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Faith in Vermont: Spring Travels, Part 2: The Nation's Capitol

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Posted on June 11, 2019 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



“We never go anywhere!

This refrain has been moaned repeatedly by certain children of mine over the past year. I have about as much sympathy for it as I do the other oft-whined complaint: “I’m bored!

They’ve heard the practical considerations: the expense and hassle of traveling with four young children, the 33 animals (last time I counted) that depend on us, the jobs and activities that constrain our schedule. 

Sure, there are obvious benefits to travel for young children: It’s educational and world-expanding. The same could be said of books.

As I frequently remind my children, my own childhood trips were annual summer drives from Northern Virginia to New England to visit family, with occasional side trips. My first journeys to California and abroad didn’t happen until I was in college. And I felt none the worse for any of that; if anything, I got far more out of my travels in my 20s than I would have as a younger child. 

My children have already been to California, the Caribbean, andCanada, so they’re miles ahead of where I was at their ages. But until this spring, they hadn’t explored the city of my childhood: Washington, D.C. So, when my parents announced plans to attend a memorial service in Washington, we decided to tag along. 

The drive from Vermont to Washington should have taken about eight and a half hours; our trip lasted a whopping eleven and a half hours, thanks to stop-and-go traffic that stretched from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to our hotel. 

“How did the kids handle that?” people ask when I talk about the drive.

To which I respond that the kids were not the problem; my husband was. 

About 30 minutes into the traffic jam, he lost all faith in humanity. “Why do people drive?” he groaned. “Why do we do this? Who are all these people, and why do they have to go places?!?”

By the time we hit the D.C. congestion, he’d nearly lost the will to live: “I’m never leaving Vermont. I’m never going anywhere ever again!”

The surprising thing about this was that the kids were not the problem. They didn’t love the long drive, but they remained calm, listening to audio books, doing Mad Libs, and watching videos. Sure, we had to make five bathroom stops, but even that represents progress: This was the first trip we’ve taken that I haven’t had to worry about my country girls suddenly deciding to “squat” in public places when nature calls. 

Taking our family outside of Vermont is always enlightening; I notice things about my family that aren’t as obvious when we’re at home in our comfort zone. 

My daughters take a whole lot of Vermont with them when we leave the state. They seem to notice nature in places few others would, scrambling up a tree in the parking lot of a New Jersey rest stop, for instance, or stopping to smell every pansy planted alongside the Washington, D.C. sidewalks. We had to stop one daughter from eating lemon clover she foraged in a New York rest stop parking lot. 

They also appreciated unexpected things about the cultural sites we visited in Washington. The highlight of the American History Museum? Three-fourths of my girls would say, “The escalators!” The favorite animals at the National Zoo were not the elephants, lions, tigers, or even the Komodo Dragon – although we saw all of those at close range. No; my daughters went bananas over the river otters – which, in theory, they could have seen in their natural habitat in Vermont. 

This is not to say that my children are a bunch of uncultured yokels. The Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol left them cold, but they loved the National Gallery of Art. Every one of my daughters, aged five through eleven, couldn’t get enough of the art in this gorgeous museum. We stayed until closing time. “We didn’t see enough sculpture!” they complained. So we ended up making an unplanned return trip to the museum to peruse the sculpture galleries. 

It was a pleasant surprise, and we’ll certainly be taking our daughters to more art museums in the future.

Still, this trip confirmed that our daughters are not city girls – at least, not yet. Within seconds of our arrival, the complaints started: 

“It’s TOO HOT!” (With temperatures in the 90s the entire weekend, I had to agree.) 

“The air here smells AWFUL!”

“It’s too FAR!” (This, in response to the distances that we had to walk during the trip. I must say, one D.C. block seems to equal five blocks anywhere else, but we did point out that our daughters have run up Snake Mountain multiple times. “That’s different!” they wailed.)

And, whenever we had to walk anywhere after dark, “Are you sure it’s safe?”

Even our most cosmopolitan daughter, the one who’ll have nothing to do with gardening or poultry at home, revealed her inner Vermonter at the National Zoo: Between animal habitats, she spotted a newborn fawn in the grass next to the walkway. This wasn’t an official zoo exhibit; it was the baby of a wild deer whose natural habitat had been taken over by the zoo. 

For the next several minutes, my daughters pointed out the tiny deer to all passersby. “Look!” they exclaimed, “There’s a fawn in the grass! It’s okay; its mother left it there because for the first few days of life, fawns don’t have any scent. She left it so that her scent won’t lead predators to it, and she’ll come back later and move it. We found a fawn like this in our field last spring!”

And I never thought about it before, but I wonder if it’s hard for the doe to leave her baby like that. It must go against all of her maternal instincts to walk away from her newborn, yet the thing that makes the least sense at that moment is really the best thing she can do for her child. 

Which is something to think about, as I watch my growing daughters navigate a city. 

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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