Monday, April 19, 2010

The Lincoln Memorial versus basketball on the porch

Having close family members who live in cool places is wonderful. My younger sister Sarah lives in Washington, D.C., and I was delighted to have the opportunity to take the kids to see her family this school vacation week. When family members live in a tourist mecca, you never feel too much like you’re imposing as houseguests because there are always things you want to go off and do that don’t rely on their participation or oversight. And, of course, you get to do all kinds of great sightseeing while coming home to a family dinner at night.

But having family members who live in a city where there’s so much to do can also present a bit of a paradox, because with the Smithsonian Museums, the Mall and all the presidential monuments just an easy subway ride away, my kids are equally if not more interested in playing basketball in the yard with their cousins. There have been a couple of times in the past when the kids were really little and we traveled all the way to D.C. and barely did any capital-S sightseeing at all, just enjoyed each other’s company. This time, with the kids now 7 and 11, I felt sure they were at just the right age for a lot of touring, and so far we’ve done some, but I still think their favorite parts of the trip so far are things we could do in the proverbial Peoria, or anywhere cousins lived: played in the yard, gone out for pizza, watched a silly kid-oriented DVD.

This doesn’t come as too big a surprise. When I asked my seven-year-old which museums in Washington were of most interest to her, she replied, “Anywhere we can do our own art projects.” I said that wasn’t really what the museums in Washington were intended for. “That’s okay; Hannah and I can use her art supplies to make stuff,” Holly said cheerfully. I felt a little bit as though I’d been tricked into that one, but I’m glad Holly is just as happy to be drawing pictures with her cousin at the kitchen table as touring the Capitol.

We did make our way to the National Zoo yesterday and saw some exotic animals: leopards, zebras, elephants, chimpanzees, and a quick glimpse – the first one we’ve ever had – of a giant panda as he emerged very briefly from a shady shelter. Tim’s favorite part of that visit? Well, he’s an eleven-year-old boy, you can probably guess. In his words, “Seeing an orangutan smell his own feet and then go pee while hanging from a wall.”

We’ll try to fit in some more cultural attractions before we head home. Or we’ll just play some more basketball in the yard. Either way, the kids will remember it as a great vacation. And maybe they’ll remember to try to catch a glimpse of a monument or two on our way to the train station as we leave.

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