Let's Learn About Toys

We go to museums sometimes. Sometimes we go alone, just as two adults. More often we go with the kids. Before we walk in the museum doors, I feel great about myself. I'm the parent who brings her kids to high brow activities. We shun the common playground and opt for modern art.

I fight off the feeling that we're not extraordinary, but it's a truth that refuses to be ignored. Everyone else in Los Angeles has decided to bring their kids to look at art. Always. All parents are just trying to make it to bedtime in the least painful way possible. Keeping the kids at home makes the day drag on with fights and whining, so days are spent strategizing activities to make it go a little quicker. The sooner they're in bed, the sooner I can watch Sex and the City reruns and eat grocery store cake. Museums are a good option because they kill an hour and a half of the day. Maybe, at some point, my kids might learn something. Museums tick off any requirement I could have of a day. 

Last week, I brought Darla to the Gene Autry Museum to pass some time at the museum's free admission day. We entered the Autry's new "Play" exhibit and I prepared to take Darla on a wonderful journey through the history of toys. I didn't even need to do the hard work of knowing anything about the evolution of toys. The Autry had already created a perfectly curated lesson plan. All I needed to do was read their descriptions accurately. 

I bent over to read the intro plaque that discussed the exhibits overarching intention. The museum planned to show, through the following grouping of play items, how toys have both changed and stayed the same in the thousands of years toys have existed. By the time I was done reading the two very short paragraphs, Darla was gone.

She'd moved on to a wall on which a Radio Flyer, a broom, and a frisbee were nailed and was working on prying free the antique broom. I gasped just a little bit to dramatically when I saw what she was doing. (In my defense, I had already had to live through the horror of one of her friends kicking a priceless piece of art years before. I didn't think I could handle another mortification like that). I told her to stop and then proceeded to read the plaque that explained why those items were all displayed together. I can't tell you why there was a Radio Flyer, broom, and frisbee on the same wall since, one sentence in, Darla had walked away. 

I gave up and was stuck wandering through the exhibit aimlessly, with no regard for how each display built on the theme from the display before. I did attempt one last time to educate her during our visit by reading the plaque that discussed how harmful depictions Native American people in toys has perpetuated corrosive stereotypes. She sat politely through the description, at least, but had no idea what I was talking about.

That's when I notice that the woman next to me began to read a plaque to her six year old son. He walked away from her immediately. I looked around and saw that every other kid in the exhibit were darting from one display to the next. All were recklessly messing with the toys. No one was listening attentively to her parent read about the toys. Everyone under the age of 12 was having the best time not learning anything. 

"Was I always this boring?" I wondered. "Was I always curious to understand theory and learn broader lessons about objects? Was I the type of kid who would contemplate a single piece of art from extended periods of time?"

The answer, I realized, was "no." It wasn't until I hit my 20's that I found museums to be even remotely interesting. As a kid, I hated going to them. I didn't sit in front of sculptures and try to suss out the artist's intention. I thought that shit was boring and whined endlessly until we went home. 

Darla, at least, is interested at looking at everything. I decided to let go of the reigns and let Darla curate the exhibit because, after all, it was an interactive exhibit for christ's sake. We ran from one section to the next for the next hour without learning a thing. When we got in the car that afternoon, Darla declared that she had an awesome time at the museum. I don't think she would've said this if I kept trying to get her to look at every plaque.