Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A cold day in Raleigh

We're experiencing a bit of a cold snap due to the 2014 North American Cold Wave. Yesterday we didn't even get above freezing, which is highly unusual for these parts ("yesterday" in 2013 we didn't drop below the freezing point). Due to the cold weather, Andrew's been taking the van to campus and while I like the thought of him arriving on campus warm and safe (and not a block of ice) it's meant that I'm stuck at home with three children who don't want to play outside because we've all morphed into southern wimps (and I say that with all love in my heart).

Today was Andrew's first day of his last semester of classes (but who's counting?) and Rachel goes back to school on Monday, so in spite of the cold weather yesterday we decided that we'd make it an adventure day and get out of the house. We'd talked about going up to Richmond earlier but heading north at a time like this sounded like torture, so instead we stayed local. We drove to Raleigh to visit three places: The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, McDonald's, and The North Carolina Museum of Art.

Andrew wanted to go to the art museum first since it was "on the way" to the museum of natural sciences but I said we should go to the art museum last since if it's on the way to the museum of natural sciences it's also on the way back from it. My reasoning was that Benjamin would be so excited by all the animals at the museum that he'd be running around screaming and pointing and giggling and basically going berserk. After lunch he'd feel worn out, yet satisfied and cozy, and would probably be bored enough in the art museum—a location that appreciates quiet, calm children—to fall asleep, if we were lucky enough.

I certainly didn't want the reverse to happen—to have a bored, whiney Benjamin at the museum of art only to have him fall asleep at the museum of natural science because he was wiped out by the morning's outing (even if it wasn't thrilling for him).

With a sigh Andrew let me have my way and the day played out exactly as I had expected it to. It's almost as if I spend every waking (and sleeping, if we're being honest) moment with that child.

Benjamin conversing with a turtle

Benjamin loved the museum. He ran around screaming and pointing at every little creature. He had completely incomprehensible conversations with various turtles (which seemed to be a favourite of his and could be found in multiple locations of the museum—both live ones as well as models). He was in awe of the escalators we rode on—while we were going up other people were going down and that was fascinating. He waved at everybody. He bid hello and goodbye to every exhibit as well as to every little thing featured in each exhibit. He was the happiest little boy in the whole world.

The girls loved it, too. Rachel and Andrew led the way through the museum, reading signs and sharing facts, while I lagged behind with Miriam and Benjamin, urging them to catch up. Miriam was afraid of quite a bit at the museum. She was terrified of the escalators, for one thing, and before she'd approach anything she'd ask if it was real or fake (most of what's in the museum—except for some reptiles and fish—is either taxidermic or just a model). She even asked this about the dinosaur exhibit.

The thing she was most scared of, however, was the indoor waterfall. This lovely water feature conveniently masked much of Benjamin's excited shrieking. It cascades over rocks and ferns all the way from the fourth floor down to the second, where it's collected in a gigantic fish tank. Benjamin and Rachel rushed right up to the tank to observe the fish. Miriam stopped dead in her tracks. I could see the wheels turning in her mind behind her panic-stricken face.

"Does that thing have a lid?" she asked me.

"The fish tank?" I asked. "No."

"I'm not going in there," she announced.

The museum path weaves in and out of the different "zones" of North Carolina, taking you from the coast and the coastal plain, to the savannah, to the piedmont, to the mountains (and everywhere in between). She had her feet firmly rooted on the carpet and wasn't about to set foot on "the forest floor."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Mom," Miriam warned me with a hint of annoyance in her voice (because how stupid was I not to come to this conclusion myself?), "The whole museum is going to flood and that room is going to flood first! I'm not going in there! There's no lid on the tank!"

"Oh, sweetie," I explained. "The museum isn't going to flood. Somewhere in that tank there's a drain and it lets out the exact same amount of water that the waterfall puts in, so as it fills up it's also getting emptied. They timed it just right so that the water level always stays the same. Isn't that neat?"

Miriam didn't think so but she allowed me to tug her into the exhibit.

"I have to stay with Benjamin, too," I reminded her as I pulled her along.

She held my hand and put her other hand over her ear closest to the waterfall. She stumbled along beside me, trying to keep her footing on the uneven "forest floor," while squinting her eyes nearly closed.

"I want to go out. I want to go out. I want to go out," she chanted.

"That's where we're headed," I assured her repeatedly.

One of our favourite exhibits was one detailing how they do their work now versus how they did it then (it's called Nature's Explorers, I believe). Benjamin loved the stuffed alligator best but the girls were both immediately drawn to this doll from Japan:

She was a gift from Japan in the 1920s, one of several "ambassador" dolls distributed to museums and other public venues throughout the United States. She was the only doll to remain on display during WWII. While other museums opted to put her away and forget about what she stood for, North Carolina's Museum of Natural History left her standing and added a new plaque, message of hope and peace:


The Japanese made an insane attack upon the American Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

With a grim determination we now are committed to stop for all time Japanese aggression. This has no bloodthirsty implications to destroy people as such. We still believe in peace and good-will, to live and let live. 

Men, women, and children of Japan have this good will but they have now been dominated by ruthless leaders. Proof of such good-will are the Friendship Doll Exhibits exchanged between children of the United States and Japan during 1926 and 1927 and shown as here in museums in both countries.

I think that's a good attitude to have—to recognize that people are generally good, even if their government is not.

When we were finished with the museum, we headed to McDonald's for lunch. We considered packing a lunch from home but weren't sure where we would eat it—when we went to Raleigh in March we ate on the lawn of the old state capitol building but it was too cold for that yesterday! At McDonald's everybody used the restroom. We all got a kick out of Miriam's hair when she took off her coat; she was one staticky child yesterday!

Andrew and the girls stood in line to order the food while I found a table with Benjamin. A man next to them in line gave them a 2 for 1 Happy Meal coupon (that made the girls quite happy, indeed!) and for the first time, perhaps ever, the girls ate their entire meal (sharing a bit with Benjamin)!

With our tummies satisfied, we headed off to the art museum.

The lady at the information desk was probably more excited that we were there than we were. She gushed over each of the children and found little packets for them to take around the museum. One was called "Be a Color Catcher" and came with a little device to hold in front of your eye to help isolate details of the painting (really just a piece of card stock with a hole punched out of it, but the kids were thrilled.) Miriam liked finding all the pieces of artwork featured in the booklet in real life.

Rachel got a booklet called "Take the Grand Tour." It came with a set of cards detailing different aspects of each painting (the history of the time, the artist, etc). Inside was a map and Rachel was joyfully leading the way through the museum. She was especially excited to lead us to a statue of Hercules and was only a little disappointed when we told her that it was Herakles.

Andrew was in his element in the European room. They had a collection of Italian paintings and Andrew was talking all about where each piece would be featured in a cathedral (they had a lot of altar pieces) and the symbolism in each picture. He even knew some of the stories behind some of the saints that are rather obscure to us (not being Catholic).

Benjamin, as I thought he would, passed out in his stroller before too long (though he did seem to enjoy all the pictures before he fell asleep).

Would you believe I didn't take a single picture in the art museum? It's true. I didn't.

We all seemed to enjoy the "older" art, rather than the modern art. Miriam's favourite piece was a dress from the African collection (I can't remember where it's from). I liked Matthias Stormer's Adoration of the Shepherds. I was struck by the presence of an older woman adoring the baby Jesus along with the shepherds and Mary and Joseph. My thoughts turned to either a midwife or a female shepherd...but with further research I've decided she might actually be meant to portray Anna (Mary's mother).

Whatever the case, I liked it. I like the idea of Mary having some help—other than Joseph—when she was giving birth. There's a relatively new nativity scene that's gaining popularity, depicting an utterly exhausted-looking holy family, surrounded by a concourse of angels, and accompanied by two handmaidens (who we can only assume attended the birth). I remember seeing that at BYU's Museum of Art and thinking, yes, this is what births are like.

I'm always left feeling worn out. While my labours progress relatively quickly I've always had to push quite a long time. Even Benjamin—who, at 4 lbs., was the easiest to push out—required several "rounds" of pushes before he finally emerged.

Those stories of women who push once and pop a baby out? That's just not me. (Too skinny; not good for bearing sons).

My post-labour look is much more like what Brian Kershisnik portrays. But Emily? She could be in Stormer's nativity, no problem.

Seriously, we skyped with Andrew's parents on Sunday and Emily walked down the stairs to come talk with us (she and Morgan and the baby are living with Andrew's parents while Emily does her student teaching). Perhaps she heard the girls' chorus of "The baby! The baby! Show us the baby!"

Grandma told us that Emily and Gavin were resting and took us downstairs (carrying us in the iPad) to chat with Grandpa. And then in pops Emily, baby in arms.

Had I been in her shoes I probably would have sent my husband to fetch them and bring them up to me so that I could sit comfortably somewhere (on a throne of pillows) while we visited. Emily just walked downstairs and then stood and talked to us while holding her baby. She's a superstar.

And I found out that though she had wanted an epidural, and the anesthesiologist tried six times to give it to her, it was ultimately unsuccessful and she delivered without it. Yet she was so peaceful and calm when we talked to her about a half hour after she gave birth. I'm usually still shaking half an hour after I give birth. I turn a ghastly pale colour and I have to be helped out of bed. I shuffle around for a few weeks while I heal up. Emily's already doing stairs—by choice, not necessity. She's a superstar (which is good because she's going back to work soon).

I remember once when I was at the hospital feeding Benjamin (or, you know, trying to feed him) and the occupational therapist came in and insisted that I put my extra pillow under my arms to support the baby rather than under my rear end to cushion my sad little behind. I was almost crying when our session was over because my bum was so sore. I hobbled out of the hospital that day. I just couldn't sit in a hard rocking chair for that long. In the future, I'd request three pillows: one to sit on, one to put behind my back, and one for the baby to rest on my lap. You can never have too many pillows. Cushion everything! That's my motto.

I always feel black and blue all over after having a baby. Emily seems more poised than I ever was after childbirth, so perhaps Stormy's nativity picture speaks more to her than Kershisnik's does.

Also, if you look at Joseph...that's how it is for us, too. In Kershisnik's picture Joseph is like, "What in the world did that poor girl just go through?!" and in Stormy's picture Joseph is like, "Look at that awesome baby!"

I'd say that's how Morgan and Andrew react. Morgan was all smiles—so proud and excited. I haven't seen him grinning so big since his wedding day.

Andrew's a proud father as well, don't get me wrong, but that image of Joseph cowering behind Mary that Kershisnik painted? That's Andrew to a tee. He's terrified of childbirth. If you asked him how it was he'd probably say, "It was bloody and I nearly fainted." And that "I" would be referring to him, not  to me (just so we're clear).

Anyway, enough about childbirth. It's just something I thought about a lot while we were at the museum—probably due to all the pictures of the nativity we encountered.

The girls both loved the art museum and want to go back again when it's warmer. Apparently the museum has a several-acre park filled with sculptures and things. We'll have to make that another North Carolina adventure!


  1. I have noticed that each child the post birth cramping/contractions have been worse. With Peach I cried for a month every time she nursed because the contractions were so bad. Plus one baby is cakewalk in the sleep department. You don't know it as a first time parent, you think it can't get worse, but you find out later :). So I wouldn't beat myself up about not being ready to run the stairs. There is always baby two and three and more :-). I got a good kick out of listening to my sister try and deal with her crying baby and toddler yesterday. It feels good sometimes when other people join you in the crazy zone. Makes you feel not so alone ;-)

  2. And, as you hit up against harder things than that one first baby, you learn "I can do hard things!"

  3. I love reading about your adventures especially when I can take "field trips" with your family. :)

    The picture of Benjamin and the turtle is cute. I'm glad he enjoyed the museum so much, and that Andrew agreed to your words of wisdom regarding which museum to see first.

    I'm sorry Miriam was so traumatized by much of the museum. I like the story behind the Japanese doll, too. Thanks for sharing that.

    I am a cold-weather wimp - so I understand why your children didn't want to play outdoors yesterday. Thankfully today warmed to an almost balmy 42 degrees here!

    I love the last picture, and your thoughts on childbirth were interesting, too.

  4. I feel child birth is a rather personal thing -- for moms only. I gladly secreted myself behind the head of the hospital bed to be as far away from the birthing process as possible. I see Andrew as a wise, wise son.