I have two grandsons, 18 months old and 5 months old. The oldest is now so active that he can wear me out with his running and climbing and screaming and crying and whining. The time has now come to share the world with him, the sights and sounds of parks and museums…or so I thought. These places are educational, build motor skills, and delight the mind…at the right time and right age. I want my grandsons to remember their times with me as I remember the times with my grandmothers and my children remember with theirs. My memories of grandmothers do not include museums or parks. My time with them was in their homes watching them cook and bake, playing cards, gardening, or simply just sitting with them. My children went places like the Dayton Fair or camp with their grandparents. They did simple things that often cost nothing.
A couple of weeks ago my oldest grandson, his mother and I stopped at the playground in Frick Park on Braddock Avenue. It was a little damp and chilly that day. We joined a couple of fathers with their children; perhaps it was visitation or maybe mothers were busy with other children. My daughter helped my grandson climb the stairs to the slide. He loves the slide, and this one is a good size to stand along guiding him as he exerts a little independence. He climbed several times to repeat this. I guided him over to some ball chairs that swivel around. He seemed less interested in those….too calm for his active body. We approached the swings, and his face showed the delight of recognition. He loves to swing, giggling and laughing aloud at each arc forward and back. He hates to get off and expresses his displeasure by screaming and crying; he has no words yet. We shared the park with a couple of dogs running around the field with their owner standing watching. My grandson headed in that direction, but we turned him away to return to the play equipment. A few more climbs, and we were ready to go. He was displeased, but we promised to return on a warmer day. A few days later when I planned to return with him, it was too cold and snowy. There are advantages to visiting on those less hospitable days-no lines for the swings and slides. It is like having your own private playground.
A week later, the weather turned warm and sunny on a Saturday afternoon, so we three decided to visit the Frick Park playground on Beechwood Boulevard. It was overrun with parents and children, joggers, dogs and their owners. We got the stroller out of the trunk which turned out to be just extra baggage left with me and eventually parked along a bench. This playground is divided into sections suitable for different age groups. Closest to the street is play equipment for younger children. This was our first stop; my grandson climbed through a short plastic tube and walked to the diminutive slide. He could not help but see that there was much more in another area. He headed for bigger slides and higher steps. I followed behind with my cameras moving from one side to another of the equipment. My daughter climbed the steps with him and placed him in front of her to slide down the slide. Then I walked him to the edge of the slide again while she stood under spotting him and holding his arm as he slid down on his own. He will soon be refusing that hand on his arm. Such delight…..he wanted to repeat and repeat. They walked across the swaying bridge creating that strange feeling of unbalance. I remember the snapshot from the late 50’s of my husband with his brother and mother on a long swinging bridge over water (some creek near Clarion, probably long gone or in disrepair). We walked up and down the soft layer of matting under the equipment, installed to blunt the impact of any falls. We noticed the children sliding down the hillside on cardboard. That will wait for another time. We noticed the busy swing seats near the toddler equipment, but my grandson wanted to swing at least once. We walked down and stood waiting. One small girl sat almost motionless on the end swing. Her grandmother or some aunt or a nanny (not her mother as judged by her age) walked over to lift her from the swing, and she screamed. The child’s pregnant mother sat on a bench 15 feet away busy on her phone, oblivious to her daughter. We waited a bit longer for a free swing. Another two swings were held captive by siblings. The oldest was able to swing by himself while the younger was intermittently pushed by the father who had a long-lens camera hanging from his shoulder. Later I saw him taking photos of his young daughter on the hillside. We waited, but no one made a move to vacate. Is there some unwritten rule about how long you should swing when others are waiting a turn? My daughter became impatient and took my grandson through the concrete duct tunnel connecting sections of the park, and I followed behind. We climbed the steps to the slide again, and as he slid down, we noticed that young child on the end was finally being lifted out of the swing. We walked back to the swings only to have another child slide in before we reached the area. Eventually our chance came. My grandson loved his turn on the swings and did not want to leave, just as that other young girl had not wanted to leave. We decided to take a short stroll down the path before returning to the house. It was fun in the park, but I would prefer to visit on a weekday when other children are napping. That is just the opinion of a grandmother.
There are many more things to do in Pittsburgh, and we took advantage of a couple after those visits to the park. Recently we bought membership at The Mattress Factory and with the membership card came a list of museums for reciprocal days. We could not wait to visit the Heinz Museum. I never forgot that my mother wanted to visit this museum, but she never made it. She would have enjoyed it. We decided that this was a place to visit without my grandson. This museum will wait for him. Days later, we took him to visit the Children’s Museum on the North Side. Neither my daughter or I had ever visited here before, and we were excited to take my grandson. We walked in the door where a large stained-glass bird (‘big bird’) stood watching and checked in. We walked up a ramp alongside an enclosed climbing area for older children which reached to the next floor. I took some photos for my husband; maybe he will build something similar someday at our private playground. We stopped at some pipes where other children were playing. My daughter tried to move my grandson along, but he cried and whined. Toddlers get focused on one thing and cannot imagine there is more ahead. Finally he came along, and we visited the Garage area. This was not really for his age group. We entered another room with some type of marionette actions. My grandson and daughter climbed up a walkway and came down a slide while I waited to snap a photo of them at the bottom. I missed the shot completely when they descended a different slide than I expected. We walked on making shadows on a wall and adding pieces of cloth to a turning wheel to make a kaleidoscope on the wall. We walked from area to area enjoying a few things–making designs in sand and spinning wheels. We reached the top floor to water fun. We had not known to expect this and were not ready with a change of clothes. My grandson had no idea what he was missing and was easily led away. We were ready to leave now. My daughter said she was disappointed; she thought there would be more for him to do. I wanted to love The Children’s Museum, but felt like it was sensory overload for my grandson. Perhaps when he is older he will enjoy it. Maybe I will too.
Yesterday, we took advantage of that same reciprocal benefit to visit The National Aviary. The parking lot was full when we arrived shortly after 2 PM, so we searched for street parking and found it about a block away. We took the stroller from the car not knowing what it would be like to track a toddler inside. It was 20 years ago when I last visited this museum with my daughter’s preschool class. She says she remembers exactly what she was wearing. Maybe she remembers or maybe she just remembers the photo I took of her there. It was frigid and windy, so I told her to walk ahead while I put money in the meters. I should take advantage of the new Go Mobile PGH app I put on my phone. How long might we be visiting? My daughter made a face and said not long; she does not like birds. I walked quickly to that front door and found her waiting for me to check in. We got our free pass and a map. We entered through the doors to the Tropical Rainforest area. The birds of every color, large and small were below us and above us. They flew over our heads stirring the air as they passed. My grandson in his stroller was at a disadvantage to get a good view, so my daughter took him out. I was left with the empty stroller to dodge adults, children and birds walking among us. My daughter was ready to move to the next area long before I reached her; she reminded me again she did not like birds. The doors were blocked by the colorful cock-of-the-walk dragging his long tail behind him. One small boy approached this bird as his mother warned him that the bird did not want touched. He found that out when the bird pecked towards him, missing him, I think. I pushed the stroller slowly towards the doors to urge the bird out of the way. My daughter sharply warned me to stop. She was afraid the bird would head in her direction. I stopped for her sake. I joked that I would buy her the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie THE BIRDS. Eventually the bird moved away, and we moved out. As is only right at an aviary; the birds rule the roost. We visited the penguin enclosure where people can waddle and crouch their way through short tunnels to watch the penguins from another vantage point. As my daughter exited, she told me she was ready to punch some little girl who had hit my grandson as she pushed through. My daughter pointed out a young girl of about six dressed in a pink ballerina-style skirt running around the benches as the perpetrator of that strike. This girl ran while her father called out and followed her; he had lost control. We continued to move through the exhibits; my daughter in the lead as I trailed behind snapping photos and watching the birds. We stopped at the exhibits of the toucans of Fruit Loops fame. I snapped some photos of my daughter and grandson watching the birds. We stopped to look at the backside of the baby sloth cuddled into a towel or blanket. This may have been the one reason we came, and all we saw was the backside of that baby. I would love to see its little claws. When we came to Flamingo Trek, we could see the crush of people inside (advance reservations recommended). We were ready to leave now. Of course, the final push was through the gift shop. It was too crowded to even look a little. We really had enough of navigating through adults, children and strollers. I told my daughter that perhaps an early morning, weekday visit would be the best time to return. I think maybe she does not care to visit again; she does not like birds.
I realized that perhaps I am at an age where the crush of crowds is too much for me with a young child in tow. I really want to take him and my other grandson to experience all Pittsburgh has to offer, but I want to do that on days when most other people do not want to visit. Perhaps all the memorable times with me will be the simple times spent with just the two, three, four or five of us walking the streets looking for graffiti. Perhaps my grandchildren will enjoy watching the trains pass as we scan for interesting graffiti. Perhaps they will enjoy biking or walking the trails and stopping just to look. Perhaps they will enjoy sitting on the porch with a book sipping a coffee (juice or water for them). Those are the kind of times I remember with my grandmothers (I had no grandfathers still living when I reached the age to remember). My children were lucky to have both grandmothers and grandfathers. They have many happy stories to tell of those times with grandparents. That is what we hope for-our grandchildren to share stories about us years after we have moved on.