Sunday, July 15, 2012

When Adventures Go Horribly Wrong

As you can probably tell by now, I like to take my children on outings and adventures.  We like to visit parks and playgrounds.  We like to go to museums and monuments.  My children are up for most escapades and enjoy a day of good exploring.  They will usually be happy to give any activity a try and I'm lucky that I can take them anywhere without worrying about tantrums or bad behavior.

Most of the activities that I choose work out well.  A trip to an art museum, a small hike through nature, various art projects....most days are successful and we come home with great tales of triumph and adventure to share at the dinner table in the evening.  

But not always.

Some activities are real duds and certain adventures go horribly wrong.  

This past Wednesday's trip was a perfect example.

We had so much success with visiting the Vanderbilt's mansion in Newport, that I figured the time was right to bring the kids on a guided tour of the Crane Family Estate on Castle Hill in Massachusetts.  We go to Crane's beach frequently during the summer, and we've hiked along the lawns of the estate in the past, but we have never taken a tour INSIDE the great house and I've always had it on my list of things I wanted to see.  

I should tell you that I've never met a historical house that I didn't want to inspect from top to bottom - I even worked in a historical house in DC for a few short months after college, before my savings ran out and I was forced to get a paying job.  But I'm not the kind of parent who drags their children to places where they are doomed to be bored and unhappy.  Henry, Georgia and Josie were game to give the house a look-over and after that fabulous tour of The Breakers, I might even say that they were excited to try another summer mansion tour.  We arrived bright and early for the scheduled event.

Our prompt arrival was the only positive element that could be gleamed from the the day.

For such a gorgeous place, the tour of Castle Hill was such a disastrous activity.

Our little party of four included the only children in a tour group of 12 people.  Should that fact have been a clue that this was a terrible activity for children?  Maybe.  But then, my children have been the only people under the age of 15 on many different museum tours.  What can I say?  They like museums and they are well-behaved.... in public.... for the most part.

Let this be a warning to you:  The Crane's Estate, Castle Hill Mansion tour is a Disaster For Children.

Heed my words.  If you are looking for activities to do with your children in Massachusetts, STAY AWAY FROM CASTLE HILL.

Our tour guide was a cranky, retiree volunteer.  I knew we were in for a problem the second that the tour began in the Crane's library. Our tour guide's delivery was lackluster at best.  She described in painful detail the history of the library's woodwork and book collection.  I'm not saying that these topics weren't interesting - they were.   Apparently, Mrs. Crane had the contents of her house sold at auction when she died and the proceeds of the sale went to the Chicago Art Museum.  When the Trustees of the Reservation (the people in charge of running The Crane Estate here in MA) wanted to open the house to the public for tours, they were forced to buy furniture and books so that the public wouldn't have to walk through empty rooms.  

See how easy and interesting that was to say?  Our tour guide said this same amount of information in twenty minutes of boring, bone-numbing dialogue.  The children - although quiet and well-behaved - had that glossed over look that children get when they are no longer paying attention.  I was worried that this was going to be The Longest Tour Ever.  If it had taken 20 minutes to discuss one room... and there were six rooms on the tour.... Oh my!

The Crane Mansion is really as gorgeous inside as it is out.  I would have enjoyed being able to explore without the dreadful boredom of our guide.  She was really very strange.  She seemed to point out the negative features more than the positive.  She had interesting information about the family but never fully explained enough so that you got a complete picture of them.  For instance, she mentioned that the original house built on the site was not to Mrs. Crane's liking, so Mr. Crane told her that if in ten summers she still didn't like the house, she could build a new one.  So... did she indeed wait ten summers?  We never found out.  The guide just left us hanging and she just kept doing it.  Our tour guide also told us that the Crane son went to Harvard, but that in her opinion, "he just went to a football game."  Um.  Well.  Did he attend Harvard?  Isn't this a fact that we could look up?  Should you really be disparaging this man who so generously left us his entire family estate to enjoy?   

It all seemed so wrong.  Don't tour guides - especially volunteer tour guides - enjoy teaching people about their museum or historical house?  This one just seemed so annoyed by us all.  God forbid anyone should move a little fast or a little slow.  I got chastised more than once for bringing up the rear.  I guess she wanted us all to be present while she bored us with her painfully slow descriptions.  But this was just my observation.  The kids probably didn't hear more than a word of what the tour guide was saying because she was just so incredibly boring - and more than a little bit cranky.  Georgia said the guide reminded her of the lunch ladies at school.  And trust me, that is not a compliment.

I'm not saying that everyone has to be great with young people, but certainly mine were not the first children to go on a Crane's Estate tour.  Certainly there could be a child-friendly format for the tour guides to follow.  Because this tour was definitely not child-friendly....not the tour guide, not the tour script, not the furniture or decorations (which the guide repeatedly reminded my children not to brush against or lean upon even though no one was doing any such thing) and believe it or not, not the other members of the tour themselves.   The children Elliot were being angels.  They weren't rolling their eyes, they weren't sitting on the furniture, they weren't touching things, they weren't arguing or being loud.  Especially under the circumstances, all three of my children were behaving perfectly.  I was very proud.  Which is why I was so confused when a woman on the tour leaned over to me and said in a loud voice "The children are very bored."  "No.  They are okay,"  I said.  Let's move on, I was thinking.  Don't worry about my children.  "I'm glad you brought them here!"  bellowed the woman's companion, an older gentleman wearing a hat.  "I bet you spend your WHOLE DAY doing awful things for them THAT YOU HATE!  It's good for them to have to DO THINGS that THEY HATE for a change," he yelled.  "IT'S A GOOD LESSON!"

That's when I realized!  Oh my goodness!  A child-hater!  And then all the rest of the oldies on the tour began to chuckle in agreement and add in their two cents about how horrible children are.  Oh my!  A whole room of children-haters!  

I gathered the children closer to me and tried to shield them from the hatred of the tour members.  It was an unusual feeling for me, as my kids are usually so well-received by members of the general museum public.  Oldies usually love my children.  Since we weren't barely half-way through the tour, I began a campaign of getting the children to Just Endure.

Things turned really ugly when we got to the Crane's daughter's bedroom and the tour guide perked up for a minute to tell us all that if we were guests of the Crane family and we had brought our children, we wouldn't have to SEE them for their entire vacation because the Crane's hired a Governess!  Amongst cheers and applause, the most vocal child-hater raised his voice to announce, "That's the BEST NEWS I've heard on this tour today!  WHAT LUCKY PARENTS!"  

I made use of all my best glares and frown-y faces, but I'm pretty sure I didn't get my point across to this wretched group.  It would have been one thing if my children had run through the house, touching artifacts, spitting in corners and yelling over the tour guide, but as I've said earlier, they were very well-behaved.  It was a disaster - plain and simple.

What could the trustees do to improve the tour?  Maybe hold a children-only tour a few times a summer and encourage family with kids to come then?  Do a little research into the lives of the Crane children and add the information to the tour when it goes through their bedrooms?  Hire guides who can connect with all ages?  These are only suggestions.  

I can only say that I couldn't get the children out of that tour fast enough.  Once outside, I said, "Wow!  What a bunch of child-haters."  And Henry replied, "I know, right?  What was that about?"  

This weekend, Gordy and I made up for the disastrous adventure and took the kids back to the Crane Estate - this time to enjoy the beach.

It was a glorious day and I was happy to see that the beach was filled to the brim with children.  

I couldn't find any of the oldies from our tour about, but I hope they were there.  And I hope they were being forced to sit there amongst the children and I hope they were having miserable times.

They deserve it!

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