I always assumed that when the small person growing inside me moved out, I would – BOOM – feel like the quintessential mother. I’d planned on baking the gluten-free macaroons, joining a variety of mom groups, and getting all up in kiddie music classes. I tried to follow urban parenting recreation protocol but failed to enjoy Miss Kitty sing-alongs and blind dates with square moms.
I soon realized my two kids (ages three and four) also disliked these vanilla time killers, so we began to seek out different experiences. Why not create our own adventures in this city of surprises? And so “Adventure Thursday” was born. Each week, I’d hunt out an activity that my tiny team and I would both enjoy. The day-o-fun wasn’t always on a Thursday, but the smalls liked the importance of the name, and it was decided, no matter what, the special moniker would remain.
Bertie Pearson is a priest. He’s also a fabulous young man whose patience is unflappable. We meet at a dinner party and he tells me what he does for a living. In response, I have to ask, “Do you believe in dinosaurs?” “Of course!” he answers, laughing, and then proceeds to invite me to his church.
Bertie holds a monthly artist’s feast of music, DJs, and art installations at Grace Cathedral called EpiscoDisco. “Is it children appropriate?” I ask, wanting to show the kids a church. “Absolutely. Bring them. They’ll love it.”
As we walk through the double doors for EpiscoDisco on a Friday night, three men are break dancing on the cold cement floor. I’m not religious, but the beauty of the architecture, the candlelit cathedral, and the sound of mash-up mixes make this gathering feel like a spiritual experience. “Cool,” is all my son can muster. Artwork is perched on stands, and children are checking out black-and-white shots of the pope and other religious objects. Old men with long gray beards walk down the aisle between the pews, looking confused but interested.
Hipsters, priests, photographers. Adults, teens, children. EpiscoDisco really is a plethora of cliques. Incense is burning and it’s romantic and cozy here. Bertie is wandering around the room snapping people’s photos.
My kids run through the pews, dance to the different types of music, and speak to strangers who take their hands and lead them to art installations they think they’ll enjoy. I, in turn, get to talk to kid-less adults about art and music instead of bedtimes and poo.
The following week, I don’t have a plan, but then my friend discovers that there are waterslides at the Hamilton Recreation Center in Japantown. What?! I call ahead to find out the prices and times of open swim.
We pile out of the car and…the place is impressive. One side of the building has a giant, colorful mural of the evolution of blues. But we came here to swim, so up the stairs we go, scanning the center for people in suits. We’re quickly and politely directed to the pool area. It’s clean, seems new, and is practically empty. This is our pool today, and we will use it until we’re more wrinkled than grandma.
At 2:45 p.m. the kids are goggled, suited, and catapulting down an impossibly large yellow waterslide – one I swear is oiled with grease. They shoot out of that thing faster than I exit when the babysitter arrives. My kiddies bob up and down in a pool more than they actually swim, so I know I’ll have to get wet in order to catch them as they blast out.
They’re now clamoring to try the equally daunting red waterslide. Dang, I think, should I try this too? Oh hell yes. I don’t have a swimsuit, but I have a tank top under my T-shirt and a change of clothes in the car. With a little heckling from the children, down I go.
I guess the heavier you are, the faster you fire through the chute. I nearly slide out of the pool, out the door, and onto Geary. I truly almost pee my pants. Now I am in, and the whole catch-them-at-the-bottom-hoist-them-out-of-the-pool-and-scream-at-them-not-to-run routine seems to last for days. Yet open swim is only on for an hour – something I should have warned the kids about pre-adventure.
My friend and I are always joking that we have to go on strange excursions because on a normal playdate, we can never finish a conversation. The interruptions – I’m tired, feed me, I’m hot – usually arrive right as I’m about to drop the bomb in the story I’m telling. The solution? We go to a weirdo museum. For that reason, Musée Mécanique at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, quickly becomes my favorite Adventure Thursday.
When we first enter the museum (which is less museum and more creepy arcade), we are greeted by a Zoltar Machine. The kids are both freaked out and totally enraptured. We continue on.
There are over 300 pieces inside Musée Mécanique: antique arcade games, dioramas, and humongous clowns in glass boxes that dance and laugh when you pop a couple of quarters in. The place smells like popcorn, though we spend a good hour here and I see no popcorn machine. Most of these kooky amusements were designed in the early 1900s, including cranked music boxes and souvenir penny machines (a favorite with kids: squish a penny, get an oval piece of copper). But the greatest thing here is the skirball. We go through a heap-load of quarters, but we get to play four at a time. I beat my friend’s ass while the small ones try to figure out how to heave the wooden balls.
Things get interesting as my son becomes curious about the opium den diorama. He wants to put a quarter in it and my friend lets him. Hmm. Once activated, an elderly gentleman smokes from a pipe, sways like a mechanical puppet toward his addict pal, passes the dope, then lays down to enjoy his high. Not the easiest thing to explain to a toddler. But a great time to be had, nonetheless.
We end our adventure in the old-fashioned photo booth. The pictures are haunting and beautiful, and possibly still drying.
SFMOMA may be an obvious choice among places to visit with kids, but it’s not so obvious that a tour is doable with the under-five set.
We choose to use the stairs instead of the elevator (clever mom strategy for tiring out kids). They are not amused. We round the corner of the third floor and there stands a two-story-high golden beaded curtain. Bingo. “Mooooooom, it’s beauuutiful” was all that comes out of my son’s tiny mouth. They touch, they wander, and they‘re amazed.
Strange questions come up regarding a Michael Jackson sculpture where he’s seated with Bubbles the monkey. “Mom, why is Michael Jackson a girl?” I tell my son we’ll discuss it later because you have to be super-quiet in the museum, just like in the library.
Best part of this adventure: the rooftop café. It serves hot chocolate with marshmallows and gold flakes – although we find out the hard way that one has to specifically request a Jeff Koons White Hot Chocolate.
When I order a latte and two hot chocolates, the barista coldly responds, “Oh, we don’t serve hot cocoa here.” My friend points to the hot chocolate on display in the tiniest gold goblet you’ve ever seen. She asks, “Can we have two of those?”
“Ohhhhhh, the Jeff Koons White Hot Chocolate Special. Oh sure.”
At the end of a fun four weeks of Adventure Thursdays, the monotony of my normal toddler outings has been smashed. They’ve erased the resentments I’ve held for having to do to the prescribed kiddie diversions. My eldest miniature will soon attend a different kindergarten than his best girl friend. Adventure Thursday will be the tie that keeps these two little ones together. It also will help me feel like less of a (to quote Ice Cube) L7 parent.
Musée Mécanique is located at Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf (at the end of Taylor Street). There’s a parking lot directly opposite the museum. Admission is free, but you need hella quarters for the machines. It’s open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
EpiscoDisco happens once a month and admission is free. Visit the site to find out when the next one is being held and what installations and musicians will be involved.
Hamilton Recreation Center waterslides host open swim Monday through Friday from 2:45 p.m.–3:45 p.m. Children swim for a dollar. Adults for five. FYI: Kids need to be 48 inches tall to go down the slides.
SFMOMA has a parking lot behind the museum. If you have small smalls, the museum rents strollers. Brilliant. The first Tuesday of every month is free, otherwise admission is $18 for adults, $9 if you’re a student (must have student ID), and Thursday evenings from 6:00 p.m.–8:45 p.m., admission is half price.