Monday, February 18, 2008

Wrong about the Baby Jesus

Another day, another art museum. We found ourselves at the Walters today.

It's a rare gem. Though it is not usually open Mondays, as private museums tend not to be, it was open today, the huge golden doors swung wide onto Charles Street. It's quirky and weird, reflecting a personal vision about collecting and art and what's valuable. It's small and managable, close to free street parking and cheap lunch counters. It's free. All the time.

PLUS over the past few years, they have devoted tremendous resources to making the museum a real family place, with events and activities and interpretive materials for kids as young as pre-school. (This was not true when I lived a few blocks away from the Walters, but then, I didn't need it to be, did I?)

Ian went to the Walters for the first time when he was almost 3 months old.
We go several times a year, and some of the staff recognized us today. (Granted, we are hard to miss, the World's Cutest Toddler and his purple-haired aging hipster mom. We tend to make an impression.)

This morning, we went directly to the playroom in the basement, and played with blocks and puppets for an hour. The puppets at the Walters totally rule over all other hand puppets on earth. The playroom has a slight Heraldry/Chivalry theme, and so the puppets include lions and griffins and dragons, as well as camels, skunks, rats, bunnies, and whatever else the FolkManis people were making that season. Yeah, I know, they're retail puppets - you would think that I would reserve this sort of enthusiasm for one-of-a-kind works of art - but on the other hand, they seem to be surviving rough toddler play and baby gnawing awfully well. Nothing to (ha ha) sneeze at.

Anyway, after about an hour, I was able to lure him into the elevator and get him upstairs to look at some pictures. He wasn't interested at first, but then some temple statues got him, and we went on our traditional hunt for animals in the artworks. We saw bears, horses, monkeys, peacocks, dogs and bunnies. And lions.

This wandering from work to work led us into the 18th Century galleries, where there is lots and lots of Baby Jesus.

Pictures of Baby Jesus are interesting to both of us (I can only feign interest in horse paintings for so long) and so we talked about each one: how does his momma look in this picture? Does she look sad? "NO! Is HAPPY!" She looked kinda tired to me, but maybe I was projecting. What color is his blanket? Does it look soft? What animal is he petting? (There's a whole room of huge paintings of Baby J hugging the Paschal Lamb, by the way. While this symbolism isn't new to me, it hit me square in the chest with a kind of meanness today.)

We came upon a smallish painting of a naked, sleeping Baby J, and I hoisted Ian up so he could get a good look. Ian looked at me with a concerned face.

"His diaper, Mamma!" he whispered, shocked.
"Yep, his diaper's off. Maybe he took it off after his mamma put him to bed."
"But Mamma! His diaper! Is OFF!"
"Yes, it is. I wonder if that made his mamma mad."

Later, we're on the main floor, stopping for a juice box before leaving. Ian grabs my hand and says "Change! muh diaper! Mamma."

I get him into the ladies and strapped onto the changing table. He identifies the figures on the international safety label: "Is baby! Is momma! Is leaving!" He's not alarmed, merely reporting on the content.
"Yes, that's what the picture is, but you know I won't leave. I'm right here."
"Changin' muh diaper!"
"Yes! Changing your diaper."
He stares off into space for a long moment.
"Mamma, I was wrong about the Baby Jesus." (Yes, he said it just that grammatically, and yet it somehow sounded more like Scooby Doo than Ellen Page.)

I asked him what he meant, and he wasn't quite as clear in explaining, of course. But he did get across that the diaper - Baby J's missing diaper - was still bothering him. He may have trouble sleeping tonight, thinking about it. As we were leaving the museum, he stopped to discuss it with the woman behind the membership desk.

"Well, yeah," she said. "Sometimes babies take their diapers off. It's okay. See, Baby Jesus was just like you!"
"No," he said firmly. "Baby Jesus."
"Yes," I chimed in. "That's kind of the point, that Jesus was a person."
"Not a person. Baby Jesus."

He'll get it eventually.

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