Museums have always been a constant in my life, just like hating milk and mocking others. As long as I can remember, my parents took my sister and me kicking and screaming to museums to become cultured and well rounded. We were taught to be very polite, very quiet and always hold our hands behind our backs like two little members of the English gentry, strolling the gardens of our vast, lush country estate. Who were we fooling? We could not have looked any better than a couple of kids on a field trip who were rode on the short bus and wanted nothing more than to be released to run amok, tipping over statues and rubbing peanut butter and snot on the benches. That was just a childhood fantasy and as far as I recall I am not wanted by any major art institution for vandalism or possession of any illegal condiments or boogers within fifty feet of a Renoir.
Yesterday, I got mine in spades. My what, you ask? My ever loving parental payback. I took Otto, all twenty-six pounds and sixteen months of him to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There is a program there called NexGen to encourage young people to come with their parents to enjoy art, free of charge. Free? I’m there. Seeing that every time I turn around I’ve drop any where from $9 to $210 on some sort of activity for Otto, I will gladly take the free stuff. There’s a children’s museum and art program and for the tiny ones, there is a section of wooden blocks and padded gym shapes for them to play on. Did say it was free and made me feel like a cool, active and hip mom? And free?
I arrived there with snacks, juice, water and a lot of enthusiasm. My friend Allison and her daughter Sage met us there and waved us over to the kiddy section. Immediately, Otto’s face lit up when he saw other kids and lots of wooden objects. I lifted him out of the stroller and was quickly overtaken by the smell of feces and Cheerios. Otto was furious with me as I ran to the bathroom with him in my arms. Much to my surprise he was almost manageable on the grungy, germ-coated changing table so lovingly provided by the museum. I always picture the fecal matter that has been smeared all over the table before my perfect child’s ass arrives and then I quickly go to my happy place and cover the plastic with paper towel and denial. This is one of my major mom phobias, a subject I will tackle some other time. Let’s just say I cannot stand changing a shitty diaper in public. This is a serious problem when you have a small child.
After returning from the bathroom, I released Otto to do what he does best, get into massive amounts of trouble. He no sooner had his little monkey paws on the ground then he was hurling large wooden cylinders and rectangles across the room in any and all directions. These were the old school, plain wood blocks that all parents want because they remind them of their childhood and foster the imagination. All the blogs and websites discuss them and say they are a must for any smart, well educated and indulged modern child. They are also crazy expensive and can be used for severe violence and accidental maiming.
He grabbed a long, thick cylinder the length of a paper towel roll and as thick as a baseball bat and ran toward the summer art class section. This was where the bigger kids were expressing their artistic talents and young struggling artists were pretending to enjoy teaching the children of rich, affected assholes whose nannies were too busy on the phone to participate. I was right on Otto’s heels and had him by the back of the shirt when he hurled this weapon of mass destruction into the art area where it landed with a bang and rolled over a huge painting that was drying on the floor. Poor little Jett, the only child of an uber trendy Hollywood couple who dress him in all black even in a heat wave, has just had his finger-painted masterpiece, a representation of his tortured trendy soul ruined by my child. I immediately picked Otto up and walked the messy block over to a teacher, skulking away with an embarrassed apology trailing behind me. Within minutes, Allison and I knew that getting the rug rats outside to run around was a much better idea and I knew that all the mellow, pregnant mommy’s whose children were calmly playing were more than happy to see me go. Just for the record, Allison’s daughter was a saint and kept looking at Otto with an expression of awe and confusion trying no doubt to understand why Otto had to buzz kill the indoor play time.
Once outside, Otto picked up every pebble and piece of dirty and proudly grunted his approval. My little hunting, gathering caveman. I think I’m in love. We walked along a path where they were setting up for a Friday night jazz concert and again, I felt like a cool parent who is exposing my energetic jungle cat to all things cultured. I was so proud and buoyant discussing what schools I wanted him to go to and if I wanted a second child. It was a modern mommy moment and I was eating it up and must have sounded like a complete asshole. No, the asshole part was about to happen.
We walked back into a main building to get through to the other side and that’s when my perfect moment was shattered by the cacophony of Otto’s vocal chords. As we entered this huge hallway with a forty foot sculpture and eighty foot ceilings, Otto looked up and let out a shout, thus discovering the beauty of the echo. He began yelling, singing and chirping and every person there turned around to look at this horrible child and his selfish, permissive mother. I put my hand over his mouth but that only made him laugh maniacally which sounded frightening when amplified by such great acoustics as marble, bronze and a huge open space.
The more I tried to stifle him the louder he laughed and the more he yelled. This continued up the elevator, through the upstairs walkway, into the main courtyard, into the café and again, in the main seating area where lots of well dressed art lovers sipped their espressos and glared at me and my wacktastic offspring. We made matters worse by laughing because honestly, it was fucking hilarious! Allison and I actually tried to have a normal conversation over our $4 iced teas but for reasons of courtesy and safety we quickly high tailed it out of there, ending up under a tree next to one the stinky, gurgling La Brea Tar Pits.
As sweaty and embarrassed and exhausted as this entire event made me, I was so amused and entertained by my beautiful child. He might not have discover his love of art, culture or silence as of yet but he did find his outer monologue and proudly share it with anyone who would listen. And for that I love him even more. But please Otto, for the love of God, please don’t become an actor.