Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: I recently noticed that I have been letting some of my museum memberships go, and that makes me a little sad. It means that a whole chapter of my life is over: I don't have a small child at home to entertain all day anymore.
I started with the museum memberships when my first baby was just a couple of months old. I'm not really a baby class kind of person, and I found I could only cruise the neighborhood in a stroller for about an hour or so. Of course, we went to the bank, post office, etc., but that was stressful, in-and-out movement. For napping, I needed to be somewhere for a stretch, and my kid needed to be in a moving conveyance.
I think the membership to the nearby gardens was first. It was open 8 to 5 and had a cafe, ever-changing scenery and some challenging walks if I was up to it (turns out, I wasn't). The next one was the zoo -- also lots of walking, and close enough that, years later, we could slip in for an hour before afternoon kindergarten.
Kids receive a free membership to our county art museum and an accompanying adult gets in free, too, so that was a no-brainer. I was a fan of the natural history museum when it was too cold or rainy for the zoo, so that was next, and we have a couple of good kids' museums relatively close, so there was usually a membership to one or the other that was active.
When I started buying memberships over a decade ago, they were about $50; if you even went just a few times during the year, they paid for themselves. My parents were more active then, and they would often join us there. When you have a membership, you don't have that feeling that you have to stay all day because you just paid $20 to get in, so if a tantrum was in the works or naptime came early, we just took off. I liked supporting the organizations and it was tax deductible, too. Museums were an ideal place to meet toddler friends (there is generally a children's activity room, so my own house stayed clean), and when friends came to visit, it was great to be able to take them, too.
One year, I had a membership to the contemporary art museum; another year, I had a membership to the automotive one. For about $200, I had something to do with my kids every day of the week (most museums are closed on Mondays, but not our zoo, gardens or science center). If we went a couple of times a week to one place or another, the average cost would only be about $2 for all of us.
When my last child started preschool, I saw that I only had a couple of days a week to go to the museums, and that if we didn't get going early enough, it was hard to get back in time to pick up the other kids. Now that she's in kindergarten, we could really only go on the weekends, which are already jam-packed with sports (soccer, baseball, softball, hockey and figure skating), church (Sunday school and altar serving) and seeing the grandparents.
I don't really miss trying to fill those early days with a fussy baby, but I do miss the museums, and I still think they're one of the best (and most reasonable) things to do with kids. I recently went to a friend's art opening with my 8-year-old and 5-year-old, who both take art classes. My 8-year-old instantly expressed how much he enjoyed the artwork and had a conversation with the artist about his use of color and shadow. Maybe I need to keep a couple of the memberships, after all ....