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|Who Are We Doing It For Really?
|I was just on Facebook when a good friend posted that she had taken her hot, cranky family to Mt. Vernon for a day trip. It made me laugh. Out loud. It got me thinking. We all do this. We plan "special" trips. They can be day trips, weekend trips, extended trips, morning trips, or afternoon trips. As mothers we have these grandiose ideas. We'll go see the sights. The zoo. The museum. Historical monuments. We'll get up early, pack lunches - fresh sandwiches wrapped with waxed paper and special drinks on ice. We tell everyone to wear tennis shoes and to dress cool. Put the suntan lotion in our bags. We are all for the most part giddy with anticipation when we start out. Everyone is chatty, singing to the radio and getting along. But how quickly they will turn...
I remember the good ole days. When the kids were all in those elementary school years or younger. I would prepare for the big day at the United States Naval Academy every year during commencement week when the Blue Angels would come. For years, I would get up so early - I'd even pack the potty chair in the minivan and drive right onto that enormous field. The car would be filled with entertainment like fruit snacks, Nerf footballs, activity books, fruit snacks, juice boxes, beach blankets, puzzles and did I mention fruit snacks? I recall years that we even took Christmas cassette tapes and sang Jingle Bells in the middle of the field at the end of the month of May.
After 9/11 they didn't allow you to drive directly on the Academy anymore so we would park at the parking garage and I would push a double stroller filled with two children under 3 while the 6 and 4 year old walked diligently with each of us carrying backpacks filled with our entertainment for blocks and blocks, for our special day. They never complained. It was an adventure!
The show would last for less than an hour and usually didn't start until 2:00 pm. Yet we would arrive in downtown Annapolis by 9 am. We would spend the day playing. I worked hard back then. I entertained them with every fiber of my being. But they were troopers and I believe that even though the show was short in comparison to the day - they loved it. I loved it. I was creating memories. It was important to me that the kids had memories like this.
As the kids aged, they wanted to take the boat out to see the show. The walk was more than they could imagine. I always wondered how those 4 year old little legs could do what the 12 year old legs could no longer do without great complaint.
I remember when we reached the momentous occasion in our family that everyone was out of diapers and out of a stroller and we were ready to see our world! After all, we live so close to our nation's capital, what kind of Americans would we be if we didn't take advantage of our location and share our history and freedom with our children? Thus began the years of heading out to the Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the monuments, the cherry blossoms. Ahh, yes, the splendor of it all. Okay, in hindsight, the kids definitely behaved, but were definitely more amused by the toy jets we bought in the gift shop, the pigeons out on the street, the bum sleeping on the grate and the park police's horses dropping a load right there on the street.
My husband and I decided that we would wait for the kids to be old enough to understand and appreciate all of the things we were trying to share with them. Since our effort was lost, frustrations were high and frankly, we were getting older and tired, with patience waning. But we couldn't blame them, they were young.
So last summer, after a year or two hiatus from local sightseeing, I planned a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. I wanted to show them where they had relatives buried, watch the changing of the guard, see the eternal flame over JFK's grave and possibly hit up Robert E. Lee's mansion. I was sure that after all of these years of attempt, our window of opportunity was wide open and ready. Our oldest was 15, the next 13, the next 11 and the next 9.
The 15 year old is a plethora of historical and military knowledge so I thought for sure we would have him captured and sometimes that 13 year old takes pity on me and tries to brown nose making every effort to make it a good experience for me. But it never fails that we pull up and look out across the sea of headstones to only hear the groans begin. We hadn't even been out of the air conditioning for 10 minutes. We started walking. The complaints began to roll. "It's so hot." "I'm sweating." "I need water." "How much further?"
I glanced over at my husband to see the veins in his temples beginning to pulse. This wasn't a good sign. To make it worse, I saw the sweat developing on my husband's back through his shirt. I knew that soon I wouldn't even have his support against the troops. I knew we needed to get some large water bottles in those hot hands or there would be mutiny.
We got everyone some cold water bottles to share because as you might know, in the capital of the home of the free you have to basically take out a mortgage to pay for water bottles for a family of six. We bought 3 to be shared in pairs. Big mistake! The war began. I've never heard so much talk of "water falling" and "backwash" in my life. The two teenagers were nearly at each other's throats for who was putting their lips around the rim. The younger two were pouring that liquid gold over their heads trying to cool down - prompting those teenagers to become incensed tattletales that the water was being wasted.
When we arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We checked our watches to realize we would have about 20 minutes to wait. The sun was blazing on those marble steps with no where to hide. The water was gone. The whining started again. I snapped at them.
"Look at those soldiers! They are dressed in all of those layers...those pants, shoes, all in black...do you see them complaining? No! They are choosing to be here because it is an HONOR to have this job!"
Everyone was silent. We waited. The natural progression of things began. The two oldest teenagers began to bicker.
"I have to pee."
"Of course, you do. You drank all of the water."
"Did too - you were taking huge gulps - I saw you."
"You drank more than I did. I was taking big gulps because I knew I wouldn't get my fair share!"
I was watching the guards, trying to ignore the obvious sideshow taking place within my own little circus. Sometimes you have to pretend like they don't belong to you, ya know? I had a moment of feeling moved. Overwhelmed with emotion of what was actually happening here. When suddenly the shoving match started between my two oldest teenagers. I had visions of one of them pushing the other and losing their balance to tumble down those great marble steps and crashing into those precision focused guards. At that moment, I squeezed their arms and through gritted teeth and bulging veins, I recall saying those endearing words,
"Shut up and knock it off or you will be in more trouble than you can imagine. What is wrong with you? Grow up!"
Immediately they stopped. It was quiet again. The guards changed and all were attentive. At the moment that they finished, my nine year old asked to go get ice cream. Any thought of seeing Robert E. Lee's mansion vanished. My husband announced we would be calling it a day and heading home. The younger kids begged for McDonald's on the way home while the two older immediately began texting on their phones to alert the social network they were headed home and would be ready to hang out by the end of the hour.
I no longer feel pressed to share these things with my kids. I make decisions to see and do what is important to me. This weekend in New York City, I took a horse carriage ride with my family because that is what I wanted to do. I walked 5th Avenue and went into Juicy Couture. I had my picture taken with the latest Abercrombie & Fitch model. That's right, I did what made me happy. My teenagers were too inhibited to do very much any effort is lost on them right now. They were caught up in how things "look" as if the entire world is focused on them watching their every move. I've learned that nothing makes teenagers happy other than being with other teenagers. Why put myself through it? I'm over it. One day I am certain they will be parents that will recall that their parents took them to Arlington Cemetery. They will remember some warped version of what really happened, and they will feel the need to take their kids too. The saga will continue.
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