Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Washington D.C., The Final Chapter.

Do you want to know what the Ambien of museums is for me?

Anything to do with air. Or space. Or heaven forbid, both.

My kids were begging to go to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. last week, and I was all, "Sure kids! But how about if we go to (this) museum/(that) museum/(this) exhibit/(this) tour/stick straight pins in our eyeballs first!" In other words, I stalled them as long as I could with other diversions.

The National Museum of American History was my favorite. We got to see Dorothy's ruby red shoes from "The Wizard of Oz", Fonzie's jacket, Archie Bunker's chair, Lincoln's top hat, and my favorite exhibit, the dresses of the First Ladies. My kids ran through that particular exhibit as they were all, "Who wants to look at boring old lady dresses?"

Why I would like to, thankyouverymuch.

The Museum of Natural History was fascinating, with its huge collection of dinosaur bones and other assorted fossils, and the bling of all bling, the Hope Diamond.

This guy was hanging around in the lobby as well.

But soon enough, the day arrived when Bill and I (very reluctantly, and gritting my teeth and fake smiling the whole time, mind you) announced, "Today's the day! Let's go check out the rocket ships/airplanes/astronaut suits/boring-stuff-that-mommy-has-no-interest in." (Bill left out that last part, of course.)

Mama took one for the team.

It's not that I don't appreciate air. Or space. I do, very much. I am totally down with air. O2, CO2, and N2 all the way, baby. I am flabbergasted that people invented huge, heavy steel tubes with wings that can carry a few hundred people at a time and actually fly! Through the air! To faraway places! And as far as outer space is concerned, well. That's beyond amazing.

However, there is something about going to a museum to look at airplanes that I find so incredibly boring.

I'm looking at you too, rocket ships.

And don't think I forgot about you either, boring movies about the planets and the cosmos.

By the way, I'm not 100% sure what a cosmo is, but I'm sure it's a snooze-fest.

But here's the thing. The National Air and Space Museum in D.C. is not so much Ambien as it is a much less potent Tylenol PM or Tylenol Cold. No, I take that back. It's more like a may-or-may-not-cause-drowsiness-so-don't-operate-heavy-machinery dose of Sudafed.

Look at me gushing on them with the compliments and such.

(Disclaimer: I know the above paragraph makes me sound like a big prescription/OTC drug pusher, but it's an analogy, people. I have never taken Ambien before, so I cannot vouch for its purported wonders as a sleep aid, but I will go on record and say that I do loves me a little Tylenol Cold on that rare night when I am stuffed up and my head feels like it's going to explode and I. just. want. to. sleep.)

No, really. I actually enjoyed this museum. And I'm only gritting my teeth ever so slightly, and fake smiling ever so slightly as I write this.

For realsies.

This museum has the cream of the crop of airplanes and space ships, and my kids absolutely, positively hearted the National Museum of Air and Space. They didn't want to leave. As for me, well, I also learned new stuff. Like did you know that Red Baron was a real person, and not just some guy that Snoopy likes to imitate while sitting on the top of his dog house and wearing goggles?

I'm kidding, of course. I was a history minor in college.

Also, what respectable trip to the Air and Space Museum would be complete without giving the kids a taste of astronaut ice cream. Come on, I know you did it at some point when you were a kid. If you have never had the "pleasure" of tasting this concoction, grab your Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, sprinkle some chocolate sauce and vanilla extract on it, freeze it for maximum breakage potential, and then eat it. It's not very yum, but it's a rite of passage of childhood, at least for me.

We were lucky enough to score a visit to the White House, something we had to request directly from our congressman about 6 months in advance. I was very appreciative of all the new restrictions as far as what people could bring to the White House. No purse allowed. No camera. No stroller. No water bottles. Nothing. NOTH. ING. It was quite liberating just walking around town not laden down by my usual bags and unnecessary accoutrement. I just had to bring myself, a photo I.D. and a few credit cards. I loved it. If only I could force myself to travel so lightly more often.

The White House itself? Stunning. A must-see.

The National Archives was right up my inner history geek alley. However, I have a small piece of advice to share with you. If you are standing in the National Archives, and you just so happen to be looking at the REAL Constitution, you know, those 200+ year old pieces of paper that are pivotal in our nation's history, which are guarded on each side by two men packing firearms in holsters, and your 9-year old tugs on your arm repeatedly begging you to, "Ask him, Mom! Ask him!" and you look at aforementioned guard nervously and say, "Um...yeah...um...we heard that if there is a threat to the Constitution...or..the...um...Declaration of Independence that they get...um...sucked up into a vault for protection. Is this....um...true?" then PLEASE try and stop yourself. Just don't do it. Because the guard will totally give you the stink eye, and shake his head (which is the universal sign for, "Hell no, crazy lady"). You will also feel like a totally idiot, and think to yourself, "So this is what it would feel like if I were the ditziest ditzbag in the whole world who stumbled into a Mensa meeting!" You also might skulk away from the exhibit hanging your head in shame for asking such a stupid question.

In my defense, we googled this fact later  when we got back at the hotel, and yes, it is true. According to the National Park Services website, "When not exhibited, the Nation's most precious documents are secured in a fireproof, shockproof, bombproof vault, which is constructed of steel and reinforced concrete and is located below the shrine under the floor of Exhibition Hall. An electrical mechanism automatically lowers them into the vault and raises them back to their positions in the shrine. Other machinery then closes a massive lid of metal and concrete over the vault. These mechanisms can be activated in the event of danger; and, during a power failure, may be operated manually."

So there. Ha. I guess I'm not such an idiot. 

But I learned my lesson. Do NOT talk to the guards while they are doing their job. They will just think you are a crazy tourist who is potentially threatening our nation's most sacred documents, and they will give you the stink eye. They carry guns, people. Don't mess with them.

When I was a child and my family traveled to D.C., I have vivid memories of visiting Arlington National Cemetery, and I wanted to show it to my kids. Yes, it's a heavy topic, but I don't think they are too young to learn about appreciation. Appreciation of freedom. Appreciation of the ultimate sacrifice that far too many have made so that my family and others in these United States can have free, happy, carefree lives. 

FREEDOM, kids. It's pretty darn cool.

I gave them a talk beforehand, and introduced them to the word, "reverence," but I was glad that this sign was there when we walked in to reinforce it.

In other words, shut it, kids. No horseplay. Respect. See the big sign? This means you.

Luckily, they got the message right away. 

As I remembered from so long ago, Arlington National Cemetery is beyond moving. To try to describe it in words would not do it justice. I defy you to enter this place and see the rolling hills of Virginia dotted with far too many white stones and not get a lump in your throat. My kids actually sat in perfect silence (a rarity) as we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a ceremony that brings a catch to my throat and tears in my eyes the few times I have seen it. My boys were fascinated by the concept that the tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rain or shine, and that the soldiers do their jobs so well. Rather than be bored by doing the same thing over and over again, like most people would be, these men and women walk their 21 steps, stop for 21 steps, turn and walk 21 steps repeatedly throughout the days, weeks, and months with total honor. It is truly a sight to see, and a teachable moment if I have ever seen one. 

The rest of the trip was filled with walking, walking, and more walking, which is what you better plan on doing lots of in D.C. (It's a great excuse to eat ice cream every night, because you burn all those calories during the day.) I could bore you with all the details, but then I'd just be one of those people that's all, "Hey! Come watch my vacation slideshow! Come listen to our vacation minutiae!" and that's just not me. 

I would also like to give a huge shout-out to Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. Because of you, my kids could not complete their quest to see license plates from all 50 states. Thanks for nothing. I had my doubts about Hawaii, but come on now North Dakota and Kansas! Where you at? Actually, you're probably all smart and flew to D.C. instead of driving. 

Bill went back to work today. I'm experiencing withdrawal from having my husband around all day.

Sigh. Back to normal. Vacation is over.  

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