Where do you take an animal-mad 5 year old? To a National Geographic Photography Competition exhibition, of course! What better than big, framed, beautiful images from the natural world? So off we went to the Auckland Museum.
It was also the middle of the school holidays, so unsurprisingly, I had to park quite a significant distance away. No problem, thought I, I will pop my carrier in my bag in case her legs are too tired for the long trek back to the car. And with that, we set off for the exhibit.
Amazing images greeted us, hung around the walls like an art gallery. But almost as soon as we started walking around the exhibition, my daughter surprised me by asking to go up on my back. I agreed, and helped her into her carrier, adjusted it for comfort, and then we continued to walk around and look at the big photos.
What I remember from that afternoon is crystal clear in my memory. I remember my daughter looking over my shoulder at the same photos I was – and from the height that they were designed to be viewed from, as opposed to a 5 year old’s height. I’d not thought of that, the fact that my adult eyes were the target audience and so I would be enjoying these stunning images at the perfect angle, while a child would not have that same view. I remember my daughter, having my ear right there, easily asking me questions about things in photos she didn’t recognise. And of course, me easily replying. I remember my daughter realising, when I occasionally paused to read the paragraphs mounted underneath to find the names for things I didn’t know, that there was a small story under each photo, and then asking me to read the whole story out to her at each photo after that. And I remember us then engaging from time to time in further discussion about what the photos were showing, and what we each thought about them.
What I remember, looking back, was that from my back, my daughter got a much better view of each image, a wealth of info from the accompanying information paragraphs, a robust discussion about her reactions and thoughts about the images, and my full attention for a good hour. If she had remained on her own feet, she would still have seen the images, and had some interaction with me about what was in them, however the depth and quality of her experience would have been substantially diminished… and I wouldn’t have even realised.
What else I didn’t realise, as it only occurred to me now as I write this story, is that the reason she most likely asked to go up on my back in the first place was not so that she could see better and ask me questions easier. I suspect that the reason she asked to go up just then was to feel better. It was a reasonably dark space, with black walls and carpet, all the better to highlight the photos with spotlights, but still a dark space. And while there were some other children around, and it wasn’t super crowded, there were quite a number of tall adults wandering around. So being on my back would have enabled my 5 year old daughter to feel safe and secure, and close to me. Which to me is reason enough to be happy I had my carrier with me, even though she’s no longer a small child. But add in the exceptional learning and connecting experience she found on my back, and it makes my big kid carrier worth its weight in gold.