May 18, 2009

Tours, Tours and More Tours!

It's been a busy couple of weeks in the touring business. I've been tied up with tours at least three days a week and it's going to get even more hectic this week through my last day on June 19. I had a student ask me last week if I ever get tired or bored with it. The answer, unequivocally, is NO. Even though I go to see the same sights day after day, week after week, every time I go it's with a different group, so I'm seeing the sights through different eyes. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Last week, I was part of a 6-bus move of over 300 students and chaperones from Connecticut. As student groups go, they were pretty good, at least the ones on my bus. No major behavior problems, although there were a couple of them who were a bit "bouncy" -- always wanting to run or jump and talking constantly. That kind of goes with the territory, though, when you're dealing with 13/14-year-olds. As a tour guide, you have to go into a bit more history with students, such as talking about the anti-war movements of the '60s-'70s when we go to the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial or what it was like in this country during World War II when we go to that memorial. Sometimes the students are interested, but sometimes they just want to take pictures and move on. Every once in a while, though, I see something or am asked a question that tells me they actually "get it"! While at the WWII memorial with the CT group, I saw one boy go over to an older man wearing a WWII Veteran hat, speak with him and shake his hand. I asked the boy afterwards what he had done. He told me that they've been learning about the war in school and were told that if they ever see a veteran of any kind (but especially those who served in a war) US, to go up and thank them for their service to our country. How many 14-year-old boys do you know who would have the courage to do that, to go right up to a stranger that way? How many adults do you know who would do it? I told that young man that I was very proud to have him in my group and that he should be proud of himself for his actions. It was a moment I will long remember!

Over Mother's Day weekend (Saturday and Monday), I lead a group of senior citizens on a tour. We visited the same places I go with the students, but I clearly saw everything from a different point of view with the seniors. Not only did they know the history of all the wars, I had 3 WWII veterans in the group, one from the Korean War and one from the Vietnam War. The latter stopped along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial to "visit" a couple of his buddies. All of these years later, he still was emotional about losing them. Another memorable moment to store away.

Do I ever get tired of leading tours around DC? Sure I do! I'd be lying if I said I didn't. But it's a physical tired from all the walking, getting in and out of the bus, climbing up Capitol Hill and walking around Arlington National Cemetery with all its hills. At the end of the day, I hop on the Metro to head home and I collapse. Sometimes I doze off and people are kind enough to wake me when we get to my stop at the end of the line. Yes, it's very tiring being a tour guide!

Do I ever get bored from going to the same places over and over. NEVER! I take groups to see our national memorials, monuments, museums, landmarks, etc. I've lived in the DC area my entire life and I still get chills every time I look at the Lincoln Memorial...or see the U.S. Capitol lit up at night...or run my hand along a name at the Vietnam Wall...or hear Taps played during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. These are the places that remind me how grateful I am to be an American and to live in this wonderful country! I hope that everyone reading this will take the opportunity sometime to visit these landmarks so you can feel the same way, too.

God bless America!

May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Thoughts

I guess every blogger in the country is probably writing about Mother's Day today, so why not join them? I've already had phone calls this morning from both of my sons, but that's nothing new. I speak to each of them several times a week, if not more. They're all grown up and I try not to bug them with phone calls to check up on them. Rather, I usually wait for them to call me when they want to, unless I have a specific reason to speak with them. I always enjoy hearing their voices; it brightens my day!

My own mother has been gone for 30 years. She died at the age of 56....I have already outlived her. I think about that often, especially today. It's hard to imagine my sons going through life at this point without having me there for them. It's kind of a strange feeling to see that loss from the "other side". My mother's death was sudden and unexpected and took a toll on me, my sister and my brother. Life was just never the same after she died. Yes, we went on with our lives, but I still miss her, even now.

Both of my parents died young -- my father passed five years before my mother. They were gone long before my sons were born, so my boys never knew their other set of grandparents. My mom and dad would have loved them and would have spoiled them rotten! I guess it's because of this that I long for grandchildren of my own. I want to be the type of grandmother that children want to spend time with, want to do things with, and can turn to when they need help. I want to be a grandmother while I'm still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it, but I don't know if that's in the cards or not.

The truth is....I already am a grandmother. I have a granddaughter who is 3-1/2 years old, but I haven't seen her since she was 10 months old. Her name is Taryn and the last time I saw her, she was beautiful! She had a strong resemblance to her father, including a headful of red hair.

I won't bore the world with the details of the situation. Suffice it to say that her mother and my son did not get along well and things between them ended on an ugly note. The two parents agreed that she would not seek child support from him if he would not ask to see his daughter. As a result, I am unable to see Taryn, although she lives nearby. I've tried many times over the last three years to bridge the gap between me and the mother. I really don't understand why she has kept me from knowing my granddaughter except that it's a way to get even with my son and to completely sever the ties to our side of the family. I think of this beautiful child every single day! I wonder what she's up to, how she's doing, what she sounds like and looks like. I actually found her mother's Facebook page and saw a picture of Taryn at the age of 3. She looked so grown up with her long, red pigtails! My gosh, she's beautiful! She looks so much like my son, but her mother would never admit that, I'm sure. I sent the mother a kind, non-threatening note and asked if she would allow me to reconnect with them, but she immediately blocked me and everyone else I know from her Facebook page! All I have is the picture of Taryn that I was able to copy before she blocked me out.

So, although Mother's Day is wonderful because I have two grown sons whom I love very much, and with whom I have a wonderful relationship, it's also a day of sadness for me because of what I'm missing. I hope that someday, when Taryn reaches the legal age of 18, she will come looking for us and will choose to make that connection. We all love her and miss her! I also hope that someday I'll have other grandchildren to enjoy. If it is meant to be, it will happen. Until then, I'll live with the memories I have of holding my little granddaughter when she was an infant and will go on with an aching in my heart to hold her again.

May 2, 2009

100 Days

I can't believe that it's already been 100 days (plus a few) since the Inauguration of President Obama. Where has the time gone?

I started this blog to share my experiences as a tour guide during the Inauguration and yet here it is, 100 days later, and I still haven't been able to put it all into words. I've had the time, but I just haven't had the inclination and I haven't been able to figure out why. Now that some time has passed, I think I've come to realize what a momentous day it really was and what a profound effect it had on me to be a part of it. Maybe spending time writing about the details -- especially the logistical nightmares that I and all tour guides had to deal with that week -- would lessen the importance of the event. As it was all happening, I had to worry about so many different things -- where to meet my group; the best way to keep them together in the record crowds; how to be sure they were warm, hydrated, fed, etc. -- that it kept me from seeing the "big picture". Now that some time has passed, those details seem so unimportant compared to the historical magnitude of the event. I was a part of history! I stood there in that crowd and watched our Nation change as the first African-American became our leader. Wow!

I've done a number of tours in the past month; after all, Spring is the busiest time of the year for tour guides in DC. The details of the tours start to all run together after a while, even mixing in with the memories of the 5 days in January that were so special. Yet, every time I take a group to the Capitol now, I see it differently. I'm taken back to January 20 when the platforms were in place on the west front of the building and the hundreds of chairs were set up on the west lawn. I can still hear the cheers from the crowds all the way down the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial as Obama finished taking his oath as President, rippling eastward towards the Capitol like a great wave coming ashore at the beach. I remember the bitter cold of that day, even though I sweat in the Spring heat as we walk up Capitol Hill. I don't think I will ever look at the Capitol the same way as I did before the Inauguration because I'll always remember how it looked that day.

Life in Washington has pretty much settled down since January 20 and returned to normal, or so it seems to those of us who have lived here for years. Yet, just a couple of weeks ago I was leading a group of 8th-graders from New Hampshire who had the incredible luck of seeing the President's motorcade up close and personal not once, but twice in one day! The first time was in the early morning as he returned to the White House, perhaps from taking his daughters to school. The police stopped our bus right at the entrance to the south side of the White House and the motorcade drove right in front of us, close enough that the students could see the President in the limo waving to passersby! The second time was that evening, when we were stopped on Constitution Avenue and the motorcade drove right beside us going in the other direction. The students and adults on the bus were so excited! To me, it was just another day in the life of a tour guide in DC. We live with motorcades and security checkpoints every single day. How nice it is to be reminded by my groups that I shouldn't take these things for granted!

So that's as much as I've decided to write about the Inauguration. The stories about the hassles and triumphs seem old to me now. So much has happened in the last 100 days and every new day, every new group, every tour brings new experiences and new stories. I'll keep the memories of January 20, 2009 forever, but I'll keep moving forward, too.