Living so close to DC, we have ample opportunities to go to world -class museums. I consider this to be both a blessing and a curse.
Pro: There is always a rainy day activity available! Con: We are not the only people in the DC-area to be aware of this.
Pro: My kids have the opportunity to see a Van Gogh in person! Con: My kids have the opportunity to accidentally destroy a Van Gogh.
Pro: My kids like the Natural History Museum! Con: So does everyone else's kids, which means that every time someone comes to visit, we have to go there. Related: My sister and her two kids are visiting.
So, we went to the Natural History Museum last weekend. Half the people in the greater DC Metro area did as well. Only two of my kids came with us, so that left four kids ages 9 and under for my sister and I to corral. Also, one of them has autism. That adds a special something to the whole adventure.
(That special something is mostly overstimulated spinning.)
Of course, if you are headed to the Smithsonian on a weekend, your adventure starts well before you set foot in any museum. I thought that the chances of losing at least one kid if we took the Metro were pretty solid, and the chance of whining as a competitive sport was at nearly 100 percent, so we drove, which has troubles of its own. Like parking.
You know how you set your GPS to get you somewhere and you're closing in on the destination and that little flag pops up so you think you are closer than you really are? Then you see a parking garage that is open, so you panic park without realizing that you are still over half a mile away from the museum? Then it is not until you are chasing four smallish children down the DC streets that your mind rewinds to read the sign at the garage entrance that said, "church parking only," and you spend the next four hours worrying that your car is going to be locked inside an empty garage when you finally return to it long after all the churchgoers have left? That. Exactly.
I did learn that even if you return to find the entrance gate down, it will open when you drive close to it from the inside.
As for the museum itself, I get that we're supposed to be learning, but I am too busy keep tracking of my kids to teach them. By the time we got to the museum and started through the first exhibit, I remembered why it is hard for my family to go to museums with other people. I watched my sister reading the exhibit information as I stood back and tried to make sure my kids all stayed within sight of me, something that is extra difficult when one of your kids is autistic and way overstimulated because all of America is also learning about dinosaurs at the museum today.
It's not that my kids misbehave, it's that they learn differently, get overstimulated and stressed out, and tend to wander in opposite directions from each other. If you can teach me how to keep my neurodiverse kids walking in the same direction, I will hire you as a behavioral therapist on the spot.
I saw my sister asking her kids questions about the exhibits and I started to panic, worried that I was not good enough at museum going. That was early on. Two hours later, I couldn't have cared less if they learned anything; I just wanted to leave with the same number of kids I came in with.
My nephews wanted to learn about science. My youngest kid wanted to see the Hope Diamond, because, "Shiny! Bright! Worth a lot of money!" We're pretty easily distracted by bright colors and sparkly things, like— Ooooh! Is that tinfoil?!
I spent some time feeling proud of one of my kids for his intense interest in this video about evolution and fish developing limbs, but then it turned out that he was mostly just trying to dissemble the television it was playing on. That television, by the way, was entirely hidden by a wall with a screen cutout. My kid, whose autism gives him a single-mindedness and tenacity that rivals salmon swimming upstream, had found the buttons on the TV and contorted his entire body to reach them. That fish had nothing on my kid.
We departed shortly thereafter.
My sister was interested in seeing more, but had assessed her kids and determined that they were nearing their limit too. "I sometimes forget there's only so much they can do," she said.
Funny, my kids never let me forget that.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.