Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'm Just Being Honest Here.

I know that Elizabeth is not yet two. I know she's a toddler, and loud, and noisy, and physically cannot be calm and quiet on command. And yet, I thought it was a good idea to take her to a museum.

The Fitzwilliam Museum "houses world-class collections of works of art and antiquities spanning centuries and civilisations." It is also free and open on rainy days, and has a program called FitzKids which implies a certain kid-friendliness. We went with my pal Kate, and her son Cal (aka Elizabeth's boyfriend), as well as my friend Nikki. 3 adults to 2 toddlers + 1 infant is a not-bad ratio. We picked up a FitzKids package on our way in - we were meant to get to this specific room, read the storybook provided (Quentin Blake's 'Cockatoos') and then look for all the cockatoos in this room. Great! A preset activity!! We set off for the Cockatoo Room.

At first, it was all lovely and adorable, as Eliz and Cal threw themselves at each other in a falling-down hug, and then tickled and giggled for about 5 minutes. They both enjoyed the armoury, since there was a lifesize horse replica in armour - pretty awesome, when you're only a couple feet tall. Then they discovered the marble staircase, so we went up & down, and up & down, etc etc for about 20 minutes.
Heading back to the staircase after we distracted them for 0.4 seconds by pointing out a massive owl statue.
 The biggest challenge was the room with antique chairs - these chairs were not in cases, they simply had signs on them saying, "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH"... it was super difficult to explain to a toddler that you can't sit on those chairs, but you can sit on these chairs in the middle of the room and look at those chairs. It was interesting that neither of them tried to touch the horse in armour, but they were all over these chairs. I guess you're not allowed to touch a real-life horse, but chairs are usually meant for sitting. Life is confusing when you're two.  We also sang a few renditions of "Hickory Dickory Dock" when we saw a collection of grandfather clocks.

We were in that room, just about to get to cockatoo-land, when a museum staff member asked us to stop the children from running and to keep them quiet.


That went over like a lead balloon with me. I thought they were being quiet - they were hickory-dickory-docking with me. And toddlers don't walk - they only run. I just don't get it - why do you have programs meant for preschoolers, and then expect preschoolers to behave like adults? If you want to be a museum meant for only adults, don't offer things like activities based around picture books. As well, all of the patrons of the museum were smiling and laughing at the two kids - most of them were grandparentish, and a few said things like, "Aren't they lovely??" because, really, two little ones playing and laughing and pointing at objets d'art together really is lovely.

So we corralled the children to the elevator and banished ourselves to the basement. Guess what was in the basement? Nothing. Just white walls with grubby handprints all over them - looked like we weren't the first group to be banished. We sat down on the floor, handed out snacks, and read our Cockatoo book. Look how happy they are!! It wasn't like they were making sad noises, or whiny noises - they were genuinely happy children!

Then we decided to risk it, and go directly to the cockatoo room. We are so brave.
 It was a big success! Imagine the adults saying, "Ooooh, there's a cockatoo!!" followed by two children running to the case and pointing and saying, "burrrdie!!!" or "cheep cheep!!" It was pretty wonderful. Also pretty wonderful was a different museum staff member, who helpfully showed us the "secret drawers" in the display cases - then the kidscould open the drawers on their own, and look at the stuff inside and then close the drawer also on their own. "On my own" is a big deal when you're almost two.

So here's the 64 million dollar question: do museums have to be quiet in order for people to appreciate art? Why is that? I'm being genuine here - as someone who doesn't always "get" art, and can look at masterpieces and say, "that's pretty" - is it easier to glean significance and/or meaning from art in quiet surroundings? Or is it just the status quo? Either way, if you don't want the sound or presence of children in your museum, don't advertise yourself as family friendly. Exhibit A:

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