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48 Hours in DC with my Pint-sized Patriot

Once we knew we’d be in Washington D.C. for Gold Star Mothers Weekend, we just had to decide how many days to tack on to the trip (and take a 3rd grader out of school…) to do some sightseeing. Colt has emerged as quite the history buff and quite the traveler so the trip to DC couldn’t have come at a better time.

So much history and adventure, so little time.

We had about 48 hours to play with, and we intended to maximize it without feeling like we were rushing around. Colt had done his homework and we designed our entire trip around these priorities:

  1. Mount Vernon
  2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (specifically the Ancient Egypt exhibit)
  3. The National Mall

There was absolutely no way to see all of DC in 48 hours, so we focused on his wish list and I reminded him we’d have to go back in the spring someday anyway — for the cherry blossoms — and we’d see and do more “next time”.

Getting There

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Maximizing a few short days meant taking the earliest possible flight from Northwest Arkansas. Which meant leaving our house before 4:30am. Airport breakfast!

I didn’t realize before this trip how spoiled Colt is with the direct flights we have (and usually take) out of XNA. This time we connected through Chicago and as we did, Colt started looking around for the Baggage Claim signs.

“No no, Buddy. We go get on our next plane and they put our bags on the plane for us.”
“Well, THAT’S smart!”

Put our bags on the plane they did, and we found the hotel shuttle on the other end. We were at the hotel and ready to get moving in no time.

An Afternoon at Mount Vernon

First on the wish list meant first on the agenda, so we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed straight back out — to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Colt has a special place in his heart for George and didn’t seem to mind that we were very nearly the youngest people there.

We had reservations for a tour of the house, during which we couldn’t take photos, but I highly recommend the tour. We had a different “host” in each room as we made our way through the home — they shared stories and answered questions, and I got the impression each one of them genuinely enjoyed working at Mount Vernon.

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View of the Potomac from the house

View of the Potomac from the house

Though we only saw a few other kids the whole time, I was impressed with the efforts by Mount Vernon to keep kids interested. On the iPod touch that served as our audio tour guide, there was an app for Colt to play a spy game — he collected clues all over the property and answered trivia questions about the area. He was into being there anyway, but the spy game was a nice cherry on top of the experience.

Mount Vernon is for walkers — I cannot stress that enough. The paths between the main residence and the various other buildings on the property are well-groomed, but the whole area is hilly. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed stretching our legs after a morning of traveling. It was a perfect way to kick-start our trip.

After we walked every inch of Mount Vernon, we headed back to the city to meet the rest of our party. Colt’s cousin Eric lives and works in DC, and it took very little convincing to have my sister-in-law Lynn meet us in DC so we could hang out with our boys and each other. Eric took us to a cool restaurant on the water for dinner, and by the time we made it back to the hotel – we collapsed.

The White House: We Interrupt this Program for a Very Important Lesson

Friday morning we had reservations to tour the White House. I’d worked through our congressman in Arkansas and – let me tell you – the logistics of getting into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are intense. You surrender all but your first born child in exchange for a ticket, and you can take NOTHING inside. No bags and no “cameras with a detachable lens”. So we relied on Colt’s camera. And I am heartbroken to have to tell you that I am still crossing my fingers either Delta Airlines or the Atlanta airport finds it someday… because it never made it home with us.

{Close your eyes and imagine smiling, squinting-in-the-sun photos of Lynn, Eric, Colt, and me in front of the White House.}

I’m hoping to conjure enough serendipity by putting this out into the world — that the camera will magically be found within hours of this posting. Though – let’s be real – the only way for it to show up in the lost and found is for me to go buy a NEW camera. Lesson: PLEASE CHECK around your seat for any personal belongings you may have brought on board with you.

The tour was neat though I found myself wanting to touch everything. There was something about the White House that just didn’t seem real. After the White House itself, we wandered over to the White House Visitors Center to get Colt’s passport stamped and it was an incredible complement to the tour. I’m so glad we did it! We spent nearly as much time in the Visitors Center as we did on the WH tour — videos, multi-media exhibits, virtual tours and models of the areas of the White House we didn’t see on the tour. I highly recommend the Visitors Center either immediately before or immediately after a White House tour

Mummies at the Museum of Natural History

After a short lesson on free speech and the First Amendment prompted by the peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House, we headed to Colt’s #2 priority: The National Museum of Natural History. When he and I were in New York City this summer, he’d had his heart set on seeing the mummies at the Museum of Natural History THERE, but the exhibit had moved on. He consulted with the museum staff and was pleased to learn the mummies had been relocated to DC! He’d get to see them on our next trip! And see them we did.

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They had an extensive mummy exhibit — several humans and then several animals. He was enthralled. Maybe we’ll plan a trip to see the Pyramids someday.

As we finished up with the mummies and made our way through the museum he fell in love with something nearly as squirmy to me as mummies…

BUGS.

These were not cute little caterpillars… These were Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches named George. *shudder*

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He LOVED it. He held every single thing on that cart of ickiness. There was George, a hornworm, a beetle with huge pinchers on its head, a Blue Death Feigning Beetle, and a big stick bug. He grilled the Entomologist with questions and at one point she even offered him a future internship!

As we moved on from the bugs we noticed we were leaving the Orkin Insect Zoo. And the marketer and lover-of-cleverness in me smiled despite the bugs.

The Buck Starts Here

Ever since I introduced Colt to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and the character Fudge – he’s been wanting to go the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Again – no photos allowed – but we took the grand tour through the entire process — from the paper itself to the security methods to the cutting and bundling. When (unsuccessfully) trying to convince me to buy the stuffed bear he’s holding in the photo he said, “he’s cute! And cuddly! And he’s made of MONEY!” Hard to argue, certainly. But we settled for a photo instead.

The Mall

At last. The mall. His first time there. MY first time there. Having done his homework, he peppered us with factoids and trivia as we made our way down the lawn in the gorgeous sunshine. We heard about the different types of stone on the Washington Monument, bits of pieces of history tied to different wars and conflicts, and we zig-zagged across the lawn to the Visitors Centers for the monuments we visited — getting stamps in his passport.

Colt and Aunt Lynn - The National Mall

Colt and Aunt Lynn – The National Mall

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Colt and Mommy – World War II Memorial

Somewhere between the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial it was time for a break in the shade with a popsicle. And then we climbed the majestic steps of the Lincoln Memorial to what I can only assume is one of the most beautiful and coveted and photographed views of DC.

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Mommy and Colt (Can you guess what color popsicle he had during our snack break?)

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He knew to take us to the I Have A Dream etching in the steps, and I know he can only begin to understand the gravity of those words — then, and now. Moments like that are the reason I wanted to take him to DC in the first place. We stood there and talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. like we sat at each memorial and talked briefly, “why is it important to remember this person? This President? This moment in history?” I know some of it went straight out the other ear, but it’s important to me he grows up with an increasing knowledge of what it means to be an American. It’s not a simple thing, and being in DC among the giants in our short but complex history only reinforced to me that it’s never been simple.

By the time we made it to the MLK Jr. Memorial, Aunt Becky had made it to town and joined our walking tour of history. And then the FDR Memorial where I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful words etched into the stone along every wall. Those Roosevelts. Such a way with words.

That was our last stop before we headed to dinner, and back to the hotel for the night. A long day of mummies and memorials.

Deputized by the Capitol Police

Bright and early on our final day of sightseeing in the city, we headed straight for another of Colt’s favorite Presidents – General Grant. Unfortunately, Grant soon made it to our “Next Time” list as he was all boarded up for restoration.

General Grant Memorial. We TRIED!

General Grant Memorial. We TRIED!

The back of the Capitol building was covered in scaffolding, too, undergoing some renovations, but we waved a quick hello before calling an Uber to head over to the Jefferson Memorial.

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While we waited for our Uber, we had to wander a bit from the Capitol in order for the GPS to pick up our location and then we just looked lost… and a kind Capitol Policeman came over to offer some help. As we waited, he chatted with Colt and wanted to take a photo with a kid with such cool hair. So he gave Colt a sticker deputy badge, a patch for his backpack, then clipped his REAL badge on Colt’s waistband for the photo. Buddy, you’re legit!

The Capitol Police's newest deputy

The Capitol Police’s newest deputy

By that time, our Uber arrived and it was time to say goodbye to our new friend. We shook hands and said thank you for the patch, and we ran to get into the car — and then realized Colt still had his POLICE BADGE. We came THIS close to getting in the car with it, but we ran back and I’ll never forget the look on that guy’s face as he realized he almost lost his badge by GIVING it to a CHILD. We had a good, nervous laugh and said a second round of goodbyes — then we were off to the Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial

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Jefferson rounded out the memorials on Colt’s list, and we were museum-bound again. This time — a little something different.

I Spy

I’d heard and read plenty of good things about The International Spy Museum and knew it would be a good option if Colt was into it. The only drawback of the Spy Museum is the cost. After vacationing in NYC this summer (where NOTHING is free) we were loving DC! Everything is free! Except the Spy Museum – sheesh. It wasn’t cheap, but it was really well done and we had a ball. Becky met up with us again for this one, and we assumed our new identities before heading into the museum.

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These three photos are a set. In one section of the exhibit, there were secret tunnels and passageways in which to practice your spying… I looked up to see Colt and Becky prowling over my head, and then they sent me a selfie of themselves inside the tunnel. You wouldn’t make very good spies with your flash photography, you guys!

I love this photo. It's in the James Bond section of the museum and he reminds me of a cackling evil villain.

I love this photo. It’s in the James Bond section of the museum and he reminds me of a cackling evil villain.

Air and Space: The Final Frontier

Our final stop was the National Air and Space Museum, where I wish we’d planned to spend more time. This will definitely go on our “Next Time” list. It was easy to be overwhelmed by the place, and we got good advice from the Welcome Desk to start in the “How Things Fly” exhibit where we stumbled upon the Design Hangar and the Challenge of the Day. Colt couldn’t resist.

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Aunt Lynn, Colt, Mommy

Aunt Lynn, Colt, Mommy

We absorbed as much Air and Space as we could — from the Wright Brothers to Skylab and he even convinced me to ride in a simulator with him. We snapped one final picture in front of the biggest airplane we could find, before I had to head back to the hotel and get to the Gold Star Mothers banquet that night. Lynn kept Colt for a few more hours of sightseeing, and they had another date night with Eric. Handsome Hood boys!

Hood Boys

Hood Boys

48 hours flew by in a flash, but the list for “Next Time” is long and exciting. I’m grateful for my travel buddy, and I’m grateful for Aunt Lynn who always makes things more fun. I hope he knows I’m not kidding about coming back someday (soon). Those cherry blossoms are calling my name.

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless
we make it a good place for all of us to live in.
– Theodore Roosevelt

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