Toddler Looks at the Thorne Miniature Rooms

As we were faced with an “excessive heat warning” over the past few days, I did two things that most people might consider crazy:

  1. I continued to sleep under 5 blankets, because I must have the weight to sleep but really, that’s a whole story by itself…
  2. I took my three kids — ages 9, 7, and “almost” 2 — to the Art Institute of Chicago, by myself.

Yesterday, the heat index put us at a “real feel” of around 105 degrees in Chicagoland. We aren’t people who would do well being cooped up in the house all day, and I could foresee some type of explosion if that happened.

My husband had to focus on a project for work, so I decided it would be best if the rest of us left the house. And what place sounded nice and cool on such a hot day, AND had the added bonus of absorbing most of the morning and afternoon? A trip into the city to visit the Art Institute.

I completed my Saturday morning shopping per usual with the toddler, and upon arriving home, I packed up water bottles and apples and threw the three kids into the car, amid protests that their electronic handheld 3DS was not fully charged and might not survive the trip, and requests that I change the DVD in the minivan thirty seconds after pulling out of the driveway.

The trek into Chicago is about 45 minutes with zero traffic issues, and that wasn’t this morning so we rolled into the parking garage after about an hour. It was close to 11:00 am by that time and I knew we had two choices: immediately go to the wretched food court inside the Art Institute, where the service on the made-to-order food is always bad and if we don’t go immediately at 11:00, we would spend an inordinate amount of time as it got busier and busier, all for food that is on par with an airport food court. Or, I could spend far less money at the Cosi across the street from the museum.

I chose the latter, and we made that our first stop. The Cosi was shockingly dingy for being located in such a prime spot on Michigan Avenue. The toddler dumped water all over her tray. Some 1950s television drama I’ve never seen was blaring on giant TVs in the background, with a wild west theme and guns blazing, so both of older kids were glued to it. And I’m all “hurry it up, let’s move along.”

Upon entering the enormous Art Institute building we were met with the deliciously cold air conditioning. I had to quickly renew my membership, but we were inside within minutes and headed down to the lower level and the Thorne Miniature Rooms. No strollers allowed made me cringe, as the toddler then insisted on walking along the raised step below each room, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see into the tiny rooms. She would lean herself back to try to get a glimpse — pushing away any of my efforts to help her — and then fall off the step. I had to hurry the older kids through, reminding them that we have seen the miniature rooms many times.

What I really wanted to see was the Manet and Modern Beauty exhibit, a temporary exhibition through September of this year. Amid the artwork, a corner spot was set up like a salon, with tables and chairs, large plants, and several books of Manet’s art.

We sat for awhile, likely wearing out our welcome at one of the tables. But whenever we go to the Art Institute, I always bring a small bag that has colored pencils and index cards. I pulled out the bag and the 7-year-old and toddler did some coloring, with the 7-year-old trying to imitate a Manet picture that he found in one of the books. It gives us a little break, while still being in appreciation of the art that surrounds us.

As we walked through the rest of the exhibit, it was a fast-and-furious glimpse at Manet’s work. The toddler was on a roll, pushing herself through the crowds as I frantically followed her with an empty stroller, while still trying to keep an eye on the older two who were lagging behind me. She would stop and point, especially as we got to pictures of fruit and flowers, giving an appreciative “Oooo!”

I could tell that she was on the edge though, as the clock headed toward 12:30 pm and her naptime. We chose to go up to the Medieval Art and Arms exhibit, as I thought that the suits of armor would be intriguing to the toddler. We made it only minutes into the exhibit before she completely melted down and we were “that family” with the crying kid when everyone else was solemnly silent. Time to pack it up and head out.

In total: an hour into the city and an hour home. Half an hour for lunch. Ninety minutes at the Art Institute. It was after 2pm when we arrived home, and even though the toddler napped in the car, we convinced her to spend some time in her room. Whether she took another nap, I’m not sure, but at least everyone else got a break.

As I ushered everyone out of the Art Institute, I told the big kids that I was sorry we could not stay longer. But that also when they were that age, we used to take them to museums, knowing that the visit would be short. The important part was going to museums enough times that they would learn how to behave and appreciate what they were seeing.

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