It isn’t the most ideal situation to wake up and begin the morning hustle after three days away, but we did it. We slid back into our sobering routine of slipping lunch boxes into backpacks and herding kids with half-brushed hair out the door to make it to school on time this morning when the girls and I, just last night, were running through Laguardia to catch our second flight which Lainey spent completing the last bit of homework due today (with a $12 pack of pencils I had to buy from an airport bookstore, mind you, because no one we asked had one). It isn’t ideal to jolt back to reality this quickly and comes with a few costs, but the tradeoff is priceless.
We are still on a D.C. high after a 3-day girls trip there, inspired by Lainey’s decision to study Eunice Shriver for her research project last year, that ended yesterday morning standing in the sacred space of Eunice’s office at Special Olympics Headquarters. We came for Eunice but made a 3-day trip out of it because popping in and out of D.C. is nearly impossible, and our school calendar granted us a day off this week that made the decision to extend our trip a little easier. As much as we missed Dash, given the reason of the trip, we thought it would be extra special if the girls had some sister bonding, and it turned out to be so incredibly memorable.
We experienced the perfect 3-day D.C. sampler plate, assisted by so many incredible D.C. recommendations from your Instagram suggestions as well as my little cousin who lives there and knows lots of D.C. secrets. So I’m going to take you on a little whirlwind D.C. stay, tell you what we loved and share some photos of this colorful city that brought us so much joy this week.
We stayed on Embassy Row in Dupont Circle and loved the area for its walkability to so many great shops and restaurants as well as quick Uber rides to attractions outside the circle. As soon as we arrived, we took an Uber to the National Portrait Gallery where we stayed a little over an hour which, sure, wasn’t nearly enough time to get our fill, but it was appropriate for our “sampler platter” approach and about how long it kept both girls fully engaged and loving what they were seeing. I loved how approachable the gallery was–we went in all hush-hush, quietly respecting the art and refraining from taking photos, and a security guard actually stopped us and said, “You know you don’t have to keep them quiet, right? Have fun! Talk! Take pictures! It’s meant to be fully enjoyed.”
I’ve read so many mixed reviews on the Obama portrait, but let me tell you…it was stunning in person. Absolutely beautiful.
Of course our favorite was the Eunice Shriver portrait. My girls stood in front of it for quite some time, pointing and talking about the people, and I loved being able to show Nella the two individuals who had Down syndrome. The additional subjects in the painting help exude exactly what Eunice was–love and compassion.
The girls loved the courtyard of the Portrait Gallery, and Nella’s rain boots proved to be a great choice of footwear with the floor fountains (and later with all the rain that night, we were soaked!).
We met up with some of our Baltimore friends for dinner in Dupont the first evening after a little research on the best kid-friendly restaurants, and Firefly delivered–amazing food and a big tree right in the middle of the restaurant. Plus, the waiter brings the kids cookie dough and sprinkles at the beginning of the meal for them to decorate and serves the fresh-baked cookies at the end.
We kicked off Tuesday morning with breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin on 14th Street, and the girls loved it so much, they asked to come back for lunch (we did).
The smiley pancakes sold them, and the homemade poptart delivered us all from evil and saved our souls, amen.
Breakfast was definitely one of my favorite memories of the trip. It was raining outside, so we took our time and from the best seats in the house–the front window bar–we told stories and played games (I happened to pack the world’s best trip entertainment backpack this time, thank you very much) and watched people walk their dogs and struggle with their umbrellas in front of us. Ted’s also plays the best music, and at one point Frankie Valli was crooning Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, rain was painting the windows, the girls were in a fit of laughter over Nella almost falling off the stool, and I was sipping coffee basically visualizing Joy at the emotion control board in my head, collecting this baby as a core memory.
We explored the surrounding neighborhood a bit (Swann Street is so charming!) and imagined what the apartments looked like inside.
We asked a man to take our picture in exchange for some coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich, and he was happy for the job and delivered a photo I’ll always remember.
It was on to the National Museum of Natural History after breakfast–both girls loved it, although Nella was a little hesitant of the elephant at first, asking “Is it real?” three times before finally trusting us and walking toward it.
…followed by an hour at The National Air and Space Museum…
…and later on to the Lincoln Memorial, arriving just as a storm was brewing, creating this gorgeous dramatic sky.
Nella was a little mixed up with presidents but recognized the portraits and statues at least as some president, so we had a little chuckle over whose name she hollered when she saw them–“Hey, George Washington! Look, Trump! It’s George Bush!” (she memorized all the presidents’ names in a kindergarten song so has a nice repertoire to draw from). How much do you love the red shirt brothers who photobombed us?
We spent Tuesday afternoon exploring neighborhoods, stopping in cafes for treats and bookstores to chill. In Chicago a couple years ago, we started the tradition of completing a 100-piece mini puzzle at some random attraction, so we’ve continued the tradition and now bring puzzles on trips. This week, it was a window table at Busboys and Poets. Spot It was another huge hit on this trip. We played it on the plane and pulled it out at every restaurant. I must have sold 6 games in DC because everyone we taught to play is now addicted.
The neighborhood walks were spectacular–so much to take in, so many colors to delight.
Lainey loved unique D.C. attractions with rich history–like Forever 21 and Zara and 2-story Trader Joe’s.
My cousin took us to Franklin Hall right when they opened (we were the only ones there), and it was the absolute perfect place to let the kids rest for a while–long tables with oversized Uno cards and Connect 4 for giants.
And then sunset along the river at this feels-like-a-secret-location brewpub called Bardo which is basically a giant outside lot covered with shipping containers, art, church pews, colorful booths and games. I kept telling my cousin, “I don’t know how this place is legal, but I love it.” Again, we came before the bar crowd, so it was just us, and the girls were so happy running around and playing corn hole with a giant outdoor playground to themselves (and they had a giant sandbox!).
Right next to Bardo is the Riverfront All Purpose, another great place for kids, especially if you eat outside. The Buona pizza was insane–with the Calabrian chili honey drizzled over it, oh my God.
My cousin Tessa stayed at our hotel with us Tuesday night, and we made girls night memories that I dreamed of when they were little. We ordered Shirley Temples for the girls at the hotel bar, took them to our room, set up twinkle lights, played music and dug into the spa goodies we packed for this very occasion–face masks, nail polish and a bath bomb DIY set.
Wednesday morning was Founding Farmers for breakfast (so many recommendations for this, and it did not disappoint!) followed by the real reason we came and such a meaningful part of our trip–the sacred ground of The Special Olympics Headquarters where we had the honor of standing in Eunice Shriver’s office, left just as it was when she died nine years ago right down to the stack of handwritten notes that sit on her desk. Eunice’s son Tim Shriver, who continues the work she began, gave us an office tour and told us stories behind the many photographs that fill the room–he knows every one, every award, every knick-knack and where it’s from.
The one that took my breath away was a framed handwritten letter behind Eunice’s desk. It was a letter a child wrote to her parents, sent to Eunice by the child’s teacher to remind her who she fights for. I couldn’t hold back the tears reading it…”Dear Mom and Dad, please help me. I don’t want to be retarded.” It went on, pleading for help to be smarter because she didn’t know why school was so hard for her and felt so ashamed being called names.” Tim said his mother rarely cried, but that letter did it for her.
For Lainey, this opportunity was incredibly special because Eunice was an advocating sister, like her. This trip came about because of a project Lainey worked so hard on, and I wanted her to feel how special the sibling’s role is on this journey. “You made this happen,” I told her.
The rest of Wednesday we spent exploring neighborhoods. Lainey took photos of Nella on city streets, and we added two more bookstores to our trip.
With only an hour left to explore before we had to grab our flight, we accidentally stumbled onto the Mansion on O Street, and I’m so glad we did.
We were sitting on the step discussing our options for filling the last hour when I saw the sign that said “The Mansion” and realized it was the O Street Mansion I had read about. We pushed the doorbell and, no joke, a man’s voice said, “The Mansion, how can I help you?” (Lainey: “Mom, this is so cool.”) I asked if we could come in and look around and told the man we only had an hour, so he gave us an incredible deal on a quick pass (he was so nice!), and we were in. The O Street Mansion is a collection of connected brownstones originally designed in 1892. There are 100 rooms, secret passageways that connect rooms and 70 secret doors in the house (Lainey found 5 of them). Rosa Parks lived there for 10 years, and many musicians, authors, artists and ambassadors have stayed there (it’s also a hotel, known for its privacy).
Every room is decorated in eccentric themes, the architecture is fascinating, and walking through it felt like a maze in a storybook. The girls were mesmerized, and neither of them wanted to leave. They were giggling and gasping at every new room they walked in and wanted to play hide-and-seek, but I was terrified I’d lose them within seconds.
Lainey said multiple times last night, “I just want to go back to D.C. and explore the mansion with my friends.
We weren’t going to include the O Street Mansion on our attraction list, but I’m so glad we accidentally landed there because it was so crazy and quirky and mysterious and right up Lainey’s alley (“Can you imagine the ghosts in here at night?” she asked).
We left the mansion with five minutes to get to our hotel, grab our bags and head to the airport. So there you have it–the D.C. sampler plate, we did it! The girls were absolute troopers, the best little travel companions…grateful for the memories.