Posted by: trevormeers | November 15, 2010

Katie vs. The Art Goons

In the dim theater, we noticed that the guy to our left wore a bicycle helmet with one of those little dentists’ mirrors attached to the left temple, and his stomach bulged inside a Spandex cycling jersey like a sausage bursting for freedom. “These are our kind of people,” Teri and I were both thinking.

Cuppie visits Lake Michigan last June.

We weren’t connecting so much with the cycling brethren at this documentary about Iowa’s epic RAGBRAI bike ride, although we do plan to join the fun next July. Instead, we were nodding along in the dark at the perspective of one family chronicled in the film.

One rider in the film is a paraplegic cranking his way across 500 miles of Heartland with his massive arms turning the gear of a modified wheelchair. In one scene, he breaks for a picnic with his family, who catches up with him for part of the week. As the kids dig into their burgers, the rider’s wife tells the camera, “We’re a conspicuous family. My husband uses a wheelchair. We have three kids, and one of them is adopted from China. You can’t miss us when we show up, but we don’t even think about it anymore.”

They’re the family we’d like to look up and meet when we do RAGBRAI next summer. Because long ago, we, too, noticed a lot of people noticing us a lot of the places we went. Every parent juggling a diaper bag and two kids while trailing Goldfish crumbs through a busy restaurant feels like a spotlight’s burning down on them.

But the sidelong glances last longer when a kid like Katie wears your family’s story on her face. Add a fashionable neck brace, and the suburban gawkers start watching like paparazzi. Even after eight years of this, it still gets uncomfortable, like when the waiter in a so-hip-it-hurts Michigan town spent the meal grimacing over Katie’s systematic destruction of the table setting (when he wasn’t checking his gelled hair in his iPhone’s reflective screen). Or when a Target clerk looked at Katie a few days ago and decided the appropriate thing to tell Teri was, “You know, my son died last year.”

Other times, the attention gives you a little hope for modern culture, like when a waitress in Des Moines returned our money because a guy who had slipped out the door decided to pay our bill. (Although that one got me thinking that, Katie aside, perhaps my 15-year-old ESPN fleece really isn’t projecting the right public image anymore.)

Sometimes our little posse runs afoul of the establishment in ways that could happen nowhere but in Katie’s World.

Several weeks ago, we rendezvoused with Teri’s entire immediate family for a weekend in Kansas City. On Saturday afternoon, we decided to give the kids a dose of culture and headed to a famed local art museum, and for a while, it continued to seem as good an idea as a parenting magazine would promise. The older kids were fascinated by the gallery that carried them from ancient Egypt to Rome, Greece and Renaissance Europe. Allison wanted proof that the mummy’s sarcophagus was authentic, and she recounted the details of stories from Sunday School as she studied medieval paintings of the scenes.

For her part, Katie was rolling happily along in her stroller, clutching Pan. Anyone who knows Katie knows that one of her hallmarks is going everywhere with some object clutched in her grip like a briefcase of nuclear codes. The obsession is consistent, even if its objects aren’t. Barney DVD cases are a recurring choice, although we’ve tried to wean her off those because Target clerks tend to think she’s stealing movies. On a vacation, she carried the top of a juice bottle shaped like Cleo the dog (one of Clifford’s pals) to Colorado and back. Cuppie makes regular appearances, whether he’s a plastic cup from church or a Lexan tumbler from home. And if you’ve read the hospital chapters of this blog, you know she carried Star to the doorstep of the operating room in Iowa City. All of these items become something like our family’s Flat Stanleys, appearing in photos from wherever we’ve been.

But Pan, a metal toy stockpot, was the Kansas City choice. Rolling past priceless artistic visions, Katie contented herself with twisting Pan in her hands and rubbing it on her cheeks. We made our way into the modern wing, a sweeping angular space full of natural light and works that make Missouri farmers on holiday say, “How much did they pay for this black board?” I was distracted by a pointillist vision of a mountain blizzard when Katie drew the gallery enforcer’s attention. Behind my back, I heard Teri say, “Well, then we’ll just leave.”

Apparently, the goon came over to say that the gallery didn’t allow children with anything in their hands. You never know when one of the little urchins will toss something at the artwork, after all. Teri didn’t bother explaining that you could pull a Monet from the wall and have it up on eBay before you’d pry Pan from Katie’s hands. She didn’t argue that the teens walking with noses pressed against cell phones would stumble into a painting before Pan hit one.

Teri just wheeled the stroller around and headed outside to the big lawn cascading down to a broad avenue. My father-in-law didn’t take the ejection well, this being his second grandchild-related reprimand in this museum in the last year. But we convinced him to let it go, and we all went outside to enjoy the warm fall day. In our family, we choose Pan and nature over cubism every time.



  1. HOORAY for PAN and Mom!!!

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