One thing I’ve enjoyed about living on the east coast is proximity to so many interesting places. Growing up in the midwest meant a drive of at least three hours to get to another metropolitan area, and sometimes that metropolitan area was still on the small side (I’m thinking of you, Des Moines).
We’re in the thick of midwinter vacation, and my husband didn’t work on Sunday for a change, so we took a trip to Philadelphia. Our destination was the Please Touch Museum, a enchanting building full of delights for the eyes and the imagination.
Going to a children’s museum is kind of like going to the United Nations (okay, I actually have no idea what that’s like, but work with me here). I enjoy seeing how so many different types of parents can be observed wearing the same look of awe and pleasure as they watch their children excitedly discover and explore the exhibits.
There were a handful of Muslim families there, with one family dressed in an eye-catchingly conservative manner. The mother was in a full-on all-black all-covered (except the eyes) outfit. The father was also all in black, wearing a robe-like outfit and a black head covering. Their daughter was wearing a hijab and their sons also wore robe-like outfits.
A few hours into our playtime, my daughter started to melt down (I think she was asked to share something with another girl and that was just too much! Too much!). She tearfully stomped over to a display of interesting vintage Mr. Potato Heads and contemplated the difficulties of her two-and-a-half year existence.
The smallest Muslim boy of the aforementioned super-conservative family walked over and joined her at the display. She, still being in a lousy mood, reached over and pushed him.
You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. Of all the children in the entire museum, this is the boy she chooses to push?
Quickly, I reach down and try to prevent any further aggression. She goes limp noodle in my arms and wriggles down onto the tile floor where she can properly flail and cry, just as the father of the boy comes around to this fiasco of toddler behavior.
I have an out-of-body experience as I picture what this must look like: Me, in my sheitel and jean skirt, baby strapped to my chest in a wrap, trying to pull my hysterical Jewish daughter away from his little very religious-looking Muslim son.
The father, in a very calm voice, starts asking the boy “why is the girl crying?” and I realize that he probably thinks his son had something to do with it. I then immediately realize that I am going to have to tell him that my daughter started it. I take a deep breath and burst out with something like:
“Oh, he didn’t do anything, she’s just in a bad mood now and pushed him so I was trying to get her to stop and now she’s crying aren’t kids funny hahahahaha?!”
We look at each other and there is a moment of parenting solidarity. He smiles, I smile, we shake our heads and look down at my sniffling child.
“She could use a nap,” I offer. He laughs.
Just like that, we are not two people representing cultures that are often at odds with each other, but instead, two parents, both in the trenches of raising our children.
And it reminds me of how much I love going to the children’s museum, where despite the many differences of all those present, we are all connected through this journey of parenthood, and we are all coming to the same place to give our children the opportunity to explore and learn.
Maybe I’m naïve (okay, no maybe about it. Let’s call it idealistic), but I think that world peace just might be possible at the children’s museum. Maybe the UN should meet there instead.