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June 25, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Posey and Bee Go to Washington

You should know, first, that I am a total democracy nerd. Nothing is so thrilling to me as a peaceful transition of power. And when the leaders of our communities, states and country preserve and uphold the rule of law, well, I must admit, I get a little flutter in my tummy.

Yes — I heart democracy.

Because I am such a nerd for democracy, Washington D.C., is one of my very favorite cities in the world. Nevermind that its Chinatown is all of one block long and that its IKEAs are actually in Maryland and Virginia, our nation’s capital is nonetheless my very favorite place on earth.

As a teenager, I visited my favorite aunt there almost every summer. We visited the monuments and Smithsonian museums. I brought home postcards of paintings in the Freer Gallery collection and decorated my bedroom.

Last week, I ventured to the city with my daughters, and came away once again feeling all gushy inside for America.

Although my husband and I were both in the city, we barely saw each other, as he was tending to work duties during the days and many of the nights. That left the girls and me to explore on our own.

I wasn’t brave (or foolish) enough to attempt a trip to the National Mall or the Smithsonian museums on my own. Posey is 3 in a big way, and an outing like that would require at least two — possibly six or more — alert adults. Instead, we went to the National Zoo. It was a drizzly day, which worked in our favor, since it meant throngs of other summer tourists opted for indoor activities.

There were no crowds to obstruct our views of the animals, and no waiting to get a glimpse into windows in the indoor spaces.

The lions were characteristically sleepy, and too far away to be all that impressive to the girls. I would not have wanted them to be any closer, mind you. Posey made a clicking sound — the same one she uses to get our house cat’s attention — when I raised the camera to get a photo.

In the Think Tank, an exhibit devoted to exploration of animal thought, tools, language and society, we watched an orangutan cover itself with a sheet, twirl on a rope, then sneak across the floor, still under the sheet, to the other orangutan in the enclosure, then cover its roommate with the sheet, too. Posey and Bee laughed at the antics, which reminded me of the games they play. ``Dad’s home, quick, get under the blanket and hide!’’

In the Reptile Discovery Center, we stopped in front of each window and searched the branches and little ponds for the creatures in the exhibit photos.

``There it is — behind the twigs! He’s in the water with just his eyes sticking out! He’s on the branch and he looks like the leaves.’’

Like everyone who visits the Zoo, we were most excited to see the Giant Pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Our last trip to the Zoo was when Bee was 18- months old. Pandas have always been her favorite animals, and we were disappointed that both pandas were solidly asleep when we visited. What do they think they are — lions? I prepared the girls for a similar experience this time, but instead we found them to be very active, lumbering around their indoor spaces, eating bamboo, scratching their backsides on the rocks. We even got to watch them enjoy the supersized frozen fruitsicles their keepers provide. That was my favorite part of the visit.

I tried hard to impress the girls with the notion that the Zoo belongs to the American people. It belongs to all of us. We get in free because we’re the owners. (We don’t, apparently, own the parking lots, but that’s another story.)

Maybe one day they’ll be awed by that idea. But if you ask them today about their trip to the National Zoo, they will tell you about the hippo who played in the water, washed her face in the fountain and then, quite explosively, relieved herself in the pool to the sheer delight of every child.

So maybe it’s not as majestic as the Washington Monument or as beautiful as the impressionist paintings in the National Gallery.

But it’s a D.C. memory they’ll keep forever.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger is proud to be an American, and happy not to be a hippo. You can connect with her at www.moremindfulfamily.