Friday, August 22, 2014

I can go to the movies!

I try not to write about it here, but those of you who know me away from the internet also know the worry and anxiety I go through over my continued unemployment status.  Is there anything more boring than another whiny middle class white woman talking about her career choices?  Maybe CSPAN in the middle of the night, and CSPAN doesn't run as much risk of being offensive as me talking about my unemployment.

Still as we enter the third year of what I like to call my "taking one for the team," the worries take bigger and bigger space in my  mind.  A better way of saying "taking one for the team" is perhaps "honoring my children's begging that I be home when they get home from school, supporting my spouse in a still-new time-demanding job, and feeling grateful that I have the opportunity to do those things."  In year three, it feels more and more like a sacrifice for someone who loves to work and has always worked until our move here.  In a community with a deep historical value of labor, it gets increasingly unpleasant to answer the questions of "what do you do?" with "still unemployed."   There may be long  stories behind that "still unemployed" -- the offspring begging and the corollary which is the so far unsuccessful hunt for part-time work in a small town-- but it's still boring.

 I tell that the children that "boring" is a word that doesn't exist because there is no such such as "boredom," so I really don't want to hear the word "boring" unless young people want an opportunity to clean the bathroom or sweep the stairs.  Even so, I acknowledge that the discussion of my employment status is, though time consuming for me, is "boring."

However, after a year, I made an important realization about one of the perks of unemployment.  See, I love to go to the movies.  I love, love, love the movies.  I always have adored them  from my childhood when it took forty-five minutes to get to the nearest theater with my mom's smuggled trash bags of homemade popcorn.  I haven't seen movies very much in the last few years.  No parent of young children has.   First off,  Dr. Hobson's Choice does not enjoy going to the movies.  On those occasions when he can take an evening away from work and our children are at Grandma's, we're more likely to hike, wander around town, or get a meal.  And besides, if the children aren't at Grandma's when he gets one of those rare evenings away, it seems willful to blow that much money on a babysitter in a one income household. I'm not entirely sure I could enjoy $20 movie tickets if I knew they were also going cost us $30 for a babysitter.  Remember that I was raised by frugal parents of the popcorn smuggling fame?

I don't know why it took me a year to figure out, but this morning brought the lightbulb moment while I was on my way to the grocery.

They show movies during the daytime.

 I could go to a movie during the daytime.  They say that when you're unemployed, you should spend your entire day focused on your job search while wearing a suit. But I've never had a job that required a suit, and I spend too much time cleaning toilets every day for that to work out anyway.  While I wait... while I wait for returned emails from professors who might have advice on renewing my Kentucky teacher certificate, while I wait for my substitute certificate to find its way here from Frankfort, in between scouring all the web pages for part-time work and scouring the bathtub, I could take up again a beloved old hobby:  the movies, the dark room with the big screen and tacky floors.  

So next week, I am going to "Guardians of the Galaxy."   If anyone would bring "Boyhood" to the nearest theater, I'll go to that in a minute.  I may rent "Grand Budapest Hotel," which I missed last spring.  And I hear that Rohmer's "Summer Tale" is getting a US release.  Bring it here, and I'll go wallow in French and remember my friend Ron.  The movies, it is.

It's still hard to wait.  I'll still be scouring the papers and the internet.  But perhaps, while I wait, I can be a little less dull with the help of, yes, the movies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts on Tuesday

  • This morning, I've decided to do my writing every morning after I come home from the gym.  I wonder if there will be a difference in my product or process when my work is created through a haze of stink.  
  • Paul reports that today will be a Triple Dipple Dipple Dipple Bonus Day.  That's any day where three good things happen.   For him today:  it's pizza day at school; his class is getting a pet hermit crab; and the Lego he ordered with some grandparent money is due to arrive.
  • We are hoping for a Triple Dipple Day for the new semester at the college.  Being one step removed from life in the college, I feel like a parent on the first day of school.  I won't be there, but I'll be wondering and sending hope all day long.  
  • People like to say that the freshman get younger every year, but this year I'm just wondering if they get worse at crossing streets.  It seems like the traffic, both foot and vehicle, has been particularly snarled this year.  I think it's more likely that I'm suffering from cranky middle age than that they youths are having more trouble than usual getting from one side of the street to another.  I will be happier in a couple of weeks when the world doesn't feel like Crazy Taxi.
  • Speaking of which, which of one of you City Council candidates would put a turn light onto the Main/Chestnut/Estill intersection?  You have my vote.  I would even campaign for you.  I would go door to door for the Turn Light Platform.
  • Meanwhile, in the parental bucket list, the tween has officially asked that I not walk near her when she is going into the school (if I happen to have business in the school myself at the same time.  Good lord, I'm not walking a seventh grader into school in general.).  I am officially now excruciatingly embarrassing.  Her main concern seems to be that my current purse looks like a little backpack, and she is worried that people will think that I'm going to try to go to school because of it.  I think every adult out there can agree that there is NO danger that I'm going to try to attend middle school.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The emergence of history

On vacation, this summer, I read an article in The New Yorker about American elections and their history.  I don't remember much about the article or what the point was; it was vacation, that glorious time of snagging paragraphs here and paragraphs there as children doze off in a small hotel room.  The point here is that the author of the article compelled himself to explain who Walter Mondale was.   Not just a brief reminder of, hey, yeah, remember Walter Mondale?  I know it's been a while.  No, this was chapter and verse: who was Walter Mondale, when did he run for President, why is he significant to our understanding of politics today.  He ran in 1984, as I thought we all knew.  In my forties, this moment happens more and more often:  finding myself questioning a publication for explaining something that I'm sure we all know.  Walter Mondale?  Duh. Female running mate, Geraldine Ferraro.  Only won Minnesota.  Could not even approach the Gipper.  We all know that, right?

Apparently not. The New Yorker  -- that elitist of most elite magazines, that hyper-literate bulwark -- is sure that we don't necessarily know about Walter Mondale.  We may be too young.

On the same vacation, up late with quiet TV in a room with sleeping children, one of Jon Stewart's untimely jokes fell flat.  Usually, you can tell that he's been warned by young writers when a a true 1980s reference -- not neon, not acid wash, not TV shows -- is going to sail right over the heads of his audience.  Sometimes though,  you can see him taken aback and bemused by the confusion of his audience.  We don't all know about Grenada?  What about the Falkland Islands?  You can see his wheels turning, like mine with the notion that Walter Mondale is now part of history and no longer a current affair.

I think  of our parents, watching our own solemn yet slovenly attempts to memorize dates in grade school. , JFK, Moon Landing, Tet, a presidential resignation.   How astonished they must have been that November 22nd was something that we had to learn.   We children  had to commit those dates to memory because those dates didn't already live in our minds, ready to pop up at a scent or sound that somehow took us back to the place where we had been.  We listened to their stories of the exact moment when they heard that the president had been assassinated. Did it ever surprise them that we did not have a story, so universal were those dates?

And so it must have been for their parents, explaining the flu epidemic and the League of  Nations to them. It was history  cast over their lives in lost grandparents, but the dates still had to be learned in school.  After all, our parents did not remember coming home from school to discover that the Spanish flu had arrived in their home.  Uncles who were absent since 1917 had just always been gone, only parts of stories at family reunions.  It's like cold water over the head, to realize that the current events that broke our hearts turn out to be history.  The moments that live for a generation are items on a Friday pop quiz in 10th grade.   So it has always been, all the way back to "Mother, who was William the Conqueror again?" and back and back to the emergence of mammals, to Eden.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I won't be worried long

"It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.
It takes a worried man tossing a worried song.
I'm worried now but I won't be worried long"

Poor little Paul was awake until ten o'clock last night.  His mind wouldn't let him sleep through his fretting about the start of the school year.  For the last week, at bedtime, I've heard a lot about monsters. No amount of reassurance helped.  I knew that the monster was first grade and not Frankenstein. Last night, the real fear was named.  Being saddled with your father's dislike of change and your mother's ability to worry any fear to death is a big burden at bedtime for a six year old.

"Dear God, be with me when I'm afraid.  Help me not be afraid," he prayed.  And then, "Does it work immediately?"  Almost before I could explain that prayer is not magical that way, he asked, "But if God is in us, then isn't God scared when we are scared?"

Clearly, I am not prepared to answer the theological quandaries of this spiritual boy. We need a live-in religious scholar.  

I could sit with him while he worried, and I did.  Would the kids be nice?  Would the kids be mean?  Would he be able to do the first grade work?  Would he still have recess?  What is his teacher like?  What will the classroom look like? Would there be any fun?  What is first grade like, after all?

Not all that different from kindergarten, I told him.  School changes just a little bit, year by year, so that children can handle it.  We don't expect children to do thing that are too hard for them.

I sang, "Peace Like A River," and he finally drifted away on that stream of sleep.

Then, I woke up at 4:30 this morning, troubled for him and for all the kids and parents starting school this week.  Troubled of course, too, by the travails of a middle-aged woman in the early hours of the morning, but I was worried about the start of school.  Would the kids be nice?  Would he remember to be kind?  What will his teacher be like?  I thought, too,  about how kids change just a little bit, year by year, just like school grades.  Unlike Paul, I knew that some days you wake up surprised to learn that these incremental yearly changes have morphed your little one with a little backpack into a big kid like his sister.  Then your brain does melt.  

Several friends are bringing their children to kindergarten this week.  Several are bringing children to day care for the first time.  Their worries and mine fill the internet.  

Leaving our children is the hardest, but perhaps most important thing we learn to do as parents.  We take them to school to learn not just math, but to lead their lives and create their own spaces outside of the sanctuary of home.  I started learning early when we had to leave Eleanor at the NICU when she was three days old.  Give me a second, and I can pull up the wrenching feeling as the car drew each mile further from the hospital.  It was a crash course in the lesson that many adults, not just family, are needed to shepherd a child to a healthy and full life.  

It's gotten easier since then, but every August, I need a refresher class in how to send a child into the world.  So do we all.  The first day of school will come, and the mysteries that keep Paul up late and wake me up early will ease.  It will be the same school, the same kind faces, the same friends, the same numbers and letters and words as always, the same loving community.  

Until then, we just may need to sit while sleep escapes and sing "Peace Like a River." 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Midsummer Mom Sydrome

Midsummer Mom Syndrome is striking thousands of parents around the country as it does every year at this time.  You don't have to be a mom to suffer this condition.  Increasing numbers of dads and grandparents, maybe even babysitters, are falling prey to Midsummer Mom Syndrome.   Here's how to know if you have it.

  • You know exactly how many days there are until the beginning of the school year.  In exceptionally difficult cases, you may be keeping a secret tally in marker on the wall next to your bed.  Just in case you forget.
  • You have lost the ability to use language when your offspring are bickering.  Where in June, you may have sat your children down for a meeting where you acknowledged feelings and came up with solutions, you now are unable to form any response but a strangled yell of   "Nobody talk to each other; nobody in the same room."   On the fifth argument of any day, you are reduced to grunts and "Hey!  No!"
  • You just made a discovery that you've been wrong in telling your kids to take a shower AGAIN or cut out the farting whenever they're in the family room.   The smell was actually an old ice cream dish one of them left under sofa weeks ago.
  • With your tally of days til fall, you've begun turning a blind eye to the fact that your kids' shorts are increasingly shorter and their shirts are baring midriffs.  You are NOT buying summer clothes this late in the season. 
  • Your own bathing suit has begun to fall apart, and your husband mended it during the World Cup Final. 
  • In addition to your days til school tally, you also have a secret count of the number of times you could possibly be expected to go to the pool before it closes.  Even though you can't find human language to stop kids fighting,  you have formed an intricate algebraic equation for the ratio among trips to the pool, the number of times your bathing suit can be mended again, and how much more chlorine your hair can absorb before you start shedding like a dog in May.  
  • If you're an at home parent, you veer twenty times a day between jealousy of parents in offices that require them at work 50 weeks per year and relief that you went into education and didn't have to figure out camps every dang week.  If you're a working parent, you ricochet from  relief that you only have to referee sibling fights between 5:00 and 11:00 to worries about what might be happening between 9 and 5 to jealousy of parents who are in the pool with people they love and not sweating in a pantsuit with coworkers.
  • When this news item comes across your Facebook feed, you react with hysterical laughter that frightens your family and the dog:  "Keep mess away in 5 minutes a day."  You almost pass out when you click on the link  and see one of the tips is "Commit to doing one load of laundry each day."  You're pretty sure you're doing one load in just towels and smelly socks every day.
  • You feel accomplished when your children eat a carrot.  You decide that watermelon all day, every day, counts as all the nutrition a person needs.  It's too hot to cook, right?
  • You have begun maniacally making lists of things the family wants to do before the end of summer and that you're pretty sure a good parent would have gotten done in June.
  • You cling to the moments each day when your children play happily together, discover toads in the backyard, or pick up their socks.  You have a secret tally of those things, too.  
There is only one known cure for Midsummer Mom Syndrome:   cool temperatures, a package of unsharpened pencils, new shoes, and an alarm that rings at 5:30 AM.  Until then, be sure to breathe, apply melon and Popsicles to the affected brain, and try to dwell in the sweet moments that pop up every day in between the bickering and the sunscreen.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hobson's Choice Goes to Washington with Kids -- The Short of It

For folks wanting in-depth information about taking a trip to DC with young children, please see my next post.  In the meantime, here's the 411 of facts you need.

  • Early elementary is perfect time to start trips to Washington.  Any younger and there's going to be a lot of needless suffering and boredom.
  • Know you're going months in advance?  Book trips to the Congress and White House through your Representative. Book tickets to the Washington Monument on the National Parks website. Subcribe to the Smithsonian Magazine to qualify for discounts while you're at the museums.
  • Know you're going weeks in advance?  Spend some time on the DC Metro Trip Planner to familiarize yourself with specific routes and minimize whining while waiting.
  • Don't exhaust yourself with the drive before you even reach the city.  If you can, take two days to get the city itself and spend one day leisurely exploring Civil War sites in West Virginia and Maryland on your way in.
  • Stay at the Americana Hotel in Arlington, VA.  Immaculate and friendly, with free wifi/parking/breakfast, for less than $100 a night.
  • Use Smartrip cards to travel by metro and save money.  Load your cards as needed as opposed to buying a $14 one day card.  Two days' metro travel cost us just under $20 a person. 
  • Plan outside adventures in the morning and inside adventures in the afternoon. You will need air conditioning by noon in the summer.  
  • Arrive at the zoo as early as possible so that you can see the pandas.
  • Take lots of snacks in the morning for your outdoor excursions and prepare to eat them before hitting the museums in the afternoon. Food is not allowed.
  • Water bottles are allowed. Be sure you have plenty without weighing yourself down. You can refill at water fountains throughout the museums.
  • Follow your children's interests in the museums.  You'll be surprised by what you can experience and learn via their enthusiastic, but haphazard approaches.  
  • Eat at the Whole Foods Grocery Store outside Foggy Bottom Metro Station to infuse some vitamins and nutrition. 
  • Go to the Washington Monument at the very end of your stay so that all of you can mentally and emotionally make sense of everything you've seen.  Get the big picture.  Even though you're going to the Monument in the evening, you need to go to the kiosk and get tickets before 9:30 in the morning.  
  • Leave the city when you're done, not when you've seen everything.  With young children, you're only going to be able to see a fraction of the sites before you've filled their brains entirely full. It's better that they see with clear and insightful eyes than that they see everything through a haze of mental and physical exhaustion.  

Hobson's Choice Goes To Washington With Kids -- The Long of It

The Hobson's Choice family has returned from a summer vacation to the nation's capital.  We had the best time.  Here's what we learned from our first trip there with the whole family.

  • Pick your ages carefully --  Elly and Paul both made their first trips to Washington at age 6, and I call that the minimum age for an enjoyable time for the whole family.  As a city, Washington requires endurance for uncomfortably dense, hot temperatures in the summer, for barriers between you and food,  and for complicated transportation with inevitable long walks.  Further, the sites and sights in DC require a minimum literacy level for enjoyment.  The Smithsonians are museums as you may think of museums of your childhood:  lots of looking and reading.  You won't find many  of the hands-on kid activities that you may have experienced at the local children's and science museums that have sprung up all over the country.  
  • Become a Smithsonian Member before your trip -- A subscription to the Smithsonian Magazine costs $15.  If you're interested long form articles enough to justify this subscription, it will also save you money on your trip. You'll receive a "membership card" with your subscription, and you can present that card for discounts throughout the Smithsonian.  You get 10-15% off at all gift shops. You receive a variable discount at "extras" like the planetarium show or the butterfly garden.  If you think you might be interested in eating at one of the "fancier" Smithsonian restaurants, you also get a discount there (but not at the snack bars).  I don't know that we made our $15 dollars back, but we definitely took advantage of our discounts because we were already subscribers to the magazine.
  • Arrive rested -- DC sightseeing is intense, and not just for children.  You're the parent/tour guide, the person who will ferry your crew from place to place, find food, and keep everyone's spirits up.  You do not want to start off exhausted by driving all day and arriving late at night.  For those driving from the West, western Maryland can be a good place to spend the night. We drove for  5 hours on our first day out, stayed in Grantsville, and then slowly moseyed our way into DC the next day.   By mosey, I mean "spent the day at Civil War sites."  Just an hour or so outside of DC, you can spend the day with some history and then make your way to your hotel in time for kids to sleep.  We visited Antietam in the morning where we had our picnic lunch before we left.  We made our way through Shepherdstown, West Virgnina where we stopped for a parental caffeine infusion, enjoyed a funky coffee shop, and generally wished to explore this artsy small town.   Less than half an hour from Antietam and 15 minutes from Shepherdstown, we spent the afternoon in Harper's Ferry.  
  • Stay at the Americana Hotel in Arlington --  Want to stay somewhere immaculate with free breakfast, wifi, and parking in the greater DC area?  Want to pay less than $100 a night for a family of four?  Thinking you want to laugh at me for suggesting such a thing in a town of valet parking, premium hotels, and expense accounts?   Let me suggest the Americana in Arlington.  It's a small hotel which you cannot book on the big websites.   I found it through Trip Advisor while searching for hotels with free parking.   The Americana has no frills and no updates (unless you consider wifi and breakfast a frill, which I do).  It's billed as a stopping place for mid-century design aficionados, and that's because it probably looks much as it did 50 years ago.  However, despite the lack of updates, everything is in good condition and clean.  The first thing you smell upon entering your room is Comet and bleach.  The sheets are crisp; the towels ample, and the beds comfortable.  Staying at the Americana, I was the least concerned about bedbugs in hotels than I've ever been in a hotel in years.  Now, there is no pool; there is no satellite television;  the rooms are small.  This is not a place where you are going to want to spend hours of the day hanging out.  It's a great choice for laying your head down after a day of walking and filling your brain. The rooms also have a fridge where we kept our snacks.  The folks who work there are friendly and helpful.  Their clientele are airline pilots (only a mile from Dulles), business travelers on a budget, and touring families.  The hotel is located just a five minute walk from the metro.  On our first morning, we didn't know where that was, and hotel staff kindly drove us there in one of the hotel's shuttles.  The shuttle mainly runs back and forth to the airport, but is available for other local travel.  
  • Navigating the Metro --  So fast, so spacious, and so clean, the DC Metro is a pleasure to ride.  Before traveling to Washington, you can use the Metro's trip planner to map out your routes of the places you plan to travel.  While you can certainly find your way easily around once you're there, I found that filling my notebook with details on my routes kept the children from having too many "hurry up and wait" moments.   And those moments are the danger spots for whining and complaining.  Although I used my phone and paper subway map a lot as we made changes to our itinerary,  the up-front preparation for the trip made our vacation much happier.  
  • Paying for the Metro -- Buy a Smartrip cards for your travels underground.  The plastic credit card type subway pass costs $2, but it takes $1 off each fare.  You can purchase a 1 day plastic card for unlimited trips, but I found it more economical to periodically reload our cards at a kiosk in the metro stations.  One day passes cost $14, and I found that our transportation cost around $20 total for two days of riding.  For a family of four, that's a significant savings.  To keep track of our cards, we had the children hand their cards back to a parent as soon as they passed through a stile.  Of course, we still ran the risk of losing the cards, but it's always better to be annoyed with yourself than with your children whenever possible.
  • Go to the zoo early in the day -- The hours for the zoo can confuse.   The buildings open at ten AM, but the gates and grounds open at six.  If you want to see pandas having their breakfast, you will want to get there as early as you can get your own family fed and dressed.  We arrived at around 8:30, and we saw the pandas awake, eating, and scratching their backs on trees.  And we saw the baby Panda up in a tree, hanging out.  We shared the experience with a small group of early rising humans.   During those early morning hours, the other animals were also awake and lively.  By 11:30 in the morning, the temperatures rose to the upper 80s:  the animals dozed, and our little group of humans was ready for the air conditioned museums.   Transportation Tip For Families:  To make the easiest arrival at the zoo, transfer from the Cleveland Park Metro Station to an L1 or L2 bus.  The bus stops directly outside the gates of the zoo.  Then after your visit, you can do an easy half mile walk downhill to the Woodley Park metro stop to leave the neighborhood.  
  • The Museums -- What can I say?    As we walked into the big hall at Air and Space, filled with planes and rockets, Paul announced,  "Look at all these artifacts! I'm in heaven!"  And so were we all.  Caveat:  Be aware that children do not experience museums in the way that we do, but it doesn't mean they are not getting something out of their trip.  As adults, we may approach an exhibit, saying "I will now read this tiny little card next to this airplane, I will learn what I can, then I shall move on to the next tiny card."  That is not the way children's minds work, not even older children with advanced literacy.  I remember my great education professor Mary Beth Hines teaching us that "reading is a recursive, non-linear process."  And boy, is that statement true to the nth degree for children in museums.  They may dart from thing to thing, drawn by what attracts them. They may spend a long time looking at what (you may think of) as a relatively minor display and then flit off to look at something else for a few seconds.  This can be frustrating for parents who want to proceed through an exhibit in an orderly fashion, but it's important to remember that you're witnessing the child brain at work, exactly how it should be.   To minimize frustration, it can be helpful to divide your party of adults from time to time so that the grown ups can take turns experiencing the museums in the way that our adults minds are meant to.  I also found it helpful to try to put myself into the mindset of the children and also to remember that the day will come when we adults can return on our own.  That latter allowed me to embrace and be present with the children's enjoyment of the museums.   Cutting to the chase, here are the exhibits we especially liked. 
    • the halls of  planes, rockets, landers, and engines in Air and Space.
    • the  planetarium show in Air and Space
    • the evolution of humanity in Natural History (this one blew me away, too. Never would I have imagined that my children would want to stare at skulls of australopithicines).
    • the gems at Natural History (another shocker)
    • the special Degas/Cassatt and Wyeth exhibits at the National Gallery
    • the American flag exhibit at American History
    • the First Ladies exhibit at American History
  • The Washington Monument is a must do --  Some guides suggest the monument is boring for kids and not worth the waiting.   Just yesterday, both Elly and Paul told their grandparents it was the highlight of the trip.  Here's why I suggest it:  use the Monument as a capstone for your trip, to tie everything together.  We went up in the monument on our last evening in the city before heading back to our motel.  From the top, we could see everywhere we had gone (except for the zoo). The children were able to integrate their experiences at the museums. the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial.  They were also able to make a mental map of other things to see on future trips -- the White House, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Jefferson Monument.  They looked back across the river towards the direction where we had stayed.  After emerging from the Metro like little worker ants throughout our stay, at the top of the Washington Monument, we all got the big picture.  Boring details:  If you're planning months in advance, you can get tickets for $1 for a trip to the top of the Monument. Otherwise, you need to get in line at 8:30AM for same day tickets.   We arrived at the ticket office at around 9:30, and we were able to get evening tickets -- the tickets we wanted, but also the only ones that were left.  
  • Planning your day -- I planned our itinerary around our arrival in the height of summer heat and around the fact that you can't bring food into the Smithsonian.  Each day, we did outside activities first.  On Day One, we went to the zoo.  Day Two was the World War II, Vietnam, and Lincoln Memorials.  This allowed me to bring snacks and food in disposable baggies that we could munch on throughout the morning, in order to be ready to bask in the air conditioning of the museums in the afternoon.  I was careful to pack enough snacks each day so  that we would be food-free by the time we went through museum security.  You can take bottled water into the museums, and you should.  Dehydration is not a fun part of any family vacation.  Chris also did not have trouble bringing candies in for his insulin reactions.  
  • Food is going to get you -- I know that there are a lot of great places to eat in Washington.  On past adult trips, we've enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, there are not a lot of places to eat near the museums. There are some fancy places, and almost everything shuts down early in the evening. The food that you can find is pricey and not good.  You're just going to have to accept those limitations for the days when you're in Washington.  Knowing this and thinking that the children would fade away early in the evening, I had packed some ready-to-heat packaged food that we could warm up in the lobby microwave at the hotel.  The children surprised us with great stamina; they lasted until about 8 every evening.  So we ended up needing to find more food while out on our adventures.  Sadly, the Smithsonian Museum is the kind of place where you can find yourself thinking, "Well, I guess they're getting their dairy and protein from the ice cream and their grains from the cone, so we're calling this ice cream cone a meal." Helpful hint:  on our second day, we discovered a Whole Foods right outside the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop (the nearest Metro to the Lincoln Memorial).   It had a salad bar and hot bar, and we were able to get something substantial into the children.  Had we known it was there early in the trip, it would have been our main eatery.   Part of you just has to accept eating junk when you're on the Smithsonian Grounds, but it's also hard to keep kids trucking happily without getting some nutrition  into them.  Even if like me, you are not a Whole Foods shopper in your own town, the prices at the salad bar are comparable to what you're going to pay anywhere else in the National Mall area.  
  • Leave when you're done, not when you've seen everything:  You can easily spend a week in the nation's capital.  You can also have miserable children.  After two very full days, we found that we had packed the children's brains full of new experiences and new information: animals, museums, subway rides art, interesting people to watch on the subway,security checks.  They stood before the Lincoln Monument and witness grief at the Vietnam memorial.   We also wore out their physical stamina:  they walked in the heat for about 10 miles each day. After two days, young elementary students and even young middle school students were done.  There was more to see, but we left while we were still happy.  Even if this is your only chance to take them to the nation's capital, there is no point in staying longer to see more if  their brains are already full.  
So there's a rather lengthy account of how we had fun as a family in Washington, DC.  Take what you can use.