I'm planning a family vacation to Washington, DC for later this month. It's reminding me of the first time I ever planned a vacation. That was also a family trip and also to DC. I co-planned it with my brother Joel. He was 10 and I was 9 and we planned it for our then family of 7. The other children were 7, 5, and almost 2.
Our dad gave us one of the Frommer budget travel guides: Washington on Five Dollars a Day and set us to work on planning. One of my father's maxims was "Planning a trip is half the fun" and we took it to heart and had lots of fun. We also planned a really good vacation! We did everything but choose the hotel and the route to get to DC. We read over all the options, decided on activities, had rainy day and sunny day excursions that we could interchange, had some times when "big kids" did one thing with one parent while "little kids" did something else with the other parent, and truly considered everyone's preferences.
Well, except maybe our parents' preferences :-). They totally indulged us and let us do what we thought would be fun, even when it involved going to a kitschy museum they would not otherwise have been caught dead in. It wasn't until years later that I realized how mortified my parents were to go to the Washington Wax Museum and have a family picture taken with the wax sculpture of then President Johnson.
They indulged us in our budding geekery, too. Joel had read about some research into using algae as a food staple at the Smithsonian (which is a research institution as well as a museum). He thought it would be great to get a tour of the lab and talk to the scientists, but the article had said the lab wasn't open to the public. Well, our dad said "Let's try" and we had a Dad-and-Big-Kids Outing to that lab. We just went in and he, with great confidence, said, "Hello, I'm Dr. Rosenberg from the Institute of Living. My children are interested in your work. Could you give us a tour?" And they did! At the end they asked what the Institute of Living was and he said it was a psychiatric hospital and the biologists all scratched their heads, wondering why they just gave us that tour.
I haven't followed their lead in lots of things my parents did, but this is an area where I think they excelled as parents and I've tried to emulate them. They instilled a love of travel and adventure in me, and I've tried to pass that on to my kids, too. And when I've found myself in kitschy museums - from San Francisco to Niagara Falls to London - I've gotten in the spirit of the thing and enjoyed it.
A family of origin story from that first trip to DC I've told before but is worth repeating:
We spent a lot of time in the Smithsonian museums on that trip. We were all in the Hall of Minerals of the Natural History Museum when my parents noticed that my sister Kayo (age 5) was holding a small rock that looked suspiciously like one of the large rocks on display on a pedestal. Mom and Dad did the parental interrogation bit ("Where did you get the rock?" "I found it" "No, really. Where did you get the rock?" "I found it." "You'd better tell me the truth." "I found it.") but she didn't crack. They weren't sure they believed her, but thought it best to just give up at that point.
Only my brother Hart (age 7) kept pestering her: "Let me see your rock."
"No! It's mine."
"Just for a minute."
"No! It's mine."
"Come on. Let me see your rock."
"No! It's mine."
Finally she got so frustrated that, in that amazingly loud and clear voice that small children use only when saying something you wish were not overheard, she said, "Oh go chip your own!"
We left quickly and after that whenever you caught someone lying in my family you said, "Oh go chip your own!"
This time we're staying in a hotel near DuPont Circle (I get to choose hotels now). We're going to do a DC by Night tour, a tour of the Capitol, the Newseum, and spend a lot of time at the Smithsonian. Nobody will chip any rocks, I hope.