We just got back from our first family trip that actually kind of felt like a vacation. For 6 years we have been firmly observing the sad truth of traveling with little ones:
“There are no vacations with children, just changes of scenery.” – City Mama’s Sister
It had been so long that I forgot what an adventure could be, even if it was a familiar one.
We visited DC for spring break with the rest of America (at least that’s what it felt like).
I credit the success of this vacation to natural growth for the kids and the adults.
On the kid front this was the first trip without a napper. We dropped Calvin’s nap about a month ago because it was disrupting bedtime. It was a hard adjustment (for me) at the time (especially since Ellis napped until he was 5), but if I would have know we would have an actual vacation as the payoff it would have made it a lot easier. It was great to make our plan without having to consider a nap. The kids still conked out when they needed (Ellis slept stretched out on a pew through a rousing service at All Souls Church), but we didn’t have to adjust to accommodate them. And they were troopers with the packed days. Which was glorious.
The growth on the adult front was that we threw in a bunch of last minute items while packing the car, which were absolutely essential. We packed a stroller “just in case” even though we haven’t used one locally in about a year. We used that thing every day on the trip. I have no idea how we even considered going without it. We used a single citymini as a double most of the time. It was completely weird to stroll through our old neighborhood with a stroller. I also tossed in winter coats and walking shoes at the last minute and I wore both everyday. It was really cold and we walked a lot. I was planning to just use my phone for pics, but I grabbed our DSLR at the last minute as we headed out the door and I’m so glad I did. I didn’t realize how beautiful the cherry blossoms would be and I ended up being so glad I had our real deal camera for that (more on that below). A little adult foresight finally paid off. It was fun playing city mom for a while with the right gear.
(strolling / this bird flew by our car carrying a huge fish and I took this pic with our new zoom lens/ an iridescent bird)
We experienced a combination of good luck (and by that I mean amazing parking that I may have taken pictures of, it was that good) and non-tourist moves leftover from our days as DC locals that let us have an amazing trip. We did one touristy thing and one social visit per day for six days. Here were the highlights:
National Museum of African-American of History and Culture: Although you typically need a hard-to-come-by ticket to get into this new museum we tried out the first day of walk-up Wednesdays (running throughout April) and it worked! We waited and hour and 20 minutes to get in and when we finally did Cal asked where the “dinosaur fossils were” ☹ but overall it was an amazing museum and I am still pinching myself that it worked out for us to see it (on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination no less). We all did the top floors together and then Ellis and I did the lower levels dedicated to the history of slavery and freedom, segregation and civil rights, all the way through Obama’s election and the Black Lives Matter movement. To enter the history portion you take a glass elevator “back in time” to 1400 and then walk up a series of ramps through history. It was very well done and moving.
The Obama Portraits at the Portrait Gallery: Barack’s was glowing and Michelle’s looked much more like her in person than the image I had seen online. Ellis has a deep love for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but we wanted to help extend that to our favorite president: Obama. I think it worked because when we were walking around the city he found a hedge and asked us to talk his “Obama picture.”
The Cherry Blossom Festival: This is shameful, but in a decade of living in DC I never went. I drove by (once I drove through a downpour of petals that was like being in a magical snow globe). A few years I went to nearby things and felt like I got the gist. But I didn’t. Because of this freakishly cold winter the peak bloom was later than usual this year and it coincided with our trip. We decided that was fortuitous and it was finally time to go and really see it in all of its glory. We got to spend three hours walking around the tidal basin. The trees were in full bloom. I especially loved an old hollowed out trunk with one flowering branch. It was literal resilience.
Tidal Basin Memorials: We walked through Jefferson (not my fav), FDR (my fav) and MLK (Adam’s new fav). We also admired the Washington Monument from many different angles. It was really incredible to experience the monuments with the cherry blossoms in bloom. There were all these amazing sight lines that felt like they had been orchestrated for just that moment.
Stamping our National Parks Passport book: Adam got the 25th anniversary passport book for Ellis when he was a baby and they dutifully collect their stamps from all the parks we visit and DC is full of national parks. Fun fact: all the memorials are national parks and you can get cancellations stamps for all of them at the only monument in DC: the Washington Monument (Adam and Cal did that while Ellis and I were in the history part of the African-American museum.)
Playing City for a few days: We walked everywhere. Got to eat at fancy restaurants and even popped in for a happy hour at a bar in Capitol Hill when we had an hour to fill. It was such a departure from our country life that it felt decadent. Of course country kids still do country things, even in the city. We turned around at one point to find Ellis just sitting by this tree on our walk. The sun came out for the moment and the kids insisted they lie down immediately to soak it up. Country. And somehow Cal ended up getting poison ivy for the first time in DC and not NC.
American Vistionay Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore: This is probably my favorite art museum. It is where we bought our first “real” art for our first apartment. We bought another painting to add to our AVAM collection this time too. There is a famous artist from Pittsboro in this museum so we visited his pieces and enjoyed the crossover moment of our worlds converging.
Smithsonian Museums: We did Air and Space and Natural History. Both had lines to get in and were packed inside. I almost didn’t count this as a highlight because one kid had a melt-down in the gift shop and this was the only place I saw MAGA hats, which made me ragey, but this stop was salvaged by a fun metro ride and an ice cream taste test where we compared astronaut ice cream to real ice cream (The verdict? Ellis likes space ice cream because it isn’t messy and Cal likes real ice cream because it is. So everyone was happy).
Georgia Thrift: Of course you make the highlight list. You are still there and I still love you. I picked up a stroller blanket since we didn’t bring one, but needed it because of the cold. The guys got a bunch of books. It wasn’t the best haul I have ever had from Georgia Thrift, but it did mark 15 years of being my #1 thrift store (I got my Halloween costume there for a party at Adam’s house in 2003 when we started dating.)
Seeing Friends: This was by far the best. We got to meet 5 new babies, visit with 4 friends from college, catch up with 5 friends from peace corps, stay with Adam’s nanny family and work family. We took the boys to our old apartment and our old church. Our hearts were overflowing with some of our favorite friends in one of our favorite places.