Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Monet and Moms, yes! Monet and strollers....?

The previous post captures my initial reactions to the Monet in Normandy exhibit. Then, in today's newspaper, G. D. Gearino's column brought unexpected news about this exhibit, which prompted my blog posting. His column, unsympathetically titled "Working up to a Good Snit," criticizes a group of parents who are upset that this special exhibit does not allow strollers. A woman started an online petition to ask the museum to permit strollers, and has collected about 110 signatures so far. The sentiments in favor of allowing strollers tend to either argue that the ban is discriminating against parents with young kids, or that the babies/toddlers themselves should be allowed to enjoy the exhibit.

To my surprise, I find myself disagreeing with this Pro-Stroller Group. I think there are some events that really can't accomodate strollers, and this exhibit is one of them, in my opinion. I am wondering what other parents think. The online petition only represents he comments from one side of the argument, since it's a petition, not a blog.

The Monet exhibit was very crowded when we visited, even on a weekday afternoon. It was a real schlep just to navigate myself through the narrow aisles, and to jockey for position to see the paintings. This was the one real downside of the experience. I find it hard to imagine that I would be able to enjoy the exhibit if I had a child in a stroller to mind. Even if my child were sound asleep, the stroller maneuvering alone would be onerous. The paintings were hung at adult eye level, so I don't buy the arugment that babies and toddlers need to be there to see the art. Many of the paintings were simply hung on the wall, not behind any protective barrier other than a narrow strip of wood on the floor that we were instructed not to cross, which allowed full view of the work but left them quite unprotected.

The Museum has made an effort to include older children in the experience, as there are questions and suggestions posted to help gradeschool-age kids enjoy and understand the paintings. I would recommend to my child's first through third grade class that this could be a meaningful outing, though one that would require a high level of supervision. One thing the Museum should do is make the no-stroller policy clear, and I don't know whether they have done so. Having been there I don't remember seeing this policy posted, though I also wasn't looking for it. I would be very upset if I bought advance tickets, showed up in person, and was denied entry without knowing of the policy in advance.

So where do we draw the line between family-friendly and adult events? I know there has been discussion about kids in bars (see the infamous Brooklyn Stroller Manifesto). Don't we all deserve to have adult experiences sometimes without our kids, rather than falling back on the reasoning that it is "impossible" to go out without them?

Disallowing strollers can't possibly be discrimination on the same level of disallowing wheelchairs, can it (even morally--as wheelchairs are legally protected)? Some stroller supporters are floating that argument.

I see both sides and I imagine that when my daughter was a baby I might have even supported the Stroller Petitioners. I remember going out with my New Moms' Class for lunch when our babies were a few months old. We went to a casual restaurant for lunch but it was busy. We were a group of about 10 women and 10 babies in "bucket carriers" that took up a heck of a lot of floor space. We created a bit of an obstacle for the servers and they were quite rude to us. (It was a "Country Cooking"-type restaurant, very casual and generally family-friendly.)

Back then I was outraged that they couldn't accommodate us with a smile. I still think the restaurant made a mistake, and I never forgave them for it, but now I admit I can at least see the situation from their point of view. It was a hassle for them. But for us it was an important, significant taste of freedom, going out with friends and our babies, maybe for the first time at a social event since our chidren were born. We wanted to be in the world.

So I have lived this and I genuinely respect that feeling. We deserve to be in the world. It's okay to be seen, to be heard, and to take up space. But aren't there truly adult activities that are best enjoyed with our hands free and minds wide open, without the kids in tow? I bet that many all of us have been on a date night to a nice event, where we arranged for a sitter for our kids, and were dismayed to have to hear someone else's kid making a fuss all evening. It happens, and sometimes it's inevitable. I've been the one walking onto an airplane with a squirmy toddler, and having everyone avert their eyes, thinking "Please....don't sit next to me." But I feel that parents are doing ourselves and others a disservice on many levels when we insist that we can never do anything without our kids.

If I were a really ambitious blogger I'd take a firm stance and flog my opinion until the cows come home, but the truth is, I am conflicted. I am having a hard time knowing where to draw the line, and rather than pretending to know all the answers, I am throwing this one wide open for discussion. Let's keep it civil as we explore this area where we won't all agree.


Blogger MojoMom said...

I guess there's not as much controversy behind this topic as I thought there might be, given the lack of comments. The columnist G. D. Gearino emailed me and said his feedback was running 24-0 in favor of preserving the exhibit as a stroller-free experience. The online petition has only added 9 signatures since the newspaper brought it up, going from 112 to 121 signatures since I first checked it out yesterday.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous aalize said...

We were in Italy when my first was 18months. We went to a gallery without a stroller as it was not allowed but we had a good time. My daughter ran through the long corridors hailing all the security guards with "Ciao,Ciao!", and the guards didn't mind a bit. In fact, they were very friendly and smiled and responded in kind.

I am not sure that there is logistically a place in galleries for strollers but I would hate to be excluded from enjoying art until my child is 8 years old!! That seems rather cruel. I do not have someone to babysit my child and so take her with me everywhere.

2:40 PM  

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