This photo shows my family outside the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center with our bronze pal Abe Lincoln. It’s one of only two shots we managed to take and it was probably the only time I smiled all day.
I love the idea of field trips. In fact, the flexibility to take them whenever the mood strikes is certainly a great perk of homeschooling. A few weeks back when we studied the Civil War, I concocted our trip and managed to convince my family it was a great idea. As my parents live near Gettysburg, tacking a day trip onto a family visit made sense. My mom even planned on joining us, which meant the adults would not be outnumbered 2 to 1 as is usually the case. A mid-week trip, no crowds, great spring weather predicted, five usually well behaved children; surely, this would be the stuff great memories are made of.
It’s not until we’re 30 minutes from our destination and the baby is screaming non-stop, the older kids are arguing over which audio book to listen to while my husband growls “There’s no use listening to anything because the baby drowns it out,” that I think, maybe, we were better off at home with a History Channel movie marathon.
But it also dawns on me, who needs a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to receive grace when, for a lot less money, you can offer up the suffering endured while on a family road trip? The potential to shave time off purgatory is endless! Plus, I never remember to eat on a family outing since I’m always too busy feeding everyone else. If I call it fasting this trip could be the best thing that happens to me during Lent.
Upon arrival the first stop is always the bathroom. Then we need to eat because sitting in a car for more than 10 minutes somehow sucks all the nourishment out of my children. Then the bathroom again, before onto the sights. I’m always a basket case, trying to keep everyone together like an official tour guide, with only limited success. Especially in the case of my 3 1/2-year-old who sees any new open space and drives off in his powerchair faster than my husband or I can run. Strangers think it’s cute to see a toddler in a powerchair until he joyfully plows over their toes in his mad dash towards the handicap exit.
We opted for only the museum admission and stayed a bit before heading out to drive part of the auto tour. I had carefully downloaded podcasts to listen to and selected interesting tidbits from the guide map and Junior Rangers Guide to share along the way. However, most of what I said was drowned out by my oldest son constantly yelling, “Canons! There’s a canon!” the first half of the drive.
As it’s difficult to unload and reload everyone in a timely manner from our van, and the weather was a bit chilly, we opted to only get out and walk around at a few spots. I had pre-selected a few nice, flat, open areas. However, when we approached the summit of Little Round Top ( a.k.a massive pile of large rocks) my husband insisted it was too important to drive pass, would be fine for my son’s wheelchair, and parked the van. I unloaded the baby, convinced we’d be on our way in five minutes and took off after the kids without the stroller. A half hour later, I was still lugging my own giggling boulder down rocky side paths and across plenty of handicap accessible paths I couldn’t see from the parking lot. Despite my aching arms, and thighs and everything, I had to admit, it was a beautiful view, and a fine decision on my husband’s part. Renewed and invigorated, we headed out to the cemetary where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Snacks and beverages were distributed on the way and the baby, in his enthusiasm for history promptly threw up all over his coat and last clean outfit. For the rest of the day he smelled of sour apples and insisted on being held or carried by me.
By now, the last of our rations gone, we toured the National Cemetary. My subdued “SHHHH, KIDS!, THIS IS A CEMETARY! SHOW SOME RESPECT!” resulted in chasing my children out of earshot. And no one, not even my mother, wanted to hear my dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address.
Finally, we visited the museum again despite an overwhelming urge to just head home. But we were determined to get the value of the admission if it killed us. While very informative and containing tons of interesting artifacts, the museum held little interest for the two youngest. I carried the baby, who tried to smudge every piece of glass, while herding the others through the dimly lit labyrinth, eagerly looking for the exit signs. (I pretty sure my mom was hanging back on purpose. We almost had to send a St. Bernard in to find her.)
And what family trip is complete without a stop in the gift shop placed conveniently next to the exit? My children save money for such occasions and I’ve given up trying to guide their purchases. Although sometimes I can’t help it. “Really Edie? Another doll? Addie, don’t you already have a harmonica I won’t let you play in the house? Yes Byron, you can buy that overpriced piece of junk from China, just don’t aim it at me.” And because I’ve taken two minutes to “council” the older kids, the younger two have crept off and are manhandling the Webkinz on the clearance rank.
Finally, as they prepare to close the shop, we hit the bathrooms and head home. I reflect on the day and hope I didn’t nag or worry or squelch my children’s general love of history. Despite the stench of sour apples still emanating from the second bench seat, the children and my mother are genuinely happy. My husband declares the day a success and then quickly tells everyone to be quiet while he’s driving. As we head home in rush hour traffic, I use the time to plan our next field trip. Maybe a hands on style museum where, inevitably, someone will pick up a stomach bug. Or perhaps we can all go on a ghost walk that will send the kids scurrying into my bed after dark for a week. The possibilities for sanctification are endless. I’m feeling holier already.