Brian has always dreamed of taking the kids to Washington, D.C. to show them the history of our nation. This spring break, rather on a whim, we finally made it happen. Time was of the essence; we have one child out of the house and two nearing the end of high school!
We didn’t have a plan or an itinerary beyond what we cobbled together during the 12 hour drive; kind of how we roll. After experiencing D.C. as the adult-in-charge I think that (un)plan worked just fine. You really have to just roll with it half the time anyway. Perhaps our whirlwind three day tour of the capitol can help you take this journey as well. There’s really nothing as meaningful, as sobering, or as inspiring as history.
Did you know that nearly everything in Washington, D.C. is free? Paid for by your tax dollars, I should say. Before we planned this trip I had no idea. Now, mind you, lodging and food in D.C. is extremely expensive, but the museums, the monuments, the tours, are all free of charge. I think that is pretty freaking fantastic.
Our first stop was the National Mall. The Washington Monument was amazing, of course, but the first emotional moment was at the WWII memorial. We talked about our grandfathers and how their survival (mine in the U.S forces and Brian’s opa as a German soldier and POW) led to generations of descendants. How the thousands, millions, who died represent exponentially more who were never born. We counted the stars, 4,048, representing more than 400,000 American troops who never came home. So many more from the other nations; soldiers, civilians, children. Staggering.
Here are two of the great-grandchildren of William Thorson who returned to Minnesota from his time of service. He went on to build a family that is now numbering over sixty, including these two. So many lives that could have never have been.
I may never have been here with my beautiful daughter.
Or these people I love so much.
The Lincoln Memorial is really just a beautiful, history-rich work of art. I stole this moment of my son when he didn’t see my camera. I love the juxtaposition of the past and the future.
Our 17 and 11 year old sharing a moment. Priceless.
They are actually looking at a Polaroid.
The human creativity and art you see everywhere you go in D.C. takes my breath away.
Isaiah, ever patient with his mom and her non-stop photo taking.
Well, okay, sometimes he gets a little sick of it.
Brian’s step-grandfather, Jerry Arthur Garrick, died in Vietnam, just a few months after he arrived. We found his name on the wall; the girls did crayon rubbings. What a beautiful tribute this wall is.
We took the D.C. Metro everywhere. My kids had never taken a subway, if you can believe that. By the last day Alayna was in charge of navigating like an old pro.
Touristing in D.C. is among the most tiring things I’ve done. Anytime we paused, we looked like this.
Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK’s grave site . . . were all incredibly moving. I only snapped a couple of photos. It is a very beautiful and meaningful place.
One of the kids took this.
Our resident book-worm loved the Library of Congress more than any other thing we did. I thought a photo of her on the steps, reading the book she had with her at all times, was highly appropriate.
A highlight was Jefferson’s library in the Library of Congress. Many of the books in this absolutely amazing library were actually his. To be that close to history like that gave me goosebumps. Alayna was utterly entranced; her only disappoint was not being able to read any of them.
My budding apprentice trying to photograph the beautiful ceiling; there were so many incredible details in this entire building. Yes, she actually laid down to get her shot. That’s my girl.
Day three it rained and rained and rained. We were not deterred!
We waited for an hour to get into the National Archives. This was one of my favorite museums we visited. No photos of any kind allowed inside. Many really cool displays, videos, stories. Worth the wait!
Kickin’ it old school with a real paper map. 🙂
One of the only photos of me, ha, and I’m not the one sliding down the railing at a terrifyingly rapid pace, but rather, I am the shoes.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Portrait Gallery was really cool as well. I could have stayed here for hours.
Tired feet and sagging energies require caffeine, sugar and chairs! Even if we were still outside in the rain and cold.
My most introverted child stealing a moment to herself while we waited for a table at Pi. I love this photo and this kid. Total side note: if you haven’t read the book “Quiet: The Power of an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” I highly recommend it. Changed how I viewed myself (get this- I am an introvert, wha?) and helped me to better understand my daughter at times like this.
If you make it to D.C. you have to check out the Newseum. This is not part of the Smithsonian and is not free, but it was really really cool. The front pages from across America were really fun to check out every day.
I was so incredibly humbled and inspired by the Pulizer prize display. It was very heavy and as I walked through with my 11 year old we were both crying (along with many others). I felt it was a very meaningful and important experience for my children.
At a time when it feels like journalism has gone the way of the Dodo bird this museum gave me hope for the gift of Free Press. This wall is filled with thousands of journalists and photographers who lost their lives telling the stories that mattered to them. Stories we needed to hear. A reminder that although it often seems that journalism is just about an agenda it is also about truth and is often brought to us at a very steep cost.
While my youngest stared at this map of the world’s “free press” status she turns to me and says “I always wondered what it meant when people say ‘It’s a free country’. Look at the rest of the world, Mom. We really are a free country. We are so lucky.” Yes. Yes we are. Even in its imperfection.
The 9-11 exhibit was one of the hardest for me but also one that was the most meaningful to share with my kids. I will never forget that morning. It was Isaiah’s 2nd birthday and we were outside our house in Willow Glen, California playing in the yard. Alayna was a chunky baby on my hip. Brian called and told me to turn on the T.V. , then rushed home. We stood in horror as the tragedy unfolded, our two year old and five month old children playing in the shadow of the newscast; blessedly ignorant. It is important to me that they remember and grapple to understand.
This camera was found in the rubble. The photographer captured incredible last moments before he died preserving history. I felt a sort of kinship with a fellow storyteller and a sense of gratefulness for his sacrifice.
At one point in this museum Isaiah asked me if I ever considered being that kind of photographer; a journalist who went into danger to tell the stories few were telling. I have been mulling over that question since.
Watching my 2nd generation American husband and his three children take in the story of the Berlin wall reminded me how lucky we are every single day. So many little moments come together to give you the life and freedoms you happen to enjoy; it really is just fate of birth. Brian’s oma, Lydia Buss, could have been on the wrong side of that wall, where many were imprisoned for decades, when her husband returned from the Siberian POW camp. They might never have been reunited, gone on to have Brian’s mother, or taken a ship to Ellis Island with three year old Sigrid. My husband and these three humans I love so much might never have been born. Lucky for me!
We found Lydia’s Ellis Island records. She came to America in 1953 on the Ocean Liner Neptunia with 3 year old Sigrid, our Lydia’s grandma.
Did I mention that Newseum is a fabulous museum?
Alayna displaying her almost-fully functioning vintage Nokia phone, a museum piece in its own right. She was complaining to me that in the American history museum there were cell phones newer than this beautiful beast. We should donate it to the Smithsonian when she’s done with it.
We took a tour to see how they print money at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which was pretty interesting. Absolutely no photos allowed, except in the gift shop, lol. How tall are you in dollars? I mean, very very important question to get answered.
Please get an Uber. Please. We’re tired!
We had a two mile walk after The Mint but opted to Uber because, dude, D.C. is tiring! This photo cracks me up. Waiting and also, soooo tired of being together, lol.
The Smithsonian Institute’s American Teenager exhibit. Pulitzer worthy, naturally.
This kid didn’t seem to find D.C. nearly as tiring as the rest of us.
Our last stop was the Udvar Hazy Air and Space museum . This is a wonderfully done history of aviation and space travel. They had some of the very first airplanes, first used in combat (they flew around and tried to shoot with handguns out of open cockpits, not kidding), first planes that transported people over oceans. It was really fascinating.
The restoration overlook was probably the most interesting. If you can, go during the week so you can see them working to take old rubble or even ten different planes to restore one to its original glory.
Seeing an actual Apollo space craft was awesome. I mean, that thing went to the moon! The ingenuity of man is amazing to me.
A tiring, inspiring, sobering and important visit to history accomplished we made the 12 hour (well, 24 hour) journey back to Wisconsin. Ten miles down the road Brian says “Next time we come here on July 4th!” and I said, “Um, maybe July 4th, 2025. When I have recovered.”
If you are curious about lodgings, we stayed in an Airbnb that was pretty decent. It was in Columbia Heights, just a couple of miles from the Mall. We took the Metro in each morning. It was pretty convenient and a LOT less money than hotels in D.C.