“What do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“I’m fine with whatever you choose.”
“No, you pick.”
Isn’t that the most inane conversation any of us ever has, especially when it exceeds those four lines? And yet, it denotes a certain amount of freedom because the people having it get to choose how they will spend their time. This is a recent development, this concept of leisure and choices. For most of human history, no one turned to another person and asked, “What do you want to do today?” because they both knew what they would be doing. They would be doing whatever was necessary to survive. It was pretty much the same as what they did yesterday, and in all likelihood, it was what they would be doing tomorrow.
My husband and I had this conversation over the weekend. He wasn’t working, and he was feeling much better after a brief illness. He wanted to get out, do something, go somewhere.
“It’s too bad we can’t…” he said as his voice trailed off and he glanced in direction of his mother’s bedroom.
“We can take her with us.”
“It’s cold.” Cold is always a concern when taking his mother anywhere. There is a reason old people move to Florida.
“So, we won’t do anything outdoors, but I agree. We need to get out.” Now, I was glancing, but in the direction of our children who were parked in front of the television. I didn’t want the kids staring at a screen all day.
And so, we went from that huge, open-ended question of what to do with no limitations to “Where can we go that is indoors and family-friendly and inexpensive and relatively close by?” And this is how we ended up at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.
I love, love, love The Walters, and so I am tempted to write something corny like “A bad day at The Walters is better than a good day anywhere else.” That says a lot. Once when my daughter was a toddler, I was walking with her through their Ancient Worlds exhibit when my right eye began itching and watering. I could barely keep it open. The diagnosis? Pink Eye! Full-blown conjunctivitis! And still, that museum is one of my favorite places to be. That’s love.
I fed and dressed children. He fed and dressed his mother. I packed a snack and double checked her bag. He put her in the car—a different kind of lifting since the car is higher than the wheelchair, and the toilet and her bed are not. I followed behind him with a small snack cooler, her pillows, her bag–because traveling with her is similar to traveling with a baby, and my mom-bag, which is really just an oversized purse that contains the usual purse stuff like my wallet, a cell phone, and lipstick and family stuff, like hand-wipes and Neosporin. If you are wondering why you would need to take Neosporin to an art museum, God bless you! Your children aren’t as accident prone as mine.
Once we got everyone in the car and buckled in—and in my mother-in-law’s case, propped up on pillows—we were ready to go. Our vehicle seats seven, but in reality, when toting a wheelchair, two car-seats, and all the crap we take with us, it barely seats five. I am keenly aware of this because I am always seated on the same row as the two car-seats with a mini-cooler under my feet. Yeah, this is why relatively close was one of our requirements for a family outing. We will not be driving to Disney World any time soon.
An hour later, we were outside The Walters. My husband parked the car while I escorted children and my mother-in-law into the museum. I removed and checked coats, and by the time I had accomplished that, he was with us. He pushed his mom. I took charge of children and while we started together and met up at various places, we weren’t together much.
Normally, my children are a joy to have in a museum. I say that without any sarcasm. Seriously. They are inquisitive and they like the intellectual stimulation of seeing and talking about objects that we don’t have in our home. I’ve been taking them both to museums, libraries, concerts, historic sites, festivals, you-name-it since they were born and I am always pleased and surprised how well behaved they are. On this day, however, they were normal kids (gasp). They complained that they were hungry even though they had eaten lunch before leaving and had had a snack in the car. They had more interest in the gift shop than the exhibits.
“Let’s see if we can find the mummy.”
“You know what they have here? Armor! The kind knights wore!”
“Can we go to the gift shop now?”
So, overall, I wouldn’t call this the best museum excursion ever. I didn’t really see my husband at all. My children were whiny. I was impatient with the whininess. Taking my mother-in-law with us required a lot of extra effort—dare I say more effort than most people would make.
Despite all this, the outing was worth it. We were exercising our freedom to get out, do something, go somewhere. It would be easy for us—people blessed with children and entrusted with the care of a parent—to just sit it out, stay home, go nowhere because honestly, it IS a lot of trouble.
When we returned home, I felt exhausted—I would have felt exhausted had we stayed home. But I also felt victorious because we didn’t let the challenge of having my mother-in-law with us keep us from enjoying a day at a museum.
As for the children, again, I can’t say their behavior was bad. It’s just that their behavior is normally better. Maybe it’s an age thing. They aren’t babies anymore. They notice things like cafes and gift shops. Maybe I need to rethink my strategy and take them to the café and gift shop first so that we can get that out of the way and truly enjoy the gallery. Besides, when it comes to a museum like The Walters, I really don’t mind spending a little money because admission is free, and because I have worked in museums most of my adult life, I know they need the revenue—so of course, you see the café and gift shop the moment you walk through the door.
We hope my mother-in-law got something out of it, too. Earlier, when we were making our plan for the day, one of the incentives we had to not spend the day just putzing around the house is that we think she must get bored. Perhaps that is projecting, but when caring for someone who so frequently falls silent, you do have to put yourself in their place and think, “What would I want? To stay home staring at the same four walls while everyone else in the house just goes about their business or would I want to get out, go somewhere, do something?”