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Caren Chesler Headshot

The Wanderer

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Caren Chesler
Caren Chesler

For three days, I'd been telling my son, Eddie, we were going to the Curious George exhibit at the Liberty Science Center.

"We're going to see George's house," I'd say every morning when I changed his diaper. "And who are we going with?"

"Dora and Franz," he'd say. Dora is in his class, and Franz is her older brother.

"And whose house are we going to see?"

"Jerge," he'd say.

"And how many days til we go?"

No answer. He doesn't know the days of the week yet or how to count. He also doesn't understand the concept of anticipation, or words like "soon" or "later," understanding only the concept of "now," as in "I want it now." It reminds me of the gates and railings he used to throw his toys over, as if to say, this is the stuff we have here and now, and beyond that arbitrary barrier is an abyss that he doesn't know and doesn't care about.

The day of our excursion, we were supposed to take two cars, but Dora's mom called to say Franz was sick and would not be going. We took her car and Eddie sat in Franz's car seat.

When we arrived at the museum, we were told the Curious George exhibit was on the fourth floor. We took the elevator up and when we emerged, there was a railing that overlooked the four floors below, and hanging from the ceiling, like a chandelier, was a giant sphere that swung back and forth. The sphere was made of metal rods that could collapse upon themselves, making the sphere larger and smaller as it swung back and forth. We watched it move back and forth, growing larger and smaller, for a few minutes and then headed off to the exhibit.

Eddie and Dora separated the moment we walked into the exhibit. Eddie gravitated to the slide, which one reached by entering a little spaceship and ascending a spiral staircase like one would climb up a the stairs of a lighthouse. Eddie was intrigued by the slide, but climbed the stairs with trepidation. Every time he'd disappear into the spaceship, I'd have to stand by the opening at the top of it and coax him upward. Otherwise, he'd just stand inside, and I could see a line of children backing up behind him.

After the slide, Eddie walked over to a machine that instructed you to insert big square blocks into a big square hole. A conveyer belt would then carry the blocks up through a vertical tunnel and then across a bridge before spitting them back out again onto the floor. Despite there being a big sign that said, "Only put square blocks into the hole," Eddie kept trying to jam in rhombus-shaped blocks. When I'd try to take the rhombus out of his hand, he'd hold onto it tightly and continue trying to shove it into the hole. Since turning 2 in February, he's become fiercely independent and obstinate, though his stubbornness right now exceeds his intelligence.

At the produce stand, children could take a satchel and fill it with fruits and vegetables made out of felt. They could then pay for their food with paper money that went into a cash register. After repeatedly putting the dirty cloth fruit into his mouth, Eddie began grabbing the money and trying to commandeer the cash register, even though there was a girl already standing there.

By the time we left the exhibit, it was a lot more crowded than when we'd arrived. In fact, the whole museum had filled up. We eventually caught up with Dora and her mother in the fish room next door. We all walked over to a large fish tank, and Eddie pointed a little finger at one of the fish in the tank.

"Name?" he asked.

"Seahorse," I said.

He pointed to another one.

"Name?" he asked.

"That's an eel," I said.

He pointed to another.


"Um, little blue fish. I don't know its name," I said.

His thirst for knowledge these days is almost insatiable -- almost like Curious George -- though we're not yet at the stage of, "Mommy, why is the sky blue?" or "What makes it rain?" He mostly wants to know what things are called. Just six months ago, I'd point to things and say, "And what do we call this?" And he'd respond. "Fish." "Plane." "Ball." Now, he points that little twig of a finger at objects around the room, and it's I who respond. "Plate." "Oar." "Stovetop cappucino maker."

Next to the fish tank was a large tank with no top that was filled with sand and water. On each side of the tank were two levers that operated a metal scoop like you might find on a backhoe. Eddie waited impatiently for the boy in front of us to finish playing with it, and as soon as he did, Eddie grabbed the levers and began scooping up sand and water and then dumping it back out. He then scooped up more sand and water and again dumped it back out. He did this over and over again until a small line began to form and I made him relinquish the levers so someone else could try. He cried, but reluctantly acquiesced. When I said we had to leave, he protested, and when I reached for his arm, he went boneless and collapsed on the floor.

"OK, I'll see you later," I said, giving him a big wave and starting to walk away.

He stood there for a minute and seemed to contemplate his options. "I come," he said, and followed after me.

We met up with Dora and her mother and went to have lunch at a small cafeteria down on the second floor. By the end of the meal, I could smell that Eddie's diaper needed to be changed, so I took him to the bathroom on the other side of the museum, back near the elevators. There were two "family" bathrooms, where one could get a whole room to yourself with a diaper changing table, but both rooms appeared to be occupied.

Holding Eddie's hand, I walked across the hall to the ladies' and men's bathrooms, but there was no diaper changing table in the ladies room. The only one was in the men's room. I peaked in and saw it was right next to the urinals. I walked back to the family bathrooms across the hall and knocked, but both were still occupied.

Still holding Eddie's hand, I walked back to the men's room and stood outside and contemplated running in there with Eddie, throwing him on the table next to the urinals and changing him really fast, but as I stood there, a man walked by me into the men's room and I imagined him unzipping his fly and standing there in front of the urinal holding his penis. I walked back across the hall to the family bathrooms and rapped on one of the doors. There was no answer. I walked over to the other family bathroom and dropped Eddie's hand and rapped on the door, harder this time. As I stood there waiting for an answer, Eddie began to wander down the short hallway to the railing by the elevators, where the large metal sphere was swinging back and forth. As he stood staring up at the sphere, I put my ear to the door of the bathroom and knocked again, to see if I could hear if anyone inside. I heard nothing. I lifted my head from the door and when I looked down the hallway toward the railing, Eddie was gone.

I ran over to the railing and looked both ways. There was no sign of him. I began to panic. I quickly scanned the area. I didn't see him anywhere. It was as if he had vanished. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the elevator door closing. He must be in there, I thought. He didn't seem to be anywhere else. My mind was racing. What do I do? If I run down the stairs to catch the elevator opening on the first floor and he's not in there, he'll have wandered even farther from me, and I might never find him. And what if in my absence, someone took him. It's every parent's worst nightmare. You turn around for a second, and your kid is gone. Snatched. I once read a book about a guy who took his daughter to the grocery store, and when he turned around for just a second, she vanished. That was it. He never saw her again.

Suddenly, a man standing at the top of the stairwell that led down to the first floor shouted, "He's over here!" Eddie was boldly walking down the steps. I don't know if the man saw the look on my face or if he just saw a child walking unattended, but he ran down a few steps, grabbed Eddie and carried him up back up the steps to where I was waiting. The two women who were with the man looked at me empathetically, but I couldn't help but feel like they were wondering, "What kind of mother loses her child?"

I can't remember what I said as Eddie and I walked back to the cafeteria except for, "Oh my goodness." As soon as I saw Dora's mother and told her what happened, I began to cry.

"Oh, how awful," she said.

We didn't talk about it anymore on the ride home, but I kept turning around and looking at Eddie in his car seat. And when we stopped off at a Dunkin Donuts to get coffee, I always kept him within arm's reach, even as I walked around the counter for cream and sugar.