THIS IS HISTORICAL DAMMIT
Did you know I'm a historian? Like a real one, with a PhD and everything. I am just not a practicing historian. I got my degree...a few years ago...and then I changed careers and please don't ask me when James Polk was president. I used to know that. That part of my brain now processes What is for dinner tonight. Actually my entire brain does that now.
So my kids are now of the age when they can technically "appreciate" history. That is they are old enough to be told about slavery and the holocaust without being traumatized for life and also they kind of get what a constitution is and why it might be a good idea to have one. They drew one up just the other day in fact to govern entry into their respective rooms.
Now, let me brag for a minute. I taught history for a time, and I was SO GOOD at it. I made it funny, I made it interesting, I didn't just spew facts, I laid out grand narratives. And this was back in the dark days before Power Point. Yes, I know, I'm so old. But yes, I couldn't put together a compelling presentation with photos and maps and animations and graphs and things. It was just me and my overhead projector with my sad little outline on it in dry erase marker. Then, every couple classes HOLD ON TO YOUR CRAPPY PRE-STARBUCKS COFFEE I did a slide show. Oh, what are slides, you ask? No, they aren't a type of shoe...They are these little cardboard things with tiny photos on them, and you load them onto this thing called a carousel, which is not the same thing as the ride...you know what, just google it. Then you'll understand why I have back problems from lugging a slide projector around a college campus for several years.
Well, now I am not a history teacher, I'm a mom of two kids who need to learn some history. Unlike every other aspect of motherhood, I should be well qualified to take care of this. And yet, it's not going great.
We are in Seneca Falls, NY and just got back from the site of the first women's rights convention in 1848. Sadly, the visitor's center was closed, because I can always count on the gift shop to make history come alive through bribery and consumerism. So we just wandered around the buildings and caught part of a ranger talk. It was hot as blazes, so we had that going against us. But also, we had life going against us, because all our visits to historical sites generally go the same way.
And so, I give you the 5 Stages of Visiting Historical Sites with Children.
Stage 1: Preparation. You decide your kids are old enough to go to X historical site and learn about Y event. You are determined to make it interesting. You believe it is possible. You brush up on your history and search for Fun Facts, such as while Abraham Lincoln lived here, he nearly died of explosive diarrhea. You find a video on YouTube that runs through the entirety of British history in a 5 minute cartoon.
Stage 2: Excitement. The day arrives, and you are PUMPED. The kids are going to love this, they will not fail to be impressed by your knowledge, the significance of the place, and the revulsion of the toilet and death anecdotes. This visit will change their lives, and they will become crusaders for democracy, and America will survive one more generation. Also, they will never take indoor plumbing for granted. You arrive and immediately start taking millions of photos of your children posed in front of old things.
Stage 3: Disillusionment. You start ushering your children around the site and furiously spewing out historical anecdotes and fun facts. But it's clear you're losing them. In fact, you never had them, and you were a fool to ever think you did. They roll their eyes. They complain of the heat, which you angrily insist is not that bad while sweat rolls down your thighs like justice rolls down the arc of history. They aren't impressed by Abe Lincon's dysentery. They leave your side half way through your explanation of the House Divided speech to half-heartedly gaze at a saddle in a glass case that is a replica of one owned by Frederick Douglass's cousin who invented an early form of velcro.
Stage 4: Desperation. You start talking faster and editing out all the details of your planned tour. You start randomly yelling things like, "You'd be in jail right now if it weren't for the Bill of Rights! Can you believe they made women wear hoop skirts so they couldn't get out of their houses and vote? There used to be multi-seated outhouses! PEOPLE POOPED COMMUNALLY! MAYBE EVEN GEORGE WASHINGTON! Also A LOT OF PEOPLE DIED HERE." None of it is historically accurate. You start desperately scanning the area for items of interest. You sprint over to a water fountain and announce that Henry VIII drowned his 4th wife in it because the children recently watched a YouTube video on Henry VIII and showed mild interest. A nearby docent scowls at you and begins to tell the children that water fountains did not exist in the 1500s and also this is the wrong country for Henry VIII, and you threaten her life with your eyes. You spy a desk out of the corner of you eye and shut down the docent with, "THAT DESK BELONGED TO CHARLEMAGNE WHO THEN GAVE IT TO THOMAS JEFFERSON WHO THEN WILLED IT TO LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA!" The children perk up at the mention of Lin, at whom you plan to tweet later with another plea to please produce musicals for every single historical site in the United States and also go on vacation with you. You once again wonder to yourself what kind of deity can make Alexander Hamilton interesting to a tween.
Stage 5: Resignation/Gift Shop. You accept that you are not Lin-Manuel Miranda, and honestly, you aren't even a mediocre historian. You suck. You decide you will mail back your PhD to the university that foolishly gave it to you and officially pack it in. You tell the children there is a gift shop, and they can pick out whatever they want as long as it's educational. You decide an Albert Einstein troll doll is educational.
You'll keep trying. And who knows, maybe something will sink in. Maybe there will come an Election Day far in the future when those kids are feeling like it's too much work to go click a few buttons in order to perpetuate democracy but then they will remember that people used to wear hoop skirts and poop communally, and they'll look over at their Einstein troll doll and remember the time they visited the place where a lot of people died for their freedom, and they will be like, YES WE CAN.