My primary task was to spend time with Solomon in Washington DC while Christopher worked (fellow at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies) and Kate traveled (moderator at a panel for an Asian Studies conference in Seattle). I would have four to five hours a day alone with our almost one-year-old grandson in DC where I'd last spent any time other than business trips 28 years before. Not quite a replicate of my trip to Taiwan as Christopher and I shared baby duties while Kate worked except for an occasional hour when Solomon and I were on our own--and then, only in the apartment.
I stayed in a hotel close to the Center's apartment that Christopher has for this spring term. Little did I realize when I made reservations several months ago that my hotel would also be the site of hundreds of Chinese virtually camped out waiting to catch a glimpse of that country's president, Mr. Xi's motorcade taking him to/from the nuclear security summit. Each time I entered the hotel area I was required to show my room card by friendly but imposing DC police, secret service and/or homeland security people. Meanwhile huge welcoming flags in red and yellow draped the fences cordoning off the area, accompanied by golden dragons, pounding drums, and busloads of tourists. The walk, though, from hotel to Christopher's apartment was along Rock Creek Road to Massachusetts Avenue then up Whitehaven Road: part of the embassy row area of Washington. Mansions with flags and signs of various nations, the decor often matching the state of the country's wealth at the time it was built or purchased, were interesting to see. The blossoming cherry and plum trees, the brilliant yellow, white, red, and orange tulips, and the greening of leaves on shrubs and bushes, welcomed me to a city bursting with spring.
Kate was still in town on the first day of my visit so we gathered Solomon in his stroller and walked to the National Cathedral, taking the "highlights" tour. There were several young ones in strollers to distract baby along with the play of sunlight on the marble columns. We were surprised that although the designers of DC planned for some type of national church, it wasn't until 1903 that construction of the Cathedral began with completion in the early 1990s. The sweet smell of left-over day lilies from the week before Easter services tinkled our noses and wafted through the high ceilings. Elegant yet inviting.
Wednesday evening was an experiment in eating: Eritrean food! Great for baby as he devoured his scrambled eggs while we waited for the main course of injera (Ethiopian-type unleavened bread) covered with spinach, spicy chicken, and numerous vegetables quite foreign to me. We used the bread to pick up the food, no forks allowed. Fun to eat at the level that works for all ages. Very messy though.
Solomon chatters non-stop as we wonder what's going on in his active brain. He walks (well, more of a quick take-off to get from one spot to another) about ten steps by himself, but loves to take one of my hands to steady himself and then lead me to whatever catches his eye. He is quite certain that I will go with him--and I do! He is a very busy boy, up, down, crawling to a different toy, learning the fundamentals of rolling a ball to another person who just might roll it back in his direction, lifting himself up to eye-level with a table to grab a magazine or newspaper left open by one of his parents.
Thursday was Smithsonian Air & Space Museum morning. Crowded even on a mid-week day but the vintage planes and parts of space ships were intriguing to all of us. Lunch in the food court (seriously, a huge McDonald's) was noisy and brief as Kate had to catch a bus to Dulles airport--and then we were on our own! Christopher, his friend, Matt, Solomon and I walked around downtown, our intended path to a coffee shop (expresso with gelato!) waylaid by all the barriers being put into place for the 50-nation nuclear security summit scheduled for the next day.
Later that day while the men went for a trail run, Solomon and I met the two-year-old French girl who lives downstairs. Nora was enthralled by baby wanting to play with him, sing to him, and talk with him (in French!). When she finally realized that Solomon's only responses were babbling, she said "Goo goo bebe!" So precious.
Solomon is hesitant about grass as his awareness of the outside world has been winter--snow and mud. We sat in the play area where he tentatively touched the grass; immediately his hand came off the tickley stuff, stopped mid-air, then floated down to try again. Walking on uneven ground whether grass or sand was another new experience but he soon mastered it--or at the least, falling down didn't hurt.
Friday we were on our own: he napped some in my hotel room between the big bolsters on the bed (conveniently while the rain stopped) then back into the stroller to the National Zoo. He was mesmerized by the Sloth Bear, probably because it paced at his eye level and in some respects looks like a much larger version of their black dog, Laska. The brightly-orange flamingoes, the Emu, the common sparrows hopping around near the picnic benches caught his attention, too. I saw a sleeping panda, lazing cheetah, huge elephants and the back-end of a zebra, but Solomon was distracted by pushing the stroller himself (with a little guidance from me). He is definitely persistent in getting what he wants!
By evening Grand-Doug had arrived, Christopher had finished his work, and dinner was at a local diner. Garlic mashed potatoes for the little guy were a hit: eating them by hand was even more intriguing than the scrambled eggs the night before! And then, night-time as we departed to meet again in the morning.
Doug and I were in charge on Saturday: viewing the monuments was on schedule. It was raining a bit, a complete change from the near 80 degrees at the zoo on Friday. We walked along Rock Creek Park for a ways, then stopped for brunch (scrambled eggs and blueberry muffin for the little guy), before heading out to see the sights. A slight detour as my purse fell off the stroller (unbeknownst to us), was found by a good samaritan who gave it to a security officer of an apartment complex, who called me (I happened to have a business card (usually don't) with my cell phone number in the purse). We back-tracked about six blocks, I identified the purse, the very kind man refused a tip, and we continued to Constitution Park. (Dare I say how fortunate I was?)
My primary goal was to visit the World War II Memorial as I've seen the Lincoln Memorial (still a favorite), Washington Monument, Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial. Each is evocative in its own way, but the depiction of soldiers slogging their way through the Korean hillside is haunting and intense. Baby was drawn to the common ducks playing in the Reflecting Pool, the fountains at the WWII Memorial, and the colorful, aerodynamic kites swooping and diving near the Washington Monument. We met Christopher near the Monument then walked and walked (12 miles that day) through the city, stopping for coffee in Georgetown near the old locks part of the C&O Canal, getting Solomon new shoes, stopping for a few groceries, then down the trail to their apartment for an early dinner. Doug and I were tired but so thrilled to share a tiny slice of life with our grandson.
Sunday was cold, blustery (27 degrees with wind chill), and clear. Solomon and I played while Christopher ran (he is very used to this weather), then we gathered everyone together for a walk over to Connecticut Avenue for brunch. Baby once again explored the nooks and crannies of a renovated old brick building with uneven steps, hidden corners, slanted walk-way. He spied a stroller so of course had to check it out along with the "baby-owner's" toys. What a curious little guy.
And then it was time to head to the airport for us to return home. Once again, Solomon took everything in stride, riding in the back seat of the car with me, getting into his stroller to go into the airport for hugs and kisses and then....waiting for his mother to return!