A couple of weeks ago, Dar’s 7-year-old brother, R, asked to go to our local city library, where he checked out a bunch of Peanuts books. When it comes to collected books of comic strips, my packrat tendencies have paid off during about a thousand bedtimes…but my collection clearly wasn’t enough. R wanted more. And that meant that the time had come to take the boys to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.
Did I say the boys? I knew Dar’s brother would love the place. I knew Dar would…go to the place. Maybe he would notice the joy and kid-friendliness of it, and maybe he wouldn’t.
For the first hour or so, all was good. Nothing was grief. We went to every exhibit from good to grief to good grief. The four of us checked out a room full of art materials and Snoopy-based kid art. As usual, Dar wasn’t interested, but at least he wasn’t angry about it.
We went to the gift shop, a (weirdly) long block away from the main museum. Dar was happily tee-tee-tee-ing. R wanted to return to the main museum, where the screening room was scheduled to show “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown!” You can’t take Dar to a movie theater, even for a 22-minute cartoon; he makes more ruckus than Lucy Van Pelt in a dugout. I asked wife which child she would prefer; she said she’d stay with Dar. I feel bad when these things turn into any kind of burden on wifey…but this time seemed okay.
Lo and behold, R and I were the only ones in the theater. (Who knew? “It’s Magic” isn’t exactly as popular as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”) I thought to call wifey to have her come over with Dar. Then I noticed that I didn’t have a signal inside the theater. I walked outside and called her. She said, no, we’re fine here. I went back inside the theater.
When the 22-minute cartoon finished, I walked out of the theater to missed calls and increasingly agitated texts. Before I could even reply, wifey and Dar showed up. And wifey was furious with me. Not-good grief! I took Dar’s hand and said “Let’s switch!”
I tried to play outside with Dar, but he remembered the gift shop and kept walking us there. What exactly did he love so much about that place, and why was that love so disruptive? By now I was curious.
The second floor of the gift shop had this round stained-glass window of Snoopy reliefs (pretty cool!) that had been set into a part of wall that was rounded into a half-circle. Dar wanted to be with, on, near, and about this wall, to slightly run up it and fall back down it. I wouldn’t have thought that such behavior had ever been a problem, but in fact the museum had put up a sign warning against anyone doing exactly that. I let Dar do it for a minute until an employee yelled at us. I took Dar’s hand and led him away and then…the screaming. Dentist drill time again.
So how to distract Dar? We walked around a few buildings. Received a text from wifey that she found a nearby Vietnamese restaurant that might be great for lunch. I found their menu online, ordered, put Dar in the car, and pulled out of the parking lot before I realized that the restaurant was a block away. Oh, wifey meant nearby nearby.
Dar and I picked up the food and returned to the Schulz museum outdoor food tables. Texted wifey; she and R were busy; I started eating pho by myself. I wasn’t really hungry, but I needed something to do. Dar actually has a surprisingly diverse palette, but not for pho. He kept pushing to return to the gift shop. I kept holding him back and eating until wifey showed.
Finally I brought Dar back into the gift shop. Maybe the one employee wouldn’t be there? Maybe Dar would have forgotten about that half-circle wall? No chance on either count. He ran right over there and I got all of a minute of peace before the employee came back. I pleaded that Dar wasn’t hurting anyone or anything, but she said “it’s a liability issue.”
Every real-world argument between a customer and an employee comes down to “it’s a liability issue.” It’s kind of like how every online argument eventually brings up Hitler. You can set your watch by it.
If I had one complaint about the Schulz museum, it’s that it rarely discusses what makes Peanuts so special: Charlie Brown’s borderline depression. Sounds crazy, perhaps, but if you grow up in a family with major depression issues, as I did, a guy like Charlie Brown can make you feel a lot less alone.
R’s life is so good that he relates more to Snoopy. That makes sense.
But Dar could perhaps relate to some of the other kids’ issues…if he could know them.
But he can’t, or can’t seem to, which comes to the same thing.
Instead, he presents as constantly in need of, well, let’s call it behavior management.
How is the experience of a kids’ museum, and the repetition of such experiences, like other people’s experiences? From my perspective, I would love to walk around such places with two neurotypical whiney kids. You can incentivize such kids; among other things, you can take away future screen time. (We hadn’t brought screens to Santa Rosa.) Ten minutes with Dar and you will realize that it makes NO sense to punish him by promising him future scarcity. He wouldn’t understand that any more than he understands Charlie Brown or Snoopy.
While R watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” with wifey, I drove Dar around Santa Rosa. We put gas in the car. That was when I noticed that there was a children’s museum…right next to the Schulz museum. Well what do you know? I drove over there. $12 each?!?! Uhhh…yeah, okay.
I know how lucky I am that Dar, at 10 years old, 4-foot-8, and 67 pounds, still presents like a kid. I can let him loose in a children’s museum, and if he randomly touches another kid, it’s not that big a deal. In a few short years, such places will still be appropriate for Dar, but he will no longer be appropriate for them.
Unlike the Schulz museum, this place actually had a sensory-friendly area which Dar…couldn’t have cared less about. Instead, he found the traffic-cone that blows air that suspends a ball, and got all up in that for most of an hour. Not bad! Except that every time another kid came over to try it, I would say “time for a break Dar!” and he would object. Not by saying no. I would love a no! That would mean he would know how to say “no.” His objection registers as a whine and push away. Anyhoo, we got through it okay the first few times…until we didn’t. I started to walk Dar outside, to the car, and then I noticed…an outdoor area with water features.
As is his wont, Dar spent the rest of the afternoon obsessing over a little fake stream. Ain’t nothing Dar loves better than finding a river.
I mean a literal river, not the kind R.E.M. means in the song “Find the River,” which is more like finding your calling or your destiny.
How I’m gonna find Dar’s R.E.M. river, I have no idea. Sometimes it feels like waiting for the Great Pumpkin.