The itineraries of most visitors arriving in Washington, D.C. typically includes sites like the White House, the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument – even though at a quick glance this last spindly one bears a striking resemblance to an unusually tall and towering KKK clan member. A double-decker Hop On and Off bus tour might deliver them to the Arlington Cemetery, Vietnam Memorial, National Gallery of Art or Madame Tussaud’s – where the wax figure out front bears a striking resemblance to the real Michael Phelps.
Some culture-seeking tourists might opt to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center, while sporty types will try to squeeze in their favorite team’s faceoff at the Verizon Center. Cuisinarians will head to one of the renowned restaurants and farmers markets, while gardeners, landscape artists and tree-huggers will schedule their visits to coincide with the bloomin’ cherry blossom festival.
They’re all pretty impressive, these pit stops and historical sites on the tourist trail. But they don’t come close to my picks: I’ve got my own monuments to pick from, whenever I make an almost-annual pilgrimage to visit my sister and her family. As soon as I arrive, I know I’m home. All I have to do is wait for the hilarity, drama & nuzzling to unfold. In-house, and out. Side trips and errands included.
I went to school: The elementary school where my sister will be teaching for the second year in a row; and the gargantuan high school (according to my standards, not those of the U.S.), where both my niblings will spend the bulk of their academic year trekking down mile-long hallways and, with any luck, might run into each other a couple of times.
We made short stops at the bank and library (I’d pinned my hopes on reading Wanderlust, which never happened because hanging out with my people still trumps any book!). We even went to a town hall meeting.
We reveled in nature, spotted more deer, marveled at the Blackeyed Susans, ate at Sweetgreen and Chopt, then stocked up at Mom’s, Whole Foods & Trader Joes’ (praise thee, ye most favored sites of our healthy food pilgrimages!).
In fact, the closest I got to the guy who’s held keys to the country (other than half a day meandering down the Mall, through the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden with my two teenage niblings, spotting the Capitol all dolled up in mile-high scaffolding, and loitering outside a burger-and-fry-emporium, aka Shake Shack) was taking a nap with my soccer-mom-sister in her car (ok, a van), among the stately homes perched above a shady side street in the soon-to-be former-American-president’s future neighborhood… only to be awakened by a cop, who politely asked us to move on.
I had no pressing need to see Obama, nor anything made of stone, surrounded by gates and huge lawns. The monuments I visited – of the quotidian kind – were more robust and close to my heart.
Big and small moments with family; daily living, work, laughter, sweeping the floor, watching movies, discussions imbued with insight, purpose and love, travel stories told while gazing at the massive wall map, interspersed with the occasional argument or outburst (did I mention teenagers?).
With the sublime sunlight dancing around the kitchen floor, I was ensconced in a space more sacred and meaningful than any midtown cathedral or museum could have been.
All of it, all of them, testament to the crazy glue that keeps me coming back, hunkering down (say, for a full-day pajama session), sticking close by and shying away from the buzz of D.C.
So dear friends… what monuments do YOU love that have you coming back for more?