On President's Day weekend, Adam's brother, sister-in-law and their kids came down for a visit. The older two had been talking about Washington and Lincoln in their classes and so we decided that we'd go to Mt. Vernon and the Lincoln memorial.
We started at Mt. Vernon. It was *really* interesting and totally beautiful. The kids enjoyed looking at the house and surrounding buildings. There was an amazing dollhouse of Mt. Vernon in the visitors' center and that probably held their attention for the longest amount of time. We took a tour of the house, the kids were all well behaved, but mostly they seemed to be thinking "this furniture is interesting and the house looks a *little* different from ours, so why is this such a big deal?" They were clearly happiest when we let them run around in the "backyard" of our founding father's house.
(As we were walking to the Lincoln memorial we walked by some K-9 police cars. They all had dogs in the back seat, where a *bad* guy would usually be. Elie said "Mom, I see a dog that got in trouble. It's in the backseat of that police car!")
After a morning at Mt. Vernon we went to the Lincoln memorial. If Mt. Vernon was confusing because of its importance, than the Lincoln memorial was downright mystifying. Here is a giant statue of a man, sitting in a chair and this is very important. What? So we started talking about Lincoln and what he did for this country. This in and of itself is extremely difficult. The Civil War wasn't a nice thing and it was really complicated. Saying that Lincoln was responsible for emancipation seems so simple and completely false. It seems a fallacy to boil the whole conflict down and make Lincoln The Hero of the whole situation. So I tried to simplify the story enough to make it understandable to the little people dancing around in the giant marble hall dedicated to our 16th president. I started to explain part of what makes Lincoln such an iconic figure; born in a log cabin, in abject poverty, the American dream of making something amazing of yourself when you come from nothing. I had tears in my eyes, it was such a meaningful moment, all those little faces looking up at me, their eyes saying "uhhhh, Mom, I *still* don't get what the big deal is. Now can we go back down ALL those steps and run around?"
Being a Parent is a special kind of hell. Oh, it is. These moments where there is learning, forming and growing going on are so important. As the adult we recognize the solemnity, seriousness, interest and relevance, but as a child they are simply in the moment absorbing and wondering why we're so intense about the situation and then they are wondering when they get to run again. I know these experiences make a difference because a similar scene occured at the very same spot, years before. My family was taking a springtime tour of Washington DC. We had been at the Vietnam Memorial where my parents had found the name of someone they knew. We were at the Lincoln Memorial and my mother started reading the Gettysburg address. I vaugely remember that my sister and I were dancing around one of the giant marble pillars while she tried to get us to listen. And I WAS listening. I remember her reading fondly, with great respect and reverence for Lincoln, our country's struggle AND my mother. But I'm sure, in that moment, in her head, she was saying to herself "I'm in hell. This is VERY important. This is serious. I want my children to learn about this and appreciate the historical gravity of this situation. So here I am, reading this speech and they are DANCING." Those experiences made the foundation of my attitude that history is important, that it is interesting and necessary to learn about where we came from. And I hope that the experiences I'm sharing with my children will also help to lay the same foundations. But in that moment, it is pure hell, speaking to a seemingly unattentive, uncaring, blankly staring audience, knowing that what you're saying is Important.
But it does sink in. I'm seeing that already. The week after we went to Mt. Vernon I was listening to NPR in the morning and there was a bit about Mt. Vernon. And Talia, from the backseat, pipes up "Mom, we went to Mt. Vernon. Right, Mom?" Okay...so maybe they are listening. My special hell is paying off and maybe, hopefully, someday, they'll have the pleasure of burning there too.