One of the great things about living in the DC area is that there are so many fun things to do with kids. Not only are there things like museums, which are there every day, but there are also special events that come around just a few times a year.
One of those events is the White House Easter Egg Roll, which my family was lucky enough to attend yesterday. The real secret of these special events, of course, is that they are total nightmares, but we all still want to go regardless.
Every single year I enter my name into the Easter egg roll lottery and every year I get an email from "firstname.lastname@example.org"—the worst email address in the world, by the way—telling me that I was not selected. This happened to me this year as well, but I ended up scoring tickets through Honest Tea, one of the event sponsors.
When I was offered these passes, just a few days ago, I was really excited... and then the reality of what those tickets meant set in. I had to get my kids into DC, find a place to park, get my kids through lines and security, then wrangle them into compliance so we didn't end up detained by White House security.
Also I had to talk my husband into attending with me because no way was I going to be able to do all of that by myself.
I'm going to come clean here and tell you that I had it kind of easy with the logistics because we had all-day passes, meaning we could go whenever we wanted and didn't have to wait in any long lines. Plus my husband works a block away from the White House, which means we had close parking as well. But seriously, if we didn't have those perks, we would have been a scene and a half. As it was, we were only a scene.
See, my kids have a hard time with crowds. My son with autism gets overwhelmed and has a tendency to leave the safety of the herd to explore wherever he sees fit. By my count, he almost got away from us five times at the egg roll—two of them where he actually got out of sight. My youngest son also gets stressed at these events—he has sensory issues and also problems with crowds—and melted down almost immediately after setting foot on the South Lawn. (In his defense, we had just walked the entire perimeter of the White House grounds in an effort to find the right entrance.)
The truth of these events is that they are a complete hassle. The Easter Egg Roll features lots of activities including the actual roll, basketball, people dressed up as every kind of cartoon character you can think of, crafts, on-stage entertainers, and that one booth that seemed to feature a long line to pick up an apple. There is so much to do, and it really can be fun, but if it weren't at the White House, I don't know that people would think it was worth the fuss.
But it is at the White House, and holy geez, that makes it exciting.
We lined up for the egg roll right after we arrived and by the time my youngest kiddo collapsed in tears of stress ten minutes later, I was convinced we'd made a mistake and that maybe we should have given our passes to some other, more stable family.
However, this wasn't my husband's and my first trip down Sensory Overload Lane, so we settled him down with some Angry Birds, while my older two kids went through the obstacle course several times.
Then—and this is why the White House Easter Egg Roll is so cool—my kids got to see President Obama in person. I mean, sure, he was really far away, about as big as a LEGO minifigure, and standing behind a giant stuffed bunny, but it is not every kid who is lucky enough to see and hear the president in person.
It gets better too. By complete luck my family ended up pushed against a fence just as Mrs. Obama walked by. She patted two of my kids on their heads and had a conversation with one of them. It was one of the coolest things ever. Those moments made all the problems leading up to it completely worth it.
After that, it was just a matter of escaping the White House. This was harder than it sounds, because the exit was blocked while President Obama played tennis with some kids nearby. That didn't go over very well with my youngest, but even he was placated when we finally did escape and a nice egg roll worker handed him some M&Ms with his souvenir egg.
I always leave things like this feeling exhausted and as if I've been put through the wringer. I also, however, always know that I am going to try again. Events like this are something that my kids will remember as a uniquely DC experience. I hope that they will remember the first time they saw a president in person.
My kids will probably run dozens of obstacle courses in their lives and they will have the opportunity to roll many eggs with any number of wooden spoons, but they will only have one memory of doing it in the shadow of the White House. I think that is worth pushing past the logistical problems involved in getting there.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.