Places to Go - Our Girls' Day at the Smithsonian American History Museum (Washington DC)


Two weeks ago, the girls had a day off elementary school while T attended preschool - the perfect scenario for mother-daughter bonding. After dropping T off, we headed to the Smithsonian's American History Museum. We arrived, around 10:30, to a completely empty space - amazing! Well, not for long - within minutes school groups filled every nook and cranny of the ground floor, so, in an attempt to beat the crowds, we hurried to the third floor, to check out the first ladies' ball gowns.


At first, there really is something awe-inspiring about seeing so many intricate, fancy dresses in one place. And, however you feel about the Obama family, Michelle's dress (in robin colored red) stands out quite a bit in a room full of neutrals (the girls were entranced). The exhibit also includes every (yes EVERY) set of White House china chosen by each first lady and, it's about this time, that I became really sad. Here I was spending a wonderful day with my daughters, and walking through display case after display case of incredible women memorialized as plate patterns. Maybe it's because I'm not really a fine china person (we don't own a set), but the fact that anyone might care that our current Secretary of State chose gold edged platters seems absurd. And sad.

I know. I know. The first lady's role (if they, indeed, have or need a role) escapes definition, so this room gives first ladies a "place" without overstating their importance. But still, all of these ladies did SOMETHING with their lives. Something, surely, more important than choose plates and dresses. How am I supposed to teach my daughters that women are more than the things they buy, when the nation's most famous museum doesn't necessarily present life this way?

In all fairness, after judging people's lives through plates, we meandered over to the American President exhibit, where several great men were immortalized through cheap mementos as well. But at least the Presidents' crap seemed to have some vague association with their lives (Lincoln Logs, "Teddy" Bears (after Roosevelt), various medallions and mementos.


The American Presidency exhibit features a section on the commander in chief's portrayal in the media. Apparently the 1964 film "Kisses for My President" fictionalizes a woman president who (of course) steps down as leader of the free world because she wants to spend more time with her children (WTF? I mean I'm a stay at home mom and even I feel this crazy statement of a women's "place" goes over the line.) A corresponding movie poster mocked her husband's role as "first lady" by showing him in a large silly hat.

And then F stood in front of the Presidential podium and a monitor helped her recite famous speeches of famous men and I thought I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL THERE'S A TUXEDO IN THE FIRST LADY EXHIBIT (will they rename the exhibit at this point? "First spouses" perhaps?).


Of course, this wasn't our whole visit - the girls stared in awe at Harry Potter's cape and Dominck Douglas's leotard. I stared in awe at the first apple laptop. The Smithsonian's wonderful American Plate exhibit reminded us that we eat a ton of processed foods now (I love that the original TV dinner is museum worthy), but at least American wine production continues to increase (go USA)! And we stared at Julia Child's kitchen and talked about her impact on American food.

Further, through the museum's learning cart program, we watched a cotton gin do its magic and received a bag full or real cotton seeds to take home and plant (for free!). We waved to Bert and Ernie. We discovered, through another learning cart on Civil War medicine, that onions help cure colds (as well as pickles). Basically, we had fun, as I tried to emphasize that all of this was just stuff, that the real stories are always much more complex, more interesting, than the objects themselves.


After the museum, we checked out Columbia Pike's new (awesome) coffee shop - Society Fair - where we played Jenga on couches that looked like they just arrived from the set of Friends and talked about how there's so much more to being a girl than picking out dresses and buying plates.

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