Taking children places, or, good luck ever enjoying a museum again
At the Detroit Zoo a teenage girl said to her teenage boyfriend, it would be so fun to bring kids here! She leaned against his body and imagined the future. In my head I laughed at her. In my head I said No it is not fun to bring kids anywhere.
That is not true but what is true is that you don’t do it for your own enjoyment. You do it because you know they will enjoy something, maybe they have a Special Interest or maybe for their own enrichment or maybe because if you stay home they will rearrange your furniture.
It rained on our boy’s birthday so we took him to our local university natural history museum, which is a lovely place, accessible and interesting, with drawers to open and plenty of things you can touch and all the things you can’t touch completely out of reach, which is an element of museum design I never considered necessary before becoming a parent.
Bored high school summer volunteers sat at little specimen carts around the museum, mostly girls with paperback novels in their laps, short-shorts and too-big heavy weight VOLUNTEER t-shirts. One girl had things in jars, a coral snake fading and coiled; a dead fish of some sort; a fetal pig. He reached for the snake.
That’s real? Or it’s dead?
She also had a stuffed owl, which he grabbed with un-gentle hands and she winced.
Put the owl back and ask the nice lady a question, I said, like a real mom.
High school girls don’t know what to do with their faces, or at least the sorts of girls who volunteer at the museum don’t. She showed us with large tweezers how to dissect an owl pellet to see what it ate. She had a glass case full of bone bits and fur, next to notes about which tiny mammal the owl had most recently eaten. (He will bring this back up, with no antecedent, a week or two later in the car: that girl, her had tweezers to get the bones out of the poop!)
I carried him through the exhibit called “Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land.” I like to carry him because, in his words, “y’all didn’t hold me when I was a baby” and at this particular moment I was carrying him because he was trying to climb the railing around the fossils.
I used to know all of this. I used to write poems about it. In 2010 and again in 2012, I went to the Chicago Field Museum all by myself. I think I slowly drank a coffee and didn’t talk to anyone. I was writing a book about the animal question.
You read it to me?
Well, first everything was in the water. Then some things changed so they could live in new places.
I paraphrase the wall-text rapidly, before his attention shifts to something else—a child in a wheelchair, someone’s perfume, a flickering light or exit sign, an irregularly colored floorboard.
Where the snake come from?
An egg laid by a mommy snake.
Where the mommy come from?
An egg laid by her mommy snake.
Where that mommy come from?
An egg laid by that mommy snake.
And on and on?
It’s dim and cool in here and he is heavy and lovely in my arms. My back will hurt tomorrow.