Being new to the area, first on the list of “Things to Do in Boston” was Boston Children’s Museum. To plan an outing there with Madilyn though was a job in itself. But thanks to the wonderful people at BCM, our chances for a successful trip were significantly increased though their monthly “Morningstar Access Program.” Each month, families can sign up to attend the museum for a couple hours during which time the museum only allows 100 guests to explore the expansive three-story building full of interactive exhibits. If you can’t imagine regular hours at a children’s museum this size, well it’s a loud and overwhelming chaotic mess to a child with sensory challenges. I signed us up for a day that my husband could attend, too.
In the past, we had mixed results in finding the best way to prepare Madilyn for a trip like this. If we build it up too much or spring it on her shortly before, she tends to get overly anxious. A successful trip begins with extensive planning that goes way beyond just signing up and putting it on the calendar. For Madilyn, that means giving her a ‘play by play’ of what to expect from beginning to end. After signing up, BCM emailed us a wonderful “Social Story booklet” and “Exhibit Accessibility Guide” to help with planning.
The booklet contained a story of a child visiting the Boston Children’s Museum and gave descriptions of what to expect during a visit, including everything from the museum staff to the main exhibits to using the stairs or elevator. It was amazing and so helpful! Madilyn loved hearing about the museum and I know it reduced her anxiety in the days leading up to our trip. The accessibility guide gave a synopsis of each exhibit and highlighted those great for visual learners, audio learners, physically active, and hands-on. We knew instantly which to skip, like the more visual exhibits, and focus on the audio and hands-on activities Madilyn would really enjoy.
Of course, the morning of the visit we were running late. Madilyn started to get a little anxious about what the day would entail. I consciously try to keep as calm as possible because I know rushing Madilyn will only make things worse. The ride into the city took about 45 minutes and Madilyn’s anxiety elevated with each passing mile marker. My husband dropped us off near the museum while he parked the car instead of Madilyn getting worn out just from the long walk.
I described the surroundings as we got out of the car—the most interesting being the gigantic 40’ white and red “Hood” brand milk bottle that sits in front. Entering the building, it was quiet and the staff was exceptionally friendly as it took a little coaxing to get Madilyn to let them stamp her hand. The halls were mostly empty but you could hear kids laughing as they played in the “Climb” playground area that spanned across the side of the building overlooking the waterfront.
Our first stop was “The Common” which had truly musical chairs. About ten kid-sized colorful chairs formed a semicircle in the room like a rainbow. Madilyn chose the first one she felt and sat down. She first listened intently to figure out where the sound was coming from, then I explained there were other chairs on either side of her. She moved back and forth, sitting for a moment, smiling and listening.
From there we explored a few rooms FULL of instruments. Madilyn loves any and every instrument so I though those exhibits would be her favorites. But in the adjoining room was the the winner—a miniature Boston Symphony Hall where she could conduct the Orchestra. “I can be Keith Lockhart, Mommy, and you and Daddy will be the audience!” she exclaimed with pure joy.
The area was set up with a large screen and a Kinect system that allowed her to control the music with an electronic baton, varying the tempo and volume as she waved it around. I watched her stand there without any assistance, in complete happiness and amusement to be conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My heart was the happiest it had been in quite a while but I couldn’t help but imagine that some onlookers would think to themselves, “That’s sweet and maybe a little sad. She’s blind. She’ll never have the chance actually be a conductor one day. She just couldn’t do it. It just wouldn’t work.”
But I am her mother. I believe in her and a future which holds unlimited possibilities. I have to give her the opportunity and tools to succeed through experiences, education and constant love. With these, she can do anything. Perhaps one day, my husband and I will be sitting in Symphony Hall as she lives out her dream as the next Keith Lockhart. We’ll just have to wait and see.