The kids get a fall break every year, usually the third week of October. They only get Thursday and Friday off during the week but a lot of families take off a couple of days before, and use the week as a fall vacation. We have never done that. This year, I had extra vacation accrued that I would lose if I did not take by October 31. Therefore, I decided it was high time that we take a Fall trip. That was the easy part. Now where to go?
I immediately thought of Hocking Hills because it wa supposed to be warm and I love to hike. But then I thought about my lovely children and his hiking doesn’t tank as a vacation to them…. I asked my girlfriend (who tends to agree that hiking is not vacation) where she would go and she mentioned Chicago. I took a walk with Maria that evening and asked her what she thought about heading to Chi-Town. She freaked out. “Seriously mom, we could go to Chicago!?” Her enthusiasm sealed the deal for me. We arrived home and asked Jon to check on hotels. We mentioned the trip to Mario, and he was just as excited. And as life goes, we were quickly disappointed. The Chicago cubs were playing in the playoffs during the week we were going to go. The hotel prices were outrageous.
Never ones to wallow in our tears, Ri and I thought of a back-up city. Washington DC. I had been wanting to take the kids to DC for a year or so because it is fairly close and they are at the age now where they’ve learned about politics, seen pictures of monuments in DC, read about the Declaration of Independence, and so on.
Jon was able to find a hotel near the White House, and we were able to get flights for cheap. It was a done deal. We left on Tuesday night and returned on Friday night. Half of the fun for the kids is pulling their suitcases around the airport and flying on a plane. Our flight to DC was not even half full. The kids each got a row to themselves, which they loved.
We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which the kids loved almost as much as flying. They had not been in a taxi before. Mario wanted me to tip the driver $100. He is very generous with my money. Another small thing that thrills the kids is arriving at the hotel and getting the keys to the room. They inevitably engage in a power struggle over who gets the key to open the room. The compromise of late is that someone gets to use it to go up the elevator and another gets to use it on the room. They fell in love with the room as soon as we walked into it. They opened up the curtains and gawked at the bustling outdoors. They loved that each of them had separate beds; they immediately relegated me to the sleeper sofa. I think not….
After reviewing the room, we traveled downstairs to the fitness room and pool. The kids loved the fact that they could lift weights and get on the treadmill with me. I was getting excited that we would have morning workouts but that never really came to fruition. They simply appreciated the fact that they could jump on the treadmill for a minute and then get off. We hit the hot tub and the pool that evening. There was a ceramic divider between the hot tub and the pool so we use that to be our imaginary net for pool volleyball. I predicted that game would end in a few tiffs, and I was right. But in hindsight, it was good fun. The kids also had epic battles with some random foam noodles. Maria slammed Mario many more times then he got her and I swore that he would have welts all over his back. When I cringed and told them to stop, they swore that they were having fun doing it.
We are at District Taco Tuesday evening. It was only a few blocks from the hotel. Chips and guac hit the spot. After that dinner, we needed a walk so we headed over to the White House. The kids thought it looked tiny compared to how they pictured it. We all had a few words with the occupants of the White House before we departed…
On Wednesday morning, the kids woke up and asked to hit the gym. Woo-hoo! They actually walked/ran on the treadmill for about 10 minutes, which was longer than I thought they’d last. Ri even lifted a few weights while Mario pedaled the stationary bike. It wasn’t long before they were asking to leave; I was excited we got 20 minutes in. We made a Starbucks run and then shot down to the Museum of African-American history. Unfortunately, you needed passes to get into the museum, which I may have known about if I would have read up beforehand. Whatever, better to wing it. We decided to go to the Museum of American History instead. We stayed there for an hour or so. The kids weren’t too interested. Mario thought an old car was cool and Maria liked looking at Ella Fitzgerald’s dress. We found a room for kids where they could experiment and create things. Mario found a way to get fruit from the top of a platform down into a basket, and Maria made a corn hole set to add to a play farm.
We walked from the museum to the Capitol building for our 12:20 tour. I knew it was a bit of a walk but I was determined to get a good walk in on such a nice day. The kids didn’t complain too much…. Mario, consistently throughout the trip, begged for a taxi – no matter if our destination was one block away or 10 blocks away. Maria was good about walking – she knows how to please her mother.
We made it for our capital tour on time (I was mad that I had to discard all of the snacks in my book bag – I tried to hide them behind a pole much to the kids’ chagrin – Maria eventually grabbed the bag of goodies and forced me to throw it in the garbage can. Mario complained that he was hungry before the tour so he got a bit pissy in the beginning. But then he came around and he and Maria asked a ton of questions of the tour guide.
After the tour, the guide mentioned that we could go across the street to our senator’s or house of representative’s office and ask them for passes to sit in the spectator seats in the Senate and House. Maria wanted to do it so badly (which I would have never guessed) but Mario was begging to just go to lunch. I told Mario that we would simply try to get into the Senate by asking the person if we could get in without tickets. We walked over and asked. We had no luck – she directed us to go across the street. This led to a breakdown by both kids – Mario pleading to leave and Ri pleading to go across the street. I was trying to manage the bickering as we walked down the hall when all of a sudden a man dressed in a suit and holding a legal file stopped us.
“I would like to help you get into the Senate. I have tickets that you can have so that you don’t have to go across the street.”
We looked at one another in disbelief. Was he serious? He pulled out three green Senate passes and told us to walk around the building with him so the lady manning the Senate would not know that he gave them to us. We walked around the building with him and he pointed out different things to us. He then had us drop our phones and bookbag off prior to heading up to the Senate. He walked us to the elevator and asked if we wanted to meet up with him after lunch to see the House in session. The kids frantically nodded yes but I was still a bit skeptical…. Mario nudged me after he left and commented that he was trying to pick me up. Ri looked at him in disgrace. How could anyone want to pick up her mom?! We saw three senators speak in the Senate session: a senator from West Virginia who talked about economic needs, a senator from Wyoming, and a senator from North Carolina. They were basically talking to the air since nobody else was in the room but hey, we got to see a few reps in action. We left there and traveled to the cafeteria for lunch. It totally reminded me of the times I would visit my mom at Deaconess Hospital. The plastic trays, the cafeteria hamburger and fries, the soda fountain, the individual plates of cakes. We had a bit of fun right before dessert. The lights went off in the cafeteria and security was scrambling around talking into their headsets. Maria was truly frightened; Mario was ready to tag along with security and track things down. I frankly was a bit nervous, and thought maybe we should leave and not meet back up with our new friend. We debated, watched everybody walking around, and finally asked a front desk person if she thought everything was safe. She said that we were probably most safe inside the capital. So, we decided to stay, and for the next two hours we got to see parts of the Capitol where only the Senators and House of Representatives and their staff can go. We got to go on the floor of the House of Representatives. The kids got to walk down the aisle that the president walks down when he meets with members of the house. We even got a history lesson and learned about a shooting in the House of Representatives back in the 1950s. They were intrigued with the bullet hole in the wooden table in the middle of the room. The kids were good about asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in everything our friend said (we later learned that “our friend” was known for being generous to families who were visiting the Capitol, although Mario still thought he liked me:). We didn’t leave the Capitol building until 5 PM.
We walked down to the Metro and took it directly to Georgetown where we met Aunt Ann for dinner. We got there a bit early so we decided to look at a card shop and get a few cupcakes from Sprinkles. Maria was on cloud nine because she had seen Sprinkles on one of her cupcake shows. The cupcakes did not disappoint. Anne treated us to an Italian dinner at Flavio. The kids talked up a storm with her – she kept turning her head from Maria back to Mario back to Maria back to Mario. I don’t think she’s used to the constant jabber of kids. But she did great keeping up and they loved having her attention. By the time we all ate our carb loaded meals, we were exhausted. The day has hit us hard. We gave Aunt Ann a big hug goodbye and I succumbed to the kids’ pressure to get a taxi to the Metro. How sad is that? We arrived back in the hotel and Maria was asleep within 10 minutes. I laid in bed with Mario watching some goofy show until he finally fell asleep.
We woke Thursday to Maria searching her phone for a breakfast place for us. One of her favorite things about trips is eating out at new places. Mario and I could’ve grabbed a Starbucks every morning but she likes to relax, have a good meal, talk, and then start the day. She chose a French café – I think it was because it was only a block away. They had different types of breakfast – nothing traditional – so Mario was completely appalled by it. Luckily, they did have chocolate chip muffins so he lessened his irritation a bit. Maria got an apple turnover and we were set. We sat at a high table near the entrance and reviewed what we had done the day before.
We left for the monuments after breakfast. We saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the MLK Memorial. The kids were amazed at the Lincoln Memorial, and stood in awe with me at the MLK Memorial. We read all the quotes at MLK.
We met our friend again at the Capitol and he gave us a tour of the legislators’ private subway system. He also led us through the hall the president walks down on his way out to the inauguration ceremony (and showed us pictures from this past inauguration). After the Capitol, we decided to hit the Newseum. I had heard that it was a cool museum, and the kids had heard there was an exhibit where you could be a news anchor. When we first got there, we were a bit disappointed. It was interesting to me because of my First Amendment work but the kids were rather bored with the incessant writing on the wall without much interaction. But then we found the area where kids could act like newscasters and watch themselves. They loved it. We ended up spending nearly two hours just doing that. Maria was precise and poised; Mario was hyped and comedic in his presentation. The area also had a virtual reality station where you had to escape the Berlin wall. The minimum age was 13 but we figured we would fib and get Mario in. The boy that’s Mr. Cool all the time lost his cool when he went up to the girl and she told him he had to be 13 to do it. He just ran away instead of saying he was 13. So he was all pissed off that he couldn’t do the virtual reality game. Of course, Maria gets upset that they won’t let him so she boycotts it herself. But after another few times as a newscaster, she got bored and went back over because there was no line to do the game. I scammed with Mario that I would walk in the line with him and tell the lady that he was going to be 13 at the end of the month. She caved and let him play. Am I the best mom or what!? They both loved it, and did it two times in a row.
Even though there were six floors of information, the virtual reality and newscaster spots are the only ones that we reviewed. Lovely. By the time we left the Newseum, it was 5 PM. We slowly made it back to the hotel and rested for a few minutes. On our way back, Maria asked if she could hold Mario’s stuffed animal koala when they got back to the hotel. Mario said no way, and Maria was upset. I told her that we would go to a store near the hotel and see if we could find her a stuffed animal. Mario agreed to go because he wanted to see if they had any cool phone cases. We had some excitement on the walk there in the dark. Mario tried to leap over a garbage can and something came running out of it. We assumed it was a rat or a mouse – it led to 15 minutes of us trying to see if we could find it. Good times. We found Ri a stuffed animal puppy that you could also microwave to heat up. Gotta love what they come up with anymore. Maria was happy. Mario also found a phone case, which made him happy. And I was happy because they were happy, and it was a beautiful night to walk around DC with my two babes. They really wanted room service at the hotel so we ordered that and watched Hidden Figures on HBO.
On Friday, I tried to get the kids to go down and work out with me. Maria refused and was adamant that we needed to have a big breakfast at a restaurant before we left DC. We found a breakfast place called Founding Farmers, and it did not disappoint. There was a 30 minute wait which caused some hesitation in staying (we are not a patient bunch), but it was well worth the wait when we got the food. Maria got vanilla cream French toast, Mario got chocolate chip pancakes, and I got eggs and bacon. Each dish was amazing. Even Mario liked it, which says a lot.
After breakfast, we walked to Madame Tussaud‘s. They had been wanting to go there since we arrived in DC. I was hesitant – it cost a boat load of money and it was … Madame Tussaud‘s. What happened to us going to culturally relevant museums? In my dreams, the kids would spend hours asking questions as they looked at exhibits and gained knowledge about our history. In reality, they wanted to stand next to Taylor Swift and the Rock. But, it actually ended up being a lot of fun because the kids absolutely adored it. There was a special room that had the White House desk and the press podium – that was a trip. They also had a room where are you could make wax hands. The kids were intrigued with the process – Maria got right in and wanted to do it but Mario was more hesitant. You had to put your hand in ice cold water for 30 seconds then dip it into burning water then back into cold and back into burning water several times in order for the wax to form. Mario kept looking at Maria‘s face as she did it and kept wondering whether it was a good idea. But in the end when he saw how cool Maria‘s hand looked he decided to try it himself. His face was hilarious as he held his hand in the water.
After Madame Tussaud‘s, we had about two hours before we needed to head to the airport. The kids were ready to just head back to the hotel and sit around but I refused. We were going to get in one last museum if it killed us. I made them walk down to the National Archives so that we could see the Declaration of Independence. When we arrived, the line was all the way around the street. The kids laughed at me, but little did they know I would make them walk farther. I got out our map and decided that we would go to the Natural History Museum instead. The line was not too bad there – we waited for about 10 minutes and got in. We were able to see the Hope Diamond, which the kids wanted to see because Jon has talked about it before. We also saw the skeleton remains of a number of animals, including the gecko (now we know what Buddy’s skeleton looks like). Mario got mad about something before we left the museum – I think Maria made fun of him – so he took off and Maria took off after him. I lost track of them, and they ended up waiting for me outside of the museum doors. However, I was looking all over for them inside before I went out to find them. This resulted in me ripping them a new one, and Mario walking ahead of us down the street. I was in the midst of trying to get us all to make up and have a good rest of the afternoon when Mario accidentally knocked over one of the ropes lining a museum. I heard someone from behind me scream harshly “pick that up!” I saw Mario walk back and begin to pick up what he had knocked over. I turned around and told the man who yelled at Mario that he could have asked more politely. He responded back with anger. This resulted in us going back-and-forth together before we each went our merry way. I was astounded at the exchange. What a way to end our time in DC! Maria told us that she was getting ready to flip him off if he kept yelling at me. Mario talked about how dad would have really given him a piece of his mind if he was there. Ahh, a family that vents together, stays together….
We got back to the hotel into our last DC taxi at 4:30 for our 7:30 flight. We had been told that we better take off that early because of DC traffic. Don’t you know that we got to the airport at 4:50 so we had 2 1/2 hours to kill! Ugh. We spent them sitting on a bench outside of customs and engaging in writing contests. Ri gave us a prompt and we had 10 minutes to write whatever we wanted. My kids are quite talented writers. I could not believe what they came up with. They made fun of all of my stories, of course. We also engaged in drawing contests, which always makes them laugh. I readily admit I have no skills in this area.
With 45 minutes left before boarding, Maria got herself a huge slice of pizza and Mario got himself a book. He wanted to buy a scary one but I told him I was sick of walking him to his room in the broad daylight so he needed a non-scary one. Then we had a freak attack over the loss of Maria’s phone. She came running up to Mario and I as we searched for a book and said that she lost her phone. Mario and I walked back to where we had been drawing and didn’t see it there. Maria frantically searched her bag and couldn’t find it. I was so irritated; I went up to a security guard and asked if anybody had found it. Nope. He took me to another security guard and in the meantime, I received a call from Maria‘s phone. Maria was laughing and told me that she had accidentally put it down near the books when she was helping Mario try to find one. My goodness – how do parents survive all of this drama?! Our flight home was uneventful, thank god. Maria wrote some more and Mario stared out the window.
Jon was waiting for us when we got off the plane – ready to take us home. We spent an hour laying in bed – the four of us – listening to the kids recall stories from the trip.