The Washington Monument in D.C. is now shorter than its...

The Washington Monument in D.C. is now shorter than its historical height. Credit: U.S. Dept. of Interior

Spring break with an 8-year-old.

What to do? What to do?

Stay home and triple down on Cartoon Network, go someplace warm or try to sneak an educational experience disguised as a vacation past her?

I went for door No. 3, which wasn't a hard sell. Daddy goes to Washington often, almost as much as he goes to Albany. But I couldn't do that to the kid, so off to D.C. we went.

I swore to myself on the train down that I wouldn't try to cram too much into her head in the four whirlwind days we'd be there. I can build expectations before trips and sour sharply when things fall short, and I didn't want to do that. But I did want her to get some clear takeaways from our nation's capital. Something about American greatness -- do I dare say "exceptionalism" -- and maybe the basic workings of a democracy. A peek at Amelia Earhart's airplane would be good, too. She read about Earhart in second grade and would no doubt think that cool.

Ford's Theatre was great. But I sensed relief from her when we exited. I shouldn't have been surprised from the questions she had asked in the theater.

"Was there blood everywhere? On this chair?" (Definitely not this one.)

"Can there be ghosts in theaters?" (Lincoln died across the street. No ghost here.)

"What happened to the people who killed him?" (They were hung -- and, no, not in this theater.)

"Why was Mary Lincoln sad before her husband was shot?" (Her son Willie died when he was 11. That made her really sad.)

Once outside:

"Do lots of presidents get shot?" (Not too many. President William McKinley got shot. President Kennedy got shot.)

"Bobby Kennedy?" (No. John Kennedy. Bobby was his brother. He wanted to be president. But he got shot, too.)

"Teddy Roosevelt? Did get shot?" (No. Um. Actually, yes. While preparing to give a speech. But he didn't die. What do you say we go to the Mall . . .?)

"Will you buy me something?" (It's not that kind of mall. It's an outdoor mall with museums and statues. There's a new statue of Martin Luther King Jr. there. Do you want to see that . . .)

"He got shot, too -- right?"

Washington on foot with an 8-year-old isn't the easiest feat. It's a little like walking a half-asleep basset hound. So on Thursday morning we headed to Union Station for a double-decker sightseeing bus. No more walking. Genius.

Outside the station we walked past a semi-circle of police officers -- and the overdose victim at their feet. He was in his 20s; he was handsome, and he was dead. At least he looked it and we were pretty close to him, three or four feet at most. Georgia had never seen anyone dead before, but she was certain enough not to buy my falsetto assurances that, "he's definitely going to wake up once he gets to the hospital."

"Why do people take drugs? Does everyone who takes drugs die? Are cigarettes drugs? Do a lot of people die at train stations?"

At the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum:

"Is this the plane Amelia Earhart was flying when she died?"

"Did those men get out of Apollo One when it blew up?"

"That man said Charles Lindbergh's son got kidnapped and died. Is that true, Daddy?"

We got back on the bus. Next stop . . . Arlington National Cemetery.

But we just couldn't. Maybe another day. My daughter had gotten all the education I could bear on one trip.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.