Sunset on the Capitol, me and E, on my birthday eve
There are few things as rewarding as watching your kiddos connect the dots: first words, first steps, that a-ha moment of recognizing something known but never seen in real life. Monuments fall into this category, along with life-size Elmos and watching donuts travel the conveyor belt at Krispy Kreme, a sheet of liquid sugar glazing the dozens to a high-gloss finish.

Children and how they process the world around them level the playing field in remarkably refreshing and undiscriminating ways.

Accepting an invitation to visit friends in Washington D.C. brought on the Great Debate: a grown-up, much needed adult trip the two of us, or a family affair, which meant wrangling babysitters for fancy evenings out with said friends and the hand-wringing hope that all the training and one-on-one we've spent with our kid will carry the day.

What with S and I commuting to LA for film work, various birthdays, and a general carpe diem approach to living, logistics conspired, and so we flew, all three, to D.C.

The visit was chock full of a grown-up agenda, which generally meshes with our child-rearing philosophy. Children are meant to fit into your world, you don't structure your entire life to accommodate their every mood and whim. That said, missed naps are nightmarish in the early years and once they are sleeping the night, no more gallery openings with your three-month old tucked discreetly into a Moby wrap.

The week began with the most fear-inspiring event on the agenda--a catered cocktail party at our friends' house our first night there. They live in a brownstone carrying Historic Registry credentials on Embassy Row, a stone's throw from the White House, covered ceiling to floor in either a) priceless tapestries or b) rare indigenous and/or modern art. Expected at the party were folks you'd see in either D.C.'s society pages or on any given televised political round-table, or neighbors--which fit into either of the above two categories, or once did.

How does it happen that when you transfer your energies mostly full-time to child rearing, putting on hold a life in which you previously Made Things Happen, that your children's behavior, for better or worse, takes the brunt of your performance anxiety as a parent...? Fair or not, right or wrong, in my case it is a bona fide fact, and this evening was no exception.

As the night progressed I watched as our four year-old, decked out in a navy velvet shift, walked calmly among the partygoers, never taking more than one hors d'oeuvre at a time, and managing to keep her blueberry-garnished ginger ale in her glass--not spilling on herself, another, or on the furniture. She was having such a good time that she didn't cling to my leg once. In fact, most guests didn't even realize she was our child, giving us the privilege to overhear remarks that took notice of her manners. It's as though she knew how high we had set the bar and was absolutely meeting it. Imagine that.

After the party, I kissed my baby good-bye and left her with Miss Corinna, returning hours later to find her hidden among Blue Willow bedding, sleeping away the night. Who is this kid, I wanted to ask my husband, but didn't, out of superstition of jinxing a run of exemplary behavior. I prayed a prayer of gratitude instead, that all the work was, well, working....

Such evenings become bookmarks for those times when E has absolutely had her fill of...fill-in-the-blank...the White House and the Capitol, walking and monuments and museums and parties, and wants nothing more than to go to the zoo, buy a bag of grain, and feed the goats. Which is exactly what we did.