Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Solo Field Trip: Washington D.C.

N with his Gram at the Newseum
Recently N. spent a few days visiting his grandparents in Washington, D.C. all on his own.  This was the first time he spent more than one night away from home without Tim and me, and he had a great time.  He did lots of fun stuff with Gram/Bop, including visits to the Spy Museum, the Newseum, and a ride on the DC Metro's new Silver Line.  They went to a Nationals baseball game.  They went to Eastern Market.  They walked the dogs and played lots of Legos.

When I was 5 years old I started spending a week during the summers visiting my grandma, first by myself and then with one of my younger sisters.  At the time my parents and siblings and I lived in the country in northern Minnesota, outside of a town of 200 people and my grandma lived on a busy street corner in St. Paul.  I felt I was in a foreign, exotic place when I fell asleep at her house with the bright streetlights and traffic noise glaring and blaring (so it seemed to me) through the windows all night long.  Grandma took us to the zoo, took us "bumming" (her word for shopping!) so she, the mother of two boys, could buy her granddaughters matching frilly dresses, took us out for the greasy food she loved to indulge in at places like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sirlin's Sirloins, Mickey's Diner, and Ember's Restaurant.  None of these were things we did in our regular, rural, healthy, hippie life at home!  We loved visiting Grandma by ourselves.

It was easy for me to go on these visits.  I was a confident child and it never even occurred to me to worry about being away.  I loved my home, but I was never homesick when I visited my grandma, or later my aunt, or my friend in the country after we moved to the city, or when I went to camp.  When I was N.'s age I happily flew with my Grandma from the Twin Cities to Washington, D.C. for a 2-week whirlwind bus tour of all the major sites in the capital, as well as Gettysburg, Mount Vernon, and Monticello!

Me, about to board a plane with my Grandma (1984).
N. is totally different and it took him a long time to feel ready to spend even a few days away from home.  I'm proud of him for getting to that point.  Should we have pushed him to go earlier so he could have the years of memories that I got to make with my grandma?  I think it's hard to say.  I know he would have been fine and had a wonderful time earlier.  Christine Carter, sociologist and happiness expert, believes that experiences such as going to summer camp even when you don't think you want to teach you resilience, teach you to be OK with your own discomfort, give you practice in managing complex emotions such as being homesick but also having a great time.  I can see how all that would be true.  And maybe going on a solo visit before he knew he was ready would have been a revelation for N.

But it seemed to me that pushing N. to go before he felt ready would not be honoring his emotions as real and legitimate.  For me, it was just as important that his concerns, feelings, and preferences are valued and respected by us as that he learn that his worries might be unfounded.  In the end, I just couldn't bring myself to force him to go before he thought he was ready.  He had such a good time on this visit to his grandparents, however, that I hope this will be the first of many independent trips and experiences, including more visits to family, and even summer camps!