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Is the American dream dead?

If Washington insiders looked down on my family in our Wal-Mart clothes, how could they ever relate to the lives of most Americans?

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In recent years, our family has traveled cross-country, visiting 37 states and countless museums, landmarks, and parks. Our dream was to expose our children to amazing educational experiences.

I didn't realize, however, that a rare opportunity to stay in a ritzy hotel in Washington this summer would also be exposing them to elitism at its core.

In our tourist attire, we stood out like sore thumbs. Women in polished high heels and impeccable coiffures swept past. I looked down at my rumpled sweater, Wal-Mart jeans, and $11 tennis shoes. Where did a no-frills mother of four boys fit? Was the world really divided between power suits and ponytails – insiders and outsiders?

Entangled in the daily struggle of raising kids and getting by in a devastated economy, I didn't relate to these beautiful ice women.

Later, my 13-year-old echoed my thoughts. After taking photos of the hotel, he noted that all of the people had the same expression: disgust.

My husband and I sighed. Our son wasn't so innocent anymore.

Had we been wrong not to teach him about the exclusionary nature of the "real world"? I didn't want to lose the kind, gifted boy with an easy smile and ready sense of humor who loved Gandhi as a 6-year-old. But I also didn't want him to be barred from the world of influence because he was different.

My dreams seemed dashed. Anger rose in me from two fronts.

First, would my children be barred from being great men because we couldn't afford an Ivy League education?

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