Anniversary of Election Night, 2008: Priceless Memories for this Mom

Wednesday night before heading to bed, Noah came downstairs wearing a t-shirt commemorating the night Obama was elected President.

“Mom, you gotta wear your shirt. It’s the anniversary,” he reminded me, of the night he and I will never forget.

Along with an estimated quarter-million other fans of history who poured into Chicago’s Grant Park on that unusually balmy November night, we got to hear Obama make his victory speech in person. I still can’t believe we were there to see it happen – to feel it happen, alongside so many.

Millions wanted those free tickets to Hutchinson Field, and I’d been put on the notorious waiting list along with them. But the eve of the election my ticket arrived in my e-mail in-box, valid for me and one guest. I couldn’t believe my luck!

My hubby, Todd, needed to be on his game at work the day after the election, so Noah jumped at the chance to tag along instead.

I was thrilled at the prospect of sharing such a significant moment with my son, but had my worries. As every mother of a ten-year-old boy knows, getting him to hold your hand in public is darned-near impossible, and what if someone got stupid and targeted the crowd? I called the windy city police and Obama’s campaign headquarters three times each to make sure no threats had been received and that security would be stellar, but who could know for sure? What kind of mother tempts fate, I wondered?

I also worried the election wouldn’t be settled right away. What if Noah became too worn-out to enjoy the experience? He never did, though. The crowd’s chanting for Obama was infectious, the weather was made-to-order, and we scored the best seats in the house.

“It was awesome,” Noah volunteered the next morning, oddly buoyant after a mere four hours of sleep. “I knew Obama would be President, but it was awesome to be there.”

Awesome it was. The train into town was filled with people obviously heading to Grant Park, and their energy was electric. We arrived as hordes of working people rushed out of the city, but plenty more streamed in. Michigan Avenue had a festive atmosphere and Obama t-shirts and buttons were hawked on every street corner. Afraid to pause too long for a sustaining meal, Noah and I settled for turkey sandwiches to-go so we could sprint from the train station to the park.

We got through security early enough to stand in Hutchinson field surprisingly near to the stage, but I knew that Noah wasn’t tall enough to see over the crowd, let alone last another six- plus hours on his feet. He suggested we head for the grassy knoll we passed on our way in, a brilliant idea. We were able to sit – sit! – the entire night (until the results came in, of course), very close to the potties and the exit, which appealed to this Mom on oh-so-many levels.

We’d brought along paperbacks and a book of word-searches, opting to leave Noah’s heavy history book – his homework – at home (it seemed a fair trade given the in-vivo history lesson he was to receive instead), but people-watching and simply soaking- it- all- in proved irresistible. He also got a fabulous lesson on the workings of the Electoral College and the relevance of the popular vote. From time to time folks in the remarkably amiable crowd shouted out news-outlets’ projections gleaned from their BlackBerrys and iPhones, and later we got to keep up with CNN on the jumbo screens as all around us conversations sprang up about the import of various swing-states’ votes.

Noah cheered when Ohio followed Pennsylvania into the Obama column, but I explained that for me, Virginia’s decision would be the most telling vote of all. Not just because of its number of electoral votes, but because of its history of slavery. It just seemed necessary that our first black President should win-over historically ‘red’ Virginia, and win it he did, earning the electoral votes he needed to clinch the election. Immediately, CNN proclaimed the news of Obama’s decisive victory and the crowd around us erupted, startling me out of my struggle to make my old camera perform.

I’ve never experienced anything like Obama’s election win before. Our political persuasion aside, there was something simply magical about witnessing the joy of so many and the knowledge that Noah had felt it, too. With me by his side, my son got to share in uninhibited high-fives with teary strangers and chant right along with the jubilant throng of revelers as they celebrated in Grant Park, spilled into the glittering streets of Chicago and danced all the way back to the train station.

Priceless memories, for this Mom.

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