The lovely thing about the Not Boyfriend being in Virginia for four months for army training (and let's be clear, it was really the only lovely part about it) was that he was only minutes away from my brother and his family. I felt good about that, those men being in close proximity, even if they only saw each other a few times over those months. Once Lil E and I arrived, my worlds came together and I felt more at home in Virginia than I ever had.
All together - my brother, his wife and son, Lil E, the Not Boyfriend and me -- toured Ft. Lee, where My Love the Lieutenant spent countless hours. We saw the parachute rigging school, he pointed out the top secret building that Lil E begged to sneak in to, we peeked into classrooms and posed in front of the parade of flags. We saw an airplane so big it can hold trucks. The boys squealed over vehicles. I just liked finally have an image in my head of all the places where the Not Boyfriend was when he felt so far away from me.
We said our goodbyes, sending my brother and his family back to their lives in a safe, sweet subdivision worlds away from that army base.
We three set off for Washington, D.C. to show my son the capital and have our first real adventure on the road together.
We only had two days, less if you shave off time for traffic and early arrival at the airport. It was too little time to see everything we could see, and still felt sort of overwhelming. What would we be like, all of us in one hotel suite and away from our homes, out of our comfort zones?
Lil E is The Tiny Capitalist.
The kid loves money. And so we made our first stop the Bureau of Printing & Engraving, one of the places money is made in this country (little elbow to the gov for snagging the URL www.moneyfactory.gov for their site). Apparently, you have to sign up for tickets for tours while your quarter-scavenging child is still in utero, so we were unable to walk the tiny hallways and peer into the places where dollar bills are engraved and coins are stamped.
Lil E didn't really care. He was more focused, as a good economy-fueling almost-second grader should be, on the gift shop.
He had vacation money to spend, and handing it over for one or two of the hundreds of items emblazoned with a dollar logo was agonizing for the kid. Finally, finally, he chose a bag of shredded cash (a good deal, he said, since it cost two bucks and contained $150 worth of torn bills) and a ring ("bling-bling," he said about it, nodding cooly). I think he chose wisely.
We sang "MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!" all the way to the White House.
To be honest, we called it a night and headed to our hotel and dinner at a place I thought E would love -- a swanky little restaurant with a chocolate-centered menu. Frozen dark hot chocolate? Chocolate covered bacon? Bacon mac & cheese? Sounds heavenly for a kid missing teeth, doesn't it? Instead it was a big fail. Thank goodness for granola bars tucked in a mama's purse.
E picked at his food, wished for plain old mac & cheese and didn't even finish the frozen drink. He was exhausted. The money (and drive and 110-degree heat index) wore that boy out.
The next day we were ready to hit the city. We saw "BroBama's house" (we'd been there just long enough to feel that familiar), perfected silly poses at the monuments, hiked from memorial to memorial -- Washington, Lincoln, WW II. We powered through even hotter heat and humidity, packed in historical lessons, pounded water bottles from snack trucks. Lil E looked weary.
The Not Boyfriend negotiated the car and maps and logistics and I squirmed a bit, not sure what to do with having another adult in the mix. Lil E and I do this stuff alone, we have our gig. But here was this man, kind and helpful and used to a line-up of three or four museums in one day, and I felt a little like it was the first time I'd ever traveled.
We needed a breather. I needed a breather.
After one, we entered the Air & Space Museum. Friends, it was heavenly (and not just because of the glorious air conditioning). The planes soaring overhead and the space station you can walk through and journals from pilots -- it's so interesting and inspiring. I will be overly sentimental in describing one giant room full of flying machines, I am sure, but there's something wistful about considering human beings have done all of that.
My favorite part, as it was from my childhood memories of walking that museum and still is today, is the Amelia Earhart exhibit -- lipstick red propeller plane, flight jacket, white scarf that once blew behind her in the brazen wind. I am in awe every time I read the timeline of her life.
Lil E took photo after photo of the moonrocks collected from Apollo 11. He stood under the unmanned aircrafts with mouth open. He ran into the aircraft carrier models excitedly. And then, of course, he pondered how in the world to spend the rest of his souvenir money in the museum gift shop.
He came close to buying a stuffed monkey, but in the end, pulled one-dollar bills carefully out of his wallet for a toy helicopter that makes noise and lights up and a space shuttle magnet for our fridge. He had a few dollars left and went back for tokens stamped with the museum logo. More wise choices.
We fell hard that night, E asleep in his little cot ,and the Not Boyfriend and I after watching Olympics in the next room.
The next morning, we squeezed in a stop to the MLK Memorial. It was a powerful end to a packed-full weekend. I stood silent just taking in the magnificence of the statue, stark against the blue sky, looking out toward Lincoln across the river.
"There's my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote!" Lil E squealed, racing back with my phone to take photos of himself.
"I can't tell if he likes all of this," the Not Boyfriend whispered to me.
"He does," I nodded. He's still learning my boy. Still figuring out kids. "You'll hear it."
The Not Boyfriend didn't hear it, but I did, later as Lil E exclaimed to his dad and my parents and his friends what he'd seen. He didn't gush in the moment, instead hopping from thing to thing quietly. In the days that have followed, he's revealed what he saw and loved and what's stayed with him.
It was a few days in a new(ish) city on a very new adventure for the three of us. The old comforts of two of us, whether that is Lil E and me or the Not Boyfriend and me, were pulled back and there we were, all together. It wasn't hard but it was a stretch. I felt my arms pulling out of my body to wrap around them both, my heart all over the place wanting to make all of us happy, my mind saying, "Relax, and let it be."
As the Not Boyfriend prepares for his move and the child processes these shifts in our family and I step back from plans and control and worries, I know there are plenty more trips and adventures ahead for us. There will be plenty of time to practice what we learned this weekend, in weekends past and in the days we cannot possibly foresee.
This place, where big people make global decisions, where flags wave high above memorials and federal buildings, where the treasures of a nation are encapsulated in gift-shop plastic rings and bags of unusable cash, we left not quite saying enough, taking in a lot and getting ready for much more. It wasn't monumentous, but it was important. It wasn't perfect but it was plenty. That's a very good place to start this part of the journey.