In some ways, inauguration day was notable for its ordinariness. I had my breakfast smoothie, predictably bleary-eyed after another night with too little sleep. [It had a frozen banana, three soaked dates, a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, a dash of cinnamon, and orange juice: my signature breakfast.] My son, a kindergartner, was tormenting the cat with his overly demonstrative affection toward her and my husband was doing the dishes he’d intended to do the night before. As I said, just another ordinary day.
But wasn’t the day a little brighter, a little warmer on inauguration day? Or was that just my imagination? Despite my late night, didn’t I have a little more of a spring in my step, a lightness in my being? Did I really hear birds singing in Chicago in January?
We have been waiting for this moment for eight long years: for George Bush and Dick Cheney to be escorted to Air Force One as they took their leave of office and that airplane lifted them away, off to Texas or Wyoming or wherever the hell they came from, so long as it was no longer in the White House. The world heaved a collective sigh of relief. We had become like actors in a bad horror movie, where the monster keeps returning to wreak more havoc, then, suddenly, we peeked between our trembling fingers and they were gone and we couldn’t believe it. It was for real, this time: the monsters had left the building.
That morning, my son and I watched the inauguration as it unfolded, seeing block after block filled up with jubilant supporters. My son brushed his teeth as commentators remarked on how well Jimmy and Rosalind Carter looked, discussed how he has redefined the role of former president. We watched as the motorcade make its slow, symbolic journey and the hordes of spectators were cheering. I flashed back to a different inauguration, nine years prior, when my husband and I stood out on the streets with thousands: holding signs, screaming, furious. It was one of the coldest, most miserable days in my memory, and it helps to be reminded that I am from Chicago, my skin toughened by our brutal winters. Inauguration day in 2000 couldn’t have been more appropriate: it was raining, very cold and with dark, foreboding clouds overhead, the picture of gloom. It was a perfect day for such an occasion, actually. On this most recent inaugural day, though, it was sunny. I whooped and hollered with joy this time, tears streaming down my face as I tried to explain to my son that grown ups sometimes cry when we’re really, really happy. I could not explain how our tear ducts can release both tears of sadness and tears of joy but it is somehow in our wiring. He shrugged and giggled, buoyed as always by his mother’s silliness.
My husband stopped home for lunch and to watch Barack Obama’s speech, and we ate leftover rosemary potato pizza around the television, not something that we would normally do. I rushed after the speech to get my son ready for his afternoon kindergarten class, squished his shoes in his backpack, filled his water bottle, then rushed him out the door. For not the first or the last time, I’m sure, I was a little overly enthusiastic for the other moms, who tend to regard me with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Is it my red kitty cat hat with ears? The fact that I don’t drive an SUV? Is it just something that emanates from me, much the same way it did when I was in junior high and so desperately wanted to fit in the with popular kids? The difference now is that I don’t care about that, though I do wonder if they possess some sort of ability to sense instantly that I am not one of them.
After dropping off my son, I went to the spa and was lucky enough to meet three of my mama friends there. This phenomenal spa in Chicago was offering a free day to enjoy the hot tub, eucalyptus steam room, sauna and relaxation center. We were breathless and radiant with a sort of feverish relief: Bush was out of office. We dissected President Obama’s – I’m still in shock that I get to put those two words together - speech and reveled in one another’s company, continuing our conversation from the hot tub to the steam room to the relaxation area. We were politely shushed by staff twice, one we could just barely make out through the haze of the steam room vapors, and I found myself wishing that we could telepathically communicate because we just had so much to say and so much unbridled enthusiasm. There was another woman in the hot tub, there to celebrate the inauguration and her birthday, who remarked, “You are not like the other moms in my neighborhood,” and I had to laugh. No, we’re not like the other moms. Two of us are colorfully tattooed, one has blue hair, but more than that, it is how we unapologetically dig into life. We speak honestly about our highs and lows, our rage at the injustices of the world, our reveling in the beauty of it: I think this is our common denominator. We are very powerful women together, if I must say so myself.
On the ride home, I saw men out on the sidewalk on North Avenue in the Austin neighborhood embracing. The first time I didn’t think much about it, but then I passed another two men hugging and I thought to myself, “Well, that is strange. You don’t see men hugging in Austin. Handshaking, yes, fist-bumping, yes, but never hugging.” It was then that I remembered the inauguration. It was an exceptional day. I told my son earlier that it was one of the most important days of my lifetime. And when I went to pick him up from school that afternoon, it seemed like the other moms might have been a little warmer to me than usual. Or was that just my imagination?
Maybe. Maybe not.