Imagine with me, if you will, a children’s museum built out of steel, concrete and hard lines. Almost everything is gray, so as not to intrude on a child’s sense of imagination, and the sparse displays are abstract, so as not to dictate to the child what to think or see.
Oh. Wait. You don’t have to imagine. It’s in San Diego.
Before I continue with my rant, let me say unequivocally: I love San Diego. My husband and I lived there for almost a decade, and in many ways, I left my heart there. (I considered leaving it in San Francisco, but it’s too foggy for my sensitivities.) San Diego is a wonderful spot to raise a family (if you can afford a house, which is getting easier all the time), thanks to its you-can-always-go-outside weather, its stay-and-play-in-the-sand beaches and its hey-dude-no-problem people.
But its children’s museum? Pleh.
We visited on a rainy Tuesday in February. Thanks to a reciprocal agreement with our beloved Minnesota Children’s Museum (which I wrote about here), we got in free. We figured we’d spend a couple hours exploring and playing, then hit up Phil’s BBQ or Miguel’s Cocina in Point Loma for lunch.
We were shocked to walk in and discover a mostly empty steel warehouse with concrete floors, odd-angled windows and very little for kids to do. There were a few art stations, with scraps of recycled paper and glue sticks to make cards, or maybe popsicle sticks and felt for shadow puppets. There was a climbing wall covered in graffiti. (Of course.) There was a cavernous room in the basement flashing larger-than-life-sized videos on the concrete walls, while techno music played in the background. (A rave for the toddler set, I guess.) There was a pillow fight room (sounded fun), but you had to wait in line for roughly 30-45 minutes to get in.
Our kids kept running a little ahead of us, looking around the corner, hoping for something fun – not hip.
They left disappointed. And a little annoyed, to be honest. (“I thought you said this was a fun place?!?”)
My husband and I left flabbergasted. And more than a little happy that we didn’t just spend $50 on admission for 30 minutes of bewilderment.
To me, it’s the perfect example of what happens when adults design a place (or a toy or a bedroom) for the way they want kids to be, not the way kids actually are.
As I walked around the New Children's Museum that day (yes, that's really its name), I could almost hear the team of earnest designers, fresh out of grad school, discussing how the building would be “industrial” and “modern” and filled with “clean lines” and “space for unstructured play" and (the kiss of death) “urban.”
But when seen through my kids’ eyes, it was just gray and empty and unfriendly and (the kiss of death) boring.
I understand the designers’ dilemma, to a degree. Before I had kids, I envisioned how my life would look as a parent. Rarely did it involve a living room with more brightly colored plastic than comfy chairs or a kitchen where my best whisks were commandeered to be “bad guys.”
But I’ve learned that kids are who they are, not who I want them to be. Real kids like comfort, not elegance. Real kids are energetic, not contained. Real kids get dirty and spill milk and put back the honey bear when he’s sticky and track Moon Sand into every room of my house.
The best part? Those real kids are teaching me to be a real, too.
It’s messy and loud and slobbery and I tend to fall into bed each night, exhausted.
But I’m also smiling. Because there’s nothing gray or boring or clean about this kind of life.
Kelly also blogs at Love Well, as long as the keys on her computer aren't stuck together with peanut butter.