Catching Up




Last Saturday. My husband runner acquaintance dropped me at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on his way to the marathon expo. With four kids. It only occurred to me after we were inside that this could end in disaster. By then it was too late to turn back. I coaxed them out of their coats and into their best behavior. I hoped.

Passing the map to my bossy eight year old, I was surprised to hear her announce our destination: Fifteenth Century European Art. The Rogier van der Weyden crucifixion had caught her eye. We took an indirect route, annoying our would-be navigator. Through an American Folk exhibition (You may not touch the paintings. Do not touch the paintings. Stop touching the paintings. CUT IT OUT.), Dutch tiles (boring), Persian rugs (more boring), and an elevator ride wherein we treated the attendant to this conversation:

Pixie: This alavalator’s so big I could run circles in it!

Me: When the doors open you must not run.

Pixie: Can I jump?

Me: No.

Pixie: How about hopping?

Me: No.

Pixie: Skipping?

Me: Do you know how to skip?

Pixie: No.

Me: Then you’d better not skip.

Pixie: Ughhhh! What can I do?

At this point the elevator doors opened and she ran. The others followed, but stopped in their tracks and made a collective gasp at the entrance to the sixteenth century Hindu temple. This was what I had wanted to show them. This was how I had secretly, earnestly, hoped they’d react. When I remembered child number three she was climbing a five hundred year old carved pillar. “Get down from there” I hissed. “But I love it!” and she clung tighter when I tried to pry her off. Somehow we managed not to pull the entire thing down and the Ming dynasty reception hall in the next room survived her energetic adoration as well. I know you’re thinking She has other children. Why doesn’t she talk about them?  Because they’re good. Eight year old Bossy Britches was reading the signage out loud for the benefit of all present. When I tried to tell her there were videos in each room that gave the same information and more she cut me off. “You think I can’t read (glance back at the sign) Mad-an-ag-o-pala-swamy? Cause I can. Can you?” Her brother had dropped into a corner to sketch, he was so inspired. And the baby? My wee one, my dumpling? Sucked her thumb happily. I’d given her a swedish fish to be good.

And so we progressed through the Japanese village – complete with temple and ceremonial teahouse, Chinese scholar’s study, rooms full of artifacts and paintings of bamboo… I gave the baby more swedish fish. She was that good. Finally we wound our way back to the elevator. Our would-be navigator whipped out her map again. I distracted her with more architecture – a twelfth century fountain from a French monastery. Really it wasn’t that easy. She can rarely be distracted from a goal. I kept pushing the rest of them in that direction though and she had no choice but to follow. The fountain is a quiet, contemplative space. I fed the baby more candy and we stood quietly and contemplated. The water trickled soothingly, like music.

“I have to pee. NOW.” This is the reason we don’t have a fountain in the house.

When a four year old wearing big girl underpants says that, you run. We ran. All of us. The stroller sqeaked like mad and the pixie spread her arms like wings and pretended to fly, touching everything on her way through European Art. (Yes, Lisa, I said “you’re a peein’ art”.) At the other end of the wing I was faced with my old dilemma of what to do with the boy. I hate leaving him alone in a public place. I know he’s old enough. I know he’ll be fine. But I worry anyway. These are the cutest kids ever born. I’m convinced kidnappers are lurking around every corner, waiting for me to lose track of one. The pixie they’d return, but the others… He dropped back into a corner by the door with his sketchbook and I did the only thing I could do. Pushed the girls through the ladies room door and followed with a squeaky, tractor trailer length, double stroller filled with thirty-four pounds of laughing, sticky child. The girls made it through but the stroller stopped dead. Double doors! The first door caught the wide sleeve of my sweater as it shut and the second lodged itself just behind the front wheel of the stroller. We were stuck. I was stuck. The baby climbed out and went through the half open door to her sisters.

I did eventually get out without too much damage to my (favorite) sweater, the stroller, the doors, my pride, or the Lord’s name. The baby did soon after have a massive sugar-induced meltdown. Unpleasant to see. BUT, we also found the van der Weyden. The painting consists of two panels which make it almost square. The size and spareness make it very powerful. My daughter pronounced it worth the wait and plopped herself down on a bench to take it in fully. Nobly, I resisted the urge to share my love of Early Netherlandish painting. I tried to keep the others occupied and let her discover it herself. If there had been a door to the room though I might have thrown them out and barricaded it so we could discover together. There wasn’t. And keeping little ones occupied often comes down to simply moving. On we went. I was disappointed they were more interested in the elevators than the enormous Calder mobile in the Great Hall. How can you ignore a thirty-four foot long ghost? Rubens’ Prometheus Bound had the right effect however and I didn’t even have to point it out. There was a chorus of distressed noises from the girls and a “WHOA” from the boy, followed by analysis of the particular bird species and a recounting of the story of Prometheus to the further disgust of his sisters. The arms and armor were an instant hit with everyone. All that glittering metal in one place is exciting. Exciting enough that they want to go back. That makes me happy.

I think we’ll leave the little ones home.