Obama’s era of ‘change’ welcomes movers and shakers

Where were you when Barack Obama placed his left hand on a burgundy velvet bible last held by Abraham Lincoln and was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America?

If you’re a mom, chances are you were doing something else while you were glued to the most anticipated inauguration of our lifetime, either that or you set your TIVOs. Carrie Zuhler waited at the doctor’s office. Michelle Beilenson hung out with her mom. Karin Fox ran errands and tuned into NPR. Laurie Velasquez worked in her office at a market research firm. Sandy Brand zoomed home from yoga class.


“Watching Barack Obama become president is one of those moments in my life that I won’t forget where I was when it happened,” says Beilenson, a Chesterfield resident who sat on the bedroom floor with her mom. They commented on everything from the fashions to the formalities of the historic event while they ate lunch together.

“It was refreshing and amazing to see someone who is my age running the country, someone who is forward thinking and appears to be approachable and relatable,” adds the 41-year-old preschool administrator and mother of two young children.

The inauguration bridged the generations for Beilenson and her 67-year-old mom.

“For my mom it was the Camelot feeling of the Kennedy era. It gave us both a sense of energy, possibility, and hope.”

Indeed, the inauguration of 2009 is one of those defining moments in history, etched in some of our memories like the JFK Assassination in 1963, the first walk on the moon in 1969, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

As I folded laundry on the couch, I watched history unfold before my eyes. When Michelle Obama gave outgoing First Lady Laura Bush a white package wrapped in a red ribbon on the steps of the White House, I grabbed a box of Kleenex. When the adorable Sasha and Malia, dressed in J. Crew coats with ribbons, smiled at their dad, I smiled, too. When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court fumbled over the words of the U.S. Constitution, I held my breath. When Aretha Franklin belted out “Let Freedom Ring!” and wore the biggest hat bow ever, I sang right along with the Queen of Soul. When the First Couple exited the “Beast” (their tank-like limo) and waved back to the cheering, record breaking crowd that lined Pennsylvania Avenue, I was at the edge of my seat. And finally, when the First Couple danced at the 10th Inaugural Ball that night, I felt like I was watching a fairytale.

No doubt, the day that President Obama took the oath of office was unprecedented, and not just because the former Illinois senator was the first African-American to become the leader of the Free World and stand before the nation’s Capitol that was originally built by slaves.

“I’m thrilled to have someone in the White House who is thoughtful and intelligent and seems more interested in solving problems than pointing fingers. That’s a sign of a great leader,” says Brand, who is a commercial architect on sabbatical and a mother of two teenagers. “Obama is young, and already he has experienced a lot in his lifetime, such as losing both of his parents. He understands how precious life is, and that adds to his wisdom.”

During his two-year campaign, the Ivy League grad and son of an African immigrant was able to mobilize the population, especially the “social networking” generation, to spread the word about patriotism, responsibility, and citizenship.

Sure, the economy is in the toilet and the country is at war, but January 20, 2009 was a time to celebrate, a time to forget the divisions of race, religion, age, and partisanship.

“I never have been so proud to be an American,” says Laurie Velasquez, who lived in Israel for nine years and witnessed different attitudes toward our country. “We are sending a message about diversity to people all over the world,” says the West County mother of three grown children. “We are lucky to have someone so smart and so charismatic to be our president. Plus, Obama’s speech was like butter.”

In fact, Obama’s somber yet eloquent oratory hit home for a lot of people.

“When I listened to Obama’s speech, I was surprised at how emotional I got, and it had nothing to do with being a Democrat,” says Karin Fox, also of Chesterfield, who has two young sons and writes curriculum books for schools. “When Obama talked about his father and how his color would not have allowed him to be served at a restaurant in Washington D.C. — and that was only 60 years ago — I realized how far this country has come.”

For me, Obama’s message reflects what the local Jewish community is all about — the frontrunners of change. In his speech, Obama says, “It has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

In other words, we all are responsible for where this country is headed, and the vibrant and diverse St. Louis Jewish scene is brimming with interesting people who make a difference in the lives of others.

The more exposure that I can give these movers and shakers the better because each one helps make St. Louis a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family. So, please send me an email, tell me who you are or who you know. I would love to share the mishegas with you.

“Mishegas of Mother-hood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. You can find me at [email protected]