Think Twice Before Bringing Kids To Inaugural

The historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is next week and, given the expected crowds, some parents attending the festivities are concerned about what to do with their children. D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington tourism executive Victoria Isley and contributor Jolene Ivey weigh the options.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, we kick off a series of commentaries leading up to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Folks from a variety of perspectives are going to tell us what this historic day means to them. And speaking of inauguration, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

This week we decided to open up the mom's mail bag and we found out that a week from this historic presidential inauguration, many people had questions about how they can participate in all the excitement with their children. But that's not an easy question. Officials are predicting crowds that could reach into the millions. Security is going to be very tight. So they wanted to know, is it a good idea to bring small children. And if not, what else can you do to get the kids involved and interested in the festivities. Maybe, find a good book? So to talk about this, I'm joined by regular Tell Me More contributor Jolene Ivey. It's a special mom's mail bag. Welcome Jolene.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So are you ready? You have your dress, your shoes?

IVEY: Well, I have one of my dresses, but I'm hopeful to get to the second ball so I really want an excuse to buy another one.

MARTIN: OK. Well, hmm. I won't hate on you. But there's no new dress…

IVEY: (Laughing). The first dress is one that's been in my closet. It's just...

MARTIN: OK.

IVEY: The second dress is something to buy.

MARTIN: There's no new dresses in my budget. But as I mentioned, we've gotten a lot of questions about how parents can include their children in these activities. In fact we've got an email from Carolina Villar(ph) who says, I'm a mother who's planning to brave the masses and take my children who are aged two and a half and five and a half to the inauguration. Has anybody thought of giving tips or ideas in how to do this with the little ones? And she says, well, maybe you can answer this. We actually couldn't, so we've called Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton first to get her take on this. And she's been very involved in planning for the inauguration. She, of course, represents the District of Columbia. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

Representative ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Democrat, Washington, D.C.): Oh, I'm glad to join you. By happenstance I've just met with the top folks running this inauguration. They've done a wonderful job - the head of the secret police, the Capitol police, the D.C. police, sergeant at arms.

MARTIN: And what did they say?

Rep. NORTON: This office was very concerned about small children. And they agreed with what I'm telling my own constituents, that only children old enough to accept conditions that are very unusual, including cold weather, should be brought because they think that people will be standing five or six hours. There will be long period where you will not be close to restroom facilities. And I presume you're talking about being on the mall in the non-secure areas.

MARTIN: Yes, this listener did not indicate that she had tickets.

Rep. NORTON: Tickets. Yeah, so in the non-secure areas most of what is going to be available is going to be the (laughing) outdoor john. As somebody who raised two kids, I would tell you I would never bring children at that time you're talking about, two and five years old, to stand out in the cold for six or seven hours. I wouldn't do that.

MARTIN: OK, so your word of wisdom is probably not a good idea. Jolene, do you have a question for the congresswoman before we let her go?

IVEY: This just doesn't sound like a very family values kind of a policy to me. It seems that in the United States, we like to talk a lot about how important it is to include children, and the families are important, and then we have the most important election in our history as far I'm concerned, at least in modern history, and we're going to tell our children they can't come be a part of it. That kind of bothers me.

Rep. NORTON: Well, first of all we're not telling them they can't come. We're warning their parents so no one would say somebody should have told me. Secondly, this is after all Washington. So our Smithsonian Museums are all going to be open. Some people, and this might be advisable, might want to take their children to the mall, stay for a short time, and then not subject their children to hour after hour after hour of looking at what? JumboTron.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Oh, OK. OK.

Rep. NORTON: I'm...

MARTIN: You just trying to keep it real.

Rep. NORTON: I don't know. I don't know your kids. I know only mine. I know that they get antsy, they're not very patient. So the notion of saying to a kid the only fun to have in Washington once you get where you can see the JumboTron, looked at it for a little while, and that's all there is to the inauguration, would be just too bad.

MARTIN: Well, congresswoman, thank you. We appreciate your time. Do you have your dress?

Rep. NORTON: Yep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. NORTON: I'm ready.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. That's Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She represents the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rep. NORTON: Always a pleasure. Bring your kids, we got things for them to do.

Ms. IVEY: Oh, I'm bringing mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: You know, and Michel it really depends, to me, on your kid. As the congresswoman was saying, it depends on your own kids, it depends on yourself - what your level of tolerance is for chaos. How much they can endure? You know, my youngest is about to turn nine, so he's a little older than the kids you referred to, but his birthday is just a few days after the inauguration, and he said for his birthday he wants to go to the inauguration. How can I deny that kid that?

MARTIN: Same way you deny him everything else. A Wii, an iPod…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You say no, same way you tell him no to everything else you don't want him to do.

Ms. IVEY: This is true, but I'm not going to say no to this one. You know, 45 years ago, 45 and a half years ago when Martin Luther King gave a speech on the mall, my parents left me behind at the church instead of taking me with my Dad, and, you know, my Mom stayed with me at the church. And I'm still disappointed, even though I wouldn't be able to remember it today, I wish I could claim that. I wish I could say I was there. And I guess that's what I want for my kids.

MARTIN: Well, we're going to get another perspective on this from Victoria Isley. She's the senior vice president of marketing and communications for Destination DC, that's the official tourism group for the District. Victoria Isley, thank you for joining us.

Ms. VICTORIA ISLEY (Senior Vice President, Destination DC): Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So what's your take on this question of whether parents with young kids should even consider bringing them to the mall? And I want to mention also that there's a Congressional Inaugural Committee issued an advisory, and we'll post the link on our Web site so people can read it for themselves. But they're warning people that strollers, baby carriages, backpacks, and other large bags are prohibited in areas where there are tickets, so that's kind of difficult. What's your take on the question of whether - what parents, if parents want to bring their kids what they should do, or should they bring them at all?

Ms. ISLEY: I think the congresswoman has it exactly correct is that it really depends upon your tolerance and your kids. We are really encouraging people to come and bring their patience for the weekend. This is really an amazing time to celebrate this historic inauguration in D.C. And there's going to be lots of people here to do that. There are different rules for different areas of the mall. So again, depending upon where you are, if you're one of the lucky ones that has tickets for the swearing-in ceremony then certainly no strollers, baby carriages, or backpacks are allowed as you mentioned, however, on the national mall, west of Fourth Street, there are not those strict guidelines for strollers.

But you also need to realize there are going to be lots of people on the mall. So, again, common sense should be key. And when you're packing, less is more. You definitely want to be warm, but you're not going to be setting up camp for the weekend on the mall. You're going to be sharing space with lots of other people that want to celebrate. With that said, for families, there are a couple places that might be of interest for them. Again, the Smithsonian Museums all will be open, and the American History Museum and the Smithsonian Castle will open at 8:00 A.M. on inauguration day.

MARTIN: Jolene, I'm sorry. You had a question?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I was wondering what did you think about the things like the chemical packs you can put in your gloves and in your shoes. Do you think that that might help people get through the cold?

Ms. ISLEY: Absolutely, and that's actually something that we are going to be working on handing out throughout the city, are those hand warmers that are going to be promoting not just the inauguration, but all the great reasons to come back to the city. And we're also working with the media that are going to be out covering this historic occasion. We're giving them some hand warmers as well. So those will be out and about on the street. So those are definitely things that help people out. But again, they're going to be…

MARTIN: No Rum Toddies though.

(soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ISLEY: No, no. Absolutely, no Rum Toddies, though.

MARTIN: No Rum Toddies, no...

Ms. ISLEY: No alcoholic beverages on the National Mall, ever (laughing). So that's something to take note of. But there - again, places to keep warm. The American History Museum is going to have hands-on exhibits, particularly for kids under five. So there are places at the American History Museum and also an interactive area at the American-Indian Museum that are really focused on those kids under five.

MARTIN: So your message is you can be part of it without being in the thick of it?

Ms. ISLEY: Absolutely. But again, common sense, patience are going to be - definitely packing items for the families. And even on the Sackler and Freer galleries that are on the Mall are going to have artist workshops for children. So there are going to be activities to keep those little hands busy and those little bodies busy if there is too much activity on the Mall or if the weather gets to be too much for them.

MARTIN: Victoria, we're going to let you go. So do you have a pretty dress? You all set?

Ms. ISLEY: Oh, we are very excited to have so many events here, and for your listeners, it's very important - things are changing minute by minute. So washington.org/inauguration is updated daily with any new information.

MARTIN: All right. Thank you for that. Victoria Isley is senior vice-president of marketing and communication for Destination DC, that's the official tourism group for the district. She joined us from her office. Thank you so much, Victoria.

Ms. ISLEY: Thank you.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Tell Me More regular contributor Jolene Ivey and other special guests about getting ready for the inauguration, and how to include your kids if you want them to be involved in the excitement.

Ms. IVEY: You know Michel, my cousin was just telling me yesterday, she's got a daughter who's seven, and they live in D.C. I mean they could go, but she says she just doesn't think she's up to it with her daughter. And she's going to instead dress her all up in a very nice dress, and sit her in front of the television and talk to her about her what's going on, and have it be a special occasion for the two of them like that.

MARTIN: Yeah and is that so terrible?

Ms. IVEY: No, not at all.

MARTIN: What's so terrible?

Ms. IVEY: Whatever you want to do. I just don't like people trying to discourage me from doing something I want to do.

MARTIN: Well, are they discouraging you or are they just trying to tell you what it's really going to be like so that you can plan accordingly?

Ms. IVEY: People don't know that there's going to be a gazillion people on the Mall. People don't know that.

MARTIN: I don't know what people know. I'm just trying to keep people informed, that's why we're here.

Ms. IVEY: No, that's good.

MARTIN: Well, another idea is using the inauguration as a learning opportunity for parents to teach kids about the government, about how things work. And we got another email from a listener who said, gee, are there some great books that I can share with my kids if I really don't want to brave the crowds or perhaps, I want to get a special memento for a niece and nephew to think about this day or to sort of participate in this day. So, of course, we've called our book lady, Loriene Roy, the immediate past president of the American Library Association, who we call from time to time to give us some suggestions. Welcome back, Loriene. Thank you for joining us again.

Ms. LORIENE ROY (Former President, American Library Association): Oh, you're welcome. It's great to be back with you, Michel.

MARTIN: And so, are there a lot of books out there that talk about this historic occasion, that talk about inaugurations and all the ceremonies, or perhaps Barack Obama?

Ms. ROY: Well, I've called out the troops, some of our great librarians who are working in the field along with representatives of the American Library Association, who have given me some great advice on some books. And I went and took a good look at some. And I've selected three to start with for various reasons. One is a non-fiction book, one is a chapter book for fourth and fifth graders, and one is a picture book. So there's a lot available. This is just a sample of what people could find in their libraries.

MARTIN: And, of course, we will have all the titles that you recommend on our Web site. But give us two or three titles that you particularly like that struck you.

Ms. ROY: Great. I just took a look at Stephen Hess's book called "What Do We Do Now?: A Workbook for the President-elect." Now it sounds like a book for adults, and adults would find it useful as well as middle school readers on up. There are worksheets, lots of illustrations including cartoons, information on staffing, floor charts, what the cabinet is, who's in the press corps, a great chapter on the inauguration. And the author's first word of advice to the president is dress warmly, Mr. President.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And what about for kids?

Ms. ROY: Well, there's a great picture book on Barack Obama by poet Nikki Grimes. It's called "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope." It was published in 2008, in June last year. And it portrays the telling of Barack's life between a mother and a child. And I love the way the book ends. It has that poetic rhyme, it talks about Barack's family and includes a genealogy chart at the end pages that's very interesting, again, for adults, but it's a picture book. You can use this with the very youngest readers in your family.

MARTIN: Well, thanks, Loriene. It's nice to talk to you again.

Ms. ROY: Well, you're welcome. It's great to be included.

MARTIN: What are you going to do for inauguration day?

Ms. ROY: Well, I like that idea of dressing up and sitting in front of the TV. I think I might do that.

MARTIN: OK. Thank you so much.

Ms. ROY: OK. Bye-bye.

MARTIN: Loriene Roy is the immediate past president of the American Library Association. She's our frequent contributor to talk about books, and she joined us from her office at the University of Texas at Austin. Jolene Ivey joined us from our studios in Washington. I was also joined by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Victoria Isley of Destination DC. Thank you so much, Jolene, for joining us.

IVEY: Thank you, Michel.

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