today.
So, it is ECMEF’s hope that President Obama will add to this distinguished list!
The Children’s Ball was a kid’s playground, with interactive museum exhibits, magic, song, and of course, carnival-themed food. We had one “star sighting” which was particularly appropriate to a parenting columnist – we met Michael Phelps’ Mom, Debbie! I took the opportunity to talk to her about parenting a superstar, and she had some great advice for fellow moms.
When I asked her how young parents can nurture greatness, she advised, “Parents need to allow children to explore, to let the child do a broad brush of activities. He or she will let you know what he or she wants to do.”
And, on dealing with failure, she said, “Every child has a speed bump in life, or many speed bumps, but you need to use it as a learning experience.”
When asked if her own son, Michael, had speed bumps along the way, it was as if in that moment, she wasn’t Mom to an 8-Gold Olympic winner, but the Mom next door. The knowing glance said it all – this hero rose to greatness like anyone, speed bumps in all.
I found an article in US Weekly where she recalled that her son couldn’t focus in school, but that she saw his passion in swimming from early on. And she recalled that it wasn’t always easy outside of the classroom either. “The bullying and adversity made (Michael) stronger and work harder,” she said.
As we left this very lucky and thoughtful conversation with a Mom superstar, with hot pretzels and cotton candy filling the air, the next youth band was starting, and the chorus, sung by beautiful young voices, is a perfect ending to this column, and beginning of an era of hope. I’ll paraphrase, in the hopes that these sentiments will fill all of our kids with lots of hope and determination. “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I can soar. I can spread my wings and fly!”
Photo – Flickr