Kids at the Inauguration: A Profound Memory for Life, or Child Abuse?
December 20, 2008 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Should I bring my 7-year-old son to see the Inauguration? Or, how much cold and crowding would you endure to be present at a major historical event (and so your son could tell his children, "I was there.")?

I'm really struggling with this one, and yes, I've read the other Inauguration discussions on Ask Mefi. I admit that January in DC is likely to be cold, and maybe snowy, sleety, and rainy. The crowds will be huge. I have a hotel reservation in Baltimore, and I imagine train travel to and from the Mall will be tortuous. So the experience is likely to consist of being packed in crowds for many hours, cold and probably hungry and needing to pee. Hard enough for an adult; I imagine it would be harder for a kid.

And yet... This is an important event in my life, and I want to share it. It's an important time in our nation's history, and I want my son to understand that, too. He followed the campaign and election pretty closely, and this is the payoff. I can't tell if I'm just being sentimental to think that in 10 years or so most of the memory of discomfort will have ebbed for him, and he will be excited to say he was there.
posted by underthehat to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
7 years old is old enough to remember it. I have vague memories of a trip to New York I made with my mom when I was 6- I had the flu and it was December and yet, all my memories are good. If you have the tickets and the hotel reservation and everything, I say go for it.
posted by MadamM at 7:47 PM on December 20, 2008

A lot depends on the kid. How patient is he? How well does he tolerate crowds or discomfort? How much interest in Obama does he have?

He's got to have at least some interest in being there, or at least be willing to humour his dad -- if he's saying "I don't want to do this" right from the start then you probably won't last long.
posted by winston at 7:50 PM on December 20, 2008

Your instinct is correct. It might not be peaches on the day itself, but the memory (and, importantly, the photos) will last much longer.
posted by thejoshu at 7:51 PM on December 20, 2008

From Baltimore, I would recommend trying to take the MARC. It will empty you at Union Station, right on the mall.

But buy the tickets NOW! They just went on sale today - normally they sell up to the day off, but they're taking pre-orders now because the trains will most likely be completely booked within the next few weeks.
posted by waylaid at 7:51 PM on December 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks waylaid-- I didn't know MARC would sell this far in advance!
posted by underthehat at 7:54 PM on December 20, 2008

They don't ever, but this required a ton of forward planning.

MARC/MTA actually doesn't operate their commuter trains - they contract out to Amtrak - so they had to plan way ahead, because MARC normally doesn't run on federal holidays as a result of their contract..
posted by waylaid at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2008

I think you should take him. What a special thing to share now and later on in life. And imagine having to answer questions someday about why you had the opportunity but didn't take him.
posted by inconsequentialist at 8:02 PM on December 20, 2008

Cold and crowded can't really be changed, but there's no need for him to be hungry. Pack some non-crunchy food in non-noisy containers to take with you.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:08 PM on December 20, 2008

I think you should do it, but be willing to cancel if the weather is really bad. A day at 40 degrees will be different than a day at 4 degrees.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:16 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Be sure to check out the porta-potty post on the front page of the blue.
posted by Sailormom at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2008

Yes I think that you should bring him with you but plan on you both dressing in layers to keep as warm as possible. Dress for the cold like they do at the North Pole. Good warm hat, gloves long johns....the works. Have a nice big breakfast. Can you bring a hot drink along?
Keep him warm and he will remember this historic day and tell his kids and grand kids about it.
Have Fun!
posted by blast at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your seven year old will make it through, happy or not. It sounds like an opportunity that you don't want to miss. Go for it. And pack a load of hot drinks and snacks.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:37 PM on December 20, 2008

quite a few years ago, i had a lovely conversation of an elderly woman who told me a story about how her relatives decided to go to the world's fair in Chicago. At the last moment, someone suggested that they bring her along. She was 4 at the time.

The fact that 85 years later she was telling me about it should say enough.
posted by lester at 8:40 PM on December 20, 2008

I don't know how far in advance you're coming to Baltimore, but there is a pre-inauguration event scheduled to take place here on January 17th. It's part of the traditional whistle-stop inaugural train tradition.

Somewhat more information here though details are scarce due to security considerations I presume. Also, more information on Baltimore / inauguration activities here.

The Baltimore event might be a good litmus test to see if your son can handle the cold / crowds etc. before the "big day." Also, it's another chance to see the President-elect up close-ish.

Nthing reserving MARC tickets ASAP; I commute on that train on non-special days and it is a total nightmare, so that may well be the hardest thing of the whole day. Apparently assigned trains will start to leave in the neighborhood of 5am. Eech.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:43 PM on December 20, 2008

Regarding beverages, it has been announced that no thermoses will be permitted within swearing-in areas or along the parade route. Also, no backpacks or chairs.

Buy some newspapers and stand on them, in their plastic bag. This will help a lot with the cold, and there'll be something to read while waiting.

I am starting to think that those of us not subletting or renting out could do a brisk trade in coffee/bathroom/laundry/shower services! Like marinas.
posted by jgirl at 9:05 PM on December 20, 2008

My daughter will be seven in two weeks, and I'm hoping to take her.
posted by Ruki at 9:46 PM on December 20, 2008

I think you should research a route and know exactly which streets you're going to go traverse (use some Google Maps to find out what stores will be in the area for warm food, shelter and toilets).

I went to the last two inaugurations and it was dang cold with many long stretches of walking (from Union Station to the parade route) in areas without heated public spaces, not to mention hours spent standing toe-to-toe with crowds of crazy people from the hinterlands. And this inauguration will be more chaotic (larger numbers of people anticipated). I don't have kids so I may be totally off here but I think it would be hard for any 7 year-old who isn't particularly rugged and resilient.

Also, the more I hear about the numbers anticipated, I worry a lot of people are going to end up stuck sitting around all day somewhere weird, missing everything because of all kinds of services failures.

That said, DC is pretty organized when it counts and, if the kid lives through the boredom and bad weather, it'll at least become an awesome memory 20 years from now.
posted by metajc at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2008

It is ALL about your kid and his temperament regarding how stressful or pleasant the day will be for you and your son.

But I think it's safe to say that in a few years, and especially when he's older, he'll have a rosy view of the cold and damp endured on the day. It's gonna be a good story regardless of how he feels about it at 7.
posted by desuetude at 12:27 AM on December 21, 2008

You could try asking the 7-year-old what he thinks. If he is enthusiastic about the trip in advance, despite the idea of being tired and cold, and feels he is going of his own choice, maybe he will be happier with the boring parts than if he feels you are dragging him there.

Maybe he would like to go shopping beforehand for an extra specially warm scarf for the occasion, or something like that.
posted by emilyw at 2:23 AM on December 21, 2008

I second emilyw. What does your son think?

I've got a 12 yo and a 10 1/2 yo. My older daughter's temperament is well-suited to the Inauguration weather/crowds. I'm not so sure about my younger daughter whose comfort level is narrower. We live in the DC area so I'm waiting till it gets closer.

I do agree, though. This is an historic event.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:13 AM on December 21, 2008

Response by poster: I've been ambivalent enough that I haven't asked him yet, but I agree his reaction to the idea is important. We also don't have tickets yet, though given the long list of what's not allowed n the ticketed area I almost wonder if we'd be better off outside the ticketed area anyway. So far I haven't seen much about the rest of the Mall, such as what will be allowed in and whether screens will be set up down the length of it.
posted by underthehat at 5:39 AM on December 21, 2008

The average January low in DC is 27F, which is cold, but not awful. For what it's worth, I was at the last inauguration and the weather was unremarkable. Dress warmly and you and your son should be fine. I think you should absolutely take him.
posted by puffin at 6:25 AM on December 21, 2008

My father lives/works in the area and has been forwarding me all the media stories about the logistical snafus that could potentially snarl things on the day. You should plan for every possible eventuality. It could be fantastic; you could end up paying a total stranger $10 to let your child in to use their bathroom.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:38 AM on December 21, 2008

I would absolutely take my eight-year-old and her 11-year-old brother if I could. My husband and I talked about trying to go and we contacted our local Congresswoman. We figured that since she's a Republican, we'd have a better chance getting tickets. We still haven't heard back, so I'm not holding out hope. Anyway, we took them to see Obama when he was in our area, and it was a day-long affair. They did great. They were both very enthusiastic Obama supporters and seeing thousands of people come out to see him was quite the experience for them.

Go for it, and good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 7:01 AM on December 21, 2008

I vote NO.

INAUGUATION WATCH from The Washington Post. See the links on the side bar at the left for lots of articles and information.

We won't let our 17 year old go downtown on Inauguartion Day. My office building is closing, locking the front doors. I'm working from home. I wouldn't be caught dead in DC on January 20th... and I so wish that weren't the case! I've waited a lifetime to see this historical event. I'll be watching it on TV.

It is going to be absolutely manic. The Metro (subway) will open at 4:30 am, run a rush-hour schedule all day and into the night, but STILL expects to have cars jammed full. Normally, subway cars hold about 140. Metro estimates that they could get between 160 - 200 people in each car. Imagine being in that crush as a small child. Someone is going to get hurt. The escalators will shut down to avoid accidents, because in the past the rush of people trying to get into the subway stations has caused people to fall. There are plans to regulate the numbers of folks allowed into stations at a time so no one will fall off an over-crowded platform. It is estimated that it could take 8 hours to get everyone off the Mall and away from the city. 8 hours.

Traffic is expected to be bad as far away as the 270 corridor. For those that don't know, that's a bit north of DC, and normally not part of DC traffic. Some major bridges are going to be closed to non-authorized traffic. Some major arteries are expected to be for buses only. From I Street south to Independance Ave, and between 12th and 18th Streets, all parking garages have to be empty by 3 pm on January 19th, and stay empty and closed until January 21st. This area is likely to be expanded. Homeland Security is planning to set up checkpoints, with various security levels. It will be impossible to drive and park.

No backpacks. No large purses. No chairs, not even the tripod chairs golfers sometimes use. Few restaurants open to eat at. Not enough pottys. Could be cold. Pick-pockets! DC is famous for pick-pocketers during crowds. Millions of strangers, all pressing to get closer. I see dead people. Honestly. If no one dies during this event, I'll be totally surprised. Grateful, but surprised.

Hate to be a downer, but maybe you should see if there is some way to make this a memorable day without subjecting him to the crush of millions of people. Find someplace to watch it with people that understand the significance, and can tell your son stories that will teach him what an incredible, wonderful event this is for all of us. See if any local libraries are having any teaching events.
posted by Corky at 7:27 AM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm with Corky, although I hadn't thought about anyone dying. I stopped in here to tell you that I live here and there is zero chance I will be near the District from the 17th-21st. I don't care much for cold, I cannot stand the crowds for normal/average events in the district, and I am not sure how much most people would even be able to see. That said, if I had a seven year old who wanted to go more than anything in the world I would probably give in and take him. But if you guys dress warm and you both have the temperament to not be bothered by the logistics, then plan it out as carefully as you can and have a ball.
posted by KAS at 9:32 AM on December 21, 2008

I'm also with Corky. Any fatalities would, IMO, be Metro-related. If the platform tiles get wet, they are very slippery and treacherous.

"The average January low in DC is 27F, which is cold, but not awful."

DC cold is bitterly damp cold. I grew up well North of DC, with single-digit temps being routine. I feel much colder here, by far.

A teaching event would be great, if you can find one. It is a shame that apparently no one in DC has thought of that.
posted by jgirl at 10:29 AM on December 21, 2008

Sure its a major historical event. But I'm guessing your child is more likely to remember it if you spend a day watching it on TV rather than a day being pushed in crowds.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:31 AM on December 21, 2008

I would ask the kid. Emphasize that it'll be cold, he'll have to be tough and strong-willed like [insert name of kid's favourite fictional hero here]. But be clear about how many people, all over the world, wish they could go (me, for instance!) and how lucky he is to have the chance. Then leave it to him to decide. Knowing right off the bat that he'll have to endure some physical discomfort, and having a fictional role model to look up to, will help. If he decides to go, watch movies or read stories about that hero in the week or so leading up to the trip, to give him lots of mental ammunition.

If you go, here are some things that would be nice to have:

Give him his own disposable camera (or a kids' digital camera for Xmas) and put him in charge of documenting the event for a time capsule or scrapbook or photo album.

Give him a little spending money- say $30 or so- and let him collect small souvenirs along the way for a scrapbook later. Buttons? Playing cards? A poster or T-shirt? Keeping an eye out for the items he wants to buy will keep him busy & distract him if he's bored.

Make an OBAMA BINGO game, with a bingo card for each person who accompanies you. Think about things you might see there and make a sturdy bingo card featuring cut-n-paste images or descriptions of the things. Bring a marker and X off the things as you see them. Maybe even take photos with your digital camera to show relatives when he gets home.

Sample Bingo squares:
A lady with a US flag pin on her jacket, a baby, someone in an Obama Tshirt, someone famous, someone who looks like a person you know, a dog wearing a jacket, a yellow car, someone crying, a building with a blue sign, a tree with lights on it, Michelle Obama, a wheelchair, a really tall lady, someone blowing their nose, etc etc etc.

Bring many packs of Hot-Hands type hand warmers. In addition to keeping his mittens warm, you can put them in his boots, or against his ears under his hat. They supposedly stay warm for 10 hours, but I'd be ready to put the cooler ones into his hat & scarf, and swap hotter ones into his mittens & boots as the day progresses.

Turn him into a kid blogger! Offer to help him make the story of his trip into something online: open a blogger or wordpress page for him, ahead of time, and let him dictate entries about how excited he is to go and stuff. You can censor details of his surname & etc. But help him write short, colourful entries about his excitement, his plans, gathering info, etc, and then when you get home, post a story about the day to his blog & send the link around. It would be awesome to read about the inauguration and see photos documenting the event from the perspective of a seven-year old! Heck, if you do it, post it here!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2008

Best answer: Honestly, I'm with the ones that wouldn't do it. I'm sorry to be a downer, but I'm in DC and all I've heard about for the past month is how crowded and chaotic it's going to be. Especially if you don't have tickets, you're not going to be able to see a single thing. Seriously. There's no way you'll get close enough to get even a glimpse of the President-Elect, and it's going to be truly jam-packed. Nightmarish waits for the metro, loooong waits for the porta-potties, miserable weather... I understand wanting to be there for a historic event, but everyone else wants to be there too. Watching it on TV, maybe in a spot where you can watch it with a big group of others, will probably be more enjoyable and stirring.
posted by saturngirl at 12:40 PM on December 21, 2008

You're going to need to be very clear with your son that you will not be able to get close enough to even see the backs of the people who are close enough to see anything-- odds are low that you'll even get close enough to a Jumbotron to make out what's happening. Unless "the energy of the crowd" is going to be enough for him, this plus 12 hours of cold plus crowded/possibly scary plus hungry could equal = a day that ends in tears of frustration and discomfort....and is it still "witnessing history" if you don't catch a word of or a glimpse of the swearing in?

Can you find a viewing party at your own or a nearby big city where you could get the thrill of being together with a large group of excited Americans all watching together? Your local Democratic party, a university or civic group, etc. might have something to offer.
posted by availablelight at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2008

I'm with Corky and the other locals... I'm not going anywhere near the District that week. I went to Clinton's inauguration when I was in college and all I remember is standing for hours in freezing, bone-chilling cold - we couldn't see anything past the immediate people around us - plus I got my arm slammed in a Metro door because of a pushing crowd. Metro can be ridiculously crowded, uncomfortable, and unreliable on any given weekday, much less during something like this.

I would love for my four-month-old twins to be there so they could say one day that they went, but it's just not logistically possible. We will be watching from the warmth of our NoVA home.
posted by candyland at 1:39 PM on December 21, 2008

Unless he's insistent on not going, I say take him. Even stories where we had a miserable time when we were kids, dragged someplace because our parents thought we'd have a great time, are excellent and funny stories we tell over and over now, mostly because our parents hearts were in the right place. Add to that the obvious historical importance and even if it's a tough day, you'll laugh later, and he'll be happy he can say he was there. Just try and keep a sense of humor and I think it's worth taking the plunge.
posted by jules1651 at 6:40 PM on December 21, 2008

Mayor Fenty estimates that each person will have 3 square feet of space to "be" in.

That's the estimate using the MAXIMUM CAPACITY of the Mall area and the parade route.

Using that calculation, DC is coming up with 3 million. Each with only 3 square feet of space to "be" in.

3 million if just the Mall and parade route are at maximum. 5 million if the areas adjacent are filled. DC fully expects the crowds to spill off the Mall. That means a lot less than 3 square feet. A lot less.

God forbid someone tries to take more space, or has to move through the crowd, or loses the hand of a small child when the crowd pushes to get closer.

Each year, pilgrims to Mecca are trampled. No one plans on mass hysteria, but all it would take is one jerk yelling "There's a bomb!" and there would be panic. People would run, and without a doubt, someone will get trampled. (If it can happen at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, it can most certainly happen on January 20th.)

I just wouldn't risk the safety of my child under these circumstances. Because we're not talking about the stories being excellent and funny... we're talking actual danger and safety.
posted by Corky at 7:51 PM on December 21, 2008

I'd take him. I was 7 when my parents took me to Toronto on a "vacation" (I found out much later that it was to see a specialist in my particular birth defect). I remember nothing of the doctor, but I remember the city, the hotel, the museum, and the drive. And it was nothing historic like the inauguration. YES, it will be moderately uncomfortable, but kids, despite their whining, can put up with discomfort better than adults. There will be massive amounts of security and crowd control. The largest realistic danger will be pickpocketing. The above comparison to Mecca and Walmart is invalid because they do not have the security that DC does. Remember that the job of the news media is try to scare the hell out of everyone to sell more papers/get more viewers. They will make it out to be MUCH worse than it will actually be.

As far as the no-backpacks rule, the answer to that is coats with a lot of pockets (and cargo pants!). Trail mix and fruit bars should take you through a lot of the day. I asked a question about easy-travelling foods and got excellent answers.

odds are low that you'll even get close enough to a Jumbotron to make out what's happening.

This is true. I was in Grant Park for Obama's election speech, and saw barely any of it on the Jumbotron because I'm short. Can you or your spouse comfortably lift him on your shoulders? If not, you need to be prepared for him to get bored.
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on December 22, 2008

I had thought about going but, I don't have tickets, and since I have to use a wheelchair to get around there is no way it would be safe for me to go to the unticketed areas. Mainly because I am low to the ground, and people tend not to look down.

That would be my worry with a small child, people just don't pay attention. And if a large woman in a wheelchair can be missed, a 7-year-old child worries me. I wouldn't bring a child into the mess that DC will be that day.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2008

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