Yesterday was a rose day, a day where Rose can decide what she wants to do.
The day before was also a different kind of Rose Day: She can choose her free time if we can afford it. She was already in soccer and I finally got her back into martial arts, her first martial arts class since the pandemic began in Ohio. Martial arts is Rose’s passion. She is happy and focused when she is allowed to practice taekwondo, judo and kickboxing. I’ve never had a taste for sports and neither has Michael. I wouldn’t have known where to start. But when Rose developed a social phobia in her kindergarten years, the pediatrician said she needed after-school classes. I read her the list of activities offered at the free after school club and told her to pick two. I thought she would choose art and gymnastics. Instead, she chose Bible club and self-defense. She was so good at self defense that this instructor offered us a discount on real martial arts lessons and a passion was born. I hope she will practice martial arts forever.
I wasn’t brought up like that. I was raised to believe that children are formed in the hands of their parents. My mother told me bluntly, “Children have no rights” and made me go to Regnum Christi youth group and the Open Gym at Salesian Center with the other teenage homeschoolers so I would stop being an introvert. I grew up feeling guilty that I couldn’t be what she wanted. I couldn’t become an extrovert. I couldn’t like what I was supposed to like or have a personality she liked. “Get a personality transplant,” she would taunt me, but I couldn’t.
I like my way better.
We drove to Pittsburgh to visit the Carnegie Science Center. Rose loves science so I thought she would have a great time but she was immediately concerned. The Carnegie Science Center is a modern museum, an “interactive” museum with buttons to press and sounds to listen to, and docents in lab coats walking around telling you everything. There’s an impressive robot with a forked arm that plays basketball to demonstrate one principle or another of robotics. There’s a machine that farts, burps, and sneezes to show you that bodies make noise. There’s a display where you press a button and a fan blows a smell at you so you can guess the smell, which has something to do with neurology. There is a water table to put your hands in that is supposed to tell something about the water cycle. It is great fun for most children. But Rose didn’t like that. It was too flippant with actual science. It was overpowering and noisy. And she complained that it was aimed at children younger than her. She asked to go home after a very short visit.
At first I was offended. Our membership was paid for, but what about the hour drive here, the gas we burned, and the five bucks for parking? Why couldn’t she have fun? For once in her life, couldn’t she pretend to be a normal kid and enjoy herself?
Then I realized I was angry at my daughter for not having fun on command. We left the science center.
“Do you want to go straight home? Or would you like to come and see the dinosaurs at the other Carnegie? Our membership pays for it too, and it doesn’t close for an hour.”
Rose said she would like to see the dinosaurs.
The “other Carnegie” is the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, located in the same sprawling complex as the Carnegie Museum of Art. I love the Carnegie Museum of Art. I could spend all day there. Rose has little patience for the fine arts, but she likes dinosaurs. And it was Rose’s day, not mine.
It’s surprisingly complicated to drive from one Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh to another Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh: three miles as the crow flies, but twenty minutes of meandering roads if you choose to drive. We paid another $7 to park this side of town and went to the museum.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is not “interactive”. It’s the other kind of museum, the kind where you look at things. It has maps on the wall that you need to read to understand the exhibits. It has high ceilings and impressive corridors that seem to absorb noise, making it feel like you’re in a library or cathedral even when it’s packed.
Rose was instantly at peace.
We saw the apatosaurs occupying the vast arched space from the needle-thin tip of their ever-bulging tail to the comically small oval of their head. We saw the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, the adorable puppy-sized Psittacosaurus with its bushy tail, the Protoceratops that looked like a baby dinosaur. Nothing jerked towards us, screamed or accelerated.
Next we checked out the prehistoric mammals in the next room. There was a saber-toothed cat and an exhibition on the evolution of the horse. There was a ground sloth and I told Rose about it when I was a little girl pretending the spirit of a prehistoric ground sloth lived behind the stove in my basement.
In one corner of the prehistoric mammal exhibit there was a solitary ‘interactive’ exhibit for children with signs saying ‘Please touch!’.
Rose glared at me as I pet the stuffed bear. I explained to her that it was allowed, but she didn’t want to touch it. She just wanted to look.
We went upstairs to the dioramas of African and American animals. Rose explained all the fun facts she knew about African biomes; she identified each animal without reading the map. I just listened and let her teach me.
She leaned over the railing of one of the museum’s cavernous atriums and gazed down three floors at the marble floor tiles. I don’t because I’m afraid of heights. Just standing near one of these openings makes me dizzy. But I didn’t stop her from looking.
Then we went to the gift shop. We still had a little money left from our one big check of the year before we got back to pinching every dime and never having to eat treats.
“You can get anything you want here within reason,” I said. “Do you want a t-shirt?”
Rose didn’t want a shirt. She critically examined each stuffed animal, hugging them, looking them in the eye and reading the tokens as she had read the cards in the dinosaur display. She pulled a giant sequined boa constrictor off a rack and almost took it, but then put it back and got a red tyrannosaurus.
The tyrannosaurus roared at me and nibbled at me all the way out of the museum with its plush jaws.
“All right,” I said, pointing to the street across from the museum, which is lined with restaurants. There was sushi and tacos, chinese food and japanese hibachi, indian food, burgers, salad. “What do you want for dinner?”
Rose thought for a moment. “Can we return to Steubenville for dinner?”
yes she could I bought my own dinner to go and we headed home. Along the way we “spoke out” a dollhouse story. And in Steubenville, we bought a pound of strawberries and gluten-free cookie dough.
I wonder what the world would be like if we just let people be themselves.
Of course, not everyone may be as wonderful as Rose. But they could be.