By Robin Jovanovich
Three days, one active 9-year-old grandson. It was Easter weekend, we had no itinerary, no timed tickets, and my husband couldn’t join us until the evening of Day 2.
Yes, there were disappointments. Neither of my attempts to bribe the guards at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to allow us to just enter the lobby worked. But we improvised, and the six hours we spent at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly were hours well spent. While we strolled through the two enormous airplane hangars, I regaled him with stories about my late stepmother’s days as a Pan Am stewardess (I may have omitted some details). Discovering that his grandfather had flown on the Concorde pleased him almost as much as learning about his great-grandfather’s friendship with Charles Lindbergh (I did not discuss the aviator’s personal life or political views). He was disappointed to learn I’d flown mostly economy in my travels, but my street cred leveled up when I told him I’d flown on a helicopter a number of times. (I may have dramatized the dangerous landings).
After seeing the Space Shuttle Discovery, my grandson was full of questions about an astronaut’s diet. “Somehow they manage without pizza and Longford’s on missions,” I answered confidently.
Hoping to eat up more hours of daylight, I suggested we see one of the Imax films. Oddly, the one focused on aviation didn’t mention Lindbergh. “How about a double feature?” I suggested. We enjoyed the film on space the most.
Inspired by the films, he tried gravity-defying leaps and dared me to race him to the top level. I gave in on going to the gift shop before calling Uber.
The next morning, we were up early. As there wasn’t a long line outside the National Museum of American History, we went there first. It is the ideal place to take your children, grandchildren, and visitors from abroad. Through various exhibits you can trace the course of our history. We stood in awe in front of the enormous Star-Spangled Banner flag, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem and is displayed under glass. Seeing Washington’s uniform, the portable desk on which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln’s top hat got us talking about who America’s other great presidents were. After examining nearly every wartime artifact, I suggested we head over to the music section. My grandson was less interested in the Jazz Age than he was the emergence of rock ’n roll and gyrating musicians.
We joined thousands of other Mall walkers and wended our way through the World War II Memorial and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. While many visitors took selfies, I read aloud the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural speech which are inscribed on the walls. My grandson then picked out his favorite phrases and remarked what a good writer Lincoln was. (This is the same grandchild who steals my iPad to watch shows involving “bros” that he is not allowed to watch in his own home.)
The Vietnam War Memorial is unlikely to have the same significance for a 9-year-old as it does for a 72-year-old whose stepbrother, brother-in-law, and friends served in that war. As I started searching for the name of a good friend’s brother whose name is on that wall, my grandson said he’d like to walk over to the Washington Monument. I understood the greater appeal of a 554-foot obelisk that was once the world’s tallest building. “I think we’ll wait on visiting the Holocaust Museum until our next trip,” I said as we headed back to the hotel.
We had lots to tell his grandfather that night.
The next day we had tickets for a tour of Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, 1865, and the Petersen House across the street where he was taken and where he died the following morning. Our grandson asked if he could buy a postcard of Lincoln to bring back to his history teacher, Mr. Taylor. I was thrilled that my grandson knew what a postcard was.
That afternoon, we spent two hours at Arlington National Cemetery looking at grave markers, talking about sacrifice, and watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Wanting our grandson to see that Washington is as rich in art museums as it is history, we ended the day at the National Gallery. My plan was to show him some of my favorite American paintings. Another best-laid plan… the American galleries were closed for renovation. As we were leaving, we asked a guard if there were any American paintings from the 18th or 19th centuries on display. He instructed us to go around the corner where we were delighted to find John Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark”. An ideal way to encourage a young man’s interest in art history.
Our Capitol weekend reminded us of how proud we are to be Americans, as well as how lucky we are to be able to live near our grandson and watch as he searches for meaning through history.