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Rebirth of a nation

Along with approximately one million other Americans and a whole pile of foreign visitors, we decided to visit Washington, D.C. over spring break. I could almost hear the creaking of the pavement as all the weight of the crowd pressed us back down into the swamp.

When last I visited D.C., Clinton was president and I had no children, nor plans for children. My future husband and I drove down from New Jersey after visiting his mom, eating crab cakes in Baltimore and staying in a hotel right near the capitol, taking leisurely strolls through the White House, Capitol, and various museums.

Ah, what two visits to the birth unit can do to a body.

We are having a good, but so different time. One of the things about traveling with inquisitive children is that we can’t just rehash what we know. They’re constantly asking us questions we can’t answer. Here are a few:

When the president dies, who becomes vice president?

When was the Lincoln Memorial built and who built it? Who designed it?

Why is the Hope Diamond so small?

Who sits in those seats around Nancy Pelosi’s?

Why was President Nixon a bad man?

What year did they start using zip codes? (A very helpful young visitor in the Postal Museum knew the answer, and I’m guessing he knew the answers to many more postal questions we might have asked!)

Why can’t we go to the Apple Store? (Well, OK, we knew the answer to that one, but our son wasn’t ready to accept that answer as the correct one.)

Certainly, visiting here without kids was more peaceful, but visiting with kids has its own benefits.

We are staying at my husband’s cousin’s house in, as he jokingly said, the ‘hood — a largely African-American and Ethiopian immigrant neighborhood far removed from the power center of the city. It’s an interesting counterpoint to go from this neighborhood of rusting, empty buildings (including an old Wonderbread factory across the street) and bits of new gentrification, to the shining white buildings of the capitol.

It’s also interesting in light of the enormous change that has happened in this country since last we visited. I couldn’t help but think that the African-American families posing for the pictures in front of the White House had a special excitement in their faces — for the first time in our history, we have positive proof that people with larger deposits of melanin in their skin are, in fact, full citizens of this country. I thought perhaps I was just reading that into the situation, but our cousin confirmed that there is a new sense of pride here. And I can confirm that it’s not just pride in being African-American. It’s pride in being American. We did it.

Last week I read an interesting analysis of the Tea Party, which said that they are people who haven’t noticed yet that this country has moved forward and they have been left behind. Those of us who are on this slow-moving boat are cheering it along; those who aren’t must be feeling like they want to stop it. But no matter how hard some try to stop it, we do, in fact, change, because that’s the heart of what a democracy is.

It was deeply moving to me to read the Gettysburg Address to my son this evening, standing at the Lincoln Memorial at sunset. Lincoln made it clear that democracy is always a work in progress. We the living have the absolute responsibility to do our part and then let go for the citizens of the future to do their part. We can’t hold it back anymore than we can make ourselves immortal.

As we stood in front of the Memorial, Marine One flew overhead toward the White House. My husband pointed it out, and we noticed that no one else was looking up. We waved to our president and, the sun now set, came back to the ‘hood.

We did it. But because democracy must be kept alive, we are still doing it. And will keep doing it as long as this nation keeps needing to be born, again and again.

Posted in Parenting.

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