Oklahoma City family fun is awesome and varied. Come-as-you-are experiences abound and what sounds fancy is often surprisingly accessible.
When Bonita James, marketing and communications associate at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, asked if I would be interested in previewing the new "Fabergé: Jeweler to the Tsars" exhibition with my family and a staff photographer, I hesitated. The collection sounded interesting; beautiful and of tremendous value, both as works of art and as a family experience. What gave me pause, though, was the idea of touring it with three small children.
"Our crew can be a lot to handle," I wrote back. What I didn't write but hope she read was "My, those sound fragile."
Sam is 8, Isaac is 3, Gabriel is 5 months. The least I could do was let her know there would be no crisp linen summer suits or serene expressions as we filed silently through a museum's hushed corridors. We aren't necessarily noisy but we are a family with small kids.
I thought children were orderly, much more nurture than nature, until I had children. They could be like the illustrations in "Madeline," dressed in uniforms or at the very least, matching outfits, all in a row. Clearly, three boys, with their implicit energy and varied personalities, was not quite what I was expecting. Although my sons are well-behaved, children are children and I do not want anyone else's expectations to overshadow our visit.
"It's important to me to show all kinds of families," Bonita assured me. "You've got this."
I'm finding more and more that the staff at events and venues has been made aware of the realities of working with the public's youngest members. They are well-equipped to handle all that children bring. The fact that they're taken into account with hands-on activities, specially-prepared materials and areas designated just for them makes our community a great place to parent. Art has to be shown, taught, enjoyed by the next generation too to flourish.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art leads the way; they have it figured out. The exhibit isn't just for grown-ups at all. In fact, there's an audio tour called "Fabergé for Kids" that was especially interesting to Sam. The Fabergé Design Studio on the second floor was the perfect way for Isaac to take in some of what he'd seen by creating his own egg-shaped masterpiece with stencils. Gabriel fussed some and nothing happened; no one said "Shhh!" or showed us the exit. We found a quiet place to nurse, visited the family restroom and changed a diaper, because that's the reality of taking babies or toddlers anywhere.
Right or wrong, I was raised with the idea that children should be seen and not heard in public. I try to make that possible when we go out so that we aren't the family of five that annoys everyone but I've also gotten a lot braver by Baby Number Three. We have places to go and if there's a problem, we'll solve whatever it is. The refrain from PBS Kids' "Peg + Cat" rings through my mind: "Problem solved, the problem is solved. We solved the problem. Everything is awesome. Problem solved."
The best places for family fun help us as parents solve the problems so everything can be awesome.
Setting yourself up for success, though, can also help mitigate the stress of taking small kids anywhere. We just launched our new Ages & Stages Babies – Preschoolers Facebook group, which are a way for local parents to connect with each other and offer advice. I recently asked what has worked for others when they visit museums and other places where it seems quiet is expected.
Whether you're visiting the Fabergé exhibit or any other, here are five tips for a fuss-free visit:
1.) Talk it over: Give kids something to look forward to and let them know in advance that you'll be visiting a cool place soon. Also mention what kind of behavior is expected at the cool place. Don't assume they know that visiting a museum isn't the same as visiting, say, a zoo, where outdoor voices and running is mostly okay.
"Talk and REHEARSE expected behaviors. Talk about others feelings if they were to be disruptive (if old enough to understand of course). And let them get their "yayas " out ahead of time and after," suggests reader Whitney Moore.
2.) Provide context: What I should have done for Sam was check out a library book before we went to the exhibition. Having that context would have made the visit even more meaningful for him. The audio guides provide excellent information but I always try to maximize their experience. I know that my older child will be most engaged with some background; then, he's less likely to zone out or attempt to provoke his toddler brother into an impromptu game of tag.
3.) Take what's necessary: I've never been able to carry a diaper bag. The bare minimum supplies go in my purse. That's what works for me because I need my hands free to hold, well, smaller hands. There's one exception, though: snacks. I always have a snack in there too. Even if food isn't allowed in the exhibition, we can usually find a place to go enjoy it because it does make a difference in a toddler's mood and willingness to participate. Other readers have suggested taking a Memory game for waiting times, books and blankets; know what you'll need.
4.) Scope out the location: I look for three specific areas when I visit a new venue: the family restroom, a separate area to nurse and the location of a hands-on activity. Even if there's just one out of three, that can be a huge relief at the right moment. I'm going to want to know exactly where to find it when the moment arrives that someone needs fed, changed or given the opportunity to express what they're thinking or feeling.
5.) Limit your time: "Short visits are easier than an all-day adventure," says Facebook fan Chrystal Reis. I absolutely agree. If there's a designated start and end time, that often helps us pace ourselves. The Fabergé exhibit is ideal for families because it's visually striking but small. You're not going to wander around hoping to get to the end soon; it's just the right size to keep everyone interested.
Reader Leesa Carel sums it up: "I find that whatever you decide to include infants and children in, they adapt very well, so don't be afraid to try new things!"
She's right and it's worth doing, especially when there's so much to see.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art will host family tours next month: "The Animals of Fabergé" on July 5 for ages 6 to 12 + adult and "Let's Look Closely at Fabergé" on July 19 for ages 3-6 +adult.
If you'd like to find out about the best events happening on the weekends in and around Oklahoma City, subscribe to MetroFamily's Weekend Picks.
We hope to see you and your little ones at a local event soon!