We went on a field trip yesterday. I went with my daughter and her third grade class. It was a treat for me because the older they get, the less we, the parents, get into the classroom and the less we can figure out about what goes on in there. I don’t even mean with their school work. But more their relationships, how the group works together, your own child and all the things you worry about late at night when you’re troubled and under slept…so it’s nice to get in and see for yourself sometimes. These children are the children she’ s been in school with since she started kindergarten.
There is a ton to say about the dynamics of race even now, in this third grade class. But I can’t figure out how to write it yet. But there’s simply the trip itself. We rode the subway, visited the great and beautiful Library of Congress, the Capitol. We visited the office of our own fierce representative– a black woman (I thought they should have done a lot more explaining about how we don’t actually have a voting representative, and what an outrage that is– right here in the heart of democracy…but we didn’t go there) and ate lunch in a House office building cafeteria. Our beautiful young people brought a little life to the place.
There was a lot of back and forth between buildings, some outside and some in those Capitol tunnels underground. Touring (and listening to the tour guides lectures) was actually a lot of fun and very interesting for me. But the in between times, the walking back and forth and lunch is where the action is in terms of seeing what really goes on with the young people.
Two of the boys– both high energy and perfectly delightful, kept asking me for a turn to use my camera which I was strangely relaxed about– so I let them and I got to build a little bit of a friendship with each of them. I love those moments when I get to know them a little more– on their own terms– when they actually show me what interests them; something they figured out they want to try.
My daughter and I got along really well too– we laughed (at the expense of my partner) about the fact that her other mom had packed her, what we dubbed “the lamest lunch ever”, and I shared some of my slightly better lunch with her. We collected beautiful bookmarks from the children’s reading center of the Library of Congress and she asked me to read to her a book that creates a mouse-inhabited Capital city and Library of Congress with names like James Fenimouse Cooper and the Mouse of Representatives. We bent our necks back at difficult right angles to our bodies to see the beautiful, ornate high ceilings of some of the buildings.
The mom of one of girls arranged the whole tour. She (the mom) has, what I learned is an even more significant job on the Hill than I had previously understood, even though I’ve known her for four years. She’s a terrific woman and I loved seeing her in her element clomping around in her high heels and seeing her with her daughter, who is clearly so proud of her.
At the end of the day, when we had a little time to kill before going on to the last part of the tour, mama- tour- planner brought us all into the empty Committee room of one of the more powerful and visible House Committees, and they ran around, sat behind microphones in the seats of some of the most powerful members of the House and played while I, the only one with a camera, wrestled with the camera’s dying battery to get some photos. I figure they will remember that chance to play and horse around and do make believe in that House Committee room better than most of what my daughter generally refers to as the “blah, blah, blah” –adults going on about topics that don’t especially interest her, in this case the short historical lectures they got on the tour– though she did absorb and talk about more of it than I expected afterward.
Watching them– this class of mostly girls it so happens, and mostly young people of color, I remembered back to one of the first days of this school year. It was September, just 8 months into the Obama administration, when I went to get my daughter after school. She was playing with the girl whose mom arranged the tour and with another girl; both African American girls. Somehow they got onto the subject of what they will be when they grow up. The daughter of our tour leader said she wanted to be the first African American woman president of the United States. The other girl said she too wanted to be the first African American woman president.
My daughter, who shies away from the lime light and has always said she wants to be an artist, remained quiet. Then another mom, a peace activist who was standing with me and listening, said to all three of them, “well, if you run for president, you have to have a platform– something you want to get done. What do you want to do if you are the president?”
The two presidential hopefuls were stumped by this at that moment. I guess for each of them, being the first African American woman president of the United States would actually be the platform and I certainly don’t disagree. But my daughter, who had been reading the young reader’s version of Fast Food Nation smiled and piped up– I know an idea of what I want! What? we asked?? No More McDonald’s!! my girl said proudly and vehemently.
Then I mentally fast forwarded wondering if some of them will take those seats for real. Wondering if I’ll get to see a House with many more people of color and women someday soon.