Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Accidental Tourist

Husband and I lived in Washington, DC for about a decade before packing up and heading west. During one of my teaching gigs, I drove past the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, every day, twice a day, for two years. When people came to visit, I did my I-live-in-a-National-Treasure-and-know-my-way-around-ly duty and took friends and family to see the sights. I have to say, I have yet to able to stand in the Lincoln Memorial, reading the excerpts of Lincoln's speeches engraved on the walls and NOT well up with tears. In spite of what some people think of the patriotism of bleeding heart liberals (I've been called a lot of things that are decidedly NOT American) I do love me some American spirit and I tend to feel it nowhere else in this country like I do anywhere on our National Mall. Between the monuments, the tourists from everywhere, the random protestors, the veterans, the museums, the Capitol building--it is our country's symbolic heart and I love it like no place else on Earth. I loved that it was a daily fixture of our lives for so long.

So it was an odd feeling, during this vacation back East, to find myself playing the role of tourist. In a place I still consider to be, in many ways, my home. Most of our trip revolved around friends and family who lived outside of DC; some in Maryland, some in Virginia. But until our last full day of vacation, nothing compelled us to go into DC proper. We decided that we should all hop on the metro way up in Maryland and ride it all the way down to the Smithsonian. So. Very. Touristy. Embarrassingly touristy. But also, excellent for the environment, so that's good.

Ethan loved it. And I'd show you pictures of how much, but I just realized those pictures of him are still on my iphone and I'm all cordless here sitting in Borders. Soooo, just imagine a smiley 4 year old being fascinated by his own reflection in the metro window as we zoom through the underground tunnels. Easy enough.

The thing about traveling with a 4 year old? And his not-quite-3-year-old cousin? You don't cover nearly as much ground as you thought you might. Back in the day, we somehow managed to cram 2 museums, a couple monuments and some lounging on the Mall into our excursions. This particular day? We were fortunate to get from the metro to the Air & Space museum, shove some food into the mouths of the beasts, wander aimlessly for an hour and fifteen minutes and then head back to the metro, with a quick stop for ice cream on the way. So yeah, about 2 hours total, one lunch that would make Jamie Oliver cry, a few airplanes and a fruit pop. I think we *may* have spent more time on the metro than we did actually experiencing "Our Nation's Capitol."

Don't get me wrong; we had a great time. I took Ethan to the Air & Space once when we lived in Arlington and it practically scared his little baby brains right out of his head. The planes hanging from the ceiling sent him into fits of fearful hysterics, as I'm pretty sure he thought they were all going to come crashing down on him. So I was genuinely thrilled that this time he ran through the exhibit rooms, wanting to touch everything, asking questions and really listening to our answers--which, at least on my part were sketchy, vague and just this side of "ummmm..I think maybe big giant space fairies made that Big Bang stuff, honey,". Fortunately Husband is way savvier in the ways of the universe. I tried to read Stephen Hawkings "A Brief History of Time" once and there are still parts of my brain imploding on itself today (there's a black hole joke in there somewhere but I really don't understand black holes well enough to make it). I can explain the hell out of Shakespeare and help him write his college essays, but I will leave the larger questions about physics and the universe (and all things math) to Husband.

But it made me realize that DC is not Ethan's home in the same way I feel that it is mine. One morning we went to the Starbucks in our old neighborhood and even drove past our old house. He didn't recognize any of it. And why should he? It was 2 years ago and he was barely 2 years old when we moved. He is a Californian. There were many nights before we moved west that I cried myself to sleep at that thought--my son will be a Californian, raised so far away from everything I think of as "home." I don't mind that now; anyone who knows Ethan sees that this is really where he belongs--he is a little surfer dude, mellow musician in training. I love who he is becoming. And I am happy being a semi-Californian myself these days. But our trip back to DC made me sad to realize that Ethan will always be a tourist there. He will tell people, "I was born here, but we moved when I was 2," and he will have no memories of it as home, just as the place he goes to visit. That was a big fat bummer for me. Fortunately, Ethan is an awesome tourist. So there's that.

When you take a picture of a Metro post sign, you are a tourist.

The Smithsonian castle is so purty, people. Lived there for 10 years and never paid attention to it. Walked by it for 5 minutes and took 100 pictures.

Clearly I have at thing for street lamps. With flowers around them.

love this one. you can totally tell he's trying to decide if he's going to lose his shit or be brave. So glad he opted for option B.

doing some of that learning stuff with the prisms.

This is apparently an artist's rendering of what the Big Bang looks like.

A close up of the Big Bang.

Ethan was exceedingly impressed by the museum's old-timey air travel exhibits. Like the old suitcases. And the airplanes dangling from the ceiling above the old suitcases.


Riding back up the gift shop escalator, mini Space Shuttle in hand. Speaking of the gift shop, can someone explain to me why our Smithsonian Air & Space museum, a place which houses the historical memorabilia and artifacts from our nation's travels into, well, air & space, has an entire section dedicated to Star Wars merchandise? Like, Star Wars, the movie. The fictiticious story about a galaxy far, far away, with aliens and ewoks and wookies?

Ahhh, street vendor. Thank you for having icy fruity treats on sticks. It was 95 degrees in the shade, a million percent humidity. I'm totally not exaggerating (much).

Ethan thought these window cleaners were perhaps Spiderman's helpers.

Ethan was really nice & let us watch him eat his fruity icy treat on a stick. He was not so much with the sharing. Stinker.

Next time we go back to DC to visit, I am going to have to brace myself for that touristy feeling; its not unpleasant, it just took me by surprise. And if I'm going to be a tourist in DC from now on, I'm going to embrace it and drag my family ALL the hell over the place, camera a'clicking and my tour guide act in full swing. "And we're walking....we're walking. Keep up, folks, we've got a lot to see."


cicadalady said...

i felt that way when we went back to maryland this summer and noni didn't even really recognize anyone. she was one when we moved. she has lived 2/3 of her life elsewhere. still, it's strange to have a place that feels like home to you feel foreign to your child.

Becca said...

Looks like so much fun! I wish we'd gotten to the Mall Air and Space, it looks so much more kid friendly than the Dulles one.

There is no place hotter than Washington D.C. And I live in Texas. I've never sweat like that before in my LIFE.

It is a beautiful place, though. I wanted to live in a little brick house SO BAD while I was visiting. All the trees, the river, the pretty neighborhoods! I can see why you loved it. Even though I got yelled at by a bicycle commuter and a lady at Dunkin Donuts almost closed Charlie's arm in the door. ;)

suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} said...

oh how i love DC. i lived in NOVA in middle school and did a semester in college at American. love and miss.

your son is just gorgeous! glad you enjoyed your trip:)

Sue said...

We were there last month for a Convention and a little touristy stuff. It was 105+ and the humidity was somewhere around a bazillion, and I'm a FL native! I am with brick the way you are with lamp posts! And I too well up at the Lincoln Memorial and The Changing of The Guard. One of those "Proud to be an American" moments.

Anonymous said...

Your son is adorable! I love that hair!

Sarah said...

Looks like so much fun! WIll you come be our tour guide when we finally drag our kids there (road trip style)?

Amy said...

We did the Dulles Air and Space last week and Jack loved it. Emmie spent the ENTIRE time there screaming "I want to get ouuuutttttt" while she was confined to the stroller. Thank God it was free and free parking after 5.

So bummed we didn't connect.

Anonymous said...

Oh MAN Alexander would FREAK over those airplanes!!!! Fun!