Last night, I insisted our two tween and teen boys sit down with their parents and watch the final speech of President Obama. They are at a media savvy age and followed the 2016 election closely. We had countless discussions over many issues that came up over the last year.
For most of their young lives, Obama has been their president. While one was intrigued with the notion of staying up a bit late on a school night, the other was indifferent. "I don't see why this is so important." Smug. I don't care for cynicism, especially in such a young person. But I've learned that middle schoolers need to be heard. And they also need to learn to listen.
So, while I bristled at our older one's disrespectful remark, I opted for a direct and calm approach. "This is an historical moment," I stated. "An African American man has held the highest office in our country for eight years. He is leaving soon. We should all hear what he has to say."
To be fair, the smug one, is an open minded, deep and analytical thinker. We live in an ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse town. In school, our children sit side by side with fellow students of varied backgrounds. Each of their circle of friends is reflective of this diversity. While his comment was dismissive, I knew his words were about frustration with wanting to text with his friends, and not colored with any racial overtones. Not in our house.
I put my hand out for his cell phone. He relinquished the device and sat in another room--out of sight, but not out of ear shot. He could have gone up to his room. My husband turned up the volume on the television.
We all watched and/or listened attentively. After about an hour and as Obama stepped away from the podium, our always earnest and straightforward younger one commented, "Well, I'm not sure I understood everything he was talking about, but that was a good speech." I know there will be more to come from him, he digests these big moments slowly. Our older one was silent, but he had come back into the living room before the end of Obama's speech.
I make it a practice to ask my kids to tell me what they think about an event before I offer my comments. Adults need to listen too. I've told my kids I don't ever expect them to agree with my political opinions or my husband's--and we differ sometimes on political matters. But one was clearly tired and the other was sulking in an arm chair. There was much to chat about, but I steered away from a late night discussion on To Kill A Mockingbird. I took a breath and chose a couple of points I hoped would resonate with their current states of being. I offered the following for their consumption or rejection...
"What I saw was a man who spoke with dignity, intelligence, humility, and respect. While he disagrees with most of what the President-elect stands for, Obama spoke of the peaceful transfer of power. Did you see how he hushed the audience when they started to 'boo' the notion that Trump was taking over the presidency next week? Obama has been insulted and disrespected time after time by Trump. But he took the moral high ground and urged others to take action in their own way to fight for the changes they want. He asked that each of us find a way to participate in our democracy."
"And while you may not feel like you have everything you want on a day to day basis. The fact that you are growing up in this country where you are free to disagree with your leaders (and parents), live in a place that is not torn apart by war, go to school, have food to eat, and friends to hang out with---you are lucky." They've heard that before, but I remind them whenever I feel the moment is ripe.
"Oh yeah. And Obama is a tremendous example of what it means to be a husband, father and friend. I hope you noticed how he spoke to his wife, and daughters and Vice-President."
I left it at that. Our kids know I am deeply concerned about the next fours years. And I know too that our older one was paying attention on this night. He is too curious. I'm sure we will continue to have many thoughtful conversations on school, local and global politics.
As it directly relates to tweens and teens--I don't like one bit that we have a President-elect who reacts without thinking, OVER reacts, insults, disrespects, and lacks all accountability for his actions. I've told my boys, "Never put anything in a text, tweet, or on social media that you would not say if Nana or Gaga were sitting right next to you and reading your words. And always re-read and count to 10 before you push send. Because you are always accountable for your words." Hopefully, our boys will listen to their mom on this one.
Words matter. So, thank you President Obama for speaking with such strength and hope and eloquence. Our kids heard you. Even the grumpy one.
Well, our President elect's first press conference is coming up. Our kids are in school, so I'm going to tape it for them. They should listen to Trump's words too.
As for me, I still have hope and will continue to do my best to make a difference in my own tiny corner of this troubled world. However, I won't be anticipating any more quotes from Atticus Finch any time soon.