As far as educational vacations go, it’s tough to beat Washington, DC. We’re lucky enough to live within an easy day’s drive, so we loaded up with roughly half of everything we own, booked a hotel room and hit the road, smugly patting ourselves on the back for bringing school lessons to life as well as being all around swell parents.
And there in the heart of it all: monuments and memorials, The Reflecting Pool, museums, this fancy building that looked important... Look I’m not a tour guide. But it was impressive. The kids looked around, shrugged and, in a nutshell, said, “Meh.”
They were less than impressed, to put it mildly. But we trudged on, saw more stuff, went to one of the Smithsonian museums, took out a second mortgage to buy lunch at one of the Smithsonian museums, learned stuff, whined about being tired, one or more of us had a meltdown. Typical tourist stuff.
It was a jam-packed few days, as DC tends to be, and we still barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. I think the kids did learn a lot, and there is certainly value to seeing lessons come to life and experience history and government live and in 3-D.
But the highlight of the trip ended up being a farm we found near the airport, intrigued and amused by its name: Frying Pan Park. It was unseasonably cold and rainy, but we were meeting cousins and wanted to let everyone run around for a bit before sealing ourselves in a ten-foot steel-encased claustrophobic torture device. Or as we call it: the van.
It felt like a bust at first; the carousel wasn’t running, the play equipment was wet, the horses were nowhere to be found. But when we ducked in the barns to escape the drizzle we were delighted to find baby farm animals of all sorts. Fuzzy chicks and downy lambs, sleepy calves and hyperactive kids of the goat kind. Two mother sows nursing their piglets: one group of precious pink newborns, another gang of frenetic demanding toddlers (been there.)
They talked about the baby animals on the way home. They still talk about them. It was certainly not on our agenda for Most Important Things To See, but it seems like the best things rarely are.
Like the time we spent obscene amounts of money on Disney World, only to have their favorite part be a squirrel eating a cookie somewhere in Tomorrowland.
Or how they still bring up that resort we stayed at where the toilet kept getting clogged. (The Poconos)
And that the hotel with the waterfall in the lobby is the only thing they remember about visiting New York City.
My personal favorite memory of a family vacation is the time we went camping and it started to pour down rain, flooding the campsite and our tent and forcing us to take refuge in the cramped Chevy Citation hatchback. Six of us. Pre-iPhone, pre-gameboy, pre-DVD player, dark and stormy and bored; my dad gave the dog bubblegum to entertain us. It still remains one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen.
Or the trip to New Orleans where my mom accidentally set my brother’s underwear on fire. Actually that one was probably better than the dog chewing gum. By quite a bit.
Planning educational trips is still important, of course. To have the kids experience the world rather than just read about it or watch a (questionable at best) Youtube video about it. They love traveling, we love experiencing the world with them. But I think I’m most looking forward to discovering more unexpected treasures and silver linings when things inevitably go wrong.
And whose underwear is the most flammable.
Jill Vettel is a writer and stay at home mom in Durham, NC. She loves to travel with her family, tends to overpack, and is apparently very easily amused.