Saturday, January 30, 2010

the joy of a bench at the mall

Earlier this week we went to the Strong Museum of Play with a friend of Frances' and her mom. For those of you not from Rochester, this play museum is amazing. It's the biggest one I've ever been to, for one thing, and it's clean and the exhibits are great and it just goes on and on. When we first moved here I got a membership and thought I would go over there all the time when I was at a loss for what to do with the kids. But I didn't. We were so sick that first winter and I was nervous about the kids getting germs (and, lets face it, it might as well be bacteria germinating on mold in a lab) plus it was a pain. It was a pain to chase Frances while Clark was strapped on me; a pain to nurse and also follow after her; a pain to help her play with the exhibits; a pain to get anyone to agree to leave without a complete meltdown. I always left with a headache.

So a friend invited us to go this week and I thought it would be fun and also I could see how things go now that both kids are on two feet and are more self-sufficient. Who knows--I might like it now. Turns out it's hard to get in the place without buying a membership because the price for an individual visit is so outrageous that you can't help but think: if I buy the membership now I'll only have to come three more times in the next year to make it worthwhile and of course I'll do that. Heck, maybe I'll even come once a week! What a bargin!

But I held off, wanting to see how things went before I decided.

It went fine. We shopped in the miniature grocery, starred in a cooking show complete with cameras and tvs, made pretend pizzas in the pizza parlor, rode the train (twice), built some cool stuff with legos, climbed up the magic beanstalk, ran, tumbled, jumped, had a snack, then we rode the carousel, and had a meltdown in the gift shop. I left with a headache.

Something about it disturbs me. My well meaning friend kept trying to convince me I should join, kept saying that I could come here all the time when the kids need wearing out, that I could even bring Clark when Frances is at school. I was considering it. My friend knows Clark and I sometimes go to the mall for fun (it too has a carousel) and she said, "you could come here instead of the mall!" That was when it crystalized for me--that I do not want to be a member, that I do not want to come here more than a couple of times a year. One of the things that bothers me about being there regularly is that it's not a part of regular life, has no function. It's so removed from the real world, created solely for the entertainment of children. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with entertainment. But must children have so much stimulation to be entertained? If the kid is perfectly happy jumping on and off a storefront stoop, does he need more? Is making the museum a regular part of one's week just an extension of that parenting pressure that tells us we need to always be stimulating our children, that they can't have a moment of downtime, that activity is better than boredom?

I think it's important for children to learn that the regular everyday world is interesting. The grocery, the post office, the fire house (A friend recently alerted me to the fact that you can go around back of the fire house and ring the doorbell, and they'll let you in to look at and climb on the fire trucks. Really!), the hardware store, the library. These are all part of the functioning world in which we live, and in that world there is plenty to look at, to explore.

Fact is, I like going to the mall. (one might argue that the mall is contrived and also has no real function in the world as well, but that's relative.) We go in the morning before the shops are open, when the mall walkers are in full force. We run, we jump, I sit and distribute snacks while Clark climbs on one bench and then another. Last time we were there we went to Sears for an air purifier filter and it turns out that the air purifiers are near the riding mowers. Holy cow did we have a good time with the riding mowers, on and off and on, turning the steering wheels--and I didn't have to worry about germs. I mean, if Clark is completely and fully entertained by a bench or a riding mower, why do I need to pay a small fortune to go to Strong Museum?

But it occurs to me that maybe Strong Museum is for the parents. It's hard to stay home with kids, especially if you've had a career, been used to 'accomplishing' things. It's boring. Sometimes the easiest way through the day is just to wear the kids out any way you can, else you're both at home hollering at each other. I wonder if these parents go to Strong every week so they won't have to think up something to do with the kids, so the children aren't constantly pestering mom at home while she tries to empty the dishwasher. I don't blame moms for this--you've got to get through the day. If Strong Museum is what works for you, then great.

But the museum doesn't work for me. All the stimulation in there overwhelms me, all the crazy energy exhausts me. I'm looking for simpler pleasures for myself and for my children. I'd like the keep the museum for a treat, a kind of special day just for them, two or three times a year. That's about all I can take of it.

1 comment:

Wayne Thompson said...

If you think the museum is bad, don't even THINK about taking them to Chuck-E-Cheese. That'll REALLY overstimulate them.