When I asked my son if he wanted to visit Mr. Washington’s house, he asked what any righteous four-year-old would. “Can we go to Mr. Lincoln’s house instead?”
Though his priorities were above reproach, I was left with the sad duty of explaining to him that Mr. Lincoln’s house is in Illinois and we were going to Virginia. Once he understood how harsh geography had robbed him of his first choice, he agreed that Mr. Washington’s house would be a fine substitute.
I like Mount Vernon. It is interesting and beautiful. It is also on a hill in Virginia – an important consideration if you are visiting in the heart of summer with small children.
I guess the area around Mount Vernon is called Northern Virginia to trick people into thinking it might not be hellishly hot there in July. I won’t be fooled again. In fact, I am rethinking my January beach volleyball plans in South Dakota.
Mr. Washington built his house on a hill overlooking the Potomac. It was a good idea for someone with a horse to carry him back up the hill every time he wanted to go dip his toes into the water.
Many interesting parts of the estate are downhill from the main house. My wife and I didn’t have any horses to carry us back up the hill in the stifling heat. Fortunately, our boys did. They had a couple of plodding nags, affectionately called Mommy and Daddy.
My wife had the foresight to bring the double stroller. I’d wanted the single. While the little guy could only be expected to toddle odd bits of the greater Washington area, I argued that the big boy could do his own walking. It was no smooth sailing, pushing that cart loaded with 65 pounds of childhood up dirt paths, but without it, my four-year-old and I would still be on the banks of the Potomac, arguing about how he was going to be transported up the hill.
By the time we toured the main house, everyone was tired and sweaty. I have observed that tired, sweaty kids are not always on the their best behavior. If Mr. Washington’s spirit happens to flit around the halls of his home, he has now observed it too.
Mr. Washington’s house is full of interesting knick-knacks. He, and anyone truly devoted to preserving his legacy, would certainly want a curious child to try to touch them all. Undoubtedly, he would encourage such a child to stray from his group and open any door that might have been closed against the public by mistake.
Mr. Washington was a good marketer. This was the man who slyly wore a military uniform to the meeting where they were going to pick out an army commander-in-chief. This strategic thinking persists at Mount Vernon, where the gift shop straddles the park exit and beguiles weary tourists with its air conditioning.
We did not buy any souvenirs, but I cannot tell a lie: a one-year-old I know might have rearranged the display of some of the trinkets in the store.