My son is eight. Yeah, I don't know how that happened either. I mean, I do know, but it is hard to believe. This year, and to be fair almost every moment of the day, my wife had a brilliant idea. My son loves science like I love cake. Ok, he LOVES science in a way that 8 year old kids often do. His brain is like a sponge when it comes to dinosaurs and all things scientific. So, my wife found out that at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City they host a Night at the Museum. My wife made the reservation and she allowed me to go with him.
Yes, I said allowed. She's a corporate person. She travels frequently and without hesitation. She can pack her suitcase in five minutes while mine takes days of preparation. Let's just get this straight. I am not a good traveller. OK. Possibly the world's worst traveller. I don't know what it was that made me this way. The boy scout credo "Always be Prepared" isn't exactly my issue. I tend to overpack, but overpack the wrong stuff. Usually my wife edits my packing to set me straight and limit my baggage, but now that she has to pack for three kids when we travel, editing my suitcase is left to the end - if there is time. If she isn't coming with me she also usually leaves me to my own devices. Why do I need 2 pairs of pants and a pair of shorts for one museum overnight? I'm pretty certain other guys I saw just slept and left in the clothes they arrived in.
The whole day before we left I was fumbling around obsessing over odd unrelated details and wandering aimlessly around the house. My wife tried to distract me with activities, but since my behavior was that of a country kid headed to the big city she poked a little fun at me too. I of course denied any anxiety. She finally said to me, "If you'd just admit you are on edge about the trip, I'd stop teasing you and maybe even help you." Right as departure time was approaching, she asks me, did you print your directions or look at the maps I got for you? (Of course I had not...) She sighed, printed out the directions, highlighted a map, and forced me to sit down at the table with no distractions to show me where I was going to go. I am no Magellan when it comes to maps, navigation is a skill my wife and her family pride themselves on. I always rely on the gps in my phone, but when it comes to serious navigation, she always prints the directions and brings a map in case the gps doesn't work or she doesn't believe it. (She's the real scout.) Heck, her family still uses phonebooks and compasses! I know, Right?
Maybe the reason I was so anxious was because of my youthful experience on the Fourth of July in Chicago when I decided to head downtown in my '83 Honda Accord hatchback with the missing front bumper. People on Lake Shore Drive were stopping and getting out of their cars to watch the fireworks on the lake! Literally parking cars on LSD, beginning to block me in and I had to take evasive maneuvers. I had places to be and people to see so I took a detour, or rather created a detour. Now picture Clark Griswold in East St. Louis, only there was no way in hell my windows were down, not that glass would protect me from a stray bullet. Each time I turned I could see the lake but for some reason I could never turn enough times to get where I needed to be to get out of there. This was of course before GPS, and of course I did not have a map in the car. This was burned in my brain as I prepared for my adventure into NYC.
So my wife is awesome. She let me have a road trip with my boy and I was determined to conquer the anxiety that trips give me. I was going to do it for him. (I'm sure she would have gone in a heartbeat if I had waived the white flag.) And do you know what? It wasn't that bad. Many times we build up more anxiety over the unknown rather than attack it. If my children end up nervous nellies, I am the first one to blame.
On the Road
We started the trip listening to the radio but the boy soon grew bored of and asked me to play Kidz Bop 22. After him belting out New Direction's "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" for the third time I decided it was time for a rest stop. When we got off I knew that the restaurant part of the rest area was closed but thought the bathrooms would still be accessible. Not the case. We faced with our first lesson of a road trip: porta-potties. These, as many are, were disgusting. He's been in a porta-potty before, but never on his own. This time, he went in on his own. "On his own" is something he is doing a lot more lately and something I have been struggling with. He's becoming independent and while my wife was appalled that I let him go in there alone, it's not ideal for a 6'7" 245 lb guy to squeeze into a porta-potty to try to protect his son from falling in or touching too many things. Don't even get me started on airplane bathrooms.
He came out of his port-potty telling me, "Mine was so smelly, I had to put mints in there to get through it." WHAT? I never gave him "mints" and I hoped that whatever he threw in there didn't belong to the last guy that seemed to be in a hurry to get into mine next. I am guessing by "mints" he meant a urinal cake, and if he did, what would possess him to grab one out of the urinal? Thoroughly disgusted, I doused his hands in hand sanitizer and told him to get in the car. Five minutes later he comes up with this "Daddy, do you know what stinks about porta-potties?" "What?" I said. "Well, when you poop in there it seems like a hundred years before it ever goes anywhere." "Yeah," I said, "that does STINK!"
The agenda for this event ran until midnight. Our kids typically don't make it much past 9pm, so my son kept saying how we was going to nap in the car to ensure he could make it to midnight. Despite his intentions, his excitement kept him alert and he buried his head in his books until I told him he might want to start looking out of the window as we approached NYC. It was somewhere in North Jersey when my son got his first lesson on Hell's Angels. As eight guys on hogs blew by us weaving in and out of traffic nearly clipping my bumper on one maneuver, my son says, "Daddy, do they let girls into Hell's Angels?" "I think so buddy. Not sure" "Oh, well I think they do because most of those people had long hair. But I am confused because one of them had a beard."
On the way to the Lincoln Tunnel, Adam says, "Who is KID?" He was seeing graffiti along the side of the road. So I launched into my explanation about taggers and how it was illegal and how tagging was about marking territory. Adam says" Well, Kid must be very busy, his artwork is EVERYWHERE!"
We hit NYC traffic in the late afternoon, turning onto West 42nd street like every other person that night it seemed. My old Chicago self came out... before the July 4th incident. I invented my own lane, cut off people like a boss, and I got to the lane I had my eye on moving from the right turn lane to the far left turn lane like a Hell's Angel. Adam says to me "Why is everyone taking their own sweet time?" Daddy must watch what he says in the car a little more carefully. "Well bud, all of these people also have places to go and in some cases they think that they can go wherever they want. That's why you have to drive defensively but be aggressive." Just as I said this, a bus sideswiped a car forcing it into a sidewalk full of pedestrians. "I am NEVER going to live in a city" he tells me. "My friend Trey lives here" I say. "HE DOES? How did he put up with all these crazy people?"
An hour into NYC traffic and mere blocks from the museum, Adam tells me he has to pee really bad and has been holding it for awhile. I suggest he uses the emergency jar in we carry for such situations but he wants to hold it. He does and we get there but there are no parking spots and I am envisioning the Seinfeld where Jerry gets arrested for public urination. We finally find a spot, grab our gear and head for the museum, managing to locate a potty. After the porta-potty incident, I made him wash before he went as well as the usual after. I swear he put his hand against the wall, old man style, but it might have been my imagination, and let out a "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
Some people say half the fun is getting somewhere. Usually,this isn't the case for me but with my son everything was an adventure. Once we were there my son was so excited I thought his smile just might jumped off his face and run down the hall gleefully. I did enjoy the random hugs, the big smiles, and every time he looked up at me and said "Thank you for taking me!"
The Main Event
This event is so awesome. I recommend you try it at least once. These are the things we did:
1. We spent time in a butterfly conservatory
Learned the biggest moth in the world is called the Atlas moth
2.Learned about whales
Learned whales are descendants of Andrewsarchus, a four legged land animal!
3.Heard a demonstration on Live Nocturnal Creatures other than the hundreds of girl scouts who were also visiting that particular night
Learned frogs can breathe oxygen out of their butts! And, they can suck their eyes into their heads to accommodate larger food items, Science rules!
4.Saw an IMAX film called Flight of the Butterflies
Learned Monarch butterflies are the planet's most efficient migrators.
5. Went on a Fossil Hunt by flashlight. We explored the fossil galleries with the lights off using only flashlights!
6.Listened to a bedtime story of Night at the Museum before nodding off. Me, not him. OK, we were both wiped but only because of my favorite part...
7. OPEN EXPLORATION
Each person was given a itinerary about the parts they could visit during certain times. The night capacity in the Whale room was 465 people and they had a full house that night. But, I convinced Adam to go on a hunt for things in his favorite movie instead. Night at the Museum, with Ben Stiller. We wanted to find the Easter Island Head, Dexter the monkey, Miniatures, Theodore Roosevelt, and others. Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be in the museum after hours when everyone else is gone? It's creepy but exciting. Even a little scary in places. I could see how you would think these things could come to life!
8. The morning after we visited Central Park. It really is an amazing park. He and I were in awe of just how big it was.
In the end it was about the journey with him. I get to experience lots of everyday moments with him and thanks to my wife one extremely special extraordinary one with him too this weekend. The smile on his face at the end of the day says it all.
Even thought my wife wasn't there, the things he does reminded me that she was; like the way he tried so hard to stick the itinerary, how he talked about what was next constantly, and revisited each activity with a recap... and the constant questions, which for a scientist who is going to Cornell in ten years is probably going to be a good thing.
To see just how much he appreciated the adventure, check out his video Thanks Mommy!