- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

COLUMN:

I will never forget the Democratic National Convention of 1968. Not because I understood what was happening in the streets of Chicago regarding the police force, the Illinois National Guard and mobs of antiwar protesters, nor because I followed the political maneuvering that ultimately secured the nomination of Hubert Humphrey for president.

No, what I remember was the shriek my mother let out when she discovered that while the family was gathered around the TV in the family room, my 3-year-old sister had wandered off, found a pair of scissors and cut several huge bald spots into the back of her hair.

Mind you, I was only 7. My capacity to understand the political battle on TV was limited, so the drama around my sister’s new “do” was for me a bit more concrete.

If my younger sister lacked appropriate supervision, the times were to blame. This was August in Detroit. The riot of the previous summer was as fresh on the minds of my family as the scene that unfolded in Chicago.

I doubt my grasp of the convention was little more than impressions, but this I knew - whatever was going on had my parents glued to the television. It had to be important.

Fast forward to summer 2008. I can’t say we’re watching the conventions at our home with that same urgency, and thankfully, there isn’t the threat of violence in the streets to fuel the flames of civil unrest. This time, the National Guard is battling Mother Nature.

Still, we’ve been tuning in with our children, capitalizing on the teachable moments that suggest conversations about equality and opportunity, responsibility and freedom, and the role of government in our lives as we pursue those ideals.

Unfortunately, by the end of the Democratic convention, our children weren’t very impressed with the hoopla. In fact, they thought it was pretty hokey.

“This is what’s wrong with our political process,” my college sophomore said while Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. hugged his grandson. “I’m not interested in his lovely family. I want to know how he and Barack Obama are going to do all the wonderful things he just promised. Frankly, this feels like a waste of my time.”

I hate to think we’ve raised a cynic. Can’t we glean something about a leader by the way he interacts with his loved ones? OK, not a big, wet kiss like we had to endure with Al and Tipper Gore, but what’s the matter with a jovial grandpa celebrating with his grandkids?

It’s possible we’ve invested ourselves in so many political conversations around our dinner table that we’ve forgotten to convey that much of the tradition of political conventions is simply the pomp.

Sadly, until Monday my daughter saw it only as pompous.

But then Gustav arrived. Funny how Mother Nature has a way of inserting herself in our lives in a way that reminds us how powerless we really are, and what’s really important. No amount of political rhetoric about the American spirit in the face of adversity is as compelling as the images of another hurricane slamming the shores of New Orleans.

If there’s an upshot to Gustav’s timing, landing as he did on the opening day of the Republican convention, it might just be the message sent by Republicans who canceled their “grand old party” to focus on the plight of their fellow countrymen. By bailing on their convention plans, they managed to renew a sense of idealism about politics around my house.

Who knew it would take a non-convention to portray the patriotism and unity that conventions are supposed to embody? One thing’s for sure - it’s a convention my children are likely to look back on and remember.

Marybeth Hicks is the author of “Bringing Up Geeks: How To Protect Your Kid’s Childhood In a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World.” Visit her at www.marybethhicks.com or www.bringingupgeeks.com.

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