Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our National Christmas Tree Lighting Calamity

We won the lottery this year - the lottery for tickets to attend the 2011 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in D.C. Participating in the nationally televised celebration led by President Obama and his family was supposed to be a memorable experience my family would cherish for years to come. It was memorable alright, but for all the wrong reasons.

After dealing with the dual problems of a full parking garage and empty Metro cards, my wife and I collapsed into our seats for the ride into the city. However, excited by their first ride on the subway, my boys were crawling around the seats like ants on candy crumbs.

It was only a short walk from the Farragut West stop to the Ellipse, the oval-shaped park just south of the White House, and the lengthy security lines we'd heard about weren't bad at all - but maybe that was because we arrived a full 90 minutes early. We passed through the metal detectors with nary a beep and found a dry spot on the lawn near some carolers.

Our tickets were standing room only, which meant we were far enough away from the action that we couldn't read the closed captioning on the "big" screens. Closed captioning would've been nice because I swear I've heard louder speakers in college dormitories. But I'm getting ahead of myself; we nearly left before the show even started.

The standing room within the snow fencing wasn't too bad, but my boys don't react well to being penned in. As the flag atop the White House fluttered in the distance, my boys dodged adult legs like traffic pylons and spun themselves dizzy in the warm sunshine. The boys' behavior deteriorated quickly, and no amount of threats on behalf of Santa Claus slowed them down. With the Washington Monument and the cops' mobile observation tower looming above us, my exasperated wife suggested we leave. Giving up and packing it in is normally my overreaction to unbearable public fiascoes, so I was quite pleased to play the calm and reasonable parent as I backed her off the ledge. (I seem to remember cheerleaders with pom-poms showing up out of nowhere and chanting my name.)

As dusk set in, the marble monument glowed orange and pink against the fading, cloudless blue sky. A circling helicopter nearly drowned out the seasonal songs of the carolers, but my boys were too busy fighting over iPhone games to notice. Although I couldn't hear the music and could barely see the screens, I assume the band was good. But the thing that caught the standing crowd's attention was the roar of the police motorcycles leading the Presidential motorcade of black SUVs. Smartphones and cameras were thrust into the air in unison with the hope of capturing an image of Mr. Obama's arrival.

As the gathered guests awaited the beginning of the program, my boys wrestled on the ground. I must say they created a nice perimeter for us, as no one wanted to stand too near. My two young heathens threw handfuls of grass at each other during the national prayer. As everyone reverently bowed their heads, my kids were giggling and rough-housing at their feet.

My wife and I boosted the boys onto our shoulders for a better view of the distant entertainment. Honestly, unless you were seven-foot tall with super vision you couldn't see much from where we stood. However, when the President was introduced the crowd showed respect and grew quiet enough for everyone to hear his address. The silenced crowd permitted a hushed chuckle when my four-year-old repeatedly screamed out, "I love you Obama! I love you!"

After the President and his family threw the switch on the big tree's lights, we threw out any plans of staying for Kermit the Frog or's appearances and made an early exit. As we headed toward Potbelly for some sandwiches and a public restroom, my boys asked every cop about their gun. Our first National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will be remembered forever, but maybe not for the reasons we had first hoped.