Last week, Air Force Family headed down to Washington, DC. Now, I'm sure many of you have seen the wonders of our nation's capitol - particularly as it is second only to Texas in base saturation. If it is a given that we will all be stationed in Texas at some point or another in a military career; then it is not too far from a guarantee that there will also be some time spent in Washington, D.C. or its outlying areas.
I love visiting D.C.
First of all, the drive down from New Jersey is fairly easy. It's only a few hours. This time we grabbed the chance to stop at both Gettysburg and the Saint Elizabeth Seton Shrine in Emmitsville, Maryland. As a family that also home-schools, we have a remarkable ability to line up our lessons and our road trips, and this was no exception. My second daughter had just finished studying the Civil War, and so was bursting to tell us all about the monuments and battles.
The 3/4 of my children who can read were particularly affected by the graves which said "UNKNOWN". As my third daughter put it after we explained what that meant - in her own ability to relate to going to war and what can happen, "So their kids don't know where their Daddy is?"
It's always sobering to find out exactly how much your children understand, and how they process information they learn.
From Gettysburg we traveled on to the Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Seton in Emmittsville, Maryland. St. Elizabeth Seton was the first American canonized, and her basilica is breathtaking. I usually associate things like this with Europe, and tend to view our American religious heritage sites as more akin to the California Missions I grew up visiting. The Seton Shrine is nothing like them.
Then we were off to DC proper. Being Air Force Family, our first stop the next morning was the Air And Space Museum. We found out my son is obsessed with rockets. We also found out he is quite interested in the potty systems used on space vehicles. My four year old son was so fascinated with everything in the museum that we spent more than two hours there while he perused everything and oohed and aaahed over the space suit we were allowed to touch. I won't go into detail about the experiment my family decided to conduct under the heat sensor, but suffice it to say that even the teenager was thrilled to participate and it involved chili for dinner the night before.
My 14 year old is currently studying World War II, and we made a stop at the Holocaust Museum for her. She came out of it enormously changed. There is an exhibit called Daniel's Story that is appropriate for younger children, and even my 6 year old was able to grasp the significance. Daniel's Story was so incredibly well done and the best way possible to impart the horrors of what happened, the environment it occurred in; without traumatizing the smaller children.
Right now the American History Museum is closed, so we were only able to visit the Natural History Museum. By this time we were so exhausted from visiting museums and memorials, we kind of skated through before heading to the metro to get back to our hotel.
One of the great things about the D.C. area is that many of the museums are free of charge and absolutely incredible to see. It can be quite an economical and educational way to spend a day.
After some reloading and relaxing time, we made a visit to Arlington Cemetery. I could spend all day there reading headstones and thinking about the people resting there. I feel very small when I see so many who have given so much.
However, I knew that my son was not going to be able to observe the "Be Silent and Respectful" rule long, so we were only able to see President Kennedy's grave and the eternal flame before having to head out.
On the way to President Kennedy's grave, we walked through the Women's Memorial. Inside is a long wall of artist's renditions of those who have been killed in action. I saw many covered with notes and mementos, flowers, and patches. It was absolutely overwhelming and incredibly powerful. It was so emotionally exhausting just to skim over that I found myself avoiding scanning for names I knew - it just would have been too much.
Our final stop in D.C. was the Zoo. It was freezing cold, and many of the animals were hiding, but the emu came out to stalk the fence and look angrily at us. Also, the maned wolves were being exceptionally stinky.
By this time the kids and I were starved. Although our hotel had a great breakfast buffet, it was after 2 and we had not eaten lunch. We decided to grab something at the Mane Restaurant in the zoo. Yuck. I could not in good conscience tell anyone to eat there. Not only was the food terrible, but it was expensive! Nearly seven dollars for a kid's meal! My recommendation? Grab something at one of the numerous little places around the zoo.
But like the museums, the zoo is free (except for parking, but we took the metro there, too), making it a great day outing for a family.
Being able to see things like D.C. is definitely one of the perks of being a military family!
Have you been stationed in the DC area? What were your favorite parts? What must sees and must dos are on your list?