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The Age of Discovery
Kid's pent-up curiosity unleashed at the best museum in the entire world
It was also a humid summer day the last time we took Kina to the American Museum of Natural History, but things weren’t so hot that time around. It was almost exactly three years ago, Kina wasn’t yet two years old, and she was taking—for the most part—reliable and regular naps. That day, though, after visiting an amazing museum in which she exhibited no interest at all, she skipped her nap, and we spent two profusely sweaty hours walking through the Ramble in Central Park trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get her to sleep. It is no accident that we have not since returned to the Natural History Museum—the memory of screeching children and low-level panic is hard to put out of mind.
Still, as we muscled through the humid heat of this weekend, it became apparent that we had reached our emotional limits, and we masked up to visit a museum that, before Kina came, had been our very favorite to visit as a couple. And we were well compensated, this time, for our troubles. From the very second we walked through the doors, Kina dashed off to gaze at the massive slabs of igneous rock, with their layers folded in upon themselves, next to nubbly spires of sulfurous stone formed in undersea calderas. She gasped in amazement when the planetarium went dark, pointing out the planets as they soared into view overhead. She ran from diorama to diorama, asking questions about dead zebras and revealing her extensive knowledge of various bacteria and marine life.
When we first walked into the building, I told Kina, “This museum is so big that it will always surprise you. We’ll have to come back a lot to see it all.” She nodded, and when we ultimately did walk out the doors, Laurea and I were surprised by dioramas we’d never seen before, and we were enchanted by our own child, whose breathless curiosity had grown by an order of magnitude more than her own brain in the years since we last swore we’d never go back.
After lunch, we revisited that long walk through the Ramble with our fully-grown explorer, sans stroller and considerably more tolerant of skipped naps. This time, Kina led the way, choosing forks in the road at random and trying to protect us from the punishing glare of the sun. Still, we begged for a chance to rest, and Kina conceded that we could find a bench to lay down on and take a nap; she would stroke our hair and sing us lullabies, she promised, endlessly chipper and oblivious to the history of this napless place.
When we did find a seat, she ran up ahead as far as she could go without losing sight of us, tiptoeing right to the edge of a bend in the path where the leaves closed off our view, peeking out from the shadows. From that place, she yelled to me to crouch down in the middle of the path and catch her; she sprinted into my arms out of the darkness underneath the canopy. I spun her around there, adoring and exhausted, knowing that our whole life together would be a story of growing into places like this and seeing how the light falls differently on different days.
She slept well, three years ago, just later than we’d hoped, and she slept well last night, too. We just all know better now.
You probably know what this is, right? It’s the planets, drawn in pastel. The artist signed her work, and I kept the branding to a minimum. I’m so proud of her.