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|Dressing For Success in Washington, D.C.|
Sep. 25th, 2011 at 9:34 pm
I read a recent article about how Washington D.C. has more than its share of good Mormon folks toiling away in the offices of our fine national government. Apparently Mormons are an asset since we tend to have clean background checks, are less likely to have addictions and we aren’t usually sleeping with interns. I thought you might enjoy our family story about Wash. DC.
Dressing For Success in Washington, D.C.
When Rob and I were newlyweds we thought having five children would be grand. Our ignorance served us well because what we didn’t know about, we didn’t worry about. Ignorance IS bliss, until you find out otherwise. That lasted until we actually had a child and discovered the reality of young parenthood, minimum wage jobs and full-time college.
Our first was born moderately hearing-impaired. She heard a bit less than 50% of what was spoken to her. I knew something was wrong within a short time of her birth, but it took three years to convince doctors. Not an unusual story in the hearing-impaired world.
When our second was born, my experiences with the first taught me she was also hearing-impaired. It took a year for the doctors to agree.
When our third arrived (he is our Immaculate Conception. It is too long of a story for today, but let’s just say I believe Mary’s story.) there was technology to test his hearing at 12 hours old and he flunked the test.
Our position of having three children with the same level of hearing loss and no other disabilities made us very interesting. We were invited to join studies measuring the benefits of testing babies hearing at birth. Soon we became the poster family for Newborn Hearing Screening. We were interviewed for newspapers, tv news and testified before the Colorado legislature advocating for mandatory hearing tests for newborns in the state. The mandatory part wasn’t to force parental compliance; it was to guarantee insurance would cover the testing. We were a cute, articulate family for the cameras.
After our success in Colorado politics we were invited to the big leagues. Our family joined a yearlong national hearing awareness campaign. We were interviewed by USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Parenting and other women’s magazines. We sat for national and international videos and spoke to medical school students.
We were invited to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. along with a slew of hearing experts about the importance of protecting hearing and identifying loss. The deal was the campaign sponsors would pay for the airfare and hotel. Food and anything else was on us. They agreed to pay for a few extra days in the hotel so we could sightsee with the kids.
We stayed in a hotel was located right on the edge of Georgetown University, a few blocks from where Watergate history was made. We had a suite with a kitchen, which came in handy since we had no money to eat in restaurants. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we got directions to the nearest grocery store. There are no grocery stores near the Watergate hotel. We took the subway out to the suburbs where real people live and went shopping for our stay. We hauled our food back to the hotel in suitcases with three little kids in tow.
Before we left Colorado I asked about what to wear and was told to bring business type clothes. In my mind that translated to Sunday best. There was no mention of colors or styles. I was grateful because we were living semester to semester on student loans and minimum wage. A week before the trip we got an engraved invitation in the mail to an After Event Party to be held at some museum the evening of the press conference. The invitation looked very fancy, like an upscale wedding invitation. When I called to inquire about it, I was told it was a private party to celebrate the campaign. It would be casual, just a chance to say thank you to all the participants.
The flight to Washington was nice because they paid for seats that were a notch up from coach. Leather trimmed seats and better snacks. We did the touristy stuff for a couple of days and then it was time for our big appearance. The night before we were to speak I went to a meeting for everyone involved in the campaign. Rob stayed at the hotel with the kids. At the meeting I was handed papers that gave lists of Do’s and Don’ts for the next day. Things like Do stay on topic. Don’t mumble. The most disturbing paper was a list of recommended things to wear for the cameras. No Red Shirts. (I brought my best red wool blazer.) No Shirts with Stripes. (Rob and Ty had striped shirts.) No White Shirts. (I had a white shirt to go with my red blazer.) You can see the problem. It was 9:30pm the night before the biggest day of our lives and absolutely everything we had to wear was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Rob and I realized we couldn’t do a thing about our attire so we decided to make the best of it. The next morning we rode the subway to the National Press Club and we represented. The whole thing took about three hours. Afterwards we had lunch in the cramped offices of the campaign managers. It consisted of submarine sandwiches and bags of potato chips with cans of soda. There was no room for extra chairs so we crouched in the hallway, trying to corral the kids away from the tempting office supplies. Then we were set free until the After Event Party that evening.
We could have gone back to the hotel and laid the kids down for a nap but it was our last day in D.C. and we wanted to make the most of it. We knew there was a good possibility we would never be back. So we changed into clean tourist clothes and hit the streets. We did our thing all day, until the evening shindig. As we made our way through the subways to the museum Rob asked if we should change clothes to something nicer. The problem was we didn’t have nicer. All I packed was the Sunday outfit we wore that morning and regular clothes. Besides, I was told this party was casual. Just like lunch was sandwiches eaten standing up in an office, whatever this evening affair was, I knew it wasn’t a big deal. To be honest, I was tired and ready to go home. I was tempted to suggest skipping the whole thing. We were going back to Colorado to janitor jobs and term papers. There really was no point spending an evening making small talk with strangers.
Our sense of moral obligation made us arrive at the event a good half hour before it started. I knew we were in trouble when we were met at the museum doors by a lady wearing a slinky black dress, red painted fingernails and glitter in her hair. That’s right- glitter in her hair. “Um, can I help you?” She smiled in a questioning way. “We are here for the After Event Party. This is the right place, isn’t it?” I asked. “Yes, yes it is” she said. She looked puzzled and motioned us in with her hand. “Why don’t you stand right over there and I will find someone to help you.” She pointed to a corner by the doorway. She wandered off and we had a minute to look around.
It turned out this casual, After Event Party was being held on the first floor of a fancy-schmansy building with marble floors and walls. In front of us were round buffet tables laden with food, drink fountains and even an ice sculpture. There were servers dressed in full tuxedoed splendor bustling around, placing china dishes and crystal glasses at tables in the formal dining section. This casual event was more formal than the press conference was. It was beautiful, classy and would have been a perfect setting for a celebrity wedding.
The campaign manager came over to us and took a long look at our sad selves. “Oh my” she gasped. “This isn’t what we were expecting at all.” I smiled weakly and replied, “I thought you said this was casual. I had no idea this was a formal event.” She forced a smile back through tight lips and hissed, “My dear, the invitation said it was an After Hours Party.” I stared back at her, blankly. I had no idea what made an After Hours Party special.
It was now 20 minutes to the start of the event. It was Friday evening; all the clothes stores were closed, even if we knew where one was. To ride the subway back to our hotel and change into our Sunday clothes would have taken at least an hour. No one suggested taking a cab and that idea hadn’t occurred to us either. We had no money with us. We spent our money on food and a week long subway pass. That was all we had.
We ended up suffering mortal humiliation for three hours. It turns out we were the Guests of Honor that night. No one told us. Can you imagine attending a wedding and finding out you were the bride and groom? That was us. The campaign staff avoided us like we had the plague. We were a complete embarrassment to them.
All of the other guests mingled and drank from crystal wine glasses while we sat alone at a table next to the kitchen. No one besides the wait staff came near us. There was a sit down dinner and a jazz music performance by world famous artists we had never heard of. The performers insisted we sit in the front row while they played. The kids fell asleep, splayed across the chairs during the show. When the party was finally, torturously over, there was no way Rob and I could carry three exhausted children onto the subway. A tuxedoed guest of the party took pity on us and gave us cab fare back to the hotel.
The picture you see with this post was taken at the party. A Time magazine photographer had been hired to take our family photo. Time was going to run a full story on the national campaign. No one from the campaign mentioned that, either. The photographer took a roll of pictures because, like he said, “Well, we can’t use these for the article, but I’m getting paid anyway. You might as well have some pictures of it.”
The next month Time ran a small, anemic three paragraph piece about hearing loss. There were no accompanying photos. That was the last time we were invited to do anything with the national hearing campaign. “You might as well have some pictures of it.” Indeed.
After Event Party/Time Magazine Photo – 1999