I’m upset with myself today. I made my kid leave a situation where he was interested and learning just because someone else thought he was annoying.
Today we went to Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a long drive for us, especially with little kids who think sitting in car seats is a special form of torture. We’ve been meaning to go for a while, and decided to visit because they’re having “Homeschool Days” for about half of this month.
For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed. It’s been a while since I last visited Williamsburg, but I remember a more vibrant atmosphere, more people in costume doing “colonial” things, and less emphasis on selling touristy clutter.
Despite the much-vaunted “Homeschool Days,” the majority of visitors were retirees. So many, in fact, that we couldn’t park in the 20+ lot of handicapped spots.
Our visit started off with a bang, literally. We just happened to be walking by the spot where the cannon demonstration was. Cue scared, worried kids. We almost hopped back on the shuttle bus right there and went home – kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (auditory focus) just can’t handle that kind of loud sound, especially if it’s unexpected.
If you’ve ever visited Williamsburg, you’ll know that it’s really spread out. It’s a town. Different workshops and houses and markets host different activities. As we meandered around the town I found myself constantly nagging the kids to stop doing little kid things. Like “stay on your side of the sidewalk,” and “be quiet so that everyone else can hear the demonstrator too.” We even had trouble in the colonial gardens because my kids wanted to walk around and look and the narrow paths just didn’t allow enough room for passing. They’re little. Most everyone else was not.
I found myself constantly saying “wait your turn,” “stay out of the way,” “be quiet,” and “don’t touch!”
This is supposed to be a living history museum, right? As in, interactive, let’s get hands-on about learning? It wasn’t. Or rather, the portion that we saw today wasn’t. Little legs got tired so we only saw about 25% of the entire town. Of that 25% every other building we passed was a store (buy this wooden musket!) a tavern (overpriced food!) or a specialty shop (cold drinks, only $4!)
Our entire experience at Williamsburg involved standing still and listening to someone talk about what their building was about.
What five-year old do you know that can handle that?
Invariably, the Destroyer would wander off, the Princess would start whining, and the Engineer either wouldn’t shut up or wouldn’t stop touching stuff. And then the looks would start. Those looks – the your-kids-are-ruining-my-experience kind of looks. So we would leave.
When did our society decide that kids need to be seen and not heard? Isn’t that an outdated, Victorian attitude?
Little kids are little. They’re loud. They’re energetic. They’re very sensual: they want to explore their world with all five senses, not just the hearing one. The attitude of all the adults around them today (including me) said that’s wrong. We told them their curiosity and intensity was inappropriate with our body language and our expressions. But it wasn’t inappropriate, or it shouldn’t have been. In a different setting that kind of disapproval would be good – it would teach them to behave appropriately in the right environment. In this setting, it was just intolerance and discrimination.
My kids want to learn. They’re little sponges intent on filling up with experiences. That takes time, energy, tasting, smelling, touching, and wandering around. And I made them abandon that because some retirees thought they were being pests. They were being little kids.
When I started to get really irritated with their behavior, I stood back (as much as humanly possible while herding three little kids) and thought about my response. My expectations were the problem, not their behavior. So we headed over to the art museum’s kid craft area with its wide-open space and classroom setting and sat down to be kids.
When the Destroyer found the broom that the curator left out in reach, he started “sweeping” the floor. He wasn’t bothering anyone, he wasn’t in anyone’s way, but he was a little enthusiastic about it. And again, we got the looks. From older kids. From parents. From grandparents. Even from the curator who set up the craft area.
And you know what? I let him sweep. Deal with it, people.
Update: I’ve gotten a lot of responses on this article. Most of them not very positive. Want to learn more about what it’s like as a parent of a child with a hidden disability? Read Part 2 here.