Sunday, March 3, 2013

Home School Immersion- Philadelphia, PA

     I enjoyed watching Greg get shocked after our hellish drive from Virginia to Philadelphia.  I dared him to do it again just for fun and he did; what did that say about the patriarch of our family?  Good thing I made our travel decisions.  Well, most of them – Greg had planned special restaurant reservations using this year as his personal culinary tour of America. 
Yesterday’s four-hour drive took eight and Greg blamed my poor navigational skills. He cussed me right along with the construction workers and broken down cars because when I planned our route up I95, I called the DOT to give the green light on their resurfacing project, right after I magically visited several homes along the way to sabotage their cars.  The kids tuned him out as they put in another Disney DVD- how did the pioneers manage to travel in a covered wagon for hundreds of miles without a DVD player?  Worrying we wouldn’t make that evening’s dinner reservations at Morimoto’s, he spun a web of frustration that covered my mood as well as his. By the time we checked into the Embassy Suites, ordered pizza for the kids, and changed for dinner, I didn’t want to look at him.  He could forget about hundred-dollar sushi.  When he emerged from the bedroom, showered and smelling of Aramis and whiskey, I changed my mind.  It felt so good to find my husband sexy again.  We had spent the last three days in our children’s constant company; a night alone would be just the ticket to soothe our frayed nerves.
By the next morning, we had reconnected, but I still took pleasure in watching Greg shock himself with the electricity experiment at the Ben Franklin Institute. We all tried it; the museum contained hundreds of hands-on experiments and we tried everyone.  Wyatt delighted in the colossal heart traversing each artery and vein.  Anabel explored climate change by creating an erosive environment and discovered ways of improving topsoil.  Emma studied electricity by lighting a tiny city with girl power- she turned the wheel of an electromagnet and boom- lights.
The museum helped teach all these science topics and more with instructors stationed in each room.  A retired surgeon volunteering in the human body area explained the intricacies of the brain.  He conducted a couple of experiments on Wyatt challenging him with a few brainteasers.  An entomologist demonstrated metamorphosis as Emma handled a caterpillar, a chrysalis and a butterfly.  Anabel watched in fascinated horror at a video of an open-heart surgery, then worked a shift in a simulated ER with the guidance of a volunteer nurse.   Taking advantage of expert knowledge made home schooling fun for the kids and easy for the parents.
Wyatt wanted to live at the Franklin Institute, but we assured him Philadelphia had more to offer. 
“It’s time to go, Bud.  We’ll be back.” I headed for the exit.
“Promise?  I want to ride the flight simulator again.”
“I promise we’ll return someday.  We’re only here two days and we still haven’t seen Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We’ve got to move on.”
Wyatt’s shoulders slumped as the disappointment enveloped his whole body. Our kids did not transition well.  They were slow to warm up to new experiences and once hot, abhorred letting them go.  Traveling to successive cities in two to three day spurts was cruel treatment for these children.
Wyatt said, “This sucks,” under his breath as we walked out the door.  I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or just smack him across the top of his head.  I was thrilled to have a child that loved museums, sad that we couldn’t afford to stay in one city longer, and pissed at having an ungrateful brat who didn’t appreciate his privileges.  This year was turning into a roller coaster of emotions. 
Quick travel had its advantages, though.  It was powerful to go from the encapsulated world of Williamsburg circa 1775 to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall circa 1776. I couldn’t help but feel in awe of the whole place.  Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, George Washington sat here, argued here, laughed here, thought here. And we were the winners of their radical experiment of self-government. 
The tour, led by National Park Rangers, gave another great history lesson to all of us, but especially the kids.  Emma was hearing a lot of this information for the first time. I was proud of the close attention she paid.  I didn’t know how much it meant to her at age eight, but she was listening.  First, we were led from the east wing into the judicial room where the colonists held court.  After a brief explanation of the British and American court system, we walked into the Signing Room- the room in all the portraits of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  George Washington’s chair as president of the Constitutional Convention was still there presiding over all.
Suddenly, I felt so blessed to have this opportunity with our family.  Whatever the consequences of this life break, I knew I would never regret it. Again, the power of certainty engulfed me.  Not since falling in love with Greg and our children had I felt so sure of myself.
Anabel placed her hand in mine as we crossed the street to view the Liberty Bell.  We spoke for the first time since entering the Signing Room.
“That was cool,” she said.
“Yep.”  Sometimes, words were deficient, but I could have sworn I heard Lee Greenwood singing in the distance. (Cue redneck truck driving by blaring, “I’m proud to be an American.”)

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