Summer's on its way, parents scurry with their children across the Mall to our city's splendid museums and monuments, and I am filled with regret.
It wasn't like that with his older siblings. There was such excitement every step of the way with the first born, and with the second born, it seems we were equally attentive, even redoubling our efforts. Uptown and downtown, in winter and summer, it seemed there wasn't an exhibit, event, or festival that we didn't enjoy together as a family. And of course there was the requisite trip by car to Pennsylvania Dutch country as well as the annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg.
Then our third child came along several years later. Essentially, the baby stayed home and watched wrestling on television for 15 years, never venturing any closer to downtown Washington than the movie theater on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda.
It's not that we didn't ask him to see the sights of the city; it's just that, for him, lying on the couch and viewing the video "Dumb and Dumber" was imperative the first 100 times. And though we put up a fight, we were actually a tiny bit relieved. We loved our youngest as much as the others, but we had already seen everything (at least twice).
Besides, the baby always claimed he had visited any place worthwhile on a class field trip. And while the older two were very curious about the Amish people and looked forward to exploring Pennsylvania Dutch country, our youngest -- even at 10 or 11 -- said he could care less how "a bunch of hicks" lived the simple life. So he wore us down, more or less, and grew up without the benefit of car trips to neighboring states.
Thinking that the baby had been deprived, maybe even cheated out of the advantages of living in the Washington area, I recalled the time that I took my older son, Doug, to the Kennedy Center. Itzhak Perlman was playing the violin, Slava was conducting the National Symphony, the concert hall was shimmering in the reflected glory from the stage and pulsating with the contagious energy of hundreds of adoring fans.
Dressed up like a little man, and probably the only child there, Doug excited a lot of attention and appeared to enjoy every minute of it. I was so proud of him and patted myself on the back for being one terrific mother.
Naturally he was indulged with a treat during the intermission (Choose anything you want, Kid), and after the performance I was more than happy to take him upstairs for dessert in the fancy restaurant.
The next day, still warmed by the afterglow of the previous evening's unequivocal success, I asked Doug what had impressed him the most. Was it the National Symphony, the chance to hear one of the greatest violinists in the world, or the breathtakingly lovely music itself? He gave it careful, serious thought, bright little boy that he was, then beamed: "The candy dots cost $2 a box and you let me buy them."
That reminded me of when I took my oldest, Danielle, to meet the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, and other members of her spaceship crew at a function in their honor on Capitol Hill. It was a special treat arranged by a friend of a friend and the kind of thing that could happen only in the nation's capital.
It was a beautiful luncheon, attended by scores of important officials who, between courses, outdid each other in the fervor of their patriotic speeches. Time after time we leapt to our feet with thunderous applause.
As we rose to sing the national anthem, our hearts brimming with emotion, I stole a glance at my little girl, dressed in her finest outfit, and thought, "She will remember this moment all her life." But just then Danielle looked up at me and whispered, "Mommy, are you going to eat your fruit cup?"
Now I'm beginning to wonder if my two older children truly enjoyed visiting the Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was so long ago, the memories have started to fade; but what jumps to mind is our exit under a cloud from the Host Farms restaurant. Doug made one last trip to the expansive buffet table, grabbed a muffin, and ran to the door, failing to notice that his jacket had caught hold of the tablecloth and dragged the entire smorgasbord extravaganza to the floor.
And come to think of it, I'm not sure Danielle and Doug really profited from those family trips to Williamsburg. With the exception of the colonial bakery, it may have been just something they were forced to go through before we would agree to take them down the road to the amusement park rides at Busch Gardens.
It's true we neglected to take our youngest child to all the places we took his older sister and brother, but lately he has begun to express interest in exploring the city on his own. Who knows? He may turn out to be just as curious about the world he lives in as his older siblings. Maybe it's time to stop feeling so guilty.