Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes, you KNOW it is a mistake even before you do it and are powerless to stop it.
Enter, A Trip to the Madison Children’s Museum.
What? What do you mean? How is it possible for such a bastion of child-centered fun to be a portal to hell? Ah. Let me tell you.
First, we don’t go to the Madison Children’s Museum often, so when we do, I promise the kids we can stay as long as they like, go crazy kids! The positives: It IS an amazing place for kids to do, make, and try. There is a climbing wall, a water fountain room, little home huts filled with (always naked?) baby dolls, play chickens, drums, brooms, felted vegetables….. There is a suspended walkway that looks like the ribs of a giant snake, a giant table for playing cars on complete with wooden model of the capital building, a small plane nose refurbished to be a space ship, and real chickens and rats to pet and feed on the roof. If you find a door or a drawer here, you open it and there are surprises inside. You are welcome to turn every dial you see, make noise, weave, create, or draw on a phosphorescent wall with a light pen, or make a pizza out of clever felted crusts and pepperoni slices. You can even paint on an acrylic window and wash it with a spray bottle and squeegee. In a word, amazing. Bonus: Reciprocity with hundreds of amazing museums and science centers across the country.
However….it is also a gamble going there. 1. Welcome to the Germ Gauntlet. We have never once gone and come home unscathed. Sure there are “Yuck” bags around where you can drop off a block or toy that has been mouthed or otherwise slimed. But the real problem is that the whole building is seething with a population of disease vectors.
2. Welcome to the WALL of NOISE. I don’t know how kids or parents or anyone with sensory issues could set foot in this place. It is set up to be acoustically battering. It is in an open layout, which means that the ambient noise is a soup of kids whining for ice cream in the cafe, rushing water from two different fountains, the chain crank of a human-sized gerbil wheel, a dozen metal balls rolling down miles of metal racks, an electric train and the crash of cogs and boards being dropped on the hard-wood floor above and lots of chatter. There are no sound-absorbing panels, no tapestries, no buffer. And we haven’t even gotten to the bathroom stall of terror. Sure, the bathrooms are eco-friendly. But either flush option requires two hands over each ear of each child. Woe to the mom who dares to take more than one child to the bathroom. And the hand dryers of doom sound like a plane lifting off, with no warning. Better to diaper your young ones and put the others on dehydration duty. Don’t let the mini toilet fool you. This is not a bathroom designed for children and was certainly engineered without any thought to the ones who tote them around.
After my daughter begged for months, I finally relented and we went this afternoon. She had a wonderful time. Of course she did. It is amazing there. She washed windows. She climbed tiny stairs and rock walls and wooden slides. She pet a chick. She made me a felt-fruit pie. She climbed rocks next to a waterfall. One small child wiped blue paint hands on me, thinking I was her mom, but she was cute, so no harm done. I was surrounded by a band of like-minded parents today. Not one of us was jumping to play along with the kids. Nuh uh. Not my job. This is the last place where you need me to be your playmate. Once, my daughter yelled for me to join her in the Hodgepodge Mahal climbing jungle. Uh, Nope. I remember what happened to Piggy in “Lord of the Flies”. Every parent around me shook their head in solidarity. No way, kid. I climb in there with you and two dozen other kids the day I want to die a claustrophobic and weirdly, simultaneously exposed death.
In fact, the rest of today, my daughter had insisted I “stand there” or “sit there and watch me” instead. Deal. I’ll sit with these other banished/uninterested parents over here and check my phone. I don’t need to talk to anyone, I don’t want to start drawing or molding clay or any of a dozen other artsy things to play/do/create lying around. I know I’ll be interrupted. Told to “WATCH!” Asked to fix something. Shuttled off to the next thing. I’m not here to play. I’m here to mark time. I’m here to watch *you* play. (From behind this beautiful phone with the life-line to the outside world.)
Eventually, we left, after the requisite begging for ice cream, which I deferred by promising to go with her to the store to buy some for her (AND her brother and dad.)
She ate hers. Her brother came home and ate some too. Then they both ate popcorn and had an argument about who got to make a video of the kitten, had a yelling match and lots of crying as they both crashed from the sugar high and fatigue (from one, sugar high and the disappointment of having been in school while we went without him for the other.) So, for #3 in my list of reasons I loathe going on a trip to the Children’s Museum—it is the gift that keeps on giving. We’re all fried right now and we’ll see what delicious germ we contracted in a couple days. I hear strep is still going strong in Wisconsin these days 🙂
I think we’re good for six months or so until our next visit.