Our four boys have been longing to visit Washington DC from before we even pondered the plan to emigrate to the States. Excepting the Statue of Liberty, so much of the iconography they associate with America is based in the nation’s capital. On a personal level, they have also always wanted to see the place where Daddy grew up. They have visited a few of the places where Mr Pict once lived in England but the place he has always spoken most fondly of is suburban DC and, of course, it was one place they had definitely never been. Therefore, when my in-laws suggested that they come out to visit us at Spring Break, we decided it made sense for us all to take a vacation to the environs of Washington DC to show the kids the sites, introduce them to places that had meaning for their father and for the adults to have a bit of a nostalgia kick.
The drive should only have taken three hours but it took a lot longer because of the sheer weight of traffic on the roads and what seemed like a dozen sets of road works. We broke up the journey by breakfasting at a Denny’s just over the Maryland border with Delaware. We have a long-established rule, Mr Pict and I, that the way to claim a state is to do any two of three things in it: eat, sleep and pee. Our children have inherited these rules from us. They were, therefore, very eager to breakfast in Delaware as it would enable them to collect that state so long as they also used the restroom. However, road works and my husband’s misreading of the sat nav app on his phone meant that we ended up eating across the border. The collection of Delaware will have to wait another day. I, incidentally, can only claim Delaware because – when driving through the state many years ago – I fell asleep in the car and woke up to have a snack.
Breakfast having been munched, we clambered back into the car again. It was not long before we were all feeling sticky hot. That, in turn, led the boys to become fractious. Cabin fever was setting in. I am not certain my kids would cope with driving across featureless desert landscapes.
Finally, however, we arrived in Chevy Chase in suburban Maryland. It was time for some reminiscing and revisiting old haunts since my husband and his parents had all lived there – twice in the case of my mother- and father-in-law. We drove to the street on which the house Mr Pict had first lived in America stood. Amazingly it was empty and some handy men were in the garden tidying it up ready for it to be rented out. My mother-in-law explained why we were stopping to look at the house and they invited us to wander around at our leisure. Fancy the chances! I had never visited this particular house but my husband had told me so much about it that it was pretty nifty to be finally inside and to be able to piece his anecdotes together with the fabric of the building. The décor had not been changed or even maintained since Mr Pict had lived there a quarter of a century before which might be bad news for prospective tenants but was great for nostalgia purposes. He was struck by how small the house now felt in comparison to how large it had felt when he lived there. Changing personal size: shifting perspective on scale. We later drove past the house on another nearby street where he had lived a few years later and where my in-laws had lived when Mr Pict and I used to visit America together. We also stopped off at one of the high schools my husband had attended in America. I think he felt like he was time-travelling.
We then took the boys to Rock Creek Park to stretch their legs, burn off some pent up energy and unwind. They had fun playing on the climbing frames and other equipment. My 7 year old was pleased to discover he could dangle across entire sets of monkey bars and my 8 year old borrowed his father’s phone to take video footage of them all playing. Of course, being my feral kids, both my 8 and 4 year olds decided to slough off their footwear and run around barefoot. Every single other child in the park was properly shod but they were happy so I left them to it.
On the way to the rental property, we swung by an area called Kenwood which was lush with cherry blossom. It was so thronging with people coming to see the trees that police were out directing and controlling the traffic and it was impossible – as per police edict – to pull over and park so we had to drive up and down the streets without stopping. The roads were pretty narrow as it was a very residential area and that meant the trees, which were festooned with blossoms, created a canopy of blooms, sometimes so close and thick that the arching branches formed a tunnel. I have wanted to see the cherry blossoms for a long time but have never before visited the area in the Spring. Even now I should have missed them bursting forth with blooms except that the harsh winter had pushed back Spring. It was quite something to finally see the famous trees (though of course there more famous cousins are around the various monuments and memorials in the city) but also to see the crowds of people and the convoy of cars turning an annual natural event into a tourist attraction. I also enjoyed seeing the little girls out on their drives selling lemonade as I admired their entrepreneurial spirit and business savvy.
Finally, in late afternoon, we arrived at the rental house in Vienna. We have normally always stayed in either holiday lets or people’s second homes but this time we were actually staying in a family home while the family of two parents and five children went on vacation to Florida. I am not sure I would be brave enough to let someone stay in my house for a week and I am not sure I would be inclined to clean and tidy it to the extent required. The fact that it was someone’s actual house, however, meant that it had character, charm and warmth in a way that is sometimes lacking in other houses we have stayed in in the past. It had spacious, nicely furnished bedrooms, three different living rooms, a playroom full of toys and a massive garden contained a climbing frame and trampoline and swimming pool – the latter not in use at this time of year. By the time we had unloaded the car and started to unpack, everyone was finally hungry again so we ordered Dominos pizza and everyone wolfed it down as we sat out on the patio.
We were definitely on vacation!