Thursday, March 21, 2013

Babys--er, Chaperone of the Week

My nephew is in pre-school, and my sister asked if I wanted to accompany him on a field trip today, since she had an appointment that conflicted.  They were going to the dinosaur museum, which I'd never been to, so I agreed to go.  She told me the last field trip they'd gone on had had so many parents attend, that she had only had to take care of her own child, but today was not like that. 

I was assigned my nephew, and two four year old boys, both strangers.  One had a booster chair and one had a carseat, and I installed them in my sister's vehicle, but slower than all the other chaperones, so that by the time we got on our way, we were the last vehicle to leave (much to the displeasure of these children).  I haven't done anything like this in years, not since I chaperoned for my sister when she was a little kid, so I didn't know the procedure, but asked the boys their names, and whether they had been to the museum before (both had, but my nephew had not), and how old they were, and what their favorite dinosaur was.

I learned that the other two boys were named Henry and Tyler, and were both four.  Apparently neither of them knew my nephew, but are in the pre-school class that meets in the mornings.  Henry likes Spider-man, my nephew likes the X-men (although it was strange to hear him say so, since we've been so into the Avengers over the last year), and Tyler didn't like superheroes.  I wondered if they had as short of attention spans as my nephew did, and needed to be entertained, or they'd soon start twitching in need of a video game fix.  I drove onto the freeway, and we played a game where the kids had to find flags as we passed them. 

The dinosaur museum is a huge building right off the freeway, surrounded by nothing, but has been expanded on recently, and now houses the nicest movie theater in the county.  It's where Big and I saw BRAVE and BATTLESHIP, but is a bit too far to drive for my taste.  They have several 3-D IMAX-type dinosaur movies available, and I thought the kids were all going to watch one of those (which seems ludicrous in retrospect, since they cost a day's wages to get into, and are probably too scary for a bunch of four and five year olds).

They had skeletons--some of them massive--of dinosaurs displayed, with a representation of what they would have looked like alive on signs in front of each.  I loved dinosaurs as a kid, as every red-blooded, non-Commie American boy did, but a lot has changed since those days, and I recognized only a third of the dinosaurs named (my guess is, many of them didn't "exist" when I was a lad).  I think it was a bit too academic for two four year olds and a manic five year old, though, and every time I tried to read about an Ultrasaurus or Utahraptor, the boys were eager to move on to the next display.
There's something amazing, and truly humbling being in presence of bones--or indeed, anything--as old as these were.  Human beings have generally been taught that they are the center of the universe, and Americans typically believe the world only started to really spin in 1776, but to look at the sea turtle the size of a Volkswagen, or a Brachiosaur skeleton the size of a airplane hanger, or a sabretoothed cat skeleton and see they were around only ten thousand years ago . . . well, it made me feel small and newborn, not as a person, but as a species.

I don't know what age group the museum was made for, but it certainly didn't seem geared for pre-schoolers who couldn't even read the backgrounds on the dinosaurs (and often ignored the "Do Not Touch" and "Do Not Climb On Display" signs).  In fact, the only thing the children seemed really excited about was the fun with sand section in the middle.  It was a big activity area filled with sand, plastic plants, and plastic dinosaurs, and the kids could play in it with their hands.  It was all connected and a sort of roller coaster formation, and most brilliantly, they had installed tiny fountains in certain spots, that put forth a small amount of water.  The kids could make little puddles, or use the sand to channel the water, or even use a great deal of sand to dam off a section of the table.  Since I was in charge of three boys, it was rather Sisyphean to take one over to the sink, wash the sand off his hand (and sleeves), make sure he dried himself, and kept him from going back into the sand while I started on another one.

Most terribly, I started to help the kids dam up the very top of the table, using a ton of sand to block off the whole aisle, and watched the water slowly rise.  Before it could fill the sandbox and spill over, it inevitably broke through the maze, sending a torrent of water down upon all the other children's constructions, the wrath of an angry deity before our very eyes.

In the middle of this, Tyler, one of my three . . . wards, I guess, decided to run away.  I watched him go, and had to make a quick decision: go after him and abandon the two other charges before me, or let him go and keep overseeing the play of the other two (which included a child I actually loved).  I chose the latter.

After destroying the hopes and dreams of every other child that wasn't in our little group, I got the two boys, Henry and my nephew, relatively cleaned up, and we went through the rest of the museum, all the while my eyes open for Tyler, who I knew was four and had red hair.

There was an aquatic creature section that included the aforementioned sea turtle skeleton, as well as cool sea monster-type remains, and the only living members of the exhibit, some fish that were around fifty million years ago but are now used for McDonalds filet-o-fish sandwiches.*

Here's where we encountered the sole example of what I thought the exhibit would be filled to the brim with: a big representation of a prehistoric creature in actual size (with its skin on!).  It was of that unfathomable ancestor of the shark, the Megalodon.  I took a picture of my nephew sticking his head in its mouth (no one saw us), and then had him take one of me.
Remind me to talk about this monstrosity tomorrow or the next day (I am getting behind on my next audiobook deadline, but am enjoying blogging--and pretty much everything else--way more enjoyable than working on it).

The curators/designers had, unrealized (by me) until now, set up the museum to start with the oldest life forms and moving to more and more recent eras, until you get to the end, that includes human skeletons taking down a huge mammoth skeleton. 
This image entertained me in a way I express with words.
The last section showed photos of animals that have become extinct in the last couple of centuries, and several that are soon going to disappear (along with their estimated numbers left).  I could've stood there for a long, long time, and indeed, did return there and read about all the animals that have slipped away so recently, including a butterfly that disappeared in the Forties and a Las Vegas-area frog that went extinct in the Sixties.


At the exit of the museum was another child-centric display, a room-sized sandbox the kids could get into with little shovels, and dig for "dinosaur bones," which are scattered throughout the calf-deep sand.  This was the last part of the tour before you go home, and my nephew's pre-school teacher was there, making sure no children went beyond.  I scanned the various boys and girls excavating for fossils, and saw no red-haired boy. 

I asked the teacher if she had seen Tyler, and that I had lost him.  She told me she'd watch the other two boys while I went back through the exhibit looking for him.  I walked through, looking at the faces--and more, at the heads of hair--of every child I saw, but didn't recognize any of them.  It was at this point that I realized I would have to write a blog post about this, though I probably wouldn't have done so otherwise.  I made it all the way back to the start of the exhibit when I saw an employee of the museum walking with a little boy . . . a little blond boy.  "Are you Tyler?" I asked, and he nodded.

For some crazy reason, I was sure he had red hair, but it must've been the lighting in that first room that made me think so.**  The employee told me that the child had been outside the museum, apparently looking for a bathroom, and had been on his own ever since.

I took his hand and we went back on through.  When we emerged from the maze, all the boys and girls were gone from the sandbox, and most had gone home.  My two . . . whatever you'd call them, were still with the teacher, however, in addition to the three or four she was watching over.  I explained what had happened, and apparently that sort of thing is typical, because she didn't act like it was the end of the world.

I guess, if I hadn't found that little "red-haired" boy, it would have been.

Rish Outfield, Adult

*That part was a joke.  Apparently, Long John Silvers has the exclusive license on those particular fish.

**In my defense, I was looking through the photos I took, and there was one with him in it, and sure enough, he has red hair in that one.  Scary.

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