Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Overcoming inertia for a trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art

On Sunday, we took a family excursion to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston: both kids, my husband Rick, and me. My mother came with us as well.

This was a big deal for us. We four are not a good family for cultural excursions. We’d rather be doing something physical, something outdoors. We’d rather bike, swim, go boating, or go snowshoeing, as we did last week, than visit a museum.

Often, I can rationalize this fact about us. In my mind, when I propose a trip to a museum or architectural landmark and the rest of the family votes me down, I give them credit for valuing outdoor recreation, for appreciating the pleasures of the fields and woods and country lanes surrounding our house rather than wanting to get into the car and drive for 45 minutes into the city to pay admission to look at art or scientific wonders.

But recently I’ve resolved to try harder to get my family out of our comfort zone. As I wrote about here, there’s a fine line sometimes between appreciating what you have and becoming quasi-agoraphobic. Much of the time I too would far rather read, go for a walk or cook something than pack up and go somewhere. But it’s important to let the outside world in, and I feel like my family is at a point where I have to make it more of a priority.

The Institute of Contemporary Art was a fabulous destination for us. Even if Tim hadn’t been engaged by the contents of the museum, he would have been happy just with the view out over the water; he loves to see boats, both moored and under steam. Holly, my little artist, is always curious about how works of art are made, and the ICA has wonders of all kinds from an artistic perspective: photography, sculpture, even video art. Both kids were fascinated by the giant glass elevator in the center of the building; just watching the elevator and looking out at the harbor could have filled the time for them.

But both found works of art that fascinated them within the collection as well. Tim was mesmerized by a gigantic cube made entirely of straight pins. Holly liked the pink glass brick whose surface looked like water.

I was pleased we’d made the effort to get into the city. I want my kids to feel familiar with Boston, and yet for all of the aforementioned reasons I’m sometimes lazy about driving in with them. I want them to see the skyline, the buildings, the Charles River, the harbor and know that something interesting is about to happen. I want them to respect the diversity of the city, and its history.

At the same time, I understand the pull of inertia. When children are very little, we spend a lot of time trying to entertain them: playing games, arranging visits with other small children, going to child-oriented performances. In a way, it’s such a relief to me that mine entertain themselves so easily now and are so happy to have time at home to pursue their own activities, as they did for much of last week during school vacation. Whereas in earlier years I planned a lot of activities to keep all of us busy, now I have to insist that everyone rouse themselves from what they’re doing and join in a cultural excursion.

So it’s good to have kids who entertain themselves, and it’s also good to rally the troops once in a while and insist that we all get out. Getting to the ICA had been a goal of mine for a while. Each time we do a trip like that, it gets easier to persuade them to join me for the next excursion. There’s a lot to be said for the recreation and nature out where we live, but I need to remember the importance of exposing them to more of the world as well. Even the world just 20 miles away from our quiet rural home.

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