Exit Through the Gift Shop Screaming

In the past month, we’ve taken our grandchildren to the La Brea Tar Pits/the Page Museum, the Skirball Center Noah’s Ark exhibit, and the zoo more times than I care to remember. As a result, I now consider myself something of an expert on the placement of gift shops, which is an art form in and of itself.

Let’s start with the zoo, which greets visitors with an entryway that is lined with continent-themed stores.  For example, you’ll find Australia (where you can buy a thousand variations of kangaroo and koala bear stuffed toys, t-shirts, hats and yes, umbrellas), and Africa (where you can buy a thousand variations on monkeys, elephants, giraffes, etc.).

Just in case this isn’t enough, the stores have kindly set up kiosks outside their doors with particularly appealing toys – those that make obnoxious noises, require batteries or have another characteristic that draws kids like flies to honey while making parents want to get out the Raid.

So after spending an hour putting sunscreen on the children, gathering up all the required gear required for an outing, putting together snacks, filling water bottles, arguing with the three-year old about why it’s important to use the potty before leaving the house, driving to the zoo, finding a parking space, unpacking howling children, backpacks, mediating an argument over who gets to sit in the front of the double stroller, and walking a mile in the blazing sun to the zoo entrance…after all of that, exhausted without having seen A SINGLE STINKIN’ ANIMAL yet, you have to deal with the perp walk through gift shop alley hell.

We had managed to avoid this in the past, keeping the kids trundled up in the stroller and walking very quickly through the danger zone. But our luck ran out with our latest visit. Lucas wanted to walk, after losing the fight about sitting in the front of the double stroller, and once we got to the shops, he instantly fell in love with a box of plastic animals, each the perfect size to fit inside an adult’s unsuspecting barefoot arch when walking through the family room. Carolyn managed to get him out of the store – eventually – so we could actually see real animals, but on our way out, we got to enjoy an instant replay. Because you exit through those damn stores, too.

Much more subtle is the Page Museum. They actually have the gift shop tucked away, and so you may wonder why it has made my top hits parade. Ahh, because they are so very, very clever… The Page Museum is all about Ice Age fossils and reenactments of dramas from the past – the saber-toothed cat attacking the giant sloth, the giant mammoth swinging its trunk and trumpeting a cry.

Lucas, age three, was terrified by this. Matilda, age 18 months, thought it was hilarious.

Right by the exhibit of the wooly mammoth (or “Manny”, as fans of Ice Age would say), the Page has a small play area stocked with books about fossils, Ice Age-era animals and plant life, and something else. Hmm, now what would that be? Oh yeah, plush animals FROM THE GIFT SHOP, including a particularly huggable wooly mammoth that Lucas spotted. This was instantly tucked under his arm, safely embraced as the precious object it was. Well, let me tell you, separating child from plush toy was not easy.  And getting him out of the Page Museum without him seeing that he could have his very own wooly mammoth if his parents and grandparents weren’t so cheap required a fair amount of subterfuge. Which was possible.

Unlike the Skirball Center, which is the most diabolical of them all. Now mind you, this is one amazing exhibit. All the animals are made from recycled materials, and it was fabulous.

But. They really do a dirty trick with their damn gift shops. Strategically placed throughout the museum, you must walk through them to get to the next exhibit. Nothing is behind glass – everything is touchable and playable and located exactly at kid-height. So while we loved the museum, we really didn’t much like the meltdowns that occurred when we extracted a brightly colored doodad that makes noise from the grasping hands of Matilda. Who let the entire museum know of her displeasure at being denied.

Gift shops, encouraging our children to be the best little consumers of crap possible. And forcing the adults with them to just say no.

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