Tony Woodlief | Author

Vacation II: 800 nights in a museum in 3 hours

More on the Great Woodlief Vacation of 2010, which might also have been titled: “You do know it’s 1400 miles to the East Coast, right?”

When last I left off, I had just extricated the Big Love van from a midget-sized parking garage, and relocated it to West Virginia. Let’s pick up again outside the National Building Museum, where the three wives and I have just escaped with our brood from the clutches of the Lego exhibit. It gets your Lego juices flowing with its amazing replicas of giant buildings, lets you play with Legos, and then deposits you on a Lego sales floor. Well played, Lego Corporate Behemoth. Well played.

Safely out the door, we start toward my favorite Chinese restaurant in DC’s Chinatown, The New Big Wong.

Go ahead, snicker like a teenager. I can wait. And yes, the name is precisely why I stopped in there all those years ago. You can’t not eat at a place with that name.

Ready to be a grown-up again? Good. On with the story. Down the sidewalk we went with our ten children, which would not be a problem if not for the fact that we began the day with eleven. That’s right, this one goes to eleven. The missing tyke is not one of mine, but I’m fond of him all the same, so I sprinted with his mother back to the museum.

I’m happy to report that the security guard at the door was on the precipice of possibly lifting a finger to help when we found the boy, who seemed mildly relieved that we had retrieved ourselves from wherever it was that we had been lost. When we got back to the larger group, his three sisters welcomed him with tears and fussing, which is the way of sisters, I suppose.

On to the Chinese restaurant. They seated us at two round tables, where the children commenced to poking their eyes out with chopsticks and dropping the fancy porcelain tea cups on the floor. The waitress brought them each a large, completely full glass of ice water, because apparently there were no children in China when she was growing up.

I confiscated the glasses and poured water into the remaining, unbroken tea cups. About half the water ended up on the floor, which was fitting because a fair portion of food was bound to follow. But soon we were eating, and the barbarians seemed contented enough, except for their frequent visits in ones and twos to the adult table, in the way children have when they sense that you might be enjoying your meal. There was also the inevitable, inexplicable falling from chairs, and slipping in water from my ill-fated tea cup experiment. I think everyone left with a bruise, but I am happy to report that there was minimal bleeding.

Outside, a woman approached Wife on the sidewalk to explain that just through a door and up a flight of stairs awaited free ice cream. I suggested that perhaps we shouldn’t teach the children to follow complete strangers through unmarked doors and up dark flights of stairs on the promise of ice cream. Then we all went through the door and up the stairs to discover that yes, there was free ice cream.

We ate it on the sidewalk, and looked for a homeless person to give our leftover Chinese food to, except that you can’t find a homeless person in DC any more when you need one. On to the Metro we went, clogging up the left- and right-hand side of the escalators, to the great consternation of a handful of people who seemed to think they had very important business, despite the fact that they were using the Metro, which is more or less proof that you aren’t as important as you think you are.

And then, Air and Space. Sufficient awe. We stumbled into a kid’s science area, which seems like a cross between a pea shooter and a bazooka. Look kids, a complex explanation of the effects of differential air pressure. And also a big balloon. Over here we have a discussion of the mechanics of ailerons. Ooo, and some pretty buttons. The last time I was this combination of bored and confused was in Mission Impossible II.

Finally, time to go. Except that the Big Love van was 20 blocks away. I set out walking, leaving Wife and her two sidekick wives in charge of the eleven youngsters, who were still admirably geeked out at the rockets and planes and such, as well as present and accounted for, which, as you can see, is no small thing.

I walked about seven blocks before I remembered that I didn’t have the van keys. This is because they were attached to a ginormous ball of keys and assorted doo-dads that simply were not going to fit in my pocket in any manner that wasn’t downright inappropriate. They were in the backpack of one of the sidekick wives. Back I trudged to the museum. I had an internal monologue going that I can’t share, this being a family-type blog and all.

Wife reports that in my absence, three year-old Isaiah was melting down. Isaac tried to placate him with chewing gum. He whipped out a piece of foil-wrapped happiness, and Isaiah did his little happy dance in response. The problem was that Isaac had been carrying this gum in his pocket all day. When he tried to peel off the wrapper, the gum stuck to it in a gooey mess. Isaiah threw up his arms in despair and collapsed to the floor. Isaac whipped out another piece of gum. Isaiah jumped up, happy again. Another gooey mess. Wailing and collapsing to the floor. Still another piece of gum. Hope renewed. Gooeyness. Wailing and collapsing. And so on.

All of which is to say that when I returned from my aborted trip to the van, I faced a choice between divorce and taking the three year-old meltdown artist with me. I thought for a bit, and then opted for the latter.

I trudged down the steps with the boy in my arms, tired, irritable, imagining the great torment in store for my back. This is when God intervened, and sent one of those bicycle jitneys. Isaiah and I rode to the van in style. Sort of. More style than we otherwise could have mustered on our own.

Next installment: Are we there yet? and other questions that make you wonder if that guardrail really is as strong as it looks.

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