On Wednesday I'm going to the White House. Or maybe I should be more specific: I am invited to the White House. Honestly, and not in that "yeah, I've got a piece of paper that vaguely resembles White House stationery" sort of way. I'm invited to a White House reception to celebrate National Mentoring Month.
I don't want to intimate that after living in DC for 30 years I've never been inside the White House. Of course I have. There was the time that I was helping a nonprofit literacy organization stage a program in the East Room attended by Mrs. Clinton. But I spent more time running around ensuring that the participants -- all under age 12 -- were as quiet as they could be and doing other logistical work than in appreciating the surroundings. And there was the time that a friend -- a White House staffer -- took my then-four year old daughter and me on a quick informal Saturday morning tour of the place. We peeked into the Oval Office and the room where the Cabinet met -- security was much more lax 13 years ago when the world seemed more secure all on its own. My favorite part of that tour was when my daughter was running around the Press Room and spotted the podium. "Is that where they do the puppet shows?" she asked. She wasn't too far off base.
But now I'm going as an invited guest, and attending with others who understand the value of nurturing our nation's greatest resource -- our children. My friend, Eileen McCaffrey, who is the president of the Orphan Foundation of America, persuaded me years ago that being a foster parent and a mentor was part of my calling. Her organization mentors thousands of young people who have been in foster care and I'll be so proud to enter the White House with her. I'll also be with an amazing young woman who spent most of her life in foster care and who is now a sophomore in college, having literally rescued herself from a life of drugs and homelessness with the aid of her church and the Orphan Foundation.
So I will admit I am excited about my visit. There is of course the decision about what to wear. A red sari is out -- it's so yesterday. And seeing as how the reception takes place on a workday afternoon, I'm guessing anything with sequins would be considered tacky. So I'll stick to the blazer and black trousers uniform that will surely make me blend in.
My biggest challenge is figuring out what to say when I shake the hands of President and Mrs. Obama in the receiving line. "You're so tall" and "How's Bo?" seem way too trivial, a waste of the precious 20 seconds I'll have with the leader of the nation and his wife. Okay, maybe 10 seconds. I want to say something meaningful and memorable, something that acknowledges the unseen presence of my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. I'm still trying to figure out how to spend those precious moments, knowing that I am probably just another hand to shake, another in a long line of people who want to make the most of those few seconds with the man who promised us change.
My guess is that I'll say something about the importance of children, particularly children who have spent time in foster care. But then again, perhaps I'll just look into the weary eyes of a man who is presiding over a nation in turmoil, a world at war, a time in history when so much seems to be going wrong, and simply say, "I know."