Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Hill

After some much-needed rest, we woke Tuesday and prepared for an exciting day on Capitol Hill. We woke with no expectations of what would happen that day and in hindsight, I am glad that we remained flexible!

Madison was given new Champion t-shirts from Wal*Mart and Sam's Club when we arrived on Sunday- American Red and Royal Blue. The greatest thing about them was the fact that we didn't have to choose an outfit for the day! She wore a t-shirt with knit cotton shorts every single day- like a uniform, only cuter. So I could wake her 15-30 minutes before departure time and still have plenty of time for her to wake and get ready. I am now thinking about making her wear a uniform to school (we homeschool). That would really simplify my life!

We hopped on the bus with the rest of the ORANGE group and headed to the steps in front of the Capitol. Each kid took a turn taking an individual photo with the Capitol in the background. The bright summer sun was blinding us all. It didn't help that the steps were white. It also didn't help that the sun was reflecting in a pool of water directly in front of us. Poor Madison- there was no hope... she couldn't open her eyes to take the picture! So she has her head a little down and is squinting her eyes. I, her own mother, didn't even recognize Madison in the picture when I saw it!

After the kids took an individual shot, they all sat together and took one group shot. And then the Wal*Mart employees that were present joined them for another group shot and then the family members were asked to join in and we took an even bigger group shot! I can't wait to see that one... what a task for the talented photographer in charge. Roughly 250 people, trying to see every little face.

After the photo shoot we got back on the bus and headed to the Dirksen Building. This is the building where our senator has an office.

The bus driver was not able to drive through until we passed a security check- sniffing dog and all...luckily, we passed! He pulled up another block or two... or maybe three, I wasn't counting... and we all unloaded. We filed into the building after going through a security check (I had become a pro at those by that point).

Our boxed lunch was laid out in pretty rows on tables in the next room- I forget the choices but I got roast beef I think. And there was a drink choice and some fruit. I was disappinted that Barq's root beer was not a choice. I probably forgot to mention that addiction when we sent our registration form to Children's Miracle Network. We walked through to the next room and saw 30 or so round tables- each with a state or two listed- we were lucky enough to sit with the Champs from Minnesota, a lively bunch!

After we ate and visited, Orin Hatch was introduced and we all gave him a round of applause. He spoke for a few minutes and thanked us all for attending. He then took time to visit with the Utah Champion family.

Minutes later, announcements were made as each senator came in to meet with his state members. I had already contacted Roger Wicker's office and knew that he already had something scheduled during our luncheon... but a representative from his office came down and spoke with us and offered to take us on a tour of the Capitol. She asked us to give her a call after the luncheon to schedule it.

While we were talking with her, our US Representative, Gene Taylor, arrived! He is from Bay St Louis, neighbors with Sara F and her beach house. He was super nice- he stayed and talked to us for 45 minutes or so, longer than we expected! He brought a little gift for Madison- a box of crayons with an erasable activity fold-up sheet. So generous! They sang Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious together and then Madison worked hard on a color sheet for him to take back to the office. She tried to do a backbend for him but bumped her head on the floor (my fault for not catching her) and everyone on our side of the room heard it- it was so loud! Thankfully, no bump and no tears. Mr Taylor seemed very interested in our story so I gave him the quick version of Madison's hospital stay. He also asked about our occupations, where we lived exactly, etc. He also conversed with Sara F about Bay St Louis.

Mr Taylor showed Madison his folder for the day- outlining 4 or 5 meetings he had scheduled that day, one starting in just 10-15 minutes after our luncheon. He asked her to write her name on his folder. She did and also drew a picture of a bright sun! He loved that.

Al Franken was meeting with his champion family on the other side of our table while we were visiting with our representative. Wes introduced himself and told him that he was born in Minnesota and asked if he would be willing to take a picture with us. He readily agreed, scooping Madison up in his arms and bouncing her, acting like he was going to drop her- she was giggling and laughing- loving every minute! I invited Mr Taylor to get in with us and we took a group picture (altough a little blurry from the movement). We thanked both of them and took a few minutes to say good-bye. They were both very friendly.

As the luncheon was winding down and people were starting to load on the bus, Madison took a few pictures behind the podium and in the big senator seats.

We took the bus back to the hotel room and called Senator Wicker's office. If we were going to take a tour of the Capitol it would have to be done quickly since we would have no free time on Wednesday. The intern took the message and told us she would call right back. And she did! 10 minutes later we were hailing a taxi out front! Our Ethiopian driver was the best. I wish we had more time to visit with him. He dropped us back in front of the Dirksen Building and wished us luck. We went through security again and took the elevator up to the 5th floor to Senator Wicker's office. His staff members were very gracious and spoke to Madison like a princess. Two of his interns took us back down the elevator to the underground. We went through another security check point and were forced to throw away the snacks in Madison's backpack. We were given special passes to clip on our shirt and then we headed for the underground tram.

This is my most embarrasing moment. I looked up and saw a young lady speed walking with a gentleman on the other side of the tram tracks- the gentleman was none other than Senator John McCain! OK- I was the idiot that yelled "HI!HI!HI!" 82 times and waved like a fool. It wasn't even a pretty wave- I probably looked like I was having a seizure. I was starstruck in DC.
I didn't even time to lift my camera (which was already in my hand) to take a picture. He was gone as quick as he came, like a flash of lightning. I am sure that I was the butt of the intern jokes that week.
But they were sweet to my face and didn't say a word about it. We walked a little further and took a seat on the operator-controlled monorail (installed in 1960). All 6 of us fit in one little car. The driver told us to hold on and away we went. In seconds we were in the Capitol building. Our intern tourguides did an excellent job securing a spot for us in the last tour of the day.

First we visited the House of Representatives after securing all cameras, phones, big bags, etc with the security room. The Representatives were not in session so we sat and looked around the room for 5 or so minutes. Wes said it was a lot smaller than he expected. One intern explained to me that the wall upstairs has 2 huge TV screens where voting results were shown. We couldn't see the screen- it looked like fabric covered walls but it was a shade lighter where the screens were hidden. It was surreal seeing technology mixed with so much history.

After that we headed downstairs to get in line for the American movie and Capitol tour. We had to say goodbye to the interns. While in line I looked over and saw the Helen Keller statue, representing the state of Alabama. I knew that I wanted to get a picture of it to show to Terry, Lindsey's mom.
(This is the info I found on wikipedia: On October 7, 2009, a bronze statue of Helen Keller was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection, as a replacement for the State of Alabama's former 1908 statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry. It is displayed in the United States Capitol Visitor Center and depicts Keller as a seven year old child standing at a water pump. The statue represents the seminal moment in Keller's life when she understood her first word: W-A-T-E-R, as signed into her hand by teacher Anne Sullivan. The pedestal base bears a quotation in raised letters and Braille characters: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." The statue is the first one of a handicapped person and of a child to be permanently displayed at the U.S. Capitol.

Terry told me later that they did get to see the statue and Lindsey was able to read the Braille quotation to them!

After I took a picture I got back in line with the others and we were seated in a large theater to watch a short video. We weren't able to sit together but were close enough to see each other when it was over. Madison and I sat in almost the very top row. I wanted to be able to exit quickly, and we did! We filed out into the hall and were assigned to a tour guide that had been employed there for 20 years! He gave each of us a set of headphones so that we could hear him at all times. It was a little difficult if we got too far behind, especially in the stairwells. But he had a nice booming voice that traveled well. He gave us all sorts of information about the Capitol. We saw statues, paintings, the stairs that the President walked to his inauguration, the spot where Washington was supposed to be intombed (although he is at Mt Vernon) and more things rich in history.

Wes' favorite statue was Reagan. He and Madison took a quick picture before we had to dash down the hall to return our headphones and end our private tour.

We were told that the gift shop was closing very soon so we hustled and had maybe 2 minutes to browse before they closed. Madison chose an American flag as her souvenir. I also got her a Capitol clip to put on her lanyard.

We headed back to the security room for the Senate and left our phones, cameras, etc to view the Senate side- they were in session and we had to be very quiet. We listened to two sides of an argument (I can't remember what they were even discussing) and then there was a long pause. We felt sorry for the pages who had to sit there and wait and wait and wait. We must have waited 20 minutes or more hoping that something would have been said or done, but no. Everyone on the floor was antsy and ready to move on, I am not sure what the hold up was. And there really weren't even that many people in there. Very few Senators that we could even see. It was all very confusing to me and I was hungry... and ready to go.

We followed the signs down the hall and out the back door. We were so turned around! We walked up the little walkway and saw the Supreme Court Building- very cool!

We ran into a Children's Miracle Network rep and he advised us to go across the street and meet up with Audrey, she would help us get a cab. Little did we realize that it was 5 o'clock and all cabs would be occupied! But we were patient and after a few minutes we were finally able to grab one. He dropped us off at Old Ebbitt's Grill, close to the hotel.

We were told we would have a 45 minute wait so we went to the bar and got a cold drink while we waited. Madison was beyond exhausted and was starting to have a tee-tiny little meltdown. Sweet thing- she had been sooo good all day. And I had to admit- it must have been a fairly boring day for a 6 year old that didn't understand the significance of Capital Hill.

She also knew that there was a swim party at the hotel and was devastated that had missed it. I promised her that we would eat and run over there. But the more she talked about it the more the conversation escalated and more guilty I felt about keeping her from a swim party- afterall, this was her trip and she was the reason we were there in the first place! So I offered to walk her back to the hotel and take her swimming. I ordered a little something for take-out and then Sara F and Wes agreed to do the same thing.

I took Madison to the room to change, and then to the hotel pool to let her swim her heart out.
She swam with Lindsey and Bella from Minnesota while I visited with Lindsey's mom, Terry. I told her all about the Helen Keller statue and the rest of our eventful day.

Lindsey came over and reminded her mom to give Madison the little things she brought for her- a pen and a coloring book. Then Lindsey offered to show me how she can read a book using Braille. I could have listened to her read for hours. She has the sweetest voice. I called Madison over and let her listen. She watched Lindsey's fingers zip across each line on the page. She was awestruck, utterly amazed.

After visiting a few more minutes, I finally convinced Madison to go to the room so that we could eat. The take-out was not as delicious as the eat-in but it was still some of the best food we had in DC! YUM-YUM!!

Madi finally snuggled up with her Daddy and fell asleep, dreaming of the White House and the possibility of meeting Obama the next day!

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