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What I Learned Traveling With My Grandchild

Once the jitters disappeared, our trip was filled with sightseeing, family and a few giggles

By Carol Morgan Milberger

Our trip to the nation's capital didn't begin as expected. After months of excited planning, my normally outgoing, resilient granddaughter wiped tears away as we waited for our flight. Mandy (not her real name) missed her parents and her stomach hurt. I had assumed she'd be comfortable with me since her family lived with us for a year during COVID. I wondered how I'd occupy a teary eleven-year-old for five days.

A grandmother and granddaughter pose in front of the White House. Next Avenue
The author and her granddaughter outside the White House  |  Credit: Carol Milberger

Mandy wasn't the only one nervous about the trip. I'd been trying to convince myself it would be fun for weeks. When an unexpected health issue depleted my energy and restricted my diet, I worried how Mandy would react if I was too tired to sightsee.

Her mom assured me Mandy was excited to visit the nation's capital and not opposed to resting if necessary. I decided to do whatever I could to make the trip both easy and fun.

Energized by the experience, Mandy was back to her extroverted self by the time we retired to our room.  

Mandy's mood improved when we arrived at the lavish hotel lobby filled with Nigerian convention attendees. Colorful gowns, scarves and head coverings packed the lobby, along with singing, laughing and group photos. 

'A Fun Vibe'

When Mandy declared to our packed elevator that we should "get this party started," several conventioneers complimented her "fun vibe." She opened the lobby door for a couple who thanked her so profusely she eagerly held doors for fifteen more minutes.

Energized by the experience, Mandy was back to her extroverted self by the time we retired to our room.    

I'd resolved to take a cab into the city, but learning a Metro stop was two blocks from the hotel was too good to pass up. I didn't realize we were approaching the notoriously steep Woodley Park Metro escalator, the longest escalator in D.C. with over one hundred feet of dizzying steel. I knew I couldn't turn back after my granddaughter's brave transformation, so we descended once she said she could handle an endless escalator.

We negotiated ticket purchases so easily an Amsterdam-based stewardess requested our assistance, and we chatted until our trains arrived. When I questioned Mandy's phone usage on the train, she said the game calmed her nerves. As we rocketed through the tunnel of flashing lights, I agreed that a calming game was a good idea.  

A grandmother and granddaughter smiling together on an airplane. Next Avenue
Taking flight for Washington, D.C.  |  Credit: Carol Milberger

Mandy was thrilled with her White House photo and hopped around saying she never thought she'd have her picture taken in front of the White House. Her excitement and our early-morning success provided a great start to the day. It took a while to figure out where to meet our tour bus, but we managed with help from a handsome FBI agent.

The bus provided a guided tour of monuments and museums, as well as the ability to hop on and off as needed. We took photos and reviewed our plan, agreeing to ride the full circuit before getting off. Mandy updated her list of important stops, and we created a plan for our two-day visit. Staying flexible while remembering trip goals allowed us to pack a lot into a few days.

Rolling With Some Changes

Mandy's plan to dress up for dinner evaporated as we reviewed the hotel restaurant menu after a full day of travel. When she asked if she could skip changing into her specially-purchased dress and shoes, I readily agreed. A lovely meal without dress shoes was fine with me.

Since we averaged 17,000 steps each day, I dropped my plan to work out. Coincidentally, Mandy's phone usage dropped because we remained so active. I wasn't as tired as feared, although the August heat sapped my energy quickly while visiting the National Zoo.

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We checked off Mandy's goal as we watched an adorable panda chew bamboo leaves, then sought shade and frozen yogurt. We became comfortable negotiating the Metro, especially once I realized Google Maps' "Transit option" made switching trains easy and flawless.

Giggling Through Problems

The Friday evening check-in at my mom's Maryland retirement community dragged on for almost two hours because of several reasonable, but increasingly frustrating problems (lost reservation, incorrect key, room change, etc.) By the time we lugged our bags toward the lobby for the fifth time, we were hungry, tired and dazed.

I giggled when Mandy dropped her suitcase in the hallway, then cackled as she fell down laughing.

I giggled when Mandy dropped her suitcase in the hallway, then cackled as she fell down laughing. Retirement community residents don't laugh when someone falls, even if they hold their stomach while gleefully rolling around on the carpet. Trying to stifle giggles only made it worse, a fact I'd forgotten because it had been decades since my last public giggling episode.

We finally regained our composure, then trudged to the lobby while wondering what else could possibly keep us out of our room. Thankfully there were no more delays, and we ate dinner before visiting my mom.

The Joy of Seeing Family

But laughing uncontrollably together about our misfortune is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. When our flight home was delayed five hours, we knew we could handle it. It wasn't enjoyable to arrive at two a.m., but the experience increased our confidence. 

Mandy and my mom loved spending time together, which was wonderful for both of them.

Mandy got to spend time with her great-grandmother, and became reacquainted with a host of great uncles, aunts, and second cousins. There is something incredibly healing and powerful about seeing family in person. Pictures, phone calls and Zoom are wonderful, but don't compare to being in the same room chatting, eating and touching.

Valuing each other enough to expend effort to get together makes the bond, and the connection, sweeter. Mandy and my mom loved spending time together, which was wonderful for both of them.

An Added Bonus

The trip was planned for Mandy's benefit, so I was surprised to enjoy it as much as she did. I totally underestimated how fun this trip would be. I grew up in the D.C. suburbs, so the lush trees, smell of fresh-mown grass, and cool mornings were pleasant and familiar. I'd forgotten about the beauty of our nation's capital and could have easily spent a week sightseeing.

An additional bonus was everyone we met referred to me as Mandy's mother instead of her grandmother. While they were likely being kind, kind compliments do count.

I've already invited Mandy's younger sister to travel with me next summer. There is no question that this trip is the single best thing I could do for myself and my grandchild, and I look forward to future travel. 

Carol Morgan Milberger
Carol Morgan Milberger, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist who enjoys writing about various topics, including health, parenting, work, family, aging, and resilience.  Her work has appeared in WIRED, INSIDER, HIPPOCAMPUS, and elsewhere.  More information and essay links are provided here. Read More
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