As my wife and I drove our four kids to the airport last Wednesday afternoon for a trip to Washington D.C., we encouraged them to remember two very important aspects of travel: patience and flexibility. These two attributes are crucial to an enjoyable travel experience. And while our kids (especially the younger two), didn’t really take these to heart, we kept muttering the words “patience” and “flexibility” to ourselves when things didn’t go right. Our trip was filled with ups and downs, but I’m very glad we gave our kids the chance to experience our nation’s capital.
You see, I’m a very patriotic American, raised by goodly parents who love this land and always taught me that God had a hand in forming this country. The Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc.) were among my heroes growing up. I used to perform in patriotic programs with my siblings during the bicentennial year of 1976. I’m an Eagle Scout and take seriously my “duty to country.” I’m also a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and patriotism is basically a religious principle in my church. I even played a part in the musical “1776” at Hale Center Theater in 2004. My character signed the Declaration of Independence nightly at the end of the show. Yes, the love of country runs deep in me. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always dreamed of visiting Washington D.C. Similar to a Muslim visiting Mecca, a Catholic visiting the Vatican or a Mormon visiting the sacred grove in upstate New York (something I still have yet to do).
Anyway, we had been saving our air miles / credit card points and found a relatively inexpensive flight to Baltimore, so I convinced Robin that we should take the whole family to fulfill this dream with me as I had never been there before. We were nervous because our kids didn’t seem too excited. One said, “This sounds like it’s going to be one long field trip.” Another said, “That sounds BORING. Why can’t we go to Hawaii instead.”
But I persisted. I booked the trip six months ago and have been eagerly anticipating it ever since.
Well, I’m writing this post from the airplane home and thought I’d just share some thoughts. We packed in a lot over 4.5 days, driving just under 500 miles in our rented minivan and exploring the area thoroughly. Here’s a quick summary.
Day #1 – George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial
Day #2 – U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court, National Botanical Garden, American Indian Museum, National Air and Space Museum
Day #3 – White House, Ford’s Theater, House where Lincoln die, American History Museum, Great Falls of the Potomac
Day #4 – Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Kennedy Family Gravesite, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, National Cathedral, National Zoological Park, Washington DC LDS Temple and Visitor Center
Day #5 – National Archive, Natural History Museum, Holocaust Memorial Museum
Whew!! I think I need a vacation from my vacation! And there was still a lot to see. I wish we could have spent a lot more time in the American History Museum and other Smithsonian museums that we didn’t have time to visit. I would have loved to have seen a performance at the Kennedy Center or taken a tour of the White House. I tried to squeeze in a visit to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (money factory) and the Vietnam Memorial, but we just ran out of time and nearly missed our flight due to a traffic accident that delayed our return trip to the airport by 45 minutes.
Overall, it was an amazing trip, but not without its challenges. Taking four kids (16, 14, 11 and 8) on a trip like this is NOT for the faint of heart. There were lots of ups and downs. My 16-year-old son Parley was sick for more than half of the trip with food poisoning and could hardly walk on one of the days. My younger two kids (8 and 11) don’t travel well and there were DOZENS of tantrums / fights and lots of whining and crying — so much crying — (shudder). Robin says we deserve a medal. I say we should have our sanity checked. We attempted this grand adventure and decided to bring along people who weren’t all that interested in going. Many times I thought how much easier the trip would have been if it had just been Robin and me. We could have traveled more quickly and with a LOT less fuss. We could have saved a lot of money if we didn’t have to get two rooms each night or rent a minivan instead of a car (not to mention the cost of the flights and food).
So why did we do it? Was our pain worth it? As we concluded our trip, I think about the many cherished memories we created together, which hopefully will overshadow the difficult times we experienced. Here are a few that stand out to me:
Our nighttime stroll from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial alongside the reflecting pool.
Our feeling of admiration for the character and goodness of the father of our country, George Washington, during our visit to his home in Mt. Vernon.
Our sense of loss at the tragedy that occurred at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 — Lincoln’s death still saddens us 150 years later.
Our feeling of deep gratitude for those who laid down their lives in World War II and Korea as we visited those memorials.
Our profound connection with history as we saw the places where 42 presidents have lived and worked, where laws and been debated and created by 114 different congresses and where Supreme Court justices have interpreted those laws.
Our fascination with the ingenuity of American inventors (including the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and NASA engineers) and the courage of American explorers, pioneers, soldiers and activists who helped bring about needed change. Their stories are shared beautifully in the Smithsonian museums.
Our awe at the ultimate sacrifice given by so many as we visited Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Our overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism as we saw thousands of visitors from all over the world come to see the center of American power and pay their respects to the founders, statesmen and everyday people who have labored so diligently over the past 240 years to make the American experiment a resounding success.
Perhaps the trip was worth it after all.