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February 05, 2009

Toddlers aren't the only ones who whine

Jessica It's been two months since my husband took our son, almost three, to the Scottish Walk in Old Town Alexandria and, despite all the dogs and bagpipes, the memory the boy shares of that day is "Daddy and I didn't get to go on the trolley." Is it any wonder, then, that the woman who spawned this boy is, two weeks after the Inauguration, still pouting that she didn't have the perfect experience?

Oh, dear, you might be thinking, she's one of the people who got stuck in that horrid Purple Tunnel of Doom! No, no; I made it to the swearing-in (though I'll complain about the Third Street Tunnel later). Well, then, you surmise, perhaps she was turned away from the ill-fated Dionne Warwick ball I keep reading about in the Style section of the Washington Post. No, I made it to my Midwest Regional Official Ball and was there to see the Bidens and the Obamas.

Then why is this woman complaining? It was all just, well, kind of like the prom -- not all it was cracked up to be, and kind of annoying.

(Maybe the comparison has something to do with the fact that I was so rushed and ill-prepared for the day that I actually ended up wearing earrings from my 1990 junior prom to the ball. Not sure that faux vintage was any more in fashion back then.)

So what is the deal with my can't-get-no-satisfaction attitude? You know how you told your kid last week that you couldn't go somewhere because of the ice and he/she said in his/her longest nasal drone, "Why? Why is it closed?" Just because. I'm just not happy just because. I have no real reason. I am aware that I am, in fact, incredibly lucky to have had a friend offer me great seats and to have had a mother-in-law who got an invitation to buy four ball tickets -- and to have made it out of both experiences in one piece.

But I hadn't really planned for any of it, and since my son wasn't going to be part of either the morning or the evening's festivities, my normal over-the-top inner logistical maven never kicked in. I didn't try to convince my friend the ticket-bearer from the Metro to taking a bus, even though that would have been a lot better. As it turned out, we got a late start and smooshed onto a jam-packed train that got overstuffed and was finally declared out of service, which propelled us onto a super-crowded platform. We left the sardine subway and then miraculously caught a cab that quickly got us over the river but, because of all the insane road closures, dumped us far from what would already be a Disney-queue-like labyrinth to get to our security gate. At the early hour of 9:00 a.m. we still felt like we'd gotten lucky and had avoided a near stranding.

But, at 12:50 p.m., when we found ourselves post-ceremony in the mosh pit of humanity that was the intersection outside the Federal Triangle metro stop (already having PTSD flashbacks from the train that morning and developing new traumatic memories with every heave of the crowd), I didn't feel so lucky. Except that I did not have a child with me, and I was in good health, in decent shoes (Danskos) and without any physical limitation other than my short stature. "We just want to get over that way, toward a bridge, toward Virginia," we pleaded with no one in particular, since no one had any say in anything. But those with height advantages informed us the only movement was in the opposite direction.

And that's how we ended up walking the entire length of the Third Street Tunnel (decidedly away from Virginia) and making our way to Union Station, where we mistakenly thought the crowds might have started to dissipate. Ha. My friend said that friend of hers who worked nearby could harbor us for a few minutes and give us access to a non-port-a-john bathroom experience. Before I knew it, I was in the Russell Senate Office Building. It was nice to pee in a marble stall, sure, and I did appreciate the coffee, but we hadn't figured that our detour would then pop us back on the street just in time to hit traffic from the Inaugural Parade, which I'd had no intention or interest in seeing.

The sun sets early here on the East Coast, and by 3:30, it was starting to get cold, or, rather, colder. My husband, who had biked to the Jefferson Memorial to watch the swearing-in on a Jumbotron and returned home only three hours after he'd left, generally did well fielding my frantic calls, except when he said, "It's weird that you guys did that" to our seemingly-inevitable tunnel walk. Eventually, while he was outside playing with our son, he ran into a neighbor who told us she was just walking home from having hopped on a bus.

So, with that intel and with our sights set on 14th and C, the promised land, where buses supposedly were boarding to cross the Potomac, we walked yet again past the scene of our earlier street claustrophobia-paranoia, now just a regular intersection. Instead of a huge clot of people, there were now orderly but incredibly long lines -- outside -- blocks past the Metro station. We pushed on westward into the wind with the shared memory of our near-escape from Metro that morning and the conviction that we would still walk to Virginia before we'd get on the subway again, even though we'd already been on foot (more or less) for close to four hours.

I was with a friend, and it was an adventure, one she later said she enjoyed but would not repeat "unless a woman is elected." Truthfully, it didn't suck. But I wasn't loving it, either. The whole thing would have been much less frustrating if I hadn't had $150 tickets for a ball that night (as in, a few hours away), and if I hadn't had the ridiculous idea that I'd have time to buy make-up, hose and jewelry between the morning and evening events.

As it was, I got home around 5:20 p.m., leaving about two hours to eat, nurse my son and get him ready for bed and then get dressed in my borrowed almost-fitting gown. No hose? Good thing I bought that black pair of Maggie's organic tights last month! I already admitted the earring embarrassment. Who knows when or for what purpose I purchased that Wet n Wild eyeshadow, as long as I didn't get pinkeye from it and it kind of made me look more dressed up. The neighbor who kindly babysat for us just as kindly didn't comment on my face or point out that I was still wearing my Timex Ironman when we left to get into the cab.

It was of this neighbor (also a mom) I was thinking when I found myself at the ball separated from my husband (who had my wine, and my coat) and physically and emotionally unable to push my way back into the crowd watching Sheryl Crow perform. "I told her we'd be home before midnight. I should just leave," I whined to myself as I stood texting my husband to come find me by the escalator. Shoes off, sitting on the floor by a chilly January draft in spaghetti straps. And after so much walking, and I had a big event I'd been working on for a long time to try to pull off just two days later. Oh, poor me!

Eventually hubby and I found each other, our phones finally connecting in the bowels of the DC Convention Center as I stood in line to buy tickets for a $3 bottle of water. After grabbing some potato chips (oh, the fancy food at the ball!), we stayed to watch, albeit from far away, the guest of honor come and say something about plain-spoken Midwestern folks that I might have expected to come more from the lipsticked lips of Sarah Palin.

And then we bolted, charged into the freezing cold night like everyone else to the nearest open Metro station. I didn't yet know that another friend would tell me about her "perfect" day on the Mall, in which her daughter fell asleep in the Ergo as they stood watching the swearing-in before they lunched leisurely at a friend's on the Hill and then caught a cab home after the crowds had gone. Or that my other friend biked to the Mall in the morning with her two kids and husband and then, after hours of rest at home and a grandmother to babysit, staked a claim at a different ball and enjoyed a second-row view of the new President.

Even without these comparisons, I wasn't able to just enjoy the whole thing, but learning about the my friends' sunnier adventures the next day just added to my regret at having been impetuous, not thinking, not, well, me. It's like the second time I ever came to this city and accidentally drove around the entire 64-mile Beltway because we trusted a friend's directions instead of looking at a map first. I knew better. These days, I'm always telling my husband what to pack and prepare if he takes our son out. Sometimes he forgets things, and I silently smile at his having been inconvenienced or else huffily take my son in my arms to address the poor boy's unmet needs. And here I was clueless about how to manage this day everyone had been warning about for weeks.

I like to think I'm in control, and on Inauguration Day, I learned the folly of such a wish. I thought parenting had taught me something about giving up control. And yet I stifle a laugh at my son in some typical toddler why-can't-I-have-it-my-way moments and get super impatient with others. Having now watched with disgust my own (not young) self engage in the same ungrateful, stubborn behavior, I've got new patience for my son and more respect for the fact that, despite some woeful moments of regret, he generally does a pretty good job of just enjoying whatever life gives him. And boy, does he enjoy that video I took of "Michelle Obama and Barack Obama dancing." At last.

Original to D.C. Metro Moms Blog.

Jessica C. writes about the banality and sometimes fun stuff at Mama's Mouth and Crunchy-Chewy Mama.

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