My children, ages 12 and 8, behave like they have an allergy to museums, a habit which has been gnawing at me for a while now. I’ve wondered whether my wife and I made a strategic mistake by not forcing the issue more often in recent years to see if actual exposure (to art, photography, trains, history, natural history, whatever) would change their hearts and minds. Invoking Michelle Obama (I’ll explain), on Saturday I did just that. And now the results…
The target was the New York Historical Society, which opened a permanent exhibit space for kids called the DiMenna Children’s History Museum last year. When I first broached the option with my son, the 8-year-old, he predictably got bent out of shape. But since a couple of other parent friends had hailed recent family visits, I held my ground, citing a parenting precedent from the First Lady as a part of my case.
I read in the Times a while ago that Michelle Obama allows her children to pick one extracurricular activity while she picks another. I stretched the logic into weekend activities, informing Adam that he gets one and I get one, and if he balks at my choice he loses his.
Bottom line: It was a very positive and fun experience—which even he acknowledged. What I realized was that now that he can read, he actually can engage with a lot of museum stuff without me boring him crazy by telling him how interesting everything is. He can decide for himself.
At the Historical Society, he delighted in their extraordinary exhibit of train station miniatures (a holdover from the holidays, which will be there until March 10). He relished their interactive baseball game (in the children’s museum). He humored me with polite interest in photos of Martin Luther King Jr. murals, assorted works of Keith Haring, and a portrait of George Washington.
And he loved what everyone loves: the Society’s signature film, an arresting 18-minute visual blowout that tells “the story of the nation by exploring the story of New York and its rise from a remote outpost to a city at the center of the world.” They run it on the half hour. I imagine that almost every visitor makes time for it.
After our visit, another first: Adam agreed to walk back home through Central Park, from the west side to the east side, without any whining about the distance or the boredom. With no leaves to block us, we could see into the distance and line up our adventures. He scaled many a rock that I declined to climb myself. We were also blessed with a sighting of the most beautiful red-breasted bird you could imagine.
So I took a stand and I got an afternoon to remember.
I still can’t quite believe it worked, not until we try this a few more times.
Eric Messinger is Editor of New York Family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org