Great trip to DC

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I walked in the room and it was total devastation.

The furniture had been rearranged, clothes were thrown here and there, and the bathroom was a wreck. Cards lay on the coffee table that had been put between the two beds. There were four partially finished bottles of Gatorade, Frosted Flakes without milk, wet socks on every piece of furniture, and underwear on the bathroom floor. It was then that I knew this would be unlike any trip that I had ever taken.

ML and I always enjoyed traveling with our children. Now that they are grown, we truly enjoy the freedom of being empty-nesters, but we miss the fun of traveling with kids. Last Christmas, we gave a trip to Washington, D.C., to our nieces and nephews. After working out the logistics of all that goes on with active kids, we took four teenagers ages 13 to 17 to DC over the last five days.

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We got home a couple of hours ago and this is the story of a wonderful trip. I would have started writing earlier, but I had to soak my feet, put Ben-Gay on my neck, and get comfortable in my chair before I could do anything.

Addison, Bailey, Davis and Stephen. We chose a hotel that we were familiar with, the J.W. Marriott, which is only a block from the White House. We had two rooms, so we decided the boys would stay in one room and the girls would stay in another. As the father of two daughters, I guess it has been since I was in college that I stayed in a room with two teenage boys. Now I remember why.

We flew in mid-afternoon and decided to walk over to the White House. It started raining before we had walked around the block. Despite Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts in the crowd, no one was prepared for the deluge and no one cared.

Despite the enormous historical significance of the White House, we got excited about a black squirrel whose eyes turned red when a picture was taken of him. Then a gray squirrel appeared, followed by a white squirrel. Kids running around in the rain trying to take pictures of squirrels while standing in front of the most famous house in the world. Before I knew it, I was running and taking pictures of the squirrels too.

The next day we went to Ford’s Theater, where the rain began again as we were standing in line. This time we were prepared. We had purchased $4.95 ponchos at a gift shop near the hotel. When we pulled them out, they apparently were Obama ponchos left over from the inauguration. They somehow seemed to funnel the water inside the poncho so that it went directly into your pockets and then down your leg.

I had a long list of wonderful restaurants to show off during our trip. The first night was truly magical as we ate at Ebbetts Grill. By the second night, pizza was on everyone’s mind. In fact, the fact that DC is world famous for its Ethiopian food and lobbyist fueled power restaurants seemed of no interest to anyone. The closest I could get them to worldwide cuisine was Italian, and that was a pizza place.

There is something about kids and pizza. A packed, trendy, DC wood-fired pizzeria and they all got sausage or cheese. In fact, it would be the first of many pizzas, hamburgers and ice cream cones that we would have during the trip. I was beginning to remember what it was like to travel with kids.

I got up at 6 a.m. to stand in line for tickets to the top of the Washington Monument. This was the suggestion of the guard at the monument the night before to ensure we got tickets. I got up, put on my wet tennis shoes, tiptoed past the two boys that had probably been asleep four hours, and made my way to the monument.

Unfortunately, there were no restaurants open. There were also no people in line at that time of the morning. The only signs of life were the Marines, and then the Army, that jogged past in cadence as the sun came up, probably wondering what that lone man was doing sitting on the wall by the ticket counter over two hours before it was to open. The kids later said it was their favorite thing of the whole trip and that was all I needed to know.

The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Holocaust Museum, the Capitol, the Postal Museum, the Museum of American History, and the Museum of Natural History. The National Archives, with the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. Combine all that and more with a top-notch History teacher tour guide and you have a lifetime of memories.

The final night we went to a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon. The kids wrestled on the lawn overlooking the Potomac like it was their backyard. The driver on the way back to DC began asking them trivia questions and it was then that I realized they had really been paying attention.

I have been going to DC for more than 40 years. I have been with my grandparents, with my children, for business and for politics. My nephews and nieces reminded me that what is really important are the card games at midnight, pizza and chasing each other down the hall.

It isn’t the picture of the Capitol or the White House in the background that is important. It is the smiling faces in the foreground that make the trip special.

My feet won’t quit aching for days and I may not catch up on my sleep for a week, but my heart beats with pride of having four smart, clever, fun-loving nephews and nieces that were happy to spend some time with their aunt and uncle.

Addison, Bailey, Davis and Stephen. Great kids. Great trip. We love you guys.