Stop One: a place I’ve known for many years, a place I’ve lived, worked, loved, and finally left. A place of green lawns, piles of chiseled marble, navy blue suits, and papers. A city where the world comes to negotiate. A place of free museums, a legacy that anyone in the world can enjoy. A place of sticky humid summers, cold leafless winters, and perfect spring and autumn that last a day each. A place that is so important is has two names: Washington, DC.
For one portion of this trip we stayed with family just outside the city and took Child Harbat into DC to see the museums. With children, never forget that the entire journey is an adventure, from the Metro ride to the walk down the National Mall, to the sidewalk vendors selling hot dogs floating in a steaming tray. When I took CH down I’d planned on making a beeline for the Air and Space Museum, my favorite. But the tinkling sounds of a carousel, spinning like a ceiling fan in the humid air, made an undeniable siren song. After a ride on a horse that had New Hampshire’s state flag on it, CH took one last look at the prancing ponies making their rounds, nose to tail, in a never-ending trip in front of the Smithsonian:
Of the Air and Space Museum I don’t have a single picture. Not one image of the awe-inspiring airy structure from which hang multiple levels of aircraft, spaceships, and airborne displays, something that I tried to recreate in my pre-teen bedroom with string and plastic model planes. So what was the real highlight of the visit? A trip to the gift shop, a place of wonder from my childhood where I spent every last ducat on flying models, kites, and freeze-dried ice cream. But this was a test, a chance for CH to discover the joy of flight on her own. What did she go to first? A Hello-Kitty spaceman costume. To me it looked like a gumball dispenser with a stuffie packed inside it. To her, one more member of the growing tribe which she can organize, reprimand, and educate:
She briefly considered going for the full Amelia Earhart look but found the goggles unwieldy:
In the end she settled on a decorate-it-yourself kite, which we will see in action later this week at the birthplace of flight.
But how did I feel going back to a place I spent most of my childhood and much of my adult life? Did I feel my blood stir, as it did in Scotland when I visited the lochs and glens of my ancestry? Did it feel like a comfortable pair of jeans, familiar and fit to me? Did it awaken a sense of longing to return? No. Washington never truly felt like MY city, perhaps because I didn’t choose it, my parents did. It was a city that made sense for their careers at the time and was a good place to call home but I had no more connection to it than a letter to a mailbox–I was a temporary inhabitant.
This leads me to think that telomeres and whorls don’t define us any more than our hometowns. The aggregation of experience, genetics, and most of all, human curiosity, creates a unique individual. For my part, I’ve given my daughter one tiny experience from which she can build an understanding of the world. Whether it was the carousel or the Wright Flyer than she loved more is irrelevant. We went, as father and daughter, to a magical place and she will always remember it.