The sun was just beginning to peek its way through the trees as I bundled up my still sleepy three-year old son. I comforted him with sweet whispers and wrapped in him layers to protect him from the weather that has ever so subtly and recently brought us into fall.
“We are going to see the President!” I whispered in an excited fervor, as I urged him to put on his shoes.
Not understanding the significance or rarity of such an opportunity my son whined and struggled, longing for a morning of Disney Junior and sleepy cuddles instead.
When we reached the car, I clicked him in his seat and soothed him and made promises of lunch at his favorite restaurant after the rally was over.
We drove the very short 2 mile drive to a neighborhood just little bit closer to the event than ours, and then my son and I began the walk to the event; a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear the President speak in our hometown.
If we had been able to walk straight through, the walk would have only been 1.2 miles. Due to the heightened security surrounding this presidential event, our walk from the southside of Richmond to the Carillon park where the even took place was 3 miles long; an unexpected undertaking as I embarked on this trip alone with a toddler and no stroller.
Police officers were on tight patrol and the longer walking route was done to endure that no one could enter the event without first going through security. Our walk through residential streets was splattered with vendors selling Obama paraphernalia and I was reminded once again of how we were in the midst of a historically significant election year.
After an hour and a half of walking and lots of toddler carrying, we finally reached the start of the line. There, hidden beneath the trees of a quiet park in Richmond, VA, stood a line of people, all waiting with excited anticipation to see the President of our country. People had been waiting in line since 4:30 in the morning. My son and I finally arrived at the end at 11:00 AM. Leaves fell and covered the crowd in a colorful fall blanket as we joined a crowd of 15,000 people with hopeful hearts.
The line moved fairly quickly and my son and I were able to find a seat in the grass of the park by noon.
No food or drink was admitted due to security purposes and admittedly, after our unexpectedly long walk and no food or drink all day, my son and I were both a bit tired and grumpy.
My son and I sat and rested as we watched people continue to pour into the park. Spirits were high and standing there I knew I was in the midst of a group of people who believed in our President and were excited to hear his message.
Music blared through the loud speakers and my son and I passed the time with dancing and cricket chasing and playing with grass.
Then it started. The large crowd hushed as we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem under the backdrop of a large flag hanging from the Carillon tower.
We were led in an opening prayer by a local Richmond pastor. We got to hear speeches by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-3rd, Former Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Timothy M. Kaine, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
And then we got to see President Barack Obama.
The crowd’s screams of excitement were so moving and invigorating that they washed all previous complaints of tiredness and hunger away.
Here we were, in a crowd of 15,000 people, standing in a park just a few miles from our house, listening to the President of the United States give a speech. I was humbled by the historic significance such a gathering and the once in a lifetime chance that I was able to be there.
At some point before the president arrived my son fell asleep. I listened to President Obama as I held a sleeping toddler. My back ached with the weight of a 33 pound child resting in my arms, but my spirit was lifted by words of hope. My son woke up before the President gave his closing remarks and even got wrapped up in the crowd’s emotions himself, as he offered a few claps and “yays!”
It was a campaign rally, to be sure. President Obama stressed the importance of voting and outlined his policies and even made a few remarks about his opposing candidate, Romney. But when someone in the crowd began to boo, Obama said, “No, don’t boo, Vote!”
Throughout the day, people made comments about my son being there. I heard it all from, “Wow, you are brave to bring him here!” to “He’s so lucky you brought him.” to “I think you are doing a great thing. It’s so important. ” to a whispered hush of “Why would she bring a kid here?”
Perhaps it was a bit brazen of me to embark on round trip 6 mile walk and 4 mile drive alone with a toddler, no stroller, and no food or drink. There were certainly times in the day when I thought that maybe it was just plain crazy. But I am so very glad that we went.
I know my son did not understand the historical significance of such a moment and political policies and elections are (thankfully) not yet a part of his world.
But they are oh so important.
And so one day, when my son gets older, I will tell him that when he was 3 years old he got to see the President of the United States speak at a park close to our home in Richmond, VA. I will tell him that he got to be a part of history that day and how lucky he was to get to hear a sitting president speak in person.
Regardless of your political opinion, I think there is still a sense of awe in getting to watch the President of our country speak. I felt inspired and honored to get to be part of such an experience. And if the President of the United States ever comes to speak at a park just 5 miles away from your house? I think it is definitely worth going.
*Here are links to articles in the Richmond Times Dispatch, detailing the President’s time line of the day and an overview of the event.*