Winding down the headlands of Marin, the city’s jagged skyline dominates the horizon, crowning a sparkling expanse of water.
“Is dat Sawancisco Dada?”
“Yeah Sasha, that’s San Francisco.”
We are at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic span looms above, stretching boldly across the choppy strait. Fog swirls together with pregnant clouds, biting my face with an icy wind.
It is Thursday. Day four of what most people call Spring Break. Four days of racking my brain trying to figure out ways to entertain and educate these small people who follow me around all day, I call it Preschool Appreciation Week. Distant memories of Tecates and hot tubs taunt me as I pull into the crowded parking lot of the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
Located at Fort Baker, a retired Army post on a sheltered cove of San Francisco Bay, BADM is a world-renowned children’s museum occupying 7.5 acres of indoor and outdoor space. Designed to stimulate creativity and foster a sense of place by celebrating local landmarks, wildlife, geography and culture, it is a place where kids can paint, sculpt, build, experiment, climb, perform and imagine.
It is an inspiring place where kids get lost in the worlds they create and parents sit on benches and look at their phones. Everybody wins.
At the Tot Spot, we send toy salmon upstream, hop on waterbed ponds with aquarium ceilings and climb through rabbit holes in Eucalyptus groves. In the Bay Hall, we go crabbing at Fisherman’s Wharf, attach shipping containers to cranes at the Port of Oakland and explore below the pier in an underwater tunnel.
At the Science and You exhibit, we take a shower and wash our hands before entering the interactive lab. Every other parent in the room is looking at their phone. Every single one of them has an iPhone.
I take a moment to judge them all. Minutes later, I unconsciously check my Facebook and Rotoworld newsfeeds while the kids look at butterfly wings and bee legs under a microscope.
We make our way to Discovery Cove and begin exploring the Peekaboo Palace, a living sculpture and maze made of twisting willow branches. Newly sprouted leaves accent secret rooms, windows and doors. Charmed by its magic, I excitedly follow my kids through one of the doorways. Sasha stops before me, turns around and looks at me with a furrowed brow.
“Dis only for kids Dada,” she admonishes.
I am disappointed. But then my phone vibrates to let me know it’s finally my turn on Words with Friends. I drop QI on a triple-word-score for the win, pump my fist then look around to make sure no one saw me.
Inside the art studio, we find ourselves at a round table with five other kids, rolling, stamping and slicing play dough with a variety of tools. The kid sitting next to Sasha is hoarding a giant ball of dough and close to a dozen tools. There is no dough for Sasha. I begin to piece together crumbs of dough from the edges of the table and floor and glance over at his mom. She’s zeroed in on her phone, frantically thumbing text after text.
The kid glares menacingly at Sasha as she takes her seat and then quickly snatches the single tool before her. I glare right back at him and call him a jerk under my breath. I imagine taking all his dough and tools, then kicking his chair over, but ultimately settle on taking back the tool he took from my daughter and another one sitting at the edge of his douchey stockpile.
His mom is still hammering away at her phone.
We end up closing the place down. The kids fall asleep as I drive into the dark and ominous clouds that will later produce 750 lightning strikes across the Bay Area. The kids had a great day filled with education and imagination. I clicked “like” a few times, set my fantasy lineup and increased Zynga’s stock by a fraction of a penny.
Spring Break 2012. MTV doesn’t know what they’re missing.
Neil is a stay-at-home dad who rarely stays home. He is a writer and recovering criminal defense lawyer. He lives in Mill Valley with his wife and two kids.