A few weeks ago, my 5-year-old daughter, McKenzie, and I were walking through the mall and came across an art store. In the window was a photo of the soon-to-be First Family: President-elect Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
Without warning, McKenzie turned to me and said, “Mommy, I wish I was in OBAMA’S family.”
Initially, I was confused (and honestly, a little bit offended), though I kind of felt like I knew what she was probably getting at (after all, what child didn’t want to be a part of the Huxtable family?). I immediately asked her, “Why baby? What’s wrong with your OWN family?”
She replied, “His daughters get to live in the WHITE HOUSE.”
My response was, “Well, it would be nice to live in the White House, but then me, daddy and your brother would miss you.”
After pondering for a few seconds, in true McKenzie-form, she gave me a look of “Well, okay. You’re right,” and moved on to something else that, at that moment, caught her attention.
I never really gave the issue much more thought after that… until today.
This morning I came across an article on Parade Magazine’s web site, entitled “What I want for you – and every child in America.” In the piece – which really isn’t an article at all, but rather a letter – President-elect Barack Obama writes to his daughters, telling them why he decided to run for president and thanking them for their support and the sacrifices they’ve made along the way.
It opens like this…
Dear Malia and Sasha,
I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.
When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.
After reading the entire letter (and fighting back the tears), I immediately thought about my children, and what McKenzie said to me in the mall the other day.
I thought about the sacrifices and struggles she’s had to endure having a working-journalist as a mom. Her father and I had her just two-months shy of our college graduation. One-week later, we whisked her off to Cleveland, Ohio, where I was to start my first real job, as a TV news producer. And, as the TV business would have it, we’ve been moving ever since. Two years after that, it was a reporter/anchor job in Florida. Three years after that, it was a Hail Mary move to Washington, D.C. Each time, her life was completely uprooted. Each time, she’s had to become accustomed to new schools, new friends, a new home, etc. – for the past five years. She’s never had the liberty of growing up with her grandparents and cousins, except for two to three occasional trips to Chicago throughout the year. Not to mention, the hours of separation she had to endure during the early years of my career where long hours, third-shifts, and travel were career-givens. By 2007, Izaiah joined the circus and began taking on the same life as his sister.
I think about my children’s lives. I think about Obama and his children. And, I see similarities. I plunge forward in my career in hopes of one day obtaining a better life – not for me, but for my children – as well. As do millions of other parents who get up to go to work each day. My heart aches each morning when I drop my son off at the sitter’s because I know more than likely SHE will be the one to witness his first smile, his first step, his first words – not me.
As parents, we make hard decisions and take risks in hopes of achieving something greater for our family. What’s important, is that we realize that our children, too, are making those hard decisions and taking those hard risks right along with us.
And, while all of us can’t live in the White House… or be a part of Obama’s family, there is quite a bit parents can learn from his and Michelle’s two-year journey to the executive office.
I, too, decided to write my children a letter. It starts a little something like this…
Dear McKenzie and Izaiah,
I want you to know that my world turns only because of the two of you. I love you more than you could every know.
I may not be able to give you the White House, access to the best private elementary schools, and bragging rights on the playground. But, I promise you, I’ll never stop trying.
Thank you for being the best children a mother could ask for.