One fine June afternoon, Julia, Marie, Jim, Minna, Solal, Simone and Honorine decided to go to an exhibition in the botanical gardens. Since stimulating children’s curiosity about the world is invaluable, they paid a high price.
Simone at the natural history museum
It wasn’t my bright idea. It was my friend Julia’s. The wondermum who’s always coming up with clever suggestions. “Honorine, I have a super proposition for you. Let’s take the kids to the museum in the botanical gardens; there’s an exhibition about bears on; I’ve checked the bus route; it’ll be great; I’ll bring fruit purées.” At first I thought about making an excuse, some unpleasant disease like ringworm, scabies or hemiplegia, but seeing that Simone had been glued to the screen watching a series for teenagers for the past hour and she’s only three years old, I said yes.
I put chocolate biscuits, bus tickets and a bottle of water into Simone’s “Snow Queen” backpack which she never takes off – yes, I know, you can’t bear it any longer either – and off we went to meet Julia outside her apartment block. She was waiting for us with her son, Jim, and another friend, Marie, together with her daughter Minna and son Solal. So there were seven of us when the bus came. It was about 43°C when we clambered aboard and punched the tickets. The kids began screaming for no apparent reason. Probably they were excited. Or for the sheer pleasure or thrill of making us suffer.
So as not to disturb other passengers, we sat at the back, where the kids took advantage and started pulling each other’s hair, dropping biscuit crumbs everywhere, scrunching their noses against the windows and arguing. All in the space of ten minutes. I, personally, was already nearing the end of my tether. Everyone was looking at us, especially the elderly passengers, to whom I gave a deceitful little smile as I said, “Oh, stop it now children, you’re annoying everyone on the bus!”
After a forty-five-minute bus ride, we finally reached the capital’s charming fifth arrondissement (bordering on the thirteenth) which I hate. Don’t ask me why. I’ve always loathed this district, so far away from everything, inhabited by people wearing Capri pants pretending to be cool who sprinkle seeds into their bún bò and drink beer. In short, after queuing for half an hour to buy the tickets, our little troop finally found ourselves in front of the first wall panel of the exhibition about bears. They were all there: from brown bears to polar bears starting with the first bear ever to walk on this earth. Stuffed, reconstructed, sketched, animated in videos… Despite my ignorance about flora and fauna, I began to explain the differences between them to Simone as best as I could. Uninformed and shortsighted (or rather as blind as a bat), I got everything mixed up. Simone stared at me wide-eyed and I am still wondering today whether it was with pity or disgust. Meanwhile, Julia and Marie were calmly wandering from hands-on activities to videos, humming a little tune as they went. At the end of the exhibition, there was a dimly-lit room where each child was invited to do exercises in order to gauge how much they had learnt from what they’d seen. I may as well tell you straightaway that Simone hadn’t learnt anything. She put her hands instead of her feet into the bears’ footprints. And when asked what polar bears ate, she replied “chicken” instead of “fish”. She and Jim came to blows during the game of noises made by bears, before giving each other a big kiss on the lips.
As if that wasn’t enough, Julia then urged us all upstairs to discover what other marvellous animals awaited us on the four other floors of the museum. What with the stairs, the lifts, the crowds of people shouting, whinging or whining, the water and fruit purée all gone and Simone screaming she needed to pee, all I really wanted to do was vanish into thin air. And as I stared at a vacuous-eyed stuffed otter, I thought that it was decidedly fortunate to no longer have to endure all the woes of existence.
After a few bouts of giggles occasionally verging on hysteria, we eventually left the museum. Unable to imagine another horrendous bus ride, I ordered an Uber. We all climbed into the taxi, exhausted yet satisfied at having fulfilled our mission. We “wee mommies” were congratulating each other, as we ruffled our children’s hair, when Jim whispered: “I think I’m going to be sick.” He was right. He was.