Here is a sampling of the things I was fretting about before our trip to DC:

• Airport security would freak Riley out and he would refuse to take off his shoes
• The plane taking off would scare the shit out of him
• The pressure would hurt his ears and he would scream
• The great lie of his “Amazing Airplanes: Amazing Machines” would be revealed when he discovered the stewardesses do not in fact serve massive platters of food but rather will grudgingly sell you a box of crackers for $5
• He would get airsick
• He would refuse to use a strange toilet
• We would run out of distractions 45 minutes into the flight and I’d have to spend the remainder of the time hissing dire threats in his ear while he howled and whined and nearby passengers plotted a group takedown, terrorist-style (“Okay people, he’s not looking, let’s roll . . . who’s got a sharpened plastic knife from the cracker tray? What? No one had five dollars?”)

So for me to say he exceeded my wildest expectations doesn’t tell you much, because as you can see the bar had been set quite low. Instead, I’ll tell you what an utterly goddamned fantastic kid he was, so well-behaved and quietly entertained that once we’d landed on the flight there, a woman sitting across the aisle elbowed her husband, who was seated directly to my right, and said, “Did you tell her?” He turned to me, a little embarrassed, and said, “Ma’am, your child has been a real pleasure.” His wife then told me what a great mom I was, and what a nice boy Riley was, and I tried to think of something just this side of human sacrifice to show my gratitude.

(Aside: I know how awful it is to sit next to screaming kids on a flight, and I hope I’ve always done my best to be patient and understanding, even when some little shit is kicking the back of my seat for five straight hours. But I’ve never gone out of my way to say something complimentary to a parent before, and now that I know how unbelievably wonderful just a few little words of encouragement can feel, I promise to do so in the future.)

(Another aside: about those kicking feet—I know some kids do like to deliberately kick, probably just to pass the time. I did notice, however, that if Riley was slumped downward in his seat rather than sitting straight upright, his little legs extended out and didn’t really bend downward at the knee, so his soles brushed the back of the seat in front of him. I worried this brushing might be giving the impression of kicking, or at least be annoying to the person in front of us, so I removed everything in the seat pocket in order to create a little more room, which helped.)

The only time Riley expressed any audible impatience was after we had landed and we were waiting for everyone to debark. When I explained to him that we couldn’t get off the plane quite yet he unleashed a Homer-esque “Ohhhhhhhh” of frustration which made everyone around us laugh. Who can’t identify with the maddening sensation of having spent X hours trapped in an uncomfortable tin can, only to have to wait even longer while people rustle around seemingly taking their sweet-ass time getting down the damn aisle?

The silver bullet for both plane rides was my laptop, loaded with Curious George and Blue’s Clues episodes. For the majority of the flights, Riley watched the “tiny TV” using these headphones and I was able to just sit back and read my book. We also made good use of crayons, kid-friendly scissors (which happily, or depending on how you view it, disturbingly made it through security both ways), and a box of Band-Aids I’d bought at Old Navy, which oddly enough became the one item he wouldn’t let out of his sight all weekend long. He even napped for a while, curled half on my lap.

Our hotel was an absolute dream, and the room—which was beautiful and immaculate— had a little living area that they’d set up with a single bed for Riley. He basically had his own little suite adjacent to my luxurious king bed, and it was so cozy we could have happily stayed there the whole time.

I’d tell you about the shower but I’m still experiencing involuntary Kegels every time I think about it.

The Smithsonian tour itself was a lot of fun, although I think Riley was more geeked on the ability to run all over an empty museum rather than taking in the specific sights and displays. He was a little hard to manage, especially since a lot of the displays were only surrounded by a sort of railing that he could easily duck under—I’d blink and suddenly, wait, is that my kid getting ready to scale the priceless Amelia Earhart plane replica? Or climbing the tippy-looking movie standup?—but it went pretty well and I think he had a lot of fun.

I met a lot of really nice people (Mom-101 did a better job than me at getting everyone’s name and website figured out) (also: in person, both Melissa and Liz are as crisply pulled together as a freshly ironed sheets and have fantastic, infectious smiles, and I really wish they’d tried to be more slovenly-looking or at least tone it down with the fucking dimples and rapier wit because come ON, ladies, I’d just been on a 5-hour flight and was about as sparkly as the inside of a badger’s asshole), and the folks at Hershey who pulled this whole thing together could not have been more friendly or accommodating. They even gave us a rather large amount of chocolate to take home, including a stash of my very favorite candies of all time, Whoppers, which I am going to eat until my tongue gets shredded to a pulp and my ass cannot fit in my jeans without a shoe-horn.

On Sunday I took Riley around Georgetown a little (this stroller worked out awesomely) and we even stopped for brunch at a cafe where I had the best french toast I’ve ever had in my LIFE, almost worth the Orange Juice Spillage Disaster and subsequent meltdown and lightening-fast exodus, and the weather was hot and sunny and flawless.

Overall the trip was a giant success and I am particularly glad for the timing because after over a week of Riley being sick and getting on my every last nerve, it was an amazing experience to get to spend that kind of time together. I’m so very glad we went, and so grateful for the opportunity.

Hershey’s is running a sweepstakes right now where you can win your own trip to DC, I don’t know all the details but you can read up on it here. I believe there are 5 grand prizes, and each winner gets a free trip for 3 to spend the night in the museum and do assorted fun things, and if you read the fine print on the Hershey’s website it actually says you can take a cash alternative of $10,000 if you’d rather have that than the trip. Whoah. Cool.

Finally, I do have one story to share of a less-than-stellar moment in our travel adventures. We had arrived back in Seattle, rode the little train over towards baggage claim, and were just approaching the escalator when Riley dashed in front of me and hopped on. I think he must have thought it was going to be like the flat people-mover he had so enjoyed in the DC airport, and as he ascended and the steps pulled apart he completely lost his shit. He was clinging to the steps and howling and I pulled him to his feet, begged him to stay put, and in the meantime I managed to leave the stroller back at the bottom of the escalator, so I told him to stand still and I began sprinting back down the up steps, which I thought was going to be easy but ha ha ha HAAAA, NO, I was running like an idiot with my heavy-ass backpack pounding against me and my flip-flops making comical splatting noises against my feet but I was making no progress, like some sort of giant stupid hamster on a wheel, and Riley was screaming “MOMMMMMY!” and stretching a pathetic little arm out to me and people at the top of the escalator turned to see what horrible parent had abandoned their child who was probably going to get sucked under the sucker-inner part at the end and I was like “Just a sec! Just a sec!” and finally a security guard came and grabbed the stroller and got on the escalator and gave it to me, THE END.

Once when Riley was a little over two years old we made the regrettable decision to make a family trip to IKEA, probably because we needed something for the endless remodel that was going on at the time. We tried to be strategic about it and parked near the exit instead of wandering all the way through the labyrinthian confines of the store to pick up our stuff from the warehouse section, but the instant we got inside I knew it had been a Terrible Idea. Looking back on it, I don’t know why on earth I didn’t cram Riley in a stroller and push him along instead of letting him run free, but run he did, as though the very IKEA air had suddenly made him crazed, filled with a sort of madness brought on by affordable Swedish furnishings. He bolted all the way from the checkout lines straight back to the stored furniture, with me—bulbously pregnant at the time—chasing awkwardly behind. I shouted his name but it only seemed to spur him on, and when I finally caught up to him I had to corner him like a wild horse between a display of EKTORPS and KARLSTADs. I tried to distract him, calm him, even offer him a ride on one those flat carts, but he was having none of it and I was forced to pick him up, at which point he went completely boneless and started shrieking.

While JB rushed to make our purchase, I carried my screaming, flopping, kicking child past endless aisles of GRUNDTALs and KROKENs with what seemed like a thousand pairs of eyes fixed on me, all the way past the jars of lingonberry and whimsically-shaped watering cans and out the exit and into the truck, and which point I dwarf-tossed him into the backseat, slammed the door shut, and leaned against the window to enjoy a brief, hearty bout of hysterical weeping.

Later, I may have eaten my own weight in frozen meatballs to help soothe the pain.

That’s probably not the worst public outing we’ve had with one of the kids, but it sure ranks up there in my mind. I tell you this in the hopes you’ll share one of your own stories, and I don’t normally toot my own horn but I think this is a GENIUS idea because I’m about to fly across the country with a 3-year-old and who knows what’s going to happen, it could be like Snakes on a Plane except with a preschooler (“Enough is enough! I have HAD IT with this motherfucking kid on this motherfucking plane! Everybody strap in!”), and if so I know reading some of your only-funny-in-retrospect tales will make me feel better.

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