Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tuesday Train Day - Another Museum

This Tuesday I meant to take you to the Brooklyn Children's Museum, but the Jewish Children's Museum was much closer to the train stop. The JCM is extraordinarily well advertised in our neighborhood - there are signs everywhere pointing the way. I kept thinking I would run into it, that it must be just right around the corner, when it's actually in Crown Heights, 5 miles away. I asked a few friends about it but no one had gone. It was a mystery I couldn't let stand.

In typical fashion, the weather sucked. All week was in the 50s, except for Tuesday, when the temperature plummeted into the 20s. An icy wind was blowing in our faces as we walked down the hill and made it hard to breathe. You kept saying, "I think wind stop blowing," which was a nice way of saying that you'd had enough.

The JCM has 6 floors, and we were told that the 3rd floor was the best place to start. There is an exhibit devoted to the 6 Days of Creation, culminating in Shabbat, a room with an enormous crawl-through challah loaf, a giant kiddush cup, and a jacuzzi sized bowl of matzah ball soup with video screens embedded in the matzoh balls. The 6 Days of Creation terrified you. It scared me too, for entirely different reasons. By the time we made it to Shabbat you wouldn't leave my arms. I sat on the floor and rocked you, halfway between the towering bread and mammoth soup. The floor above us was under construction, and when those deep rumbling sounds mixed together with the thunder and dramatics of Creation, your little arms hugged me tight.

Around the corner was an exhibit on all the different holidays. On the Pesach table there were talking kiddish cups that recited prayers. You loved them. Two of the four were broken, but you kept holding them to your ear, waiting.

Then we came to your favorite exhibit: the kosher market. There were mini shopping carts that you could push around the store and fill with food. There were check out counters where you could put the food on a conveyer belt and scan it. You could have played there for hours, but suddenly the place was overrun with 30 screaming orthodox tween girls. They raced around the store, loading up their carts with Golds mustard and kosher candy. I've never seen so many frum girls in one place, and in such a state of mass hysteria. Was Justin Bieber in the museum? Or was the kosher shopping experience always this exciting?

You stopped where you were, gripped your cart tight, and started screaming. Your screams put those girls to shame. I tried to reach you as quickly as a I could, but we were separated by a sea of navy pleated skirts and black tights, sensible shoes shuffling everywhere I tried to step. I dodged a traffic jam by the bagels, sidestepped a cart full of grape juice, pushed my way through a blockade of black cardigans. I tried to pick you up but you wouldn't let go of your shopping cart, where you had hoarded almost every piece of fruit. I had to pry your fingers off one by one.

We went to other exhibits, but all the screaming and world making, combined with all the stairs we climbed at the Atlantic Street transfer, left me drained. I sat on a bench, surrounded by religion. A position that, even on a good day, would have made me scowl. Life is exhausting, how can we be expected to summon the energy for an afterlife? Most days I'm not sure which is worse, the idea of a higher power, or its total absence.

Likewise, I have mixed feelings about exposing you to creationism, which science has definitively put to bed. But to paraphrase Yann Martel in The Life of Pi, I'd hate for you to be so pragmatic as to miss the better story, and let's face it, when it comes to the origins of life, creationism is the best story in town. But these are your decisions to make.

For myself, I rarely choose truth over a good story. Except for when I write these Tuesday Train Day posts, which are pure hits of 100% non-exaggerated truth. The truth is that after all that Judaism, cold risotto on the 3 train, up and down stairs to the R train, up the hill bouncing in the ergo, Percy squeezed tight in your fist, through the doors and off with your hat and gloves and coat and sweater and shoes and socks you took a nap. Praise G-d.

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