I can picture my mom and my grandmother — although I don’t remember which grandmother. They were in the kitchen of house where I grew up. Someone was emptying the dishwasher. They were wearing matching pendants on long gold-tone chains. The pendant was a circle, and inside was a small, dime-size photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. encased in glass, or maybe plastic. It turned on a tiny pin. On the back were the years of Martin Luther King’s life and maybe the words, “I have a dream.” I was four years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, so I’m not sure if this is a dream or a memory. Either way, I have never forgotten it. I knew then it was important. After all, it was on a necklace and the language of jewelry is universal.
In the 1950s and ’60s Dr. King’s dream became part of the fabric of our country, and part of that dream has continued to be realized with the election of Barack Obama. No matter what you think of Mr. Obama, I hope and I believe he was “judged on the quality of his character, not the color of his skin.” Like the pendant, I think things have twirled around a bit through the years, but have come full circle.
I am proud to be a white single Jewish mom with a mixed-race President. I like the fact that the little girls growing up in the White House aren’t white. I believe it sheds a positive light on our country and Lord knows, we can some good lighting.
I don’t have to wonder how Dr. King would feel about Barack Obama becoming President of the United States. I think that’s crystal clear. But I do wonder how he would feel about a nation with many undereducated children having the day off, in his honor.
I have always had a fundamental issue with days off school to celebrate birthdays of important people who valued education (I don’t understand having Columbus Day off either). Working parents, single and married, have workplace issues and child care concerns. Some children get their only meals at school. Some parents have to work every single day and school is their child care. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. There are parents with no back-up, no paid time off.
What do kids do on Martin Luther King Day? Mine will watch TV, maybe go bowling. Meals will be whatever is in the fridge, because even when there’s nothing to eat, there’s always something. I might even slip in a chore or two. Even so, my kids know they’re two of the lucky ones.
To pay homage to Dr. King, I think our kids should be in school learning about him, about tolerance and about dreams. A whole day dedicated to his memory without extra special sales on mattresses seems like it might be a better way to celebrate his life. But no one asked me.
The flip side for me is an additional night I don’t have to ask about homework, check on bed-times or make lunches that leads to a morning where the kids sleep in and I don’t have to drive anyone anywhere right at sunrise in below zero temperatures. That works for our family because as a writer, I work from home. And aside from being a mom, that’s what I wanted to be. A writer. It took me a long time and a crazy road to get here, but I’m here. My kids have dreams of their own – not fueled by me, yet fully fostered. My son wants to be work behind the scenes in radio and television. He wants to go six hours away to school. My daughter wants to be a pastry chef, a fashion designer and an astronomer. We always say she will be the best dressed chef staring at the moon. I don’t doubt that she will be.
In addition to holding my kids’ dreams close to my heart, my dream for this MLK Day is that the diverse bodies and minds infiltrating Washington remember that many of our dreams rest on their shoulders. And that my dogs let me sleep past six.