I need a vacation from my winter break. The twelve days of Christmas were a joyful and exhausting whirlwind, and I think we celebrated Christmas three times. Jenna and I spent the weekend before Christmas in NYC doing our traditional store window visits, seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center and attending a Pentatonix concert, which she gave me as a birthday gift. We spent December 24 and 25 in Nashville with Kelsy, Steven, and Otis. Jenna came with us and we met Steven’s family for the first time. Our Baltimore family Christmas Eve was on December 28 due to the work and life schedules of out-of-town adult cousins, Matt and Brittany in Minnesota, and Amanda in Massachusetts. James came from Montana and Kelsy from Tennessee for the festivities, so Jim and I had all three of our children, together under the red roof in Chestertown for several days.
In Christian theology, The 12 Days of Christmas begins with the birth of Christ on December 25 and ends with the coming of the Magi, the three wise men who followed the Nativity Star, on The Epiphany on January 6. As a young child, I always wondered why the three wise men visited with no women. What the heck? Surely, the women in their lives bought and wrapped the gifts they traveled to deliver. And, surely, there were some wise women who could have made the trek to help care for Mary, but that is another story.
Yes, The Epiphany is the culmination of The 12 Days of Christmas, but I have recently had an epiphany of my own – a moment of sudden revelation or insight (dictionary.com) – or as I like to think of it, a shining star moment.
It happened on January 3, the same day Kent School students returned to class after winter break, when 127 women took the oath of the 116th Congress – 102 in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate. Up from 110 in the previous Congress, this represents a subtle shift and I hope a new trend with 15 percent more women in this Congress than in the last session. I am excited for the “firsts.” Congress now has its first Native American women, Muslim women and youngest female member ever. With more female voices at the table, I believe the country can truly become a “kinder, gentler nation.” (GHW Bush)
My shining star moment is this – the Federal Government needs to operate more like an independent school, and its leaders need to lead with competence, trustworthiness and accountability. Like Divisions in a school (Lower, Middle, Upper) the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches must be more closely connected by communication and collaboration – even as their purposes are distinctly different. The silos of our current system are ineffective.
Congressional representatives should help educate their constituents on the issues facing our nation. While our Founders intended that the House members would advocate for their local community, and the Senate would be responsible for national issues, members of the House and Senate must be on the same page at least for some important issues. They should act for the greater good, like teachers, and not seek individual fame. Congressional leaders should select overall priorities, and create bipartisan and inclusive ad-hoc committees to study tough issues. While this is supposedly happening, it is not transparent enough and is obviously not working. Participants from all three branches should be on these ad-hoc committees to examine issues from multiple points of view and expertise.
At Kent School, each student is assigned to be a member of the Red or White team – just like Democrats and Republicans. There are many Red and White contests throughout the academic year and the competition is fierce. Team members are very loyal to their team, even well after graduation! Yet, at the end of each competition, our students go home as friends. Our country’s leaders could learn a lot from this, and just imagine how much we could accomplish.
With all due respect for the longtime service of many members of Congress, I, for one, hope more and more educated young women, and men, decide to serve our country for a short time in Congress bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Most importantly though, I hope that people of character and integrity will continue to persevere and that other less deserving candidates will not be elected.
Oh, and one more final thought, if the Executive and Legislative branches are going to order a federal government shutdown, they, too, should not be paid.
For those of you who know I never discuss religion or politics, oops.
Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.