Tuesday started bright and early at 3:35 a.m. We quickly got dressed and drove to Newport News to pick up Casey and Carson, then headed 2 1/2 hours north to the city (which was actually 3 1/2 hours because we had more traffic than expected). We parked at the Springfield/Franconia station and rode the train what was supposed to be a 45 minute ride to the Capitol (but actually took 1 hr 10 min due to work on the lines and other trains running behind schedule). By the time we got on the train and I realized that we were going to be late for our 8:45 am meeting with Lauren in Congressman Woodall's office, I was almost in tears. Everything had been planned so carefully to make sure that we had PLENTY of time to get where we were supposed to be on time! Clothes had been laid out, backpacks had been packed, the car had been loaded, and baths had been taken the night before so we could leave quickly for our early morning. By my calculations, we would leave Norfolk at 4am, pick up the Ash's at 4:30am, be at the train station by 7:15am (allowing a 15 minute window for a drive through for biscuits and breakfast), then take the train and be in the city by 8am, giving us a 45 minute window for unforeseen circumstances and getting from the train across the street to the Longworth House Building. NOT HOW IT HAPPENED. We didn't make it to the train station until 8am, but I still held out hope that we would only a few minutes late, then we boarded the train and SAT THERE. An announcement came over the PA that the train was waiting on clearance further up the track and once it FINALLY started moving, it went so SLOWWWWW. In between tunnels, I sent an email to Lauren apologizing for our delay, explaining the situation, and asking for advice on how to proceed since we were going to miss our staff tour time. As we were exiting the final tunnel, she responded with the sweetest words! She told us please not to stress or worry or rush, they would begin our personal tour when we arrived whatever time that may be :-) Wow, what fantastic news! This was the day we had most looked forward to the whole week and it so quickly could have become the most disappointing day. One other note, when I was packing for our trip the weather was forecasting a 90% chance of rain for our DC day so I packed ponchos in our suitcase just to have handy. Three days earlier the forecast had begun to change, dropped to 20%, then the day before the forecast was 0% rain with sunshine and temps around 80. Perfect weather was in the forecast so I decided not to weigh down the backpack with 4 extra ponchos. Well, as we exited the train and headed up to the street level, it began to rain...seriously. So, we ran down the block in the rain and were outside just long enough to look like drowned rats as we entered the Longworth House building. What a great first impression...Ben had specifically asked that we dress business casual for our Capitol visit and we walk in disheveled :-( Given the events of the morning thus far, this didn't even surprise me. We kept going and exited the elevator on the 7th floor at 9:15am. Congressman's Woodall's staff met us outside of his office and welcomed us in. They were so completely gracious and expressed how horrible that they felt that we got wet. Introductions were made all around and we were immediately asked if we needed anything; a drink, a snack, anything at all to make us comfortable. It seemed as if there were no schedules to keep and they allowed us all the time in the world :-) After getting to know his staff, we were taken into his office for pictures. He was in a meeting, but would return to talk to us later.
Our wet picture before we dried out
Ethan at the Congressman's desk
Caden at his desk
Ethan definitely got into this
While we were getting ready to start our tour, Ethan wandered out into the hallway while I stood in the doorway and Mississippi Congressman Trent Kelly walked down the hall in the opposite direction headed to a meeting. A couple of seconds later, he turned around and walked up to Ethan. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself and Ethan did the same. Congressman Kelly started a conversation with Ethan, then asked him to wait a moment while he went back into his office. He returned a moment a later and asked Ethan to shake hands again. In the handshake, he gave Ethan one of his challenge coins. As a Colonel in the National Guard, he told Ethan what it represented and how it is used. Ethan told him thank you, then as he was saying goodbye he piped up and said, "Hey, do you have one for my brother?" While I was proud that he asked for the same for Caden(who was in the bathroom), I was also mortified that he came off a little disrespectful. Without missing a beat, he said, "Wait here a minute," returned to his office and came back with another coin. He told Ethan he was proud of him for looking out for his brother and he had to give it to Caden using the same shake in which he had received his coin. Then he asked Ethan to come into his office to take a picture with him. About that time, Caden returned and we all went into Congressman Kelly's office for the boys to take pictures. A completely unexpected and wonderful experience!
What was so funny was that Congressman Woodall's staff and Congressman Kelly's staff had never met each other until our visit nor had they been in each other's offices. After our visit, they were all exchanging pictures :-)
Finally, we began our tour. Lauren was the Congressman's tour coordinator whom I had been working with but sweet Emily was our tour leader. She was an adorable pre-law major that answered all of the boys questions with the most patience and sincerity. She took us under the Longworth House Building through the Cannon tunnel to the Capitol. We learned that the House and Senate representatives do not have to travel outside of the office buildings because the Cannon tunnel runs underground and connects both buildings directly to the Capitol.
Along the walls of the tunnel, artwork by students in each state is hung on the walls. Each state has a section of the wall and each Representative of each district gets to choose an original work by a student to be displayed.
After we exited the tunnel, we came around to the Capitol Visitor's Center. It was so neat to have Emily lead us! The group Capitol tours were huge, leaders wore microphones, and it was completely impersonal.
Memorial plaque to the passengers of Flight 93 who saved our nation's capital
This star is positioned in the absolute center of Washington D.C.
This is the original cornerstone laid by George Washington for the building itself
The original Supreme Court Chamber
The original Senate Chamber
The original House Chamber
In the center of the Capitol Rotunda, there is a plaque denoting where John Quincy Adams once sat. It is said that he would feign napping and eavesdrop on conversations by his peers from across the room. Because of the acoustics in the Rotunda, his seat was positioned perfectly to hear what was being said on the other side of the room. We tested it out, it's true!
The mural in the top of the Rotunda. George Washington at the center with Goddesses of Victory and Liberty on either side along with 13 other goddesses representing the 13 colonies.
The frieze of American History in chronological order at the base of the dome in the Rotunda, depicting of history dating back to Columbus all the way to the Wright Brothers. It took 3 artists to from 1877 to 1953 to complete the frieze. The first artist didn't begin until he was 73 and had to be painted by climbing up on scaffolding.
Pocahontas at George Washington's feet
George Washington and the army
On the other side of the Rotunda, the media is set up to interview Congressmen as they exit their chambers.
Paul Ryan's Offices
Emily was a wealth of information and a fantastic host! As part of a staff led tour, we received passes to enter the House and Senate galleries. Since cameras and phones are not allowed, we checked our things and went through another level of security to enter the House gallery first. Although they were not in session, it was neat to see where they vote and listen to bills and arguments. We then did the same for the Senate gallery. They were in session! We had just missed Bernie Sanders when we went in, but we sat to listen to a Congresswoman discussing the issues of Russian news broadcast in our country. As we were leaving, another Congressman came to the podium to attempt to block Trump's Supreme Court nomination. We later learned that he occupied the Senate floor for 15 hours! What is comical, that you never see on C-SPAN, is that NO ONE is paying attention to whomever is speaking. The Floor is completely empty. The hearings can be heard in the Congressional offices of each Senator and Representative and the Senate Leaders on the dais are playing on their phones, reading the newspaper, or quietly chatting with whomever is next to them! Truly, this concerns me! These are the people that lead our country and make the rules and laws! Once we left the gallery, we returned to Congressman Woodall's office where we had left our backpacks and things.
One last picture in front of the CapitolAs we returned, there were a couple of other families in for a tour but the Congressman was in and immediately welcoming. His first words were, "Well, finally I get to meet the Forrester's and they haven't even had lunch!" True, we had spent way more time in the Capitol that I had thought we would but there was so much to see and the boys were super interested in everything! The Congressman and Carson quickly hit it off while I got snacks and drinks for the boys and Ben set up a ride to take us to lunch. Then he and the Congressman had a nice conversation and we had pictures all around :-) While the adults were in conversation, Ethan and Caden were talking with Emily and Alex, the two staff interns. They showed the boys a rubber band ball they had made almost the size of a basketball. Then they made the mistake of giving it to the boys. Ethan immediately turns around, walks out of the Congressman's office into the hallway, and begins to dribble up and down the hall. As I RUN into the BUSY hallway to retrieve the ball and profusely apologize for my son's behavior, other Congressmen are passing him on their way to meetings just grinning at him and complimenting his skills. Definitely not the reaction I was expecting! Everyone was all smiles and we finally said our goodbyes and headed down to meet our ride.
Then we walked past the Treasury Building
And the DAR Building
Before trying to single-handedly hold up the Washington Monument
And walking like an Egyptian
The Lincoln Memorial. We were rapidly losing steam from our 3:30 morning so walking to it was not happening but we did get a picture of it and the World War II Memorial that Ben was also excited to see.
After leaving the Mall, we got a ride to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Since we had just seen Kill Devil Hills and learned all about the Wright Brothers the day before, it was neat to see the Flyer in the Smithsonian.
The boys also got a kick out of all of the other planes
Love this little Monkey See, Monkey Do
It was also great to see so many interactive exhibits for the kids, both big and little ;-)
All while learning about flight
We had planned a double-decker bus tour that day that was actually going to take us to all of the monuments and museums but since we were late getting into the city and we spent so much more time at the Capitol than we thought we would, we had to scratch it. Ben and I both knew when we planned the trip that this would be the boys' first trip to DC and not their only so we promised to do the bus tour next time we visit. It was a FULL day of activities and we were worn out! We stopped for a rest at Starbucks for coffee and snacks before heading back to the train. Once we got back to the car, we made one final stop at Potomac Mills for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory before returning to Newport News and Norfolk...3:30am-midnight with 6 1/2 hours round trip in the car and a TON of walking in between...I would be OK if a day that long never happened again in my life but I would never want to give up the memories we made that very special day. And I must say, both boys were total troopers, I rarely heard a complaint all day long :-)