I thought I was being super smart when I decided to take my children to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a day of education and exercise. Really, I was a bit smug and self congratulatory about the prospect. I already took my children to the National Museum of Natural History so I was getting kind of cocky as a mom who took her kids on educational trips.
When we went to the Natural History Museum, not only were there little placards everywhere explaining what we were looking at, there was a scientist with us. My main job on that trip was to keep my children from touching the things they weren’t supposed to touch and from trampling other visitors while trying to get to the things they were allowed to touch.
For the Valley Forge trip, I stupidly forgot to bring a historian along. Not only that, but I didn’t do an ounce of research before we went. That’s the part I’m most embarrassed about. That is also the part that makes me feel like a huge idiot. I know I’m no history buff. Quite the opposite, as I never made the connection in my youth how the jumble of names, dates and facts combined to create a string of human stories. This saddens me a little because I sure love a good story.
So I know that I don’t know history. Knowing that should have prompted me to read up before we visited a historical site. One visit to Wikipedia would have given me all the information I needed to answer my kids’ questions about Valley Forge. They weren’t complicated: Were there battles here? Did people die here? Will we see dead people? (Fortunately, I was able to answer that last question with a high degree of confidence even with our proximity to Philadelphia.)
Instead of taking advantage of the teaching moments that I DROVE AN HOUR TO CREATE I squandered them by being unprepared. It took about two minutes on the internet, after our trip, to teach me that Valley Forge was a military encampment not a battlefield. Lots of people died there but due to starving and disease, not from fighting. If I had known even that much (no, really, I had no idea), I would have felt decidedly less like an idiot. Lessons learned.
Fortunately, all was not completely lost. After seeing several of the reconstructed log soldier huts, my kids unanimously agreed that living in those conditions would suck and I think that's a pretty big take home message.