Southern efficiency and Northern charm

Apparently, there were some fun things we did over the summer that I didn’t get a chance to blog about…I was kind of busy. Here’s one of them (backdating so I can find it later).

JC had a training he had to do in northern VA for several days, so the kids and I went for a couple days. The idea was that since he had a hotel room, we could sleep there, and the kids and I could do city things.

I was a little nervous about solo parenting these two jokers in the big city. I hadn’t ever done it before. The last thing I did that was even close was when Silas was a baby and I took him with me to Houston for a week. And at that time, he only wanted to nurse (didn’t need snacks) and he loved to be strapped to my body (he’d even sleep there). This was different. Two of them, who like to move in opposite directions and are ALWAYS HUNGRY and go from mega energy to can’t drag my 50-pound-body-another-inch in a blink. It felt a little crazy.

But it turned out to be AWESOME. 10/10 would do again.

The first day, we went to the National Museum of Natural History, aka that Smithsonian with the dinosaurs. The one bummer was that the dinosaurs weren’t as on-display as I had hoped; the fossil hall is under renovation. They had a T. Rex and a Triceratops out, but otherwise, no big impressive skeletons. The kids weren’t disappointed, though, since they didn’t know what to expect. They were just happy to see real fossils. Petra was thrilled to discover that there is even a little lab where kids can look through a window and watch people cleaning and preparing fossils.

They also enjoyed looking at the other exhibits. This felt like a real development–my kids are finally old enough to get something out of the kinds of museums where you can’t touch every single thing.

They were especially fascinated with an exhibit of nature photography that happened to be going on at that time. They enjoyed spotting favorite animals and telling random strangers about them.

When their energy flagged, we went to see an IMAX movie about dinosaurs. Silas thought it was fine (although the animations of the dinosaurs were a little intense). Petra was completely taken with the story part of it, which showed a team of paleontologists finding a new dinosaur (at Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico, as it happens–she was fascinated to learn that I had been there, but had NOT looked for dinosaurs). The lead paleontologist was an older woman and she had a harem of young male grad students assisting her. Petra was like, “THAT is who I want to be!” and she’s been talking about paleontology nonstop all summer.

They were even obligingly picturesque on the way back to the metro station, although they were quite worn out.

Petra danced and Silas flopped. I’m sure the fine people who were leaving their important work at the EPA didn’t mind too much…

And then we went back to NOVA and found a great little playground while we waited for JC to get out of his class.

Yes, that is a legit sandbox at a playground. And yes, I know why they don’t have them any more, but it was awesome.

I was relieved to see JC and have my solo adventure done for the day, but I also felt like, “Well, that was not so bad, really. Almost fun. Really fun!” And I was ready to get up and do it again the next morning.

We opted for the zoo the next day. The National Zoo is super fun, although the way it’s designed is a challenge. It’s all downhill from the entrance, so at the end of the day when everyone is out of energy, it’s all uphill. Boo. But the kids handled it admirably.

The gift shop is right at the entrance, and Petra wanted to go and buy a toy, specifically a red panda. Lucky for all of us, they had those. And she only nearly lost it once the whole day, further relief.

We enjoyed spotting pandas, tigers, otters, gorillas, and elephants. I didn’t get many pictures of the kids + animals because those are tricky, and actual photographers get much better pictures of the animals themselves. I settled for pictures of them climbing on sculptures of animals. Also cute.

The highlight of the day was right at the end. Petra had wanted to see a red panda, but when we came in, they were all in their private enclosure. On the way back out, I told Petra we could look again, but she shouldn’t get her hopes up. Our detour past the red panda enclosure was 100% worth it. One of them was right against the glass, and Petra was able to be on the other side of it. She was literally an inch away from the panda. I couldn’t get a picture because of the glare on the glass, but I will never forget that moment. She was completely entranced.

The only downside to our trip was that everywhere we went was teeming with badly behaved school groups. Even my four-year-old was shocked at some of the behavior we saw. I know that a lot of the behavior comes from not being familiar with museums or, in the case of the zoo, with animals, but still…For example, a big group of middle school kids was shouting at a lion, trying to get it to come closer to them. As any animal would do, the lion walked further away. My kids are around animals so much, they actually tried to tell the big kids that this was not a good tactic. We might try to figure out a time when fewer school groups visit the city; late May is prime field trip season.

On balance, would I do it again? YES, absolutely. I had moments in each day when I thought, am I out of my mind for doing this? but mostly, it was awesome. This particular trip matched Petra’s interests more tightly than Silas’; I think if we have another attempt, we’ll be sure to include more art galleries and maybe the Library of Congress or one of the more people-focused history museums, just to satisfy his specific interests. He still had a great time, and I don’t think he felt like we were doing an unfairly Petra-focused trip. They both maintained a good attitude and seemed to understand that there are certain inconvenient realities about city days, including long walks and crowds.

And I learned that this is possible, and that is a freeing and exciting thought.


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