Last week, in a push to do at least ONE item on my 2013 goals list (soon to be rolled over to a 2014 goals list), I signed up to read a story I wrote at the Irish American Heritage Center’s storytelling night. It was fun! People laughed! They cried! They carried me out on their shoulders and knocked down bookshelves to make room for my stories! Ok, only two of those are true, the third one will be added to 2014’s list. Here’s the story!
Break the Good China
It was two weeks away, but when my boss came into my office asking if I’d like to go to Washington D.C. to attend a conference, it only took a minute to collect my thoughts and come back with a yes. Finally, after 15 years of being deprived of an opportunity afforded to others, I would have the chance for a proper 8th grade field trip to visit the nation’s capital. Yes, I was mainly going to attend a work conference in which I would be stuck in meeting rooms from 8-5, but with the determination of Washington crossing the Deleware, I would make sure to get a chance to visit all that DC had to offer, righting a 15 year old wrong from my past.
As was common practice for many schools, 8th grade students in my grammar school used to have the rich experience of visiting the birthplace of our country during spring break with their fellow classmates. But the combination of a lack of funding and worn out teachers with too many stories of unruly wild adolescents that would make Ulyses S. Grant weep like a baby caused my school to end the DC trip- starting with my class. So instead of an eye opening experience into US history, the school decided that it’d be best to send us to Medieval Times, a place where the only fact that was historically accurate was the establishment date printed on our placemats where our fried chicken and Pepsi sat as we watched pretend knights act out a jousting match in an arena that also had skee ball. Although it was fun cheering on a knight who’s outfit matched the color of my paper crown hat, I knew that I was missing out on a much more exciting experience, which is why last week I packed up my bag, kissed my husband and dog goodbye, and high tailed it out of the city to a 5 day journey into history.
The day I arrived I checked into the hotel, threw my bags on the bed, and hailed a cab straight to the national mall. My phone’s memory was filling up fast with pictures of landscapes and monuments from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. I saw Obama’s house, Lincoln’s temple, Jefferson’s dome, and Roosevelt’s pathway. I marveled at the Dr. King statue and reflected upon all the memorials dedicated to those who offered their lives in the name of freedom. And then I realized that DC has no shade whatsoever and hailed a cab back to the hotel before my Irish skin burnt into a crisp.
Four straight days of hearing men talk about technology and software innovation is a lot for the brain to take in. So on the last day, I was ready to go home, but not before making one last stop on my 8th grade trip route- The Smithsonian American History museum, better known as the place where the Archie Bunker chair is displayed. Leaving enough time to go through each display, I wandered each floor in search for the same feeling of inspiration that overwhelmed me on the first day in DC. I started to explore the world of transportation, taking way too many pictures of an old CTA car, trying to decide if it was from memory, or if the exhibit really did smell as bad as the actual train I take on my daily commute. I learned about the African American movements and listened to a reenactment of a sit in performed in the lobby that moved me to tears as I watched a young man rile up the crowd to join him in a hymn. I saw the mask of Lincoln, early US coin collections, and EVEN- Kermit the frog himself. My thoughts were racing and the inspiration was flowing at every room I entered until finally my motivation and excitement came to a screeching halt at the First Lady exhibit.
I should have seen the foreshadowing on the wall upon entering with the sign that read, “Presented by Lifetime.” A television network that has groundbreaking female power house shows such as “Devious Maids” and “Dance Moms.” I entered in blindly, only mildly interested at the display of fine china that each First Lady got to pick all on her own. The next portion of the exhibit was of inaugural ball gowns and other notable wear. It wasn’t until I was feeling bad for Barbara Bush’s waistline to have the unfortunate chronological luck to be placed next to Nancy Regan’s thin physique that I realized the exit sign to my right. Surely I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. There was no way that this- a display of old tea cups and satin waistlines was all these women contributed to the world?
I was disgusted and angry. Angry that I there was nothing here, angry that Lifetime couldn’t take a second out of its terrible line up to think of some anecdotes of these women, angry that even though I could faintly recall tidbits of each woman’s life and that there was more to their story, the fact that I couldn’t as easily remember as much as I could about their husbands left me mad, mad that their lives took a backseat to their husbands in the eyes of the nation, and mad because there were no dresses in the hall of presidents. I was ashamed to be associated with a gender whose only formal contribution so far seemed to be what hemline I would be wearing until I heard one pissed off lady shout.
“BUT I WANT TO SEE THE TRAINSSSS!!!”
There, standing in a purple tank top and pink leggings, was a girl with her mother who was trying to show her Jackie Kennedy’s clutch purse. I wanted to grab that little girl’s hand and run to the transportation exhibit, and the only thing that stopped me was the fact that I didn’t want to end up on the evening news and have Lifetime profiting off of their next made for TV movie hit, “Trampy Tourist” where the part of me kidnapping a kid would be glamorized somehow into a sensual summer sensation.
Her wails of discontent snapped me back into reality and made me realize everything I wasn’t seeing. Hadn’t I just held hands with a bronze statue of the towering Eleanor Roosevelt five days prior? Wasn’t there a picture in my phone with a quote about the women who so bravely kept control of the country as their male counterparts had to leave their posts to fight in the war? Didn’t I just talk on the phone with my mother, a woman whose list of degrees and certifications would read longer than the Constitution? And wasn’t I here because my female boss, head of my department, suggested I go to a conference in an effort to expand in my career? I left the exhibit, calmed down, and remembered; only fragile things that can easily be broken need to be protected behind a case, the rest can stand on its own.