There are few public activities that don’t require reaching for your wallet. More than that, there aren’t many interesting places to take the kids that wind up being just as fun for adults.
Gravelly Point is one of them. Situated across from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, this public park is a gem for aviation enthusiasts . . . like our 2-year-old.
Little Hadley is obsessed with airplanes. She points them out everywhere, frequently with her favorite refrain: “Ah! What’s that noise? It’s airplane.” Spencer and I knew if she got excited just pointing out these moving specks, Gravelly Point would blow her mind.
We were right, though the kids were initially more subdued than expected. Like our “Sesame Street Live!” adventure, Oliver and Hadley seemed to be just taking it all in. Probably too much to process spotting Elmo — The Elmo — in person. Hadley did regain her senses enough to have a serious meltdown on the drive home, however.
Spence and I hyped the kids up for the “airplane park” throughout a family photo session in nearby Alexandria. When we made it to Gravelly Point later on Saturday, summer was in full swing. Couples cozied up on blankets with music rippling from phones. Parents tossed frisbees to giggling kids, and folks on bicycles took advantage of the gorgeous day to buzz by on the Mt. Vernon trail.
And all around them, curving from the parking lot, were the plane spotters.
We followed the crowds to a small hill with a clear view of the runway. Spence lifted Hadley high in the air, pointing out the planes lining up to land, while Oliver glued himself to my side. He’s sensitive to sound, and we’d actually stopped to buy hearing protection . . . then promptly forgot it in the van.
I remember my dad taking us to Gravelly Point on one of our family outings, though I would have been a teenager then. Pretty unlikely that I would have admitted to anything being cool. Still, I remember going — and Spence and I have been meaning to visit for a while.
We just weren’t sure how the kids would do. Hadley is in the throes of the terrible twos — with all the frustration that comes with it. “So little . . . and so angry,” Spence says constantly.
I mean: I get it. Hadley is learning about the world and I’m sure much of it doesn’t make sense. She’s told “no” more often than yes (for her own safety, mainly), and she has very little choice in how she spends her days. I’m sure it gets overwhelming. And annoying.
We lived through this with Oliver, and with newborn Hadley in the mix. This too shall pass. But in the meantime? It was a relief to experience the all-encompassing attention grab that was patiently waiting for the next airplane to launch. No fussing. No bickering. No trying to run off or making demands.
We stayed for a while, huddled with an army of smartphone-clutching folks. It was fascinating to watch the in-flight aircraft queuing for their turn on the runway, followed by the line of airplanes on the ground waiting to take off. Definitely an intricate dance.
As soon as one began to climb into the sky, Ollie clung to me while I helped cover his ears. Hadley watched, wide-eyed and quiet, while her brother volleyed questions.
“Where is the plane going, Mommy?”
“On a trip,” I said. “It could be anywhere.”
“Like the moon?”
“Uh, well . . . no. Somewhere on Earth.”
“Like the United States of America?”
“Right. It could be going to any city — there are so many.”
I thought about it. “Like Detroit. Dallas. Indianapolis.”
“Annapolis?” Ollie scoffed.
“Probably not Annapolis,” I amended. “But lots of others.”
“But how do you get to the moon?” he pressed.
“Well, you’d need a rocket ship.”
“Mommy. Hey. I want a rocket ship!”
Saw that one coming.
I launched into the standard-issue “study hard and you can be whatever you want to be!” speech — already getting a surprising amount of airtime in our little family.
Walking back to the van, Spence carried a devastated Hadley while I asked Ollie about our afternoon.
“What did you think of the airplanes, bud? Pretty cool?” I asked.
Ollie agreed . . . though rather reluctantly, I thought. Then he added, “Mommy, next time, maybe let’s see rocket ships instead.”
Huh — tough to impress already.
Must be related.