Can you name the three branches of government?
“Uh, the executive, the legislative and the … judicious?” my eight-year-old son, Aren, guessed.
There was really only one way for him to learn. Two, actually. He could just memorize it, like I did (boring). Or we could show him.
On a blazing hot summer afternoon, we went with option “B.” We took him, his five-year-old brother Iden and three-year-old sister, Erysse, to Washington.
The visit had more than an educational objective. Earlier this year, while I was in the nation’s capital, I met a representative from Destination DC and was invited to return as a tourist. Also, I’ve been working with Homewood Suites on a project — more details on that soon — and an opportunity came up to visit its properties in Washington and Silver Spring, Md.
Why on earth would you come to DC in the middle of the summer, a time when a million other tourists are in town?
Ah, good question. I’m wondering about that myself. But in just 48 hours, we managed to straighten out the confusion over the three branches.
The legislative branch. The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center has an impressive site and the new underground center is pretty spectacular — a kind of temple to Congress filled with statues and paintings and solemn-faced guides.
We reserved five tickets online and showed up at our appointed time, were shown a brief film, E Pluribus Unum (seriously, that’s the title) and then hoarded into the Capitol building with hundreds of other tourists. We never saw a legislator, aide, lobbyist or got anywhere near the Senate or House galleries, where we could have watched the legislatures in session. Turns out we needed special passes for those.
All in all, the kids were disappointed by the U.S. Capitol. It came across as inaccessible and a little self-important. I tried to explain that the real action took place in the less ornate office buildings across the street where staffers toiled in relative anonymity to make laws. That’s the Congress I know, and I wish I could have shown my family.
The executive branch. Want to get a tour of the White House? Better plan ahead by asking your Congressional representative for passes. We didn’t plan, so the closest we got to the presidential residence was the fence on the front lawn. How unfortunate.
Maybe we should have rented a season of The West Wing or Independence Day. Just as we walked away, we saw the president’s motorcade speed past us. The kids were not impressed. “Too loud!” said my daughter, annoyed with the blaring sirens. There goes a future White House intern!
The judicial branch. The US Supreme Court was a surprise favorite. It had the least visitors — I mean, who would want to visit a court on their vacation? — but it was by far the friendliest and most accessible. Want a tour? Step right into the chambers for an enlightening lecture about the high court. The exhibits were unpretentious and informative.
Aren, Iden and Erysse were delighted to find out that they were qualified to serve on the court. Technically, there are no qualifications to serve on the court — you just have to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The woman at the gift shop went out of her way to help Aren find a postcard. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he decided to go to law school after seeing the court. I better get a real job.
Yesterday, I asked Aren to name the three branches. He nailed it.