It’s noon on a Saturday and the line for groceries in Santa Monica is out of hand. Haggard shoppers, their steel carts overflowing with fruit, milk, fish, matzo and loaves of bread, wait to scan their purchases.
The problem? One customer is having so much fun with the self-checkout scanner that she doesn’t want to give it up. She scans the same carton of eggs again and again, giggling with every new beep and blip of the register. Her mother is gently trying to coax her away from the check stand. Will there be a scene?
“It looks like Costco — long lines, full carts,” one mother muses from the sidelines.
My daughter, Henri Boo Biller, 3, has been waiting patiently, thumb in mouth, for at least 10 minutes here at the new Cayton Children’s Museum. When the scanner-obsessed girl gives up her coveted spot, Boo swoops in. She begins scanning her items with marked determination. My child, it turns out, is a voracious shopper.
Such are the revelations as I lead Boo and my 10-year-old stepdaughter, Ella LeGrand Biller, through the Cayton during a private preview party a week before the museum’s opening Sunday.
We had arrived with the assignment to write a kid-centric review of the museum. But little kids can be funny critics. What do they like about a shiny new children’s museum? Everything! What do they want to do most? Play! What would they like to see changed? (Insert sound of crickets, here, followed by an awkward moment of staring.)
At the Cayton, common adult activities — shopping for groceries, eating in a café, going to the vet — become the purview of kids. There is something deeply satisfying for children in mimicking the actions of the grown-ups around them. Usually.
When Boo starts re-scanning her mac and cheese, I step in to let her know it’s time to give the other kids a chance. That’s when the cart rage sets in.
“I’m trying to buy!” she protests loudly, blue eyes blazing. I see me in her — indignant about a perceived injustice. She waited her turn, after all. Why shouldn’t she stay and play awhile?
Sydney Salomon-Porter, 9, is sitting beside a vintage firetruck. Behind her, would-be firefighters don firefighter coats and hats and clamber up the steps into the truck’s cab, attempting to guide its wheel to some mythical disaster.
“There’s no fire,” a little girl in a ponytail points out a bit smugly to one of the boys racing to join the game.
One of the firefighters has strayed, however. Little Luca Vlassopoulos, who will be 2 in July, wanders in his fireman garb. He has picked up a small push broom and is doggedly sweeping the floor of the nearby theater while his parents watch, amused.
The Cayton isn’t all sweeping and shopping, however. There is also a healthy dose of pure fantasy. A bubble machine that lets kids blow bubbles as big as they are. A little art studio is covered floor to ceiling in butcher paper so toddlers in diapers can loll luxuriously in vegan paint.
These little cherubs may not be able to voice their opinions about the Cayton yet, but their satisfied smiles speak volumes about the experience of getting deliciously messy. I watch parents wipe down the little ones in what appeared to be dishpans of water, and I make a mental note: Steer Boo away from the room.
This makes me feel guilty. But only a little bit.
Soon a musician plays a medley of songs on his guitar, including a spirited rendition of “La Bamba,” and an announcement comes over a loudspeaker: two minutes until a treasure hunt.
Children erupt from the ball pit and race toward the promised action. Stray balls bounce across the museum floor, and a staffer whose sole job appears to be picking them up patiently collects them and returns them to the pit.
At the Cayton, children rule. Adults merely do their bidding.