It was going to be a life-defining trip.
For the weekend we would visit my husband’s family in Pittsburgh and then we would play hooky from work and school and tour the nation’s capitol.
You see; I have two daughters, 6 and 9. I was resolute on taking my girls to Washington D.C. some time after Hillary Clinton’s Inauguration, but before they become embarrassed to be seen with me in public. We were going to be present and part of a historical celebration in the early months of the first female President’s term. Our family trip to D.C. was going to be the ultimate crash course in GIRL POWER. These were my thoughts in October. I couldn’t wait for our trip in May.
And then Hillary lost the election.
And I didn’t want to go to D.C. anymore. I didn’t want my girls to go either.
“The weather’s going to be crappy,” I whined to my husband mere days before we were leaving, hoping to cancel the trip.
“We’re used to crappy weather.” Tougher than me husband replied. We live in Seattle and this had been the wettest winter/spring in history.
“My sciatica’s bugging me, “ I protested the night before the trip. “Could make the flight unbearable.” Which was a complaint not without merit.
“We’re leaving in 15 hours, I suggest packing.” Husband responded not looking up from his laptop bag already packed by the front door. Our fate was sealed. Here I was the one who championed taking our girls to D.C. to celebrate the first female president and instead we would be visiting under an administration whose Vice President refused to be alone in a room with a woman if his wife is not present and a President who has consistently belittled, insulted, and stereotyped women. How was I going to talk to my girls about history and progress and liberty and justice for all when the United States is backsliding at warp speed? I was convinced even standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial honoring the man who saved the union could not buoy me from the depth of despair I felt for our nation and for my daughters’ futures.
I was proved wrong. We had a great trip.
The success of the trip resulted in two if not four “I told you sos” from my patient husband. As an educator for two decades, a parent for nine and a recent D.C. tourist, here are three compelling reasons why I now believe there is no better time than now to take your daughters to Washington D.C..
1) Differing views are what make our country strong not weak. In the west coast liberal bubble that we live in I had lost sight of this fundamental concept in our nation’s founding. My daughters had not ever experienced political views different than that of their community. In D.C. we were reminded that the true strength of this country is that we can believe what we want to believe, say what we want to say (write what we want to write) because 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 fought for these rights to be at the forefront of the U.S. Constitution and later the Bill of Rights. The tour of the Capitol starts with a 13 minute movie that does an exceptional job explaining why freedom of speech and personal beliefs, no matter how different from fellow neighbors, are THE building block of the United States. After the tour of the Capitol we walk to the National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. My 9 year-old, a die-hard Hamilton fan, went nuts when she was the first in the family to spy Alexander Hamilton’s signature. We walked out of the National Archives all singing, “I am not throwing away my shot!” That chorus launched us into a conversation about what our “shot” would be to improve our struggling country. I could not have scripted a better family conversation if I’d tried.
2) Lessons of grit and resiliency past and present are more relevant that ever. We sprinted from the Smithsonian National Zoo (because when in D.C. you HAVE to see the pandas) to Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Passing through the visitor’s center the first visual, other than the sea of white tombstones, is the remarkable Women’s Memorial. It is the only major monument honoring women who have bravely served and defended our country. Its presence is inspiring and it sparked this question from my nine-year-old, “So girls can fight in a war, but they can’t be President?” Instead of bemoaning Hilary’s loss, for the first time I felt proud to say that women can become President of the United States. Hillary actually won more votes than President Trump, so in fact more voting Americans wanted a female president than didn’t want one. That answer felt good to me and clearly satisfied my daughter who responded confidently, “I’m pretty sure the next President will be a girl.”
3) Girls, if you don’t like what you see, if you don’t like what you hear, change it! After a full three days of walking all the monuments, the Capitol, National Archives, Museum of American History, White House, Museum of Natural History, Zoo, a wet and cold Duck Tour and Arlington Cemetery here was my daughters’ summary of our trip “There needs to be more about girls other than dresses and china.” And I had to agree with them. So over pizza we brainstormed what monument could be on the Mall that represented the power, purpose and contribution of women. Our answers ranged from the silly (a big sign that says GIRLS RULE, BOYS DROOL) to the serious (a statue or the everyday woman that works hard, but is never recognized). My favorite idea came from my husband. He suggested a designated space now, with a big question mark and an open slot on the side. People visiting could drop a note with their hopes for our nation’s future under a female leader. Perhaps even a suggestion or two about who that female leader should be. My six-year-old replied, “ME!”
I underestimated the power of enduring history and I over-estimated the power of current times. We are living in a dark time for sure, but the country has fought through similarly if not darker times and prevailed. Given the conversations we had with our daughters in D.C. I feel hopeful for the future, a future where more voices representing gender, race, religion, and personal beliefs will be present. Take your daughters to D.C. now so they will be inspired to be part of U.S. history in the future.
The mother of two daughters, Eva Allison Frank has worked in schools for two decades. From an overcrowded, cacophonous high school to a pristine private girl’s school and all schools in-between Alli has been a teacher, curriculum leader, coach, college counselor, assistant head of school, consultant, sometimes pastor, often mayor, and de facto parent therapist.