I would love to regale you all with a fine narration of the deeply meaningful experience I had visiting the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit in Victoria, B.C. last Monday. My seven children and I rode in a borrowed 15 passenger van with Tootles and her 13 y.o. daughter, and another friend and her five children. We had, you know, been planning this dream field trip for a few months. Last Monday our plans saw fruition and we all went to Victoria to see Da Vinci's great works of art and models of his incredible inventions.
"Last Monday," you ask? "A week ago? Why haven't you told us about it before," you inquire?
"Because I hadn't yet recovered," I reply. In fact, I don't think I've quite recovered yet, but figured I'd better say something before it was too late. I mean, one can't go see the Da Vinci exhibit and not tell one's friends, can one????
So, as I said, before any more time passes, I'd like to tell you all about the deeply meaningful experience I had visiting the Da Vinci exhibit last week.
Unfortunately, I can't. All the bathrooms we visited between here and the museum stick out in my mind much more than the exhibit. Particularly memorable is the one on the ferry where my 11 y.o. handicapped child dashed in ahead of me, flung her coat to the floor and dropped her drawers before I could stop her- and didn't bother shutting the door. I shut it in the face of a startled and embarrassed ferry employee. O h, yes, that's an event I shall never forget.
Of course the museum bathroom where she didn't quite make it- for the fourth time of the day, also stands out in my memory as an important part of the day. That's where, crowded into one stall with my 11 y.o and my 2 y.o. so my 11 could use the facility, my 2 y.o. suddenly insisted she had to go, NOW. But she was in a sling on my hip. Impressed by the urgency of her pleas, I was Frantically trying to get her OUT before, well, you know-before-what. I yanked, tugged, and pulled, but her boot was caught on a fold of material. Finally, it came free with a jerk- smacking the 11 y.o. in the forehead.
We did not, of course, just visit every public restroom in between Washington State and Victoria British Columbia. That would be silly and not worth writing about. We did many other things in between bathroom trips. The 11 year old tried to snatch three purses from strangers. She's always sure they are hiding treats from her, and she does love to tease. Such a fun sense of humor that girl has. So delightful. We raced two blocks in the rain from the parking lot to the museum and back again about one hour later. I pushed the stroller with one hand and held onto the 11 y.o. with the other hand. You may remember among her litany of issues, she has mild cerebral palsy and walks like a drunken sailor and wears a leg brace that hurts when she steps on you? I never forget, of course. I think she found every puddle between the car and the museum and stomped in them. Hard. My left foot was soaked, and it did not dry out until sometime after midnight. It warmed up around three days later. The museum closed thirty minutes before the gift shop did, so I got to spend about as much time in the gift shop as I did in the actual museum proper. While there I did buy a neat book on identifying mosses in the museum bookstore, as well a postcard or two so that later I could look at the pictures from the exhibit and see what I missed.
While in the museum bookstore I had the toddler in the stroller and the baby in the sling. The toddler said she wanted out. I quietly said I knew that, but that the knowledge did not have the impact on me she might have thought. She said she wanted OUT. I calmly said I knew that, but that knowledge did not create in me a desire to leap to her bidding and set her free. She said she wanted OUT NOW TO PLAY WITH THOSE PRETTY THINGS. Peaceful in the knowledge that she could not get out, I calmly said I knew that, too, and actually, that was sort of why she had to stay in there. The sales clerk thought this exchange was positively hysterical. She laughed quite cheerily. Then she asked me how long we were going to be in Victoria, and where we were from. I explained we were from Washington and that we'd left the house at 6:45 a.m. (did I mention that?) and were going back the same day. She looked rather astonished, and then said that all things considered, my little girl was holding up pretty well. I looked balefully at her and said that while that was true, all things considered, so was I. She thought that was very funny, too.
The museum shop closed, so we all ran back in the rain, two blocks, to the van. You have noticed how quickly the 11 year old in the leg brace runs, yes? You have perhaps missed how quickly I run while carrying a child in a sling and pushing a stroller and holding the 11 y.o.'s hand. Don’t expect to see a repeat performance, as I never intend to repeat it on purpose again.
We got lost leaving town. The baby cried for the only time that day, but he cried for forty-five minutes, and there was truly nowhere to stop. I was in the front seat and he in the middle because as we all know, some of us much to our discomfort, I get woefully abysmally, disgustingly, and nastily car sick, but after twenty minutes of this, and with no stopping place on the highway in sight, I unbuckled my seatbelt and started climbing over the back of my seat to get to my child. Tootles, who was doing an admirable job of remaining calm and trying to soothe my son, raised an eyebrow and asked if I wanted to change seats with her. Since I was by then tossing her out of her seat, I thought the question rather superfluous. I nuzzled my face up against his little wet cheek and he eventually went to sleep. We drove the rest of the way to the ferry in comparative peace.
The bathroom in the coffee shop by the boarding area for the ferry coming home was memorable. We arrived thirty minutes before our ferry was due. It was cold, dark, and pouring down rain. My toddler announced that she needed to go potty, "weally bad." I peered out the windows, and couldn’t see a bathroom anywhere, I couldn't spy even a building where one would be located. I asked if anybody else had seen one. Nobody had. The toddler got louder. I peered into the rainy darkness some more, asked again. Toddler begins screaming in anguish that she has to go weally weally bad. I put a diaper on her and tell her I'm very sorry, but if she can't wait until the ferry arrives, I don't know what else to do, and that there is nothing wrong with her using a diaper in this immediate hour of need. This seriously offends her, and she insists that she will not use that baby diaper, she wants a real toilet. We were also first in the line of cars for the ferry and now more cars are pulling up all around us. This unfamiliar place, in the dark and the rain, is a terribly unsafe place to be wandering around in search of a toilet. I cannot tell where cars may and may not be, we are not dressed for night walking, I can’t even tell which direction to look in the dark, and I am afraid if we leave the car to wander the immense lot of cars, I will lose the van.
She screams some more. I am miserable on her behalf, and not so happy on my own either. I try to reason with her. Screaming, nonstop, continues. Finally, in one of those sterling moments of perfect motherhood that we will all cherish forever, I reasonably and maturely bellow back to my two year old child, "I CAN'T MAKE A BATHROOM! DO YOU SEE A BATHROOM ANYWHERE AT ALL? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?" There is sudden silence in the van, on the part of everyone except my continuously screaming 2 y.o. Then an 11 y.o.(12 this month), who isn't mine and a very good thing that is for both of us,, casually remarks that we passed the bathroom as we drove in, and she points out where it is.
I didn't say anything at all for a moment, but I think my silence at that moment was more eloquent than anything I could have said. Come to think of it, my silence was also much more polite than anything I could have said. Perhaps the disbelieving glare I tossed in her direction helped me make my point as well. After I recovered from my astonishment that a young person nearly 12 years old could listen to a toddler scream for a bathroom for half an hour without ever once thinking to mention that she, and only she, actually knew where one was, I grabbed the poor little one and raced across the tarmac in the rain, heading for the general direction pointed out for us. We made it. But while we were there the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the ferry was in and it was time to board. You will remember that our van was first in line, so nobody was boarding until we did. So, I hasten my child through the usual steps and make her skip washing her hands (this upsets her), snatch her up hastily again and we frantically race back to the van. I have a bad back and I'm not supposed to carry her, let alone run 100 yard dashes with her in my arms. She thinks this is fun. I suppose if only one of us is going to have fun, I’d rather if it was her. At least, I suppose that if I were as mature and grown up as I’m supposed to be that’s what I would think….
Did I mention that we left our house in the morning at 6:45 a.m? Just wondering. We arrived back home at midnight. We could not sleep in because we were already scheduled to visit the nursing home the next morning- it’s a regular appointment, and the nursing home people have made it quite clear that they do not wish us to alter this schedule. It upsets their routine and it distresses the elderly to have their schedule disrupted, so we must be there no matter what. The next day while we were getting ready to go on our monthly nursing home visit, my poor toddler began kicking and screaming, "No, no, not back in the car!!!" I felt the same way.
Nevertheless, I had made a commitment and while we all must suffer for it, suffer we must, because a commitment is a commitment. The older children understood this, and it was a good example for the younger, and so with grim duty in mind we duly arrived at the nursing home for our regularly scheduled monthly visit where we learned that the nursing home was on lock down because of a power outage the night before, and nobody was allowed in. No, nobody called us. So we all drove back the 20 or 30 minutes back home again, the toddler still complaining bitterly about the car seat.
Before penning this novella I asked the children if they thought it had been worth it. My eldest (15), and my 8 y.o. both were in rapt agreement that the museum was wonderful and every minute was worth it. My 14 and 9 y.o. both thought the museum was boring, but the ferry ride was fun. We live a mere 15 minutes from a ferry with much cheaper rates and better accommodations, so if all they wanted was a ferry ride, we could have done that in an afternoon. My toddler says she didn't like any of it. The 11 y.o. didn't say, but then she doesn't speak. And The Baby, bless his heart, slept most of the time.
Saturday, my eldest and I went to a used bookstore just a few blocks from my house. I found a huge (at least 14X16, 4inches thick) hardback book about Leonardo Da Vinci- with what appear to be reproductions of all the things I didn't see at the exhibit. The cover had a bad watermark, so I got it for 15.00, which is what the owner paid for it. I haven’t gotten to look at it, as my 8 y.o. has monopolized it, but one day this week I intend to sit down, put my feet up, sip a cup of something hot and calming, and leisurely look at page after page, an armchair field trip I shall enjoy with great relish. As for our Da Vinci trip, I'm glad we went, but I'm even more glad that it's over."
That was many years ago, as you can tell. That infant was about five months old then, and he is now a 20 year old college student hitting 6'5". The toddler is in her early 20s and self-supporting and in college. The 14 and 15 year olds are now in their 30s, married with five kids each. The 8 and 9 year olds are also married with two kids each. Along the way those two reversed their positions and at one point the one who only remembered the ferry ride actually remembered more from the actual exhibit and was glad she went, and the one who loved the museum no longer remembered it at all.
Memory is a tricky thing. The really funny thing about all this to me, is that all the things that I wrote about in this letter, funny as they are, have receded further and further into the distance of my own memory. I am glad I wrote the letter, because I should have forgotten nearly all of those dreadful but very funny in retrospect things if I hadn't. As the details recounted above have grown smaller and smaller in perspective, something I didn't think to mention at all has grown and grown in my mind's eye until it stands out in glorious detail as truly the only significant detail of the entire trip. When I hear Da Vinci's name I no longer think of my wet left foot, my aching back, the stitch in my side from running all over the place. Instead, I see one picture in particular. I have a print of it to remind me, but the print is nothing like the original for beauty and exquisite detail.
In my mind's eye I still stand in a circle of quiet in front of that painting, and I see the detail of the stone window, the small insects on the wall, the creased line in a small, chubby foot- and I am refreshed and renewed in spirit by the beauty and wonder of a man living in the late 15th century reaching out across the centuries, oceans, and continents that divide us, and touching one tired, wet, cold, and sore housewife in the middle of a day that seemingly had no space for such peaceful moments. I couldn't have stood there for more than a minute or two, neither the 11 y.o. or the toddler were capable of permitting me. And yet, that minute has grown swollen and pregnant with meaning and depth, and it now fills the entire day in my memory. (also funny- that painting is no longer considered a Da Vinci, but I don't care).
Had I known what that field trip would be like, I would have sent two children with my friends and kept the rest and stayed at home in peace and quiet, as well as immediate proximity to a bathroom. Had I known what I would remember and take with me from that field trip in later life, I would have gone with gladness and rejoicing. I would not have missed The Kissing in Infants for all the bathrooms in two countries.
I just would have put the 11 y.o. in a pull-up.
(my favorite painting from that exhibit, The Kissing Infants, by Jos Van Cleve, and what I recall most is the detail of the stone framing painted around them, and no picture on the internet does it justice)