Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Lonely Tree

Planning an outing with children, as most parents will attest, is an art. Planning an outing with a child with a pervasive development disorder is a discipline. Still, with eleven days remaining until our annual escape from Hades, I need to get said child out somewhere every day, if only for my own conscience. She, of course, would happily stay in watching DVDs and playing with her imaginary friends.

The project for Friday was to get her to the Museum of Civilization to see The Greeks, a visiting exhibit from Benaki Museum in Athens. Why? Her class did an Ancient Civilization Fair this spring and younger daughter, being a member of the Ancient Greece group, told the story of Daedalus and Icarus to whomever asked. And it looked like a nifty exhibit. And Mum needed to feed her own soul, and get the Hades out of the house.

I've learned the hard way not to spring things on her. So the lead-up began early in the week: "Soon we'll go to the museum"; "Tomorrow, we're going to the museum"; "We're going to the museum today, we'll stay a little while and then we'll come home and you can watch something".

This time, I was blessed with an outing that turned out better than I hoped. Despite its being a sunny Friday, the museum wasn't packed. I decided on the spur of the moment to purchase audio tours for both of us, and this turned out to be a hit. Younger daughter earnestly looked for the headphone icon and punched in the required number. Unlike the National Art Gallery audio guides, each spiel was short and in accessible language (at the NAC, I pick the children's option if there is one, so I can figure what's actually going on). There were also snatches of music and sound effects which younger daughter enjoyed.

And the artifacts were something else: vases, jugs and figurines made 4000 to 5000 years ago. Elaborate memorial markers and figureheads of gods, including one of Hermes, Marie, but alas he looked nothing like David Tennant...or Mario Ancic. And Hellenistic gold jewelery. Unspeakably intricate and beautiful. Here's a funerary coronet, placed on the head of the dead person to indicate their worthiness for accolades in the afterlife. There was a bracelet with minuscule dangling ornaments which turned out to be Muses sitting on pedestals. The only way you knew was by the greatly enlarged photograph by the display. Who did this kind of work? Tiny slaves? Younger daughter was charmed by bridal costumes with delicate red slippers, and a suspended and elaborately embroidered bed tent from the time of the Ottoman Empire.

As it wasn't crowded, I had the luxury of letting younger daughter read the inscriptions out to me which she really seemed to want to do, perhaps to off-set her audio intake from the headphones with visual intake. We could also sit down and rest partway through. However (also from sad experience), I was prepared to leave the exhibit before seeing everything and she did run out of steam, so we hurried down the hall to the cafeteria, arriving just before the lunchtime rush. We chose a table looking out across the Ottawa River, back to Ontario and Canada's capital city, which only proves that the prettiest view by far of the Parliament Buildings is from the province of Québec. After a leisurely lunch, I was astonished when younger daughter told me she'd like to visit the Children's Museum. The Children's Museum is a huge draw for the Museum of Civilization and one of the reasons I dreaded taking my daughters there, chiefly because we'd make a beeline for it, and I'd sit around, wander around, stand around for hours while the girls tried out the mini-cabs and buses, swabbed the decks of the freighter and transferred cargo with the pulley, explored the child-sized houses from all around the world, and hawked bread at the miniature bakery and vegetables at the market....and I never got to see any other exhibits. We'd been living here four years before I made it to the First Nations wing -- and that was on a field trip.

But here was younger daughter wanting to go to the Children's Museum, even after a morning in the Greek exhibit and the offer of returning home. I couldn't refuse her, although part of me wondered about taking a girl less than a year from thirteen. But of course, she's eager to take refuge in childhood, this lithe lady in early adolescence with the "scattered profile" that has her age 12 in some areas, age 10 in others, and age 6 in yet others. Besides, I'd inadvertently paid the general admission in addition to the tickets for the special Greek exhibit. She headed straight for the newly refurbished and redecorated theatre with a dressing room in the back featuring fanciful costumes.
She donned the Tree outfit and took the stage, saying solemnly, "This is the story of the lonely tree," and, pacing back and forth, told a tale in a lowered voice that I found hard to catch, except I gathered the tree was looking for friends in the animals of the forest and was wondering where they were. Other children appeared in other costumes, lining up to proclaim a few sassy theatrical words for their photo calls and younger daughter quietly took her bows with them and said thank-you for the bravos from these other parents. These were polite children who glanced at her, noted the difference and left, chattering to each other.

There's a cinema there now, which didn't exist a few years back, and we watched a National Film Board cartoon twice. Other children peered in, but didn't stay. Younger daughter swabbed a deck for old time's sake, and after a quick tour, we left. I had hoped to walk back over the Alexandra Bridge, since it was a lovely day without the usual Ottawa humidity, and when we missed the #8 by inches, I eagerly set off, ignoring the protests of younger daughter who didn't want "to walk all the way home". (Actually, I have made the trek from Gatineau, Québec to our New Edinburgh, Ontario doorstep in under 50 minutes, but that would be asking too much of younger daughter, especially after a full day of sensory overload.) The Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge, though, takes about ten or fifteen minutes to cross by foot
and it has a splendid view of many Ottawa and Gatineau landmarks, including the Chateau Laurier, the Parliament Buildings, the Museum of Civilization, the Rideau Canal Locks and the Ottawa River itself, of course. Eventually, younger daughter got over her grudge and began to enjoy the breeze, the heady view of the sparkling water below woven with various boats, and passing comments on her fetching sunhat.

I walked alongside her, mulling over the little triumphs and heartbreaks of our excursion. A day like this underlines how far we have to go, how her differences have crystallized over the years, how much other people notice. At the same time, how far she's come, that I can bring her to the museum for nearly a full day without a meltdown, that I can share an adult exhibit with her, even that she tell the story of a lonely tree while walking a stage. I have to constantly remind myself that, where others see a "special needs child" (and many give us wide berth), I have the privilege of remembering that we did things this day that would not have been possible a few years ago.

And, oh, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, warm but not oppressive, crossing that bridge between two provinces, enjoying the summer green and the beautiful view. If more days were like this, I think I could almost bear living here...


Marie said...

Mario Ancic would make a fantastic Hermes...

Persephone said...

I guess winged sandals (or trainers) would be considered an unfair advantage at Wimbledon?