My three-year-old son likes our local historical museum quite a lot, but it is nothing that can prepare a boy for a visit to the various museums of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Nor is it anything that can prepare the dad of a three-year-old boy for the adventure of taking his son to those behemoths.
The Smithsonian American History Museum is famous for its many exhibits that hold no appeal to the three-year-old boy. Many of the displays include a panel of text, describing the item and its importance to our culture. I read the first line of several of these descriptions before I was dragged around the corner to see if there were any toys or displays with buttons to push hiding there. I wish the museum would find writers who could explain an exhibit in five words or less. That would be a great boon to every tourist parent.
The saving grace of the American History Museum was the area with the locomotive engines. To a little boy, the world is composed of trains, trucks, and diggers, but mostly trains. While the rest of the museum was a blur of verbose descriptions, fattened with wasteful prepositions, conjunctions, and articles to vex the skidding parent, the train area was a wonderland that needed no words. There were huge hulks with wheels and metal on tracks; who needs a placard to tell them that is the most glorious combination on Earth? Nobody endeavored to drag Daddy away from the trains.
The Natural History Museum holds dinosaur skeletons. My son enjoyed the dinosaurs, if you only count the first two we saw. After that, they lost their charm. He quickly formed the conclusion that their most prominent characteristics were that they were big and they were dead. Judging by these criteria, the skeletons all turned out to be pretty much the same.
It was the human remains that interested him the most. He wanted to know what happened to that guy, whereas the demise of each of the dinosaurs was less intriguing. Based on the many dioramas of various dinosaurs attacking one another, I think he just assumed that they ate each other up until the final tyrannosaurus died of loneliness.
He was also fascinated, and creeped out, by a time-lapse image of a woman posing as a colonial era matron. I might have inadvertently led him to believe that she was a witch, but that wasn’t completely my fault. They buried this colonial lady in a lead coffin; so what did they expect ignorant fathers of future generations would blurt out when they didn’t have time to read the entire description? “I bet she was a witch,” is exactly what our forefathers should have expected me to say. Of course, I meant that she must have been falsely accused of being a witch, but I doubt my boy inferred the distinction. He held my hand as he stared at her changing image, cautioning me not to get too close.
In the Air and Space Museum, my son went straight for the places where he could push a button or move a lever. He might not have known what the lever did, or why he should take such unbounded pleasure in pulling it, but who cared? It was enough to know that it was a lever, and levers are meant to be pulled with glee by the hands of little bodies. I watched a lot of really fantastic lever-pulling and button-pushing in that museum. Somebody told me there were vintage aircraft in the building as well, but I must have missed that part.
Each day, we rode the metro back to our hotel, and that was the very best part of all. The many museums we visited were a wonderful excuse to ride the train back and forth. But even if they weren’t there, we would have had to ride the train into town every day to watch the grass grow on the mall.