Column: Day at the museum

James Bornemeier
James Bornemeier

Our plan was to get into the city mid-morning and rendezvous with my stepson and his three kids, ages 8, 4 and 2, for a visit to the American Museum of Natural History.

The main draw was the display of its newest dinosaur, a titanosaur, a 122-foot- long assembly of bones cast from fossils discovered in Argentina.

This herbivorous species roamed the earth 100 million years ago and is one of the biggest of all the dinosaurs. It weighed 70 tons and featured an 8-foot thigh bone. Creatures of this immensity seem so unlikely that seeing just one boggles the mind; the thought of a herd of these critters slowly laying waste to large swaths of Argentinian forestland is utterly preposterous.

The titanosaur is so big that the room where it hangs out in is too small to accommodate all of him/her. When you get off the elevator to the dinosaur precincts, its head is poking out of the portal, turned to welcome you in what seems a friendly tilt of his/her cranium. Compared to the rest of him/her the brain pocket seems awfully small, suggesting that this species wasn’t a Phi Beta Kappa candidate in the jungle classroom.

On the way over to the museum, I told Max, the 8-year-old, to keep his hooded sweatshirt over his head in case one of the dinosaurs in the exhibit got frisky and decided to take a nip out of him. He looked at me with a there-goes-grandpa-again look.

But I noticed that, while amid the dinosaurs, Max dutifully kept his hood up. I think his reasoning went this way: Grandpa has made these crazy sorts of remarks before, but why tempt fate? Better safe than sorry.

The adventurous 4-year-old, Zoe, was bedazzled by everything and keeping her in check was like herding a cat. When she condescended to allow her hand in yours, all she wanted to do was to be hoisted into the air several times or, alternatively, run a few paces and fall to her knees for a quick slide. She wins almost every negotiation with adults.

Simone, 2, had no tolerance for the stroller and was carried by Dad or left to roam at will. She is in the observational phase where every object is absorbed into her consciousness by pointing at it with her index finger and finding an adult’s eyes, making a sound and locking it in.

Appropriately, she was wearing a zebra-themed top.

Speaking of strollers, I was given empty-stroller duty. The museum is such a gold mine of delights, particularly in the dinosaur neighborhood, that the crowd is a churning sea of moms, dads, kids and strollers. On several occasions I nicked someone’s heels with the stroller wheels. But no one cares. Everyone is nicking somebody’s heels all the time.

The girls cleaned up at the gift shop, cleverly located so you have no choice but to pass it to get out of the museum. Zoe spotted some cloth raptor wings that threaded through her arms for flapping. Flap she happily did. She also wanted a pink elephant but was denied — a rare win for the adults — because she already has approximately 4 million stuffed animals at home.

But only temporarily. She persisted and wore her parents down so that a pink elephant found online was express-delivered in two days. It was, sadly, more purple than pink and did not make the grade with Zoe. A return trip back to the museum gift shop found dozens of gray elephants but no pink ones.

The sun rises in the east; Zoe will get her pink elephant.

I remember the first time we took Max to the museum a few years back. In the Hall of Mammals was a large glass case with a stuffed lion and various other animals. The stuffed tiger looked like he was having a bad day and his facial expression did not reveal the slightest bit of acceptance of humans. It looked hungry and angry.

Max spotted that menacing scowl from across the vast room. I think Max’s reasoning went this way: What is the benefit to me of standing right next to the glass separating me from the tiger? Exactly zero. I’ll give it a wide berth.

Better safe than sorry.