Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Love/Hate relationship with Children's Museums.

Let's just be honest.
I don't play.

I'm not the mom lying on the floor building a huge block tower (bad knees) or organizing a massive art project (big mess) or baking 100 cupcakes (takes too long) or out riding bikes or playing tag or - good lord no - going on a family hike.

I like my kids, I want them to be happy, I make sure they can do all of these fabulous things - just not with me.

Is that wrong? It's okay. I don't mind being wrong. I am not going to force myself to do something I didn't even enjoy as a child. As a kid, I liked to read and roller skate. End of story. I still like to do those things, and thankfully so do my kids, so it's all good and they don't want to play with me anyway thank goodness. I do grownup things, and they do kid things, and then every so often we do something special together that we all enjoy wholeheartedly.

Like going to children's museums. I really like taking my kids to museums.
In theory.

However, the children's museum would be a lot more fun without other kids. And their parents.

I know I am not alone. At the Science Center this weekend - a place that is not exclusively for children but is definitely geared towards the grade-school set - there were a bunch of us parents on the sidelines, parents who had spent a crapload of money for an adult admission and were clearly hoping the crowd might thin so we, too, could try that slalom ski simulator, or use our brainwaves to move the ball across the table, or maybe even take that rotating rock climbing wall for a spin. I mean, we weren't going to take the spot from a child. This is all about them, right?
 At least, in theory.

So I shut my mouth and applied more hand sanitizer.

And then two grownups in a row each got on the skiing simulator, despite the line of kids behind them, and went not once, but twice, and continued to stand on the simulator long after the word "DISQUALIFIED" flashed up on the screen and the ride was over. Someone had to actually tap one guy on the shoulder and tell him that his time was up.

During the overly-long wait, a crowd formed. Kids started cutting in front of my kids. And then parents started cutting in front of my kids. And then watch out, because I was no longer going to act like a mature, refined grownup. Who cares if other kids were waiting for a turn?

Dammit, I was going to climb on that skiing simulator and RIDE THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

(Side note, it turns out that riding a skiing simulator is actually much harder than it looks. And you know, kids have a lower center of gravity so these sorts of things come much easier to them. Ahem.)

And then, just as it was about to be my turn, a kid who could not have been more than 6 years old stepped right in front of me and climbed on the simulator, pounding on the start button like he was a game show contestant. I stood there, wondering what, exactly, had just happened. I was clearly in line and had been there for quite some time. I had been walking towards the simulator when he leaped in front of me.

I was not pleased.

His mother must have felt my eyes burning into the back of her neck because she turned around, looked me up and down and said "You weren't waiting to ride this, were you?!" Her eyes widened with surprise (which was really just barely disguised disgust) and when I said, as magnanimously as possible, "Oh, it's fine, he can go" she smiled brightly and turned on her heel just in time to watch the word "DISQUALIFIED" flash on the screen and to see her son begin pounding on the start button to take a second turn.

And that is when it dawned on me that the only thing worse than a badly behaved child  - or a museum full of them - is a badly behaved parent. After 3 hours of coaching our children to "let the next person have a turn", and "make sure you aren't cutting in line", and "please let everyone off the elevator before you get on", and all of the other constant gentle reminders of manners and courtesy that parenting requires, only to watch other parents set the poorest example possible (and their children behave accordingly) it occurred to me that, actually, none of us were having much fun at all. Rather than feel shame at wanting to try out an activity or exhibit, I felt disappointed that the adult admission cost twice as much as the kids, and yet I was not able to actually experience the center without getting all Lord of the Flies-meets-Survivor in order to actually touch anything, never mind enjoy myself.

As we went to leave, I looked around. At the hands-on activities, where parents and kids were jostling for position, at the building room, where kids were stepping up and knocking down other children's creations - or commandeering them entirely, at the outdoor exhibit, where children were running and screaming and shoving, even in front of the snack bar, where some kid threw his popcorn on the ground and kicked it all over because he didn't get a Slush Puppy, while a mother fed a toddler hard boiled egg and managed to smear egg on every surface, along with spreading both egg and pieces of shell liberally across the floor for everyone to step in. A hard boiled egg? Really?

This was not fun. This was like being in a psych ward. Parents wandered past in a daze, holding juice boxes and coats, clearly wondering what the hell they had been thinking and why they didn't serve alcohol at the snack bar.

Silly parents, that's what your fancy Hydroflask is for.

But taking my cue, we left. And went straight to a pub where we could all relax and have a conversation, and I could teach kids the important stuff like how to choose a wine, what the different kinds of beer taste like, and how ordering several appetizers is just as acceptable as choosing one entree. Better, even. And they even gave out crayons and paper, then hung the resulting masterpieces on the walls with titles, descriptions, and prices.

Though I think we can all agree, the work is priceless.