With the festivities surrounding the opening of the new museum in DC, we decided to spend some time out of the city center. On Saturday morning we hit up Mount Vernon, which gave Benjamin George Washington fever!
I'm sure I mentioned earlier how we were skimping on meals. We stocked up on breakfast foods while we were at Target, though, and I was groggily passing stuff out to the children one morning. I grabbed a bunch of bananas out of one of our grocery bags that also contained a package of doughnuts.
"Doughnuts?" I offered, holding up the bananas.
Everyone got a good kick out of that.
One "travel treat" our children requested was beef jerky. We had to explain to Benjamin several times what it was and when the information finally seeped into his brain he exclusively called it "cow," as in, "Pass the cow, please? Mmm! This cow sure is good."
It made it difficult for everyone else to eat the jerky, but Benjamin seemed to enjoy it just as well as before he realized it was...cow.
Anyway, breakfast aside, we made it to Mount Vernon and went into the main lobby where a volunteer handed out fun little maps with a puzzle for the kids to figure to earn a prize. The kids were all rather excited about the map.
There was a BYU game on Saturday and the DC area was teeming with Mormons. We kept seeing people who were obviously Mormon (all decked out in BYU attire) as well as other people who tipped our Modar (Mormon Radar) but who weren't so obviously Mormon (we fell into that latter group as well since we'd neglected to pack any sort of BYU gear on this trip). It was kind of fun to run across so many Mormons while we were touring about because we're not used to seeing many.
We chatted with one family from Utah while we were waiting in line for our tour of the house. They took this picture of us:
Here are the kids looking at some seedlings for sale at the gift shop near the greenhouse:
The brand is "Washington's Choice" and all the plants are cultivated from cuttings around the plantation—so in theory could be from Washington's own vine or fig tree. There were some pretty old trees around. We saw a tulip poplar with a sign saying it was from circa 1785.
Benjamin saw these barrel garbage cans and wanted his picture with them, which made us think of Uncle Jacob (who, on a trip to Disneyland as a little boy, ran around hugging all the fancy garbage cans):
On that vein, we thought of Auntie Emily (who, on a family trip to Nauvoo at this same tender age, pitched a fit on the Hill Cumorah) when Zoë started pitching a fit on the Mount Vernon lawn for no apparent reason:
She was rolling around and screaming and flailing all her limbs. It was great.
When we saw a little crop of corn we thought it was fitting to take a picture of Andrew in front of it, acting terrified (because when he was learning to drive his dad was lecturing him about watching for things that could dart in front of the vehicle and suddenly yelled, "CORN!" Andrew got all flustered and screamed, "Where?! Where?!" while scanning the road nervously. The corn was in the field, of course, but we still joke about how Andrew's afraid of corn):
Somehow these stories never get old.
Anyway, here's Miriam by the greenhouse:
The gardens were meticulously manicured, as I'm sure they were back in General Washington's day as well. The bowling green is huge and was "cut with scythes and smoothed with a roller to keep the surface smooth and even." There was a roller in one of the museum exhibits and it looks pretty hefty.
I'm not going to say that George Washington wasn't a hardworking man, but I will venture to say that he was never out there cutting the grass. I mean, statistically speaking, it just doesn't seem likely:
As Hamilton so famously said (you know, in the musical, not in real life): "A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor / Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor / 'We plant seeds in the South. We create.' Yeah, keep ranting / We know who’s really doing the planting."
And as Washington said: "I'm from Virginia so watch your mouth."
Seriously so many slaves. Something I read on one sign or another was like, "Washington, a decent guy, tried to lessen his dependence on slavery." But then later on—on the same sign, mind you—it said that this was only because he'd switched out some of his fields for less intensive crops so was losing money keeping so slaves since he no longer needed them for labour (not exactly his conscience speaking, but his wallet).
Granted, history is complicated. American economics (most especially in the south) were entirely dependent upon slavery, so not participating in slavery (and—in the North—not purchasing goods from slave states) was incredibly difficult. Possible, yes, but difficult.
We explained to our kids that it would be like being against fossil fuels. It's difficult to completely stop using them because our society is structured around the use of them. Possible? Yes. But certainly difficult, so we still have a car and we still fly in planes... (Not at all to equate slavery with fuel; simply to illustrate the idea that someone you consider good could rationalize engaging in something not so good (or even, as the case of slavery, something evil)).
A new exhibit recently opened in the museum on site called Lives Bound Together, which focused on the lives of enslaved people who lived at Mount Vernon. I wonder if this was a reaction to Kate Haulman's review of the exhibition because I noticed that a few other issues that she addressed had been "fixed" as well. And currently they are excavating the cemetery used for enslaved people so they can know how many—unmarked, forgotten—graves there are. It's nice to see some improvement.
Here are the girls in the kitchen (the one room were were allowed to take pictures in):
The rest of the house was pretty cool. The tour guides were trained baby charmers. All three of the guides we saw interacted personally with Zoë, pointing out animals in pictures and making animal noises, saying, "Hey, baby-baby! Look at this key! This is the key to the Bastille!" and, lastly, making ridiculous noses and pulling faces in the middle of a lecture about a different area of the house.
It really did help Zoë have a happier time and I was grateful to not be made out as a villain simply because my baby was fussy (because she was so fussy).
The Washingtons had a lovely view of the Potomac from their back porch.
Here's Zoë by the house:
And all the children:
And here we are down by the wall:
The kids had fun running and rolling down the hill:
Zoë was all about the rolling, though she didn't quite understand the "downhill" part:
Here are the girls entering Washington's wash house (where slaves worked six days a week—washing, washing all day long (the kids said I would fit in here because I'm always doing laundry and because I scored "professional clothes wringer" at the American History Museum but I'm not sure I would have enjoyed that job at all)):
We quite enjoyed this riding chair, and it was Benjamin's inspiration to call the stroller his carriage when he got tired of galloping all around DC:
We also enjoyed learning about ha-ha walls, so called because it's amusing to (watch someone else) unexpectedly discover one. Really they are to keep grazing animals from where they oughtn't be but to also keep one's vista obstruction-free. But I imagine it was also funny to watch people fall off these walls. Here we are jumping off of one:
Zoë, of course, wanted a turn jumping off the wall as well. She'll jump off just about anything:
She'll climb just about anything as well. Here she is halfway up the fence, hoping to meet a horse:
In addition to horses and donkeys, we got to visit with some sheep:
Here is Benjamin posing by the entrance to George Washington's tomb:
On our way to the cemetery for enslaved people we found a harvestman (what I grew up calling a daddy long-leg). Once I assured them that it couldn't harm them in any way, Benjamin and Miriam were quite willing to examine it more closely:
Miriam carried it all the way to the cemetery and showed it to the actor/fife-player who was there. He complimented her on her little friend and then played an extra tune just for Zoë, who had been dancing to his music. All the employees were so nice to the kids.
At the cemetery they had to find the words "peace, love, and hope" that were engraved on the newer monument to enslaved people there. That was the final piece of their puzzle, marking the end of our visit (though we could have gone down to the docks and a few other places a few members of our party were worn out and ready for lunch).
At the gift shop (because there's always a gift shop) the kids each got a smashed penny (with a picture of Mount Vernon on it) as a prize, which they weren't very excited about even though I reminded them that they always ask if they can smash a penny at the Museum of Life and Science and I always say no.
"Now you have a smashed penny," I said. "Isn't that nice?"
Well, no, it's not, because I should have realized that it wasn't the having of the penny that was important, necessarily, but more the novelty of putting the money in the machine, selecting your design, and then watching the whole process take place—all of which they missed because these pennies were pre-smashed. A real shame, I tell you (as they told me).
But all in all we had a fun time.