A Trip to our Nation’s Capitol – DC through the eyes of a 13 year old.

I originally wanted to write a wonderful recount of my recent trip to DC with my oldest daughter and her 8th grade class through HER eyes.  I was curious to know what she would think of a city with so much history behind it.  What would the experience of travelling with her father on a momentous journey look like for a 13 year old girl?  In my poetic mind, or perhaps narcissistically thinking, our six day voyage would be one of wonderful amazement and discovery combined with a renowned sense of patriotism and honor for this amazing country we live in. This would be a father-daughter bonding experience like no other.  In all honesty, I thought that by the time the trip was over the child would look into my proud & teary eyes and say “Dad, I want to be the first woman President of the United States.”   I could already imagine spending nights in the Lincoln bedroom, and sitting in the balcony VIP section of Capitol Hill when my daughter, The President of The United States, would give her State of The Union Address.  Yeah, I don’t dream often, but when I do……I do it BIG!!!

I should have immediately known that the enlightening and inspirational trip I imagined with my daughter would not necessarily go as I had planned as soon as we got on the airplane to DC.  Mind you, I had already received specific   instructions during the weeks leading up to our trip of what to do, what not to do, who I could talk to, who I couldn’t, what I could wear (my bowling shirt was out). 

My seat assignment was 22E, the middle seat which I hate, while my daughter would ride comfortably in 22F the more spacious window seat.  We hadn’t even sat down, let alone thought about our complimentary in-flight beverage, when I was requested by my daughter to switch seats with her BFF so THEY could sit together.  What happened to the bonding I was supposed to experience?  What happened to those magical moments that had been played out in my dreams?  Maybe this was just a temporary setback.

Our travelling party consisted of roughly 50 eighth graders, 46 Moms and 4 Dads of which I knew no one other than my daughter.  Good thing we were going to be “sticking together” the whole time…or so I thought.  Upon our arrival to DC and a brief stop at Union Station for lunch, we boarded our tour buses and headed to Arlington National Cemetery.  The last time I had visited this National Shrine was during my 8th grade school trip to DC, and while I didn’t expect there to be many changes, I did look forward to sharing this experience with my daughter this time around.  It was just like I remembered.  The sobering and impressive rows of headstones perfectly aligned, the quiet, respectful and serene atmosphere, the overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism combined with the realization of the magnitude of people who sacrificed it all for our freedoms; truly overwhelming.  We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the kids from our group got the opportunity to lay a wreath in honor of the soldiers buried there.  Jacqueline Kennedy had now been laid to rest next to her husband, something that hadn’t happened when I visited back in 1985.  Of course the eternal flame burned ever present at the burial site.  I learned some new things, saw some familiar ones, but mostly was moved like I don’t recall having been moved 25 years ago. 

Upon boarding the bus, and eagerly looking for material to write this story, I asked my daughter on her thoughts of what she had just witnessed.  “It was sad” was all I got as she quickly went back to the preoccupation of the day which was who would be sitting next to who on the bus and what snacks were available from her friends who had come on this journey way more prepared than I had done.  Sitting back in my seat, at the front of the bus as that was an unspoken rule established by the students (parents in the front, kids in the back) I felt dejected, disappointed and frankly bewildered.  After the National Monument we had just seen, the ultimate patriotism we had just witnessed, the immense sacrifice, all my daughter could think of to say was “It was Sad”.  I didn’t understand.

Back on the bus it was lots of singing and almost a party like atmosphere.  Thankfully “99 bottles of beer on the Wall” never surfaced but a painful and screeching medley of Justin Bieber and Rihanna songs seemed to play-on endlessly.  Clearly the school choir members were NOT on our bus.   I could certainly understand the kids’ excitement and somehow managed to tune out all the noise as I gazed out the window and admired the sites as we drove around DC.  Our next stop was the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I clearly remember a visit to this monument as one of my favorites during my trip so many years earlier and I was looking forward to seeing it again.  There it was, exactly as it was the last time I visited.   With the exception of the flag being raised at ground zero in the days following 9-11, I can think of no other such powerful demonstration of patriotism and American pride.   The kids posed for the obligatory photo in front of the monument and then quickly proceeded to run around, look for a bathroom and something cold to drink, (it was unseasonably warm in DC for this time of year).  Again, not the reaction I was anticipating.

 I quickly realized that this whole experience was not going to turn out as I had planned and that I better make an acquaintance with some of the other parents if I was to not spend the entire trip alone.  The rest of day one consisted of visiting the Lincoln Memorial, a great and up close view of the Washington Monument, and a trip to the FDR Memorial.  While our day had begun at 5:45am at Miami International Airport, the sights and sounds of DC as we discovered this city kept most of us energized to keep going, yet by 7pm we were ready to head to the hotel for a much needed rest. 

My 8th Grade Trip to Washington DC - 1985

I will not turn this into a play-by-play of what we did and saw on days 2-6 of our trip as that is not the intent of this post.  However, something wonderful did happen and that my friends is worth sharing.  Thankfully, I was given enough insight or perhaps wisdom to go back 25 years and silently reminisce about my 8th grade trip to DC.  When I went with my class we had a handful of chaperones that included teachers and parents.  For the most part our parents weren’t there and we spent the majority of the time with our friends and classmates.  We bunked 4 kids to a room and stayed up until all hours of the night laughing, joking, and watching TV.  Yeah, admittedly we saw some cool stuff, but we had a GREAT time together!  Our trip, back then, wasn’t about a cultural experience or American history.  It was about having fun; the exact thing my daughter and her friends were trying to do.  With this new found insight, I was able to understand where my daughter was coming from and realized that just like her Dad so many years before, she was a typical teenager.  Ahhh, the joys of youth.

As the days passed I began to feel an incredible closeness to my daughter and an incredible sense of pride.  One of the greatest highlights of our trip was an early evening spent shopping in Georgetown followed by a simple dinner at a local crepe restaurant.  If you know me, you understand that I absolutely hate shopping.  However, my daughter who is what they call a shopaholic truly believes that to shop is to live; to live is to shop.  While this whole philosophy bothers me greatly, seeing my 13 year old working her way through the store looking for bargains and outfits that fit just right made me realize that my little princess was turning into a young lady.  The coolest part was when she tried on an outfit, came out of the dressing room, looked for me and asked “What do you think of this dad?”   Through watery eyes I simply and honestly said “you look beautiful my love”.

From that moment my whole outlook changed and the experience I would share with my daughter for the remainder of the trip was spectacular.  I no longer focused on her experience at the sights, monuments, or museums.  I enjoyed these on my own, this time around as an adult with a new perspective and hopefully a little more maturity.  I spent just the same amount of time observing my daughter, watching her interactions with her friends, her behaviors and mannerisms.  I became fascinated by the dynamics and interactions between my daughter and her peers.  Quietly observing, I saw a young lady that although going through that awkward stage in life, was self confident, respectful, kind and considerate.  I noticed my daughter on several occasions looking out for me to make sure I boarded the right bus.  I was with someone who wasn’t embarrassed to let people know I was her dad, as I had been at that age, through no fault of my parents.  My daughter simply made me proud and I wanted her to enjoy this trip to fullest – in HER own way.

So while I originally intended this to be about a trip to DC through the eyes of my daughter, it has fortunately turned out to be more about the evolving relationship between a father and his child. My daughter taught me an important lesson during our week together and that is to look for a different perspective in things.  She taught me that while things may not turn out the way I hoped, they can certainly be rewarding and special.  She showed me that being a Dad is truly the best job in the world.

 How lucky I am that in 2 years I will be able to experience this again with my youngest daughter when her class travels to DC.  I can’t wait.

Have you told your kids you’re proud of them today?