Taking 8-year olds to the museum is a dangerous thing.
It was Declan’s first trip to New York City. I’d been promising to go to the museum, but I didn’t know if he was ready.
There’s a certain conditioning New Yorkers have that Declan lacks. “Go to the bathroom now!” “Don’t stare…” Simple things I don’t think about until I watch him react.
“Bring him down,” said my friends. One promised to feed him as much candy and ice cream as he wanted, another said she’d bring her girl and we’d all go to the museum.
I was ready for the test run.
One of the cool things about New York City museums is the price–they’re free. They read, “Ticket price a million dollars,” but that’s “suggested.” Go to the ticket booth and say, “I’d like to make a donation,” give what you can, and they have to let you in.
If you underpay in the beginning and feel guilty, there are lots of places to restore your karma–expensive food, gift shops, and overpriced exhibits that will drain your bank account along the way. You’ll support science in the end, I promise you.
I hoped Declan would enjoy the museum, but I was worried. Would he try to touch priceless objects, get bored, cry, or smudge the glass?
The American Museum of Natural History has been around since the purchase of Manhattan. It’s survived worse than Declan, so off we went. We could always leave. The biggest part of the adventure was the subway, buildings, and train anyway. The museum–a bonus.
When I was younger, we went to museums. My dad is a tag reader. He reads everything. Twice.
Good. Saw it. Enough… Move on.
“Come on, Dad!” There was no rushing Dad. He wanted to learn. It’s what museums are for.
He didn’t just read tags, he contemplated them, savored them, and paused for reflection after each one. It’s the right way to respect world-changing artifacts. We must appreciate the culture, importance, and miracle behind every single one. Each of these things contributed to what we are today.
This is torture for a kid. “You didn’t clean your room. You thought I forgot. But now… I’m going to READ THE TAGS!” It’s the perfect punishment, really.
But this museum trip was for Declan. No tags, we’d let curiosity lead the way. He buzzed through the dinosaurs–and the accidental overpriced paid exhibit where I restored my donation karma. He was looking for Teddy Roosevelt and the dino from “The Night at The Museum.”
Then, something caught his eye, stopping him completely–the gem room. Declan likes rocks–and money.
“That’s real gold,” he said. “Can we steal it?”
“We don’t steal. It’s disrespectful to talk about stealing the treasures of the world. These belong to the people for everyone to love and enjoy,” I said.
“Can we have just one? There’s a lot…the people don’t need all of them.”
“If everyone took just one treasure from the world, the world would be left empty. It’s what many people do to nature and the environment. One act of selfishness at time, we rob the whole world. We should be adding our treasures instead.”
Blah, blah, blah, speech, speech, boring…. He’d moved on.
I found the Star of India by accident. “Look, a giant star in a gem!” I said.
“Cool.” He took exactly 2.5 seconds to underappreciate one of the most famous things in the world–for him, that was a full-blown tribute. It’s the big crystals he loves. For him, size does matter.
He asked a few questions. I tried to answer without slowing down for too many tags.
Answering correctly doesn’t matter when you’re a mom, it’s the tone that makes kids leave us alone.
If I hesitate when I answer, I’m eaten alive by “Why’s” “What’s” and “How comes?” If I use the news anchor tone, with a few fabricated facts, he moves on. Sometimes I give quality answers because I think he’s interested, then I realize I’ve been duped. I adjust my teaching accordingly.
We left the rocks and found the best part of the museum–the penises. Early man.
“This is INAPPROPRIATE!” Declan said, laughing, racing around, and counting all the unclothed Neanderthals and carved phallic statues. He loves “inappropriate.” He hit the jackpot.
“It’s not inappropriate, it’s science.” I began to explain National Geographic nudity. We’ve gone so far over the edge with censorship, kids don’t know the difference. These are important lessons. “In the early days…” I said.
“Can I show my private parts for science?” This was the only answer that mattered.
“No.” He touched a statue in a doorway. It looked like part bowl and part fertility god with an exaggerated male part.
“Leave it alone.” By the time we looped back, the fertility god had a bodyguard. Declan had triggered a silent alarm.
“You shouldn’t touch this one.” It was the Egyptian Mummy Curse Voice. “It’s real…” the guard whispered.
She turned to me. “It’s for human sacrifice. They put infants and babies there,” she said, pointing to the bowl. “Many children died.” There was no tag on this artifact. I’d taken a picture. This didn’t belong on Instagram.
“Look.” Declan moved on. “Everything’s inappropriate.” He jumped up and down and pointed to statues, displays, and exhibits showing various degrees of nudity.
“It’s not inappropriate. It’s history.” Wars, conquests, subjugation–that’s inappropriate. The human body–a gift.
I skipped the speech so he wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of interrupting again. It was time to go, anyway.
“Can we come again, Mom? This museum’s cool! Can we get a hotel with a pool?”
“I don’t know of any pools, but there are plenty of hotels and things to do.”
It doesn’t take too much to please a little boy…just follow him around and he’ll find something to do, remember, chatter about, or see.
That’s my job as a mom–to guide him in finding stuff that will make the best memories, and sneak in a lesson or two when he’s not paying attention.
And once in a while to keep him away from priceless artifacts and silent alarms.
I hope he’ll have enough gold of his own to some day that he won’t have to steal, and he can endow this museum…with an exhibit focusing on a little less endowment.
But as with most things, it’ll be up to him to decide.