Traveling with Kids: Washington, DC
We had to take the train to Washington D.C. from Massachusetts because thirty years ago, when I was 12, that's how I got there with my parents and my best friend Suzy. I remember all the gleaming white buildings with important-looking people streaming in and out of them. It was a memorable trip I wanted to duplicate for my 10-year-old son and his best friend Chris. I was hoping that through the boys I would re-live the awe and inspiration I had experienced then. Just like Suzy and me back in 1968, the boys knew exactly what they wanted to see during our three day visit -- everything.
As important to the boys as seeing the sights was the possibility of a sighting.
We did meet the president...okay, we saw the back of his head as he greeted a crowd of tourists near the Air and Space Museum. The sighting, however, seemed to leave the boys flat. The impeachment trial had just concluded and they were struggling with his infidelity. They often argued over whether or not Hillary should file for divorce. One thing they really did like, however, was the FBI.
Suzy and I never visited the FBI -- and I'm glad. I found the tour tedious. Chris and Nick loved the guns and gangsters and got a big kick out of the acronym they invented for the agency: Forty-something Bald Investigators.
Washington DC has a way of reminding you how little you know - or worse, how much you've forgotten. I relied on my husband John, who majored in American history, to help the boys navigate the important dates and details:
A few weeks before we left on our trip, I followed a tip and contacted the office of our congressman, Richard Neal. One of the things most congresspeople do for their constituents is arrange tours of the Capitol. Walking through the historic building with a congressional aide who seemed delighted to be sprung from his office, Chris and Nick wasted no time figuring out political priorities. Which politicians, they wanted to know had the best offices?
Our aide was often stymied by the boy's questions, like this one from Nick as we stood gazing up at the Apotheosis of George Washington, the sumptuous mural on the rotunda ceiling.
Nick: "The first time they painted it, wouldn't the wet paint drip off the ceiling? "
Aide: "I'm not sure. I'm not sure."
Discharged out a side entrance of the White House after a tour that was also arranged by our Congressman's office -- Nick was frustrated that we hadn't seen any of the First Family's personal affects. So he concocted his own tour.
Suzy and I had goofed around a lot too, but like Nick and Chris we were often moved by the meaning and history of what we saw. We were impressed by the Smithsonian and the trek to the top of the Washington Monument. The rotunda, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Washington Monument were among the sights that seemed to have the greatest impact on Chris and Nick.
Their favorite though, was the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool -- where to my amazement, Chris realized this was the site of one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most important speeches.
Coins in hand, the boys decided to make two wishes -- one private and one public.
The Vietnam War was at its height when I first visited Washington. Influenced by our protesting older siblings, Suzy and I believed the war was bad. Even so, it didn't diminish the respect I had for the people and philosophies that shaped my country.
On this trip, thirty years later, I realized that a dark cloud -- although of a very different kind -- hung over Chris and Nick. So I made a wish at the reflecting pool too: that Chris and Nick will always find a reason to care about our nation's political process -- even when it makes them laugh.
In Washington D.C., I'm Pippin Ross for The Savvy Traveler.
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