One Sunday, I mustered the energy to drive almost an hour out of suburban boredom to The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. We were quickly growing weary of the long, hot days, and it was time to inject some culture and structured activities into our carefree summer. There was a special interactive exhibit I knew the kids would love, and every Sunday the museum has family zone, which is always a great.
First we visited the interactive room. The curators actually instructed my kids to touch (but not pull) the dangling icicle like lights hanging from the vaulted ceiling. We weaved through the dense streams of lights as they emitted a rainbow of colors. Next we lounged on the cushions, casually strewn across the floor, like one expansive living room at a psychedelic sleepover. The kids looked up at the movie theater-sized screens and guessed what magnified image they saw. A finger. A brain. A lava-filled ocean. My son told me he was inspired. But when I asked about what—he couldn’t say. Their imaginations were running wild, and my heart filled with joy and pride. Like the 20-something-year-old hipsters, I captured the moment with my phone, panning around to highlight the glittering lights and my kids’ beaming smiles.
Eventually, we rolled off our cushions and trekked through the museum’s underground tunnel to the Egyptian exhibit for the family zone. It’s a designated kid-friendly area among the fragile and valuable art, designed to inspire and educate the children about what they see. This month’s theme was ancient Egypt. My 3, 5 and 7-year-old were immediately engrossed. Writing messages in hieroglyphics, building Egyptian pyramids out of blocks, and scavenging for real relics. I happily eternalized the moments with my phone, excitedly snapping pics and recording videos to share on Instagram and Facebook. I felt like a great mom, like a competent mom able to enrich my kids’ lives by exposing them to the arts. I felt proud of their ability to act appropriately in such a demanding atmosphere. An atmosphere that requires them to speak softly, not touch anything and move with grace and awareness—all behaviors they don’t do at home.
By 4 p.m. it was time to go. Family zone was closing, and I knew it was getting close to meltdown time, especially for my three-year-old who’d skipped her nap. My eldest begged to stay and explore the museum more. Although I knew we should go, I couldn’t resist her plea to stay. I decided we’d go to the museum cafe for a snack and then continue exploring the museum. And this is where my blissful momming moment ended.
I ordered tiny, delectable cakes to share. We sat outside near the fountain, and there were two other sets of ladies dining at the other end of the outdoor patio. Things turned sour quickly. My three-year-old refused to use a spoon to eat her lemon tart. Opting to use her unreliable, sticky fingers, she quickly dropped the tart on the floor and sobbed. Not a deep, low, sob, but a shrill sob. Even over the gush of the fountain, her crying pierced the other patrons’ ears. I had a choice at this point: with another half a lemon tart on my plate, I could’ve appeased her and given it to her. But I chose to stand my ground. After all, I’d repeatedly warned her it would fall. The tantrum escalated.
My seven-year-old told me people were staring at us. I dismissed her and continued to beg my youngest to stop crying. After a few more minutes of attempted reasoning with an overly tired, hungry three-year-old, I gave up. I briskly stacked the plates, squashing the remaining desserts and scooped up my screaming child. My five- and seven-year-olds trailed behind as we walked almost into an older lady standing between the stairs to exit and us. She looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, thank God you’re leaving.” I moved past her and then paused. I doubled back, looked into her cold eyes, then at her friend as she shook her head. I looked quavered with rage, “Are you kidding me?!” She simply replied, “No, I’m glad you’re leaving.” We stormed off, rushed into the car and drove home in eerie silence as my littlest slept soundly.
This is what I didn’t post on Facebook. There’s no Instagram story with purple-horned, brow-furrowing emoticons. There are no photos with black and white filters capturing this dramatic turn of events. The whole ride back I debated whether or not to erase my posts. I grappled with whether our blissful afternoon was real or not. I couldn’t reconcile the two experiences. It felt like my posts of our joyful time where a lie now that we’d experienced such upset.
I went to bed Sunday night feeling guilty. Feeling like maybe the unkind lady was right. Who was I to think we could infiltrate the pristine museum environment. My unruly kids belonged back home where they were safe to throw tantrums without fear of judgment from strangers—back home where I could avoid the harsh gaze of people who think they know better than me. But, luckily I woke up with a fresh perspective. The good part of the day was real. And if we’d never piled into the car for the long haul downtown, then we’d never have experienced the unique exhibit. We wouldn’t have interacted with art and explored ancient Egypt.
The hostility from one stranger won’t stop me from trying to parent. They say doctors “practice” medicine—well I practice parenting. I’m not perfect, and that’s how I learn. I don’t regret addressing the lady because I do think she was out of line. I also think we probably should have left when my mom meltdown radar told me we should leave. I regretted the way the day ended, and now I’m grateful to be able to reflect, share and learn. I may have only shared the good moments in photos and videos, and that’s because they were valuable moments that I want to remember. The disapproving stranger will not take that away from me.