Monday, January 30, 2006

Experiencing, not Chaperoning

My husband took me to the Shedd Aquarium on Saturday. He brought up the idea of going museuming on our Saturday "off" (a diversion from our usual weekend fare) and because I haven't been to the Shedd since I was a child, we agreed to go there and I was so very excited.

It was, of course, beautiful. The ratio of behaving children to misbehaving, annoying ones was about 10:1, which is really good for a crowded place. I could not believe the number of infants, though. One woman carried a baby who couldn't have been more than three weeks old, and I'm probably being generous. Seems like a place filled with people in the middle of winter wouldn't be the place for a newborn, but hell, I'm no mom.

I could talk about the annoying people who made me understand why the derogatory term "breeders" comes about -- you know, the woman who sneers at you when you politely ask her son, who's finished washing his hands and is now playing with the water in the only other sink to please let you use the sink; the hordes of people who refuse to use the "stroller parking lot" and instead take their mack-truck double-wide strollers into the standing-room area (after removing infants; dad's babysitting the stroller, apparently) and you have to miss the dolphin show. Thank goodness there was a poorly-attended late show and we didn't miss it. I could go on and on, but instead I want to talk about this.

I watched the parents in awe as they chaperoned their children throughout the day. I'm sure some of them got some enjoyment from the place, but between keeping track of the children, wanting to look at something the children weren't interested in (or, gods forbid, read one of the information guides!), very (and I mean VERY) few of the parents seemed to be having a very good time. Even the parents of the well-behaved children looked exhausted and irritated. "Mommy just wants to look at this for a second, hold on!" "That's BORING. I wanna see the sharks again!"

So my husband and I talked about it, and about how lucky we are that we really get to experience these places. We can linger by the explanation of the life cycle of coral, because we think that's interesting. We can go back and see the sea otters, or we can go look at the whales again, and we can do that when we want to. We don't have to shuffle quickly past the gift shop so somebody won't see it, or spend $20 on a stuffed dolphin because we just want to shut up the screaming child that's embarrassing us. We can order what we want from the restaurant and not have to get the pizza, and we don't have to compromise because a temper tantrum would be completely intolerable in this crowded room.

And we can do that anywhere. We can go to the zoo, museums, parks, and do what we want. There's no one we have to entertain but ourselves. Sure, sometimes he wants to spend more time with the tarantulas than I might like, or I might be enthralled by the barely moving turtles, but we can move on or stay put without fear of losing anybody. Hell, my husband's 6'5", there's no missing him in a crowd, and he can see over everyone's heads to where I'm at. We don't need to hold each others hands (unless we want to, which we often do)... we can experience these places as grown-ups. It's fun to take my niece to places like this -- she LOVES the zoo and her enthusiasm is infectious.

But, you see, it's nice that we can make our own itinerary without having to hire a babysitter or something. And if we want to experience the places from a child's eyes, we've got a bright seven-year-old who's a phone call away. And believe me, her grandparents love getting that phone call.

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