Thursday, February 20, 2014

E.T.R.A: Washington, D.C. Edition!

Originally posted as "The Big Adventure: Part One" on The I's Have It, April 23, 2011, "The Big Adventure: Part Two" on The I's Have It, May 10, 2011.  Filed under Identity, Inner Peace, Indulgence, Introspection.  Now with Bonus Photos!

[Editor's Note: In 2011, I took my children, ages 5 and 15 months, on a two-week trip to Washington, D.C., via Amtrak.  We lived in a small apartment in Petworth, and relied completely on public transportation.]

So.  Here we are in Washington, DC.  We've been here for six days now, and I want to start recording our adventures before I forget them.  I've been writing every night in the fabulous Moleskine travel notebook that Sam gave me before I left, but, let's face it, you're likely never going to read that ;)

After the excitement and terror of the tornado,* it was not surprising that the train was delayed on Sunday morning.  Power was still out up and down the route, and at one point we were actually stopped (south of Rocky Mount, NC) for almost 2 hours while they removed downed power lines from the train tracks.

The train ride itself was great, although again I am glad we decided to have Adrian come with us at the front end of this trip.  Not knowing what to expect on the train, it was nice to have an extra pair of hands wrangling the boys.  Believe me, I have already started working on my game plan for the solo trip home.  Milo has become a holy terror, by the way, and it was next to impossible to convince him to just SIT.  If we had been on a plane, I might have really lost my mind, but because the train is so roomy, and you can walk around a bit, I got to Washington without actually duct-taping him to the seat. 

One of the best parts of the train ride was the dining car.  The whole thing was just cool.  The conductor walked through the car taking reservations, and we took the latest one (1:30pm), which worked out really well because a) Milo took a morning nap and woke up at around 1:10, and b) because there were no reservations after ours, we were able to take our time and not get the bum's rush so they could turn the table.

The food was nothing at all special, slightly burnt chicken tenders and the like, but man, we were in a by God dining car!  I felt like I was in a movie.  I particularly love how Amtrak is not at all shy about trying to capitalize on the romanticism of train travel, with Art Deco signage and posters everywhere.  It's so far up my alley.

We arrived in Washington's Union Station just before 6pm, and it could not have been simpler to hop on the Metro and head towards the apartment.  I purchased Metro SmartCards before we arrived, so we felt like real natives without having to fumble for money at the ticket machines.  The SmartCards are so simple to use, even Max can manage it with little fuss, and every time you go through the turnstile you get a readout of how much money you have left on it, so you know when it's time to add more.

Now, after the weeks and months of agonizing over a place to stay, I would be lying if I did not admit that I was very, very nervous to catch our first glimpse of Petworth/Columbia Heights.  Would it be everything I hoped and imagined, or would we be hightailing it for the nearest Hampton Inn with our tails between our legs?  I was so very relieved to find it was the former!  Petworth is a charming mix of old rowhouses and new apartment buildings, lots of construction going on, and Columbia Heights is like a little urban wonderland, exactly what a country bumpkin might imagine the ideal city neighborhood to be, with restaurants and coffee shops and grocery stores, a vegan bakery, an old theater, and yes, even a Target all right there at your feet.  The population seems to be an equal blend of white, black and Hispanic, with a sprinkling of other colors and languages, and makes for a very Sesame-Street-y feel, if you know what I'm saying.  (Before you become nervous that I'm walking around with "Mug Me, I'm a naive tourist" written on my shirt, please know that I am being safe.  I am carrying the minimum amount of cash with me, my bag is firmly slung across my head and shoulder, counterbalanced by Milo in his sling and the firm grip I maintain on Max's hand.  We don't stay out after dusk, we stick to the main thoroughfares, and we stay within sight of other people always. That being said, I have been pan-handled exactly once, and it was on the Mall, and everyone in the neighborhood smiles and says "hello" when you pass.  Besides, how bad can a neighborhood be when the beer bottles in the gutter are Stella Artois????)

We arrived at the apartment, and it's a cozy and charming as I could have hoped.  Not exactly baby-proof, so I've had to spend a bit of time rearranging things because, as I mentioned earlier, Milo has turned into a holy terror, and if it can be climbed on, ingested or broken, you can pretty much count on him to take care of it.  Not really a big deal, though.  Dropped off our bags, and walked to the Safeway for a few essentials, then across the street to the VERY SKETCHY liquor store, into which I sent Adrian alone.  I'm no dummy.  Back to the apartment via the playground across the street, and then Adrian and I indulged in the one activity that really makes us feel like we are living in the city - Chinese delivery.  Super delicious Mongolian beef, a couple glasses of Shiraz, and that was all she wrote about our first night in the big city.

On Monday we headed straight for the Mall.  We popped up out of the Metro station and Max was more excited than I thought he would be at his first glimpse of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.  I hope that balanced out his disappointment that he could not, in fact, explore the entire Smithsonian Castle.  

"Ugh, it's just like Cinderella's Castle!! Why do they think
that castles don't need more than one room?"

Took a ride on the carousel, explored a garden, and headed into our first museum, the Hirshorn.  Not what I would have chosen for our first museum, but Max was pretty firm in his decision.  It was slightly stressful, an art museum by nature is kind of a quiet place, and I feel like I said "don't touch that" about a million times, but he seemed really intrigued by quite a few of the pieces.  We had a date for late morning, so we left there before too many people gave us the evil eye.

Always time for coffee.

At the Hirshorn.  Max would deploy this particular pose all
over greater Washington, D.C.  Not really sure why.

I have a lot of family that lives in the greater DC area, so we had plans to meet up with my cousin, Colleen, and one of her boys, four-year-old Drew.  We've been eager to get Max and Drew together since it has become apparent that they are costume-wearing, princess-and-train-loving kindred spirits, and we were not disappointed by the speed with which they hit it off.  It was all we could do to keep up as they took off into the depths of the National Museum of Natural History, and led us on a whirlwind tour of the dinosaurs, Africa, the ocean, the Hyperbolic Reef exhibit, lunch in the Atrium cafe, Egyptian mummies, skeletons and bugs.  Whew!

Amazing textile display.

After the museum, we walked Colleen and Drew back to Colleen's office, crossing Constitution Avenue (there is something about being in DC that just makes you feel so patriotic!), strolling past the FBI Building and the Department of Justice (Adrian, of course, making jokes the whole way, calling out to the security guards, "Hey, is Eric working today?" - I love that he can make almost ANYone laugh), Ford's Theater......and then, Colleen changed the entire shape of the rest of our trip by taking us into (trumpet fanfare) FROZEN YO.....Back to the apartment for a short rest, then hit the Metro again for a very long ride out to suburban Virginia to spend a lovely evening with Colleen and her family.  

Little boys at the Gates of Oz....I mean, the Department of Justice.
Tuesday got off to a somewhat sluggish start, due to our late night Metro back from Wrighticello, but we managed to pack a lot in.  It was drizzling a bit, so we had to make a stop off at the local CVS to buy umbrellas, then we strolled down to Columbia Heights to check out Sticky Fingers Vegan Bakery....let's just say I may never again bake chocolate chip cookies without sprinkling them with salt. Adrian *had* to duck into Julia's Empanadas (he's been planning this for MONTHS, I tell you) so we shared a delicious Chilean empanada as we headed for the Metro.  Our destination today was the National Museum of American History, which Adrian had never visited, but was always my favorite when I was younger.  The layout of this museum is a bit strange; from the outside, it looks, honestly, like a big bank, and when you walk through the main still looks kinda like a big bank.  The exhibits are on three floors, in two wings on either side of a VERY non-descript atrium space.  A little disconcerting at first, but we made a right turn, and, after a brief stop at the Greensboro lunch counter (Max has been very curious about segregation lately, which, given our train travel and our daily encounters with so many more African-Americans as well as numerous exhibits we've seen, has sparked some very interesting conversations) we ran right into some trains....need I say more?  We wound our way through the history of train travel, through the development of streetcars and motor cars and interstates.....Max and Adrian were in hog heaven.  There are some very cool, hands-on exhibits for kids, so we spent quite a bit of time checking that stuff out...

Museum of American History, Spark Lab

Museum of American History, Spark Lab

Milo and I visited Julia Child's kitchen,

Bon Appetit!

and the gift shop (I was eager to pick-up a few of the items that Max was happily playing with over in the Spark Lab, and I was surprised and disappointed to find they were not for sale).  Of course we had to go upstairs to see Dorothy's ruby slippers, the original Kermit, the dollhouse and all of that other good stuff.  I thought Max, given his interest in costumes and fashion, would be very interested in the exhibit of First Ladies' gowns, but he lost interested somewhere between Lady Bird Johnson's fur cuffs and Pat Nixon's lime green sequins...

Uggghhh, the accursed Simba mask, up close and in person!!

I think Max could have gone on for several more hours (I am thankful and amazed with how well he is doing with all of the walking, I was a bit nervous about that before we got here, but he is a real trooper and has hardly whined at all....or maybe I'm just better about picking up his cues before he gets to the whining stage) but honestly, Adrian and I were ready to call it a day, so we headed back to the apartment for brief rest before heading to Chinatown for dinner.  Chinatown is really small.  The Friendship Gate is pretty spectacular, especially after dark when it's lit up with floodlights, but other than about two dozen Chinese (and Thai, and Japanese) restaurants, there's not much to really make is Chinatown (in fact, other than the gate, the other big landmark of note there is a synagogue.  Go figure.) 

Friendship Gate

Just as well, we were tired and still needed to hit the grocery store (I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of Adrian while I still could!)  We went to Columbia Heights, because there is a bigger supermarket (Giant) there, and of course we had stop in at Frozen Yo.  There is a pretty little plaza in Columbia Heights, Frozen Yo is at one end of it, and on this night it was full of people, eating yogurt, drinking coffee, riding bikes, chatting, drumming....Little kids running around, bright lights, the sounds of traffic and sirens and music from the coffee shop.  Sitting there, soaking it all in, I felt nostalgia for a life I never led.  Does that make sense?  Not regret, necessarily, not a "road not taken" feeling....I'm finding it hard to explain, but I have an idea that if I am ever able to put that feeling into words, I may just have figured out a major truth to my life.

Wednesday was Adrian's last day with us, and although I had this idea that we would do something really special to mark the end of his trip, some how we didn't, and I feel bad about that.  We took the Metro to Federal Triangle and walked to the White House, which I enjoyed (especially getting to see the Obamas' kitchen garden, it made them seem so, you know, normal), but Max was dragging a bit, and it was a little hot, and Adrian just kept saying "I'm gonna miss you guys" which would start Max on "I wish you didn't have to go, Dad," and I felt myself getting annoyed with Max for moping, and annoyed with Adrian for constantly talking about the fact that we aren't going to see him for a week and a half, and then annoyed with myself for being annoyed over their totally normal emotions and behavior.  Salvation presented itself in the form of a dirty water hot dog cart, and we sat in the grass at the edge of the Ellipse and had a very nice little picnic, which seemed to perk everybody up.  

Mmmmm, dirty water hot dog......

We set off for the Old Post Office Pavilion, with an excruciatingly long detour into the actual Post Office to buy postcard stamps (which, much to my amusement, they didn't have).  We stood in a very long line to go up the elevator to the top of the Old Post Office Pavilion tower, which we all really liked (except for Milo, who, after fighting being in the sling the entire time we stood in line was, naturally, asleep by the time we actually got to the top of the tower).

The night before, Adrian happened to catch a commercial on the television for an Earth Day event at Freedom Plaza (for all you Dan Brown fans) featuring a performance by Victoria Vox, one of my favorite singer/songwriters (and a ukulele player, to boot!) A terrific, unexpected bonus, and we spent about an hour in the breezy warmth of Pennsylvania Avenue listening to her and the cellist playing with her.  A moment of familiarity in an unfamiliar place.

Before we knew it, it was time for Adrian to go.  We took the Metro together as far as Metro Center, and as we rocketed along the track, Adrian, with tears in his eyes, leaned in and whispered, "I'm really very sad to be leaving you guys, but I'm trying not to let it show."  I whispered back, "Oh honey, it shows.  It shows."  As soon as he stepped off the train without us, Max burst into loud wailing tears, and I unashamedly bribed him into stopping with the promise of Frozen Yo.  It was a lovely afternoon in Columbia Heights, and we had the added excitement of running into Victoria Vox and her friend at Frozen Yo (she was very friendly).  

THERE'S a smile.  Thanks, Frozen Yo!

We headed home, and had Max's favorite supper (baguette with fresh mozzarella and pepperoni) before discovering a completely addicting online game called Monkey Quest that we stayed up way too late playing.

While I was sad to see Adrian go, and I do miss him, part of me was impatient for him to be gone.  I have really been looking forward to this time alone with my boys, and the chance to prove to myself that I can do this, that I can function on my own with the boys for a little while, because so many people expressed their incredulity that I would even consider a trip like this without Adrian's help.  So in a way, I wasn't going to feel like we were really doing *this* trip until he was gone.  That's not to say I'm not glad he was with us, the tornado and the unknown of train travel (not to mention the suspense of seeing the neighborhood for the first time) were unnerving enough with Adrian's company, I'm glad I did not have to do any of that on my own.

On Thursday we headed to the National Zoo, along with the rest of the world's population.  It was PACKED, from the moment we stepped off of the Metro at Woodley Park, for every step of the five blocks of uphill sidewalk to get to the entrance, and all the way through the zoo.  I was reminded every minute of why I am so glad to be a baby-wearer!!  The hordes of strollers, the traffic jams, the line halfway around the block to get strollers onto the Metro always amazes me in these situations that more people DON'T baby-wear.  And never mind the whole stroller-as-battering-ram mentality, how do you know if your kid is even enjoying this place that you've taken them to, if you are pushing them in front of you?  (Related: for my fellow lactivists, I am proud to add Amtrak, the Metro, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and the US Botanic Garden to my list.)

I made plans to meet up with my college roommate, Heather, and her daughters (ages 6 and 3) at the zoo.  Heather and I were randomly matched by the powers that be at Wake Forest during the summer before freshman year, and it was one of those karmic events that you thank the universe for later, even when you don't realize how lucky you are at the time.  We were instant friends, and provided much cheerleading and support for each other throughout that first year, even as our paths began to diverge.  She pledged a sorority and I did not, and although she was willing to forego living with her sorority sisters sophomore year and continue living with me, I chose differently (and, as it turned out, very poorly).  We have remained in sporadic touch since I left WFU, but this was the first time we had met in person since, oh....1994?  Didn't matter, the familiarity and comfort were still there.  It was so, so good to see her again, and it was thrilling watching our children hit it off with the same speed and ease with which we did, oh so many years ago.  The zoo, as I said, was incredibly crowded, and the animals, to a large extent (and not that I could blame them one bit!) were hiding, but it really didn't matter because we had a lovely time catching up.  (We did have a rather unusual orangutan experience: "Mom, look!  That orangutan is kissing the other one's butt!" Ahhhh, monkey love.  And, it wasn't the butt that was being kissed, if you know what I'm sayin'.)

Random zoo experience:  Walking along with Heather and the kids, and Heather points out some little girls wearing adorable panda shirts to her daughter, Charlotte, a real panda aficionado, and she realized that the mother of said little girls was Meg, also from our freshman year hall.  Meg and her roommate, Becky, were early and easy friends of ours that year, but before too long Meg had moved on to a group of girls more of her ilk (think modern Southern Belle), and we took great childish delight in subversively tormenting her for the remainder of the year.  To say that this unexpected reunion was slightly awkward is a bit of an understatement.

The zoo is, quite literally, built into the side of a hill, and once again I was impressed with Max's fortitude, and impressed with myself for actually listening to him when he said, Mom, I'm tired, can we go back to the apartment now?  More and more on this trip, I am reminded that Max is just a little guy.  It's easy to forget that he's just six (or will be soon), he is so big and he, in my opinion anyway, speaks and acts like an older child....except when he doesn't.  Except when he looks at me with those big brown eyes and says, Mom, I'm tired.  Except when we're walking down the street and an ambulance screams by and he scuttles over to grab my hand.  Except when he is weepy because he misses his dad and his home and his friends.  His curiosity and his enthusiasm for adventure trick me into treating him like an older kid, and frequently on this trip I have found myself just wanting to squeeze him for being so fantastic, while I'm kicking myself for not treasuring his five-ness as much as I should.  At bedtime I smother him with kisses, and I'm sure he thinks I've gone completely bonkers.....

Lovely tulips in bloom near the Woodley Park/Zoo Metro.

After the zoo, I think we were all feeling a little weary, so we came back to the apartment for some down time.  A little Crazy Bugs, a little Nickelodeon, and a little reading took us off to bed for the night.  I'm feeling very good about my decision to rent an apartment, as opposed to staying in a hotel or staying with friends or family.  We have just enough toys and books from home to make our surroundings reassuring, we can cook familiar dinners when we just don't want to eat out again, we can follow our own schedule and do what we like, when we like.  I'm just really pleased with how this whole experience has turned out, and I won't hesitate to do it again.

On that note, by a unanimous vote we decided that Friday would be a "down" day.  It was cold and wet out anyway, so I did not feel the slightest bit bad that we spent the morning sleeping in, wearing pjs, doing schoolwork and writing postcards.  Four straight days of carrying Milo around the city definitely took its toll on my shoulders and calves, and I was glad of the chance to drink an extra cup of coffee and take a long hot shower.  We did brave the weather for a short while, to mail the postcards and go to lunch and the grocery store in Columbia Heights.  Max was adorable skipping down the sidewalk with his red umbrella, another moment that I wished I could freeze and stay in for a little while longer.  Came in out of the cold rain and changed right back into our pajamas for the evening.

Forgive me a wee bit of editing, won't you?

Today was still on the chilly side (I'm beginning to lose faith with Weather Underground) but we bundled up in sweatshirts and Baby Legs and set out for the US Botanic Garden (my whole life, I have called them the botanical gardens, but I guess I've been wrong....) which I think has been Max's favorite thing so far.  We ran all around the place (and I had to keep taking pictures of this one plant, the Bleeding Heart, that was growing all over and just struck me as really, really funny), and easily spent an hour in the Children's Garden alone, but I think the coolest part was this room full of huge, metal sculptures of flowers and plants, and some of the flowers were full of spices and herbs and other plant material, and since Max's reading skills are new it was fun to have him smell all the flowers and guess what was inside...he got quite a few right!  There was also a cool display of perfume bottles, and you could pull the corks out and try to guess the smell (things like jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood...)  Really fun, interactive exhibit that was pleasing to my eyes AND nose, and I could not believe it was not packed full of people.  We pretty much had the whole room to ourselves.

Plants in Culture exhibit, The U. S. Botanic Gardens

Plants in Culture Exhibit, The U.S. Botanic Gardens

Plants in Culture Exhibit, The U.S. Botanic Garden

The Children's Garden, The U.S. Botanic Garden

Inside the Conservatory, The U.S. Botanic Garden

It did turn out to be a beautiful day, so when we left the gardens I took us back to the Metro headed for the Eastern Market, with an idea of getting a late lunch and then exploring the flea market for a bit, but it was not to be.  After a rather delicious fire-grilled pizza, Max said he was all done for the day (although not too tired to hit the Curbside Cupcake truck on our way back to the Metro.  The Black Cupcake?  O.M.G.)

The pink Curbside Cupcake truck

So we're back in the apartment, Milo is playing the kazoo and Max is coloring, and I think we are headed for another relaxing evening in.  We're just about halfway through this adventure, and already I feel like the time is going too fast, and we're not going to squeeze in everything that we'd hoped.  Oh well.  Barring a meteoralien invasion, or other disaster, Washington will always be here.


In order to make taking Amtrak possible for us, I shipped a large box of heavy/bulky items, like books, workbooks, pull-ups, train the last moment, I thought to throw the kids' Easter Baskets in, and a dozen plastic eggs.  I tucked in a few little thises and thats to fill the baskets with, and picked up a little candy at the grocery store yesterday.  I got up early, set out the baskets, hid the eggs.  Turns out, Max has little interest in hunting eggs if he's not at Gran and Grampie's with his cousins.  Oh well.  I just hope I found all of the eggs before we left.

Just before we left on this trip, I purchased a Maya Tie baby carrier.  Those of you who know me know that I am a big devotee of the ring sling, and admitting that perhaps the ring sling was not the best choice for our new urban commando lifestyle was a big deal for me.  I had visions of me and my backpack baby taking the city by storm, but it turns out I really don't like wearing him on my back.  I spent the whole time he was back there asking Max, "Is your brother okay?  What's your brother doing? Is your brother okay??" and I felt a bit like it negated my whole reason for being a baby-wearer, which is to share experiences with my child.  But then I turned it around and used it as a front-carrier, and that made a huge difference.  The only down side is that I figured out how to  breastfeed with him in the front-carrier position, and now every time he gets in there he wants a boob in his mouth.  So, for those of you keeping score at home: National Gallery, Metro Bus, National Cathedral, the Washington Monument, Capitol Hill, Air & Space, the Jefferson, Lincoln AND Viet Nam Memorials.....Spy Museum......

Easter was a beautiful day, and it was lovely to see people out and about, on their way to church, brunch, grandma's house, dressed in their spring finery.  I squashed my niggling guilt that my sons are growing up as godless heathens, and put us on the Metro.  Our destination was the National Gallery, but first we got waylaid by the US Navy Memorial.  This little gem is tucked in the middle of downtown, right across the street from the Archives.  I don't know how long it's been there (1987!) but I know I'd never seen it before.  We easily spent forty-five minutes there, examining all of the sculptural reliefs and checking out the fountains.  Really, really well done, and sparked a nice little dialogue between Max and I about our armed forces, what they do, and why we honor them.

At the U.S. Navy Memorial

Ah, the National Gallery.  I admit, I had some trepidation about going.  Art museums are kinda like libraries, not really the best place for two kids who aren't naturally quiet.  We started out in the West building, which houses primarily  medieval - 19th century work by your big names - Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh, Leonardo, Degas, Monet...even some Americans, like Wyeth, O' goes on and on and on.  The building is huge, and subdivided into a warren of small rooms that all lead into one another.  It's very easy to get turned around, and very easy to feel totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work housed in this building.  We saw some Degas ballerinas and a model for Rodin's Thinker (Max was very unimpressed by its size, and when I told him I'd seen the full-size sculpture in Philadelphia, he said, "But in Night at the Museum, it's HERE!"), among other things, but Max was soon on total sensory overload.  We took a break for lunch (the National Gallery has a wonderful cafeteria!) and headed into the East building, which is where mostly modern art lives.  Max was much more at home in the wide open spaces of the East building, and I breathed a bit easier too, although there are a lot of installations in the middle of the floor that curious kids don't necessarily realize are art that should not be touched or climbed on.   I was excited to see so many wonderful works of art (and pleased with myself for recognizing and correctly identifying so many of them on sight), but my happiest moment was when we turned a corner and Max said, "Ooooooh! A Matisse!" - and he was right!  (thanks When Pigasso Met Mootisse!) and where Max got really, really interested in the Surrealists.  He must have stared at Magritte's The Human Condition for ten solid minutes.

Yep, it's a Matisse!

The National Gallery is also where we did our major shopping of this trip.  We could not stop scooping up books in the gift shop, and while I know I probably could have purchased the same books elsewhere for less, books are always my big indulgence, and one I don't mind sharing with my kids.  Max hardly asked for souvenirs at all on this trip, which is a HUGE departure from the norm for him, especially since all of these wonderful, free museums funnel you through their gift shops on the way to the exit (hey, they have to make money somehow!).  Adrian and I like to buy a souvenir of each trip that is something for our home, not necessarily emblazoned with the name of the place we visited, but something nice that will last a long time and remind us of where we've been.  (We've gathered quite a few cutting boards and serving pieces in this manner, as well as garden decorations and big, glossy books).  Max picked out a very cool clock, which fit my criteria nicely, and perhaps one day next year I will even get it hung up.  He also picked out a tie for Adrian, a pattern from The Unicorn Tapestriesto commemorate their amazing song writing from the earlier in the trip:
"Dragons shoot FI-YAR, Unicorns and glit-TAR"
It's very metal, in a Backyardigans kind of way.

Detoured through Columbia Heights on the way home, in hopes of checking out the urban Target and picking up some diapers (yeah, I know, but I just could not see doing the cloth diapers on this trip.  It's a good thing too....have I described yet the all-in-one washer/dryer that is in the apartment?  No, not one where the machines are stacked on top of each where it's literally ALL-IN-ONE.)  Shockingly, Target was closed for Easter, so it was back to the Giant (we never did check out that Target!) by way of FrozenYo.  The fountains were on in the plaza, and there were a bunch of kids running through them.  Max looked VERY longingly at the obvious fun being had, and asked me if we could go home and get his bathing suit.  I told him he was more than welcome to run through in his shorts, but he was having none of it.  Ah, well.  But it was definitely one of those idyllic urban scenes, where you couldn't imagine NOT wanting to just live, right there, right now.

Monday was hot.  Very hot.  So not fair, considering that a mere three days earlier, I was bundling my kids in as many layers as I could put my hands on.  Our plan for the day was the National Cathedral, and I stuck to it, even though I knew it would involve a bit of walking.  The Cathedral was a special and mysterious place to me when we lived in the DC area, and I knew it would fit the bill nicely for my castle-obsessed little boy.  The trip today included our first foray onto the Metro Bus, which I was unnecessarily nervous about.  Could not have been easier (especially since the SmartTrip cards work on the bus, too) although I would later find out that I took the wrong bus, and had I paid better attention, I could have saved us an uphill walk up Wisconsin Avenue.  As it was, the bus ride was really nice, through Dupont Circle and out Massachusetts Avenue, so we got to see a lot of embassies and very impressive homes.

Kind of a castle, right?

Max loved the cathedral.  He was very impressed by the scale, and the nooks and crannies, and the stained glass windows.  He wanted to open every door.  There was a service going on when we got there, and Milo decided the echoing nave was the perfect place to exercise his growing range of vocal sounds, so we made a beeline for the tower elevator.  Really impressive views from up there at the top of Mount St. Alban's, including a nice peek at the Vice-President's mansion.  When we made our way back downstairs, we got to hear a bit of a pipe organ concert.  I thought Max would be really impressed by it, but he was disappointed that the organ didn't look like the evil pipe organ in the Beauty and the Beast Christmas movie.  Huh.

Of course he wanted to open this door.  *I* wanted to
open this door!!  I'm pretty sure it leads to Narnia or something.

When we had our fill of the cathedral and gardens (and I wished I had been better organized for a picnic in the Bishop's Garden, it's beautiful and full of shady spots), we set off down Wisconsin towards a pizza place that I knew was a) nearby and b) family-friendly (thank you Google Maps and Urban Spoon!  How did we ever vacation before smart phones???)  Max was tired, and, as I said, it was as we toiled up Wisconsin towards 2 Amys, we came upon Cafe Deluxe, took a look at the menu, and decided to walk no further.  O.M.G.  First of all, it was almost 3 o'clock (I am such a good mom), and we were hot and tired, so I thought, "Oooh, a glass of cool sauvignon blanc would be delightful and totally appropriate." (good mom, remember?)  So the waitress sees me looking at the wine list, and says "Oh, I should tell you, it's Monday, so all bottles are half-off, and we can cork it so whatever you don't drink you can take with you."  Um.....sold!  I have to say, and perhaps it was the wine, that this was one of the most delightful lunches out I have ever had with my kids.  Everyone was giggly (the wine, right?) and relaxed (wine) and not whining (ahem), and even though it was the lull between lunch and dinner and the food took forever, we had fun drawing on the paper tablecloth and talking and laughing together.  The food was delicious, gruyere mac n cheese and a grilled tilapia BLT, salted caramel sundae for dessert.......We left there full and happy and with a half-drunk bottle of wine sticking out of the diaper bag (for the win!), ready for showers and a relaxing evening.

Happy Mommy at Cafe Deluxe

The first night we were in Washington, I asked Max, what is the one thing you really, REALLY want to do while you are here.  His answer?  "Go up to the top of the Washington Monument."  I was surprised by his answer, and a little dismayed.  All of my reading had led me to understand that in order to get the free timed tickets that are required for the trip to the top, you had to be willing to get in line at the crack of dawn, or you should order them in advance online.  I hadn't done that, honestly I didn't think he would care one way or the other about the monument, other than to look at it, but one thing I have come to understand about my older son on this trip, if there is a tower or a spire or even a tall flight of steps, he wants to be on top of it.  Who knew?  It became pretty clear to me as the week passed that if I didn't get him up there he was going to be majorly bummed, possibly trip-ruining disappointed.  I envisioned people back home asking him what his favorite part of the trip was, and him answering, "Well, I DIDN'T get to go up the Washington Monument, and that's all I remember."  I tried to get tickets online, but they were booked through the end of June (!), so I explained to him that we would have to get up and out very early (two of his least favorite words) if we were going to get tickets.  He said he was ready.

Tuesday was our day.  I shook him awake and oh how he grumbled, but as soon as I said, "Maaaax, remember?"  he said, "Oh!  The monument!" and popped right up!  We managed to get out the door by 7:15, which I thought was pretty good, but even as we made our way through rush hour Metro, my inner monologue was on a constant loop of "Oh crap, if we get there too late, this whole day will just suck."  We were in sight of the monument by 8am, a half-hour before they open the ticket window, and already I could see the line stretching and winding around the building. "Oh crap oh crap oh crap."  We make the end of the line, and I'm trying to count the number of people in front of us, which is useless because each person in line is allowed to pick up as many as six tickets.  A woman gets in line behind us, and I hear her say into her cell phone, "I'm here, and the line is waaaaay shorter than yesterday.  I think we're good!"  Hooray!  An interminable wait later, and we had two tickets for 11am clutched in our hands, and Max is telling me I am the greatest.  Ah, the little things ;)

We had quite a bit of time to kill, so we went off in search of a good bagel, which we found at the Old Post Office Pavilion.  Leisurely breakfast, strolled back to the monument via the American History museum, because Max "needed another look at those trains." Stood in another line, went through a pretty intense security check (staffed by some very humorless park rangers), and then, ooh, ahh, we were whisked 500 feet up (in seventy seconds!) to the top.  Wow.  Totally worth it, I have to say.  The one disappointment was the empty reflecting pool, as there are major renovations going on.  Max was thrilled, to say the least, and had to take in each view three times before he was satisfied.

Making a wish come true, on his last day of being five.

I really can't express how thrilled I was that Max got to have this experience.  It was so gratifying to know we'd made something happen that he really, really wanted.  I was sad that Adrian wasn't there to do it with us, more so when we texted him a photo and he responded, "Awesome!!!!  I am a little teary eyed (w/ joy) that u made it happen."  Yay me!  Heh heh heh.....

After the early morning and the excitement, we were ready for a midday break, which was good as we were about to enter Phase Three of this trip, in which my sister, her ten year old son, and my mother decided to crash at our little one-bedroom rental for three nights.  As I tidied the place up, readying for their arrival, I started to get a little nervous about all of us being on top of each other, and sharing one bathroom (!!!)  that no longer had a door that closed all the way (!!!!!!!!) but figured we'd make the best of it.   We didn't go up there to sit around an apartment, anyway.   Max was really excited to have his cousin Jack come visit, and especially that there would be more people around to celebrate his birthday with.

They did not end up arriving until almost four-thirty, and I tried to hustle everyone out the door as quickly as possible.  The owners of the apartment live right upstairs, with their brand-new baby (one week old when we arrived), and Max and Jack do have a way of turning their volume up to eleven, if you know what I mean, and especially since Jack had been cooped up in a car all day.  I had concocted a plan that looked really good on paper:  most of the museums close at 5:30pm, but Air & Space was already on extended summer hours (or, as I persisted in calling them, much to Adrian's amusement, Extra Magic Hours) so I thought a trip there would appeal to both boys, followed by a walk up Capitol Hill to Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery to give Elie a cool place to "check in" at (I really shouldn't poke fun at her social media addiction, it paid off for us this night, as you will soon see!), and then we could stroll back to the Mall and take in the sights at night, which I was eager to do yet reluctant to do on my own (see, I told you I was playing it safe!)

This was the plan.  This did not turn out to be a great plan.

Air & Space was a success, Jack was very into the "Space" aspect of it, and Max spent more time in the "How Things Fly" exhibit than I would have expected.  I consistently feel like I do not give that kid enough credit.  By 7pm, energy was flagging and stomachs were rumbling, so we set off for dinner.  Here's the part of the plan that I failed to consider:  Capitol Hill is called that because IT IS A HILL.  Oooops.  Not what those two boys wanted to deal with, AT ALL.  After much cajoling, we got them to the restaurant (by which time the grownups were hot and a bit cranky, too....) to find that Max was absolutely, no way, under no circumstance, going to eat a hamburger for dinner.  Aw crap!!!!  Salvation came in the form of We, the Pizza, right next door, which was crowded and hot downstairs, but remarkably airy and cool, upstairs.  The pizzas took quite awhile, but we started to really not care after Elie got a free "growler" (read: pitcher, but hipper) of beer just for checking in on FourSquare.  I scoff no more.

Gran and Max pause for a photo op on the trek up
Capitol Hill.
Elie and Mom and our growler.  Thank you, social media!

Needless to say, we bagged the nighttime stroll across the Mall (and I'm sorry to say I never did make it there after dark) and headed for the nearest Metro station.  Three very tired boys tumbled pretty quickly into bed, while I took advantage of the extra adults in the house to SHAVE MY LEGS (oh thank the Lord).  It's the little things, yaknow?

My sister very thoughtfully brought a Happy Birthday banner to hang up for Max, which almost made up for the fact that she and Jack both forgot to turn off their six am alarms.....My kids slept in, which was just as well, since getting six people up and organized for the day was a little trickier than just three, but I finally did have to wake Max up so we could get a move on.

Gah!  Max's sixth birthday!  I can't believe it.

One of the other things that was high on Max's to do list since we hit town was to take a double decker bus tour.  I was initially resistant, I never like to be too obtrusively touristy if I can help it, but he really wanted to, and I quickly realized that one of these buses was going to be my best bet for getting his little self around to some of the more far-flung memorials that aren't well-serviced by the Metro.  This seemed like an ideal birthday treat, so we headed off to Union Station to get our tickets.  One of the first stops on the tour was the Old Post Office Pavilion.  Max was eager to take Jack up the tower and show him around (and just as eager to get another bagel, I suspect) so off we went, delighted to find no long line to wait in this time.  As it turned out, Jack was not a fan of the height, or maybe it was the elevator ride, so we cut our tower tour a bit short and went to visit the Korean bagel lady, who remembered us from the day before and gave Milo a free banana.  It really is the little things, with that one gesture she made us feel like "regulars".

Back on the bus for the ride out to the Jefferson Memorial.  In all of the time I lived in the DC area, I never once visited Mr. Jefferson's tribute, although I've seen countless images of it.  I was STUNNED to discover there is a huge bronze of Jefferson inside.  HUGE.  How is it that I've never seen a picture of THAT?  It was also pretty humbling to realize that the guy wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was 33 years old...

As we left the Jefferson, I had a sinking feeling that Max was already flagging.  I suspected that yesterday's early morning and late evening was taking it's toll, but I pretty much insisted that he power through and get to the Lincoln.  I mean, really.  We had to get to the Lincoln.  And this was going to be our one shot at it.  So we did, we got there, and I hustled him up the steps and took the obligatory photo in front of the big statue, and he said, "Oh yeah, that guy!"  And I wonder why I felt it so necessary to get him there?  I understand what a key figure in our history Lincoln is, but honestly, after our many conversations about segregation, and a brief explanation during our trip to the American History museum of what slavery was ("Mom?  Why are all of these people lying down in the bottom of this boat?"  OY.) I honestly didn't feel up to a long hard talk about the Civil War, and I know that at this point in the trip, Max was on total sensory and informational overload.  Plus, the reflecting pool was empty, we didn't even get the beautiful view.  I pushed it, anyway, and he was a good sport, but I know we could have saved Mr. Lincoln for another trip, and it would have meant more.

Jack and Max and Honest Abe.

We waited at the top of the Viet Nam Memorial while Jack and Elie strolled through (can I just say, my memory, that long black wall was a lot longer.  A lot.  I really thought it turned corners and stretched on and one.  Weird.), as I said, total sensory overload.  I talked him into taking the long bus tour back, so we went out through Arlington Cemetery and Pentagon City before looping back into DC. Two things.  Number one, it was VERY alarming being in the open top of a double decker bus, traveling at highway speed, and clutching my totally unrestrained toddler in my lap, although Max loved going under the overpasses and kept raising his arms like he was on a roller coaster; and two, although the recorded tour guide kept imploring us not to photograph the Pentagon, for security reasons, it was more than a little disturbing how close this tour bus (and all manner of other traffic) can travel to the Pentagon, without passing through any kind of security.

Told you he was tired.

Elevenses having long since worn off, Mom and the kids and I took in lunch at the food court of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center (this is one ridiculously huge office building!) before heading back to the apartment for some down time.  Or as much down time as two excited boys can have.  I do have to say, we stopped by the Safeway on our walk home, and Jack very gallantly carried both bags home....ten is such a funny age.  The weather started looking a little crazy, but I was pretty determined that we would not stay cooped up in the apartment all night, so as soon as Elie got back we convinced Mom that we needed to go out to dinner (is it wrong that I pointed out that in the event of a tornado, we'd be extra safe underground in the Metro??)  We had a lovely dinner at The Heights in Columbia Heights (hello, fried green beans with horseradish aoli!)  Ran over to the Giant to pick up the ice cream cake that Max picked out earlier in the week, then back to the apartment for Happy Birthday, complete with Daddy singing along on FaceTime.  Brilliant.

Thursday dawned at a slightly more reasonable hour (thank you for turning your alarm off, Jack!) and while Elie and Jack scooted out to an earlyish appointment at the National Archives, Gran and the boys and I took a more leisurely time getting ourselves ready to meet up with them at The Spy Museum.  Wow.  WOW.  Now, this one is not free, it's privately owned, but it is SO well done.  The sheer volume of information and artifacts housed in this place is staggering.  Part of me wishes we had done it earlier in the trip, when we were a tad more energetic, but I was glad we had Jack along, as much of it is geared toward an older child than Max, and I think experiencing it with Jack challenged Max to keep up a bit.  He did impressively well completing his mission (it's a very interactive experience), I have to say.  I thought I would have to help him much more than I did, and in fact I am a bit disappointed that I did not undertake a mission of my own, as I think Max would have been just fine, without me.

Spying from the air ducts at the Spy Museum

I did buy a few more souvenirs here, including my absolute favorite thing from the trip.  You really have to see it, to believe it.

After lunch at the Spy Cafe, we set off for the NMNH again.  Spun through the dinosaurs again, upstairs to get a peek at the Hope Diamond, showed Jack the mummy....honestly, both my kids were just about done, and I felt bad saying so.  I was pretty relieved when Elie met up with a friend and said they were going to go off and do something else, I would have felt very bad bailing out on them, but Milo was just done, fretful and restless unless he was nursing (which was honestly starting to drive me more than a little batshit), and Max was just on the verge of whining....Mom was having some bad allergy or something with her eye, so she was more than happy to head back with us, and we had a nice quiet rest for a couple of hours.  Mom was very interested in returning to The Heights for dinner, which seemed a safe bet to me, so once the Ericksons returned from their adventure we set out, and then Max was thrilled to introduce them to FrozenYo.

An added bonus of having Elie and company to stay was that they could take most of our stuff home for me, which was huge.  Saved me the expense and hassle of shipping the enormous box (plus all of the other stuff we accumulated during our stay!) which was absolutely priceless.  So I spent the remainder of the evening packing, keeping out what I thought was the bare minimum for our remaining day, night, and trip home.  Ha!

My wonderful cousin Lizard texted me to say that she had a mind to hop on the train from Richmond and come up and spend Friday with us, so we saw the car-trippers off on their merry way back to North Carolina and set out to meet her.  Max was very clear on what he wanted to do on his last day in Washington.  Ride the Carousel again.  Go back to the Botanic Gardens.  Eat gruyere mac and cheese at Cafe Deluxe.  Go back to every single museum.  I explained to him that Cafe Deluxe was very far away from the museums, and that if he really wanted to get back to all of the museums, he had better pick somewhere else for lunch.  Yeah.  He picked Cafe Deluxe.  We met up with Lizard (or rather, Milo and I did, while Max was having the world's longest carousel ride, along with eighty-eight screaming private school second graders.) (Not an exaggeration.) and set out for the Botanic Gardens.  I enjoyed the "Plants in Culture" exhibit just as much the second time, and Max once again did not want to leave the Children's Garden.....until I said "gruyere mac and cheese," that is.

Back at the Botanic Gardens with Lizard.

Lizard and Max

I don't know what happened, but the trip out to Wisconsin Avenue was a total and complete disaster this time around.  I can't even begin to describe the confusion over bus stops and number of "out of service" buses blasting past us.  I have no explanation other than to blame Lizard.  Yeah, I said it ;)

When we finally got there, lunch was as delightful as I had hoped.  I talked Lizard into the tilapia BLT, but for myself chose the plate of four sides - sauteed spinach, grilled asparagus, roasted tomatoes, and, yes, the aforementioned mac and cheese.  SWOON.  Roasted tomatoes are my new favorite thing, I've made them twice since I've been home.  Just saying.  Tonight, I made tilapia BLTs, and I put the roasted tomatoes on them.  It's a full-fledged love affair.

Eternal afternoon bus ride (Lizard again), but we did have a nice, unexpected ride through Georgetown, which is not something I thought we would do on this trip.  Bid Lizard farewell, as she had a hot dinner date waiting for her back in Richmond, and made our last trip out to Petworth.  Tried to rendezvous with some friends from home for dinner, but the boys, and, quite frankly, I, were absolutely spent, and feeling more than a little sad about leaving, stressed about packing and making our departure, anxious about traveling home and eager to see Adrian, so we made our apologies and tried to get an early night.  Easier said than done, as I tried and failed to get everything crammed into one backpack for the trip home.....

The next morning arrived quickly, and we were a whirlwind of packing toothbrushes, stripping beds, emptying freezers and trash cans, and checking under beds.  I finally strapped Milo on my chest, heaved the ridiculously heavy (I swear it was seventy-five pounds) backpack onto my back, took Max's hand and locked the door behind us one last time.  I pulled my camera out and tried to document everything about our walk to the Metro, as Max recited his litany of farewells.  "Goodbye, cave bedroom.  Goodbye, Quebec Place apartment.  Goodbye, spiral staircase.  Goodbye, scary alley cat with the gross nose.  Goodbye, somebody's watching you.  Goodbye, extra-long alley short cut.  Goodbye, Eat More Chicken that's never open.  Goodbye, Petworth escalator.  Goodbye, cup of coffee......."

We made Union Station in good time, grabbed a bagel, got on the train.  The trip home was peaceful and uneventful, we got there a mere ten minutes late, Adrian was right there waiting, just as he promised.  Within moments, we were in the car, basking in Daddy's attention, speeding towards our real life in Boiling Spring Lakes with our Washington adventure receding rapidly in the distance.  Sigh.

I've got to wrap this up, I've been writing it for days.  I just want to note, though, that this trip was everything I hoped it would be, in so many ways.  I did exactly what I set out to do, and it's not often I can say that, not really.  I am more thankful than I can say, for this experience.

*Tornado story might be posted someday, maybe a short and sweet Throw-Back-Thursday?

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