Yesterday I took the boys to the Art Institute for their very first time. We have been to all the other great Chicago museums over the years, but taking two young children to an art museum seemed about as fun as poking needles in your eyes. However, the Art Institute is one of my personal favorites, and I go every year on the free days. Was it time? Yes, it was. It was time. In preparation, we reviewed the website. Anytime the boys see a triangle encased in a circle on the screen, they scream, “VIDEO!” and want to watch. We watched the clip on “visiting the museum” and Ethan took it very seriously. “Mom, does your camera have flash? No flash photography!” He also insisted on taking a sketchpad (or more accurately, his Halloween-covered notebook) and pencil. The best was that they were as excited as their mommy for their inaugural visit.
Knowing our time in this beloved city is limited, I savored every minute detail. While driving to the museum, the normally blind commute down Lake Shore Drive was no longer normal. It was beautiful: the glimmering lake, Navy Pier, the harbor, the boys yelling, “The Hancock building!” and “There’s Trump Tower!” and curving around the bends in lanes narrow enough to make you hold your breath at times. During one bend, I get a text from a dear friend, “I don’t have anyone to go see Black theater plays with anymore. I am sad. I will miss you!” I try to keep it together so we don’t crash on the drive.
We get to the Millennium Park garage in time to snag the early bird rate (in before 10am and out by 7pm gets you garage parking for a flat rate of $14 which for Chicago is a bargain worth celebrating). Even though the garage exit brings you directly across the street from the museum’s Modern Wing, the boys wanted to see the lions by the main entrance.
Getting there early paid off as well. The line eventually snaked down the block. The museum opens at 10:30 so we had at least 20 minutes of listening to the StreetWise vendor tell bad jokes and yell out directions to the tourist-filled crowd. Then finally we entered the grand, hallowed halls. I loved watching the boys walk through, gazing all around, and hopefully marveling at everything their eyes covered and not simply repeating the mantra I drilled into their poor minds: No running! No screaming! No touching!
Ethan learned about Jackson Pollack last summer in art camp at the Huntington Museum of Art when we were in West Virginia visiting my parents. We found the gallery and stood before Greyed Rainbow (sigh). I whispered snippets of information and asked annoying mom questions as quickly as I could before he lost interest and moved onward (2 seconds on average). Somehow in that time frame, he did compare it with The Key. “It is neater. I like it better.” I was so happy to hear his first art comparison that I did not even mind that his opinion differed from mine. It was a sweet moment.
Connor mostly followed us around. He gained the interest of all the museum guards doing their job to make sure he knew the aforementioned drilled mantra. He only set off one alarm and got reprimanded only once by a guard. Put that down for the record books! He did look and I am glad for the mere exposure. He even offered some thoughts on a Jasper Johns piece. “I see yellow and blue and red…a pattern!”
While in the American art section, Ethan finally found something he wanted to sketch. He plopped down and worked hard. It was the Arthur Dove piece here by Connor that Ethan described as a boat chopped in half. He did a decent job. Of course, I know much of modern art looks like any 6 year old can do it. His first critic gave a rave review: “Ethan’s going to be an artist.” – Connor Beckett.
We wandered through much more of the museum than I originally thought they could handle. Ethan wanted to see more. Connor would holler out, “Pablo Picasso? Van Gogh?” to almost every piece because those are the only two artists he knows from books I bought the boys while visiting The Met. Sometimes the 2 seconds of attention were brought down to 1 even for the works I really wanted Ethan to note, like Van Gogh’s The Bedroom.
But then there would be a moment when those 2 seconds stretched, like with Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. I loved those moments. I grieved the childhood of regular Art Institute visits where they become so familiar with these works that I have to find more information to whisper in their ears. I wished they could be like late filmmaker John Hughes and talk about how these works impacted their youth. For them to be able to find refuge in these walls. Like Hughes. Like their mama.
With short but multiple verbal observations from my budding art appreciators, I considered it a very successful first visit especially considering we did not get kicked out! They want to go back and thanks to passes from another dear friend, we will definitely do that in the three weeks we have left. Knowing the end of our Chicago time is approaching, I allowed them to purchase souvenirs, something I rarely do indulge them in on outings. We appropriately bought an ABC art book and a fantastic one called “Where is the Sears Tower?” A pigeon (sorry, but I won’t miss those) searches for his grandfather and stops at various Chicago sites along the way all the while learning the variety of people in life and the importance of listening to his “inner compass” or as we would call it, “the Holy Spirit.” 🙂 It will be a great keepsake for our favorite city.
Three weeks left in Chi-town. Because of this fact, I took full advantage of my all-day parking. We milled about Millennium Park.
They wanted to go to the Daley Center plaza to see the actual Picasso sculpture whose maquette we saw at the Art Institute. On the way there, I thought I would treat them to Beard Papa’s in Block 37. Unfortunately, neither of them finished them because Ethan thought it was too messy and Connor did not like the cream. Did they come from my womb?! Maybe it was fortunate because guess who got to eat their remnants? YUM.
They love sliding down this thing.
I don’t mind that as much as their other love: pigeon chasing. Seriously, they love chasing the many pigeons that gather on the plaza. However the plaza was filled with booths for an International Sister City Festival. The space was limited, and I am pretty sure the many business folks did not like those dirty pigeons flying in fright in their faces. So I chased the boys chasing the pigeons, and we entertained some people in the process. The kids still managed to milk my sentimental side and get two finger puppets from one of the booths, appropriately, of birds.
Leaving the park in the city I love is a moment to savor.
The boys managed to walk all over the large Art Institute and parts of downtown without a single complaint. They were silent the entire drive home because their bird puppets were supposedly sleeping. The day was full of miracles. And I think I captured them all mentally even if not photographically.