Portrait of the Artist as a Young Boy

Every now and then as a parent you decide to take your kids to do a Fun Thing. For me, most of the time the Fun Thing ends up not being fun and the whole thing turns into an epic fiasco. 

But every now and then it goes beautifully.

This weekend I decided our Fun Thing would be a trip to the MFA in Boston. The kids have never been, I think they’re finally old enough to make a decent go of it, and it was National Museum Day so I’d get a free ticket. (Kids 6 and under are always free, kids 7 to 17 are free after 3pm on weekdays and on weekends.) 

I did a little prep work checking out the Museum’s programs for kids, then we headed off. With my fingers crossed. 

We took the train to add a little glamour to the trip. And because parking in the city? No thanks. Luckily our orange line is about a 5 minute walk from the Museum. I was worried it would be crowded, but to my surprise it was just about as busy as a usual weekend. 

Our first stop was the Visitors Center (in the middle of the museum, next to the Courtyard). We picked up two kits for the kids. Inside the little tote bags were a bunch of activities (I think my kids were still a little small to get interested in the particular ones they had) but they also had sketch books and colored pencils. Bingo. I told the kids we’d go find something we wanted to draw.

Next we hit the Jamie Wyeth exhibit. It was close by and I thought the kids may find his paintings interesting. Mostly realism, lots of New England landscapes and animals. We moved through the first room and Graham was skeptical. We went to the second room and he was still skeptical. But then he stopped and said, “Puppies!”

Jamie Wyeth painting

I asked if he’d like to sit and draw them and he agreed. So we set up camp at the bench across from the painting. They were still not quite on board with the whole endeavor.

Kids at the MFA


But eventually they got engaged with the pencils and the pencil sharpener and finally they were off.

Kids at the MFA


Graham drew a puppy and then asked, “Can I draw a Hot Wheels track?” He always draws Hot Wheels tracks but I figured that since we’d done pretty well so far it couldn’t hurt. “Sure,” I said. “And when you’re done we’ll find something else to draw.”

They were a pretty adorable sight, working away at their sketch pads. People stopped and clucked over their adorableness. I stood there trying not to die of relief and pride. I don’t really take credit for it, otherwise I’d have to knock myself down for every time our outings go horribly awry and that doesn’t sound like a great idea.

Finally we packed it up. We looked at a few more Wyeths (it really is a great exhibit) and then crossed the hall. Graham has a fascination lately with death and graveyards, so I thought he’d like the mummies. He did. He especially liked the way they told stories with carvings on the walls. We wandered through a few more ancient exhibits, stopped in American art but the kids saw nothing of interest, and then I took them out to the courtyard to see the Chihuly.

MFA Chihuly

They were kind of distracted and antsy and I thought they’d get a kick out of it. They did. It was a nice way to refocus them and get them engaged with something exciting.

We made a pit stop at the Kids Art Cart and after some more hemming and hawing from the kids, Graham got interested in a dragon they had on display. Dragons? Let’s hit Asian Art. So we headed over. 

The elevator near the Asian Art section lets you out in Modern Art. So it was just an accident of the building’s layout that led us to Spencer Finch’s Shield of Achilles.

Shield of Achilles by Spencer Finch

It captured Graham’s imagination immediately. He asked for us to stop and draw it. There wasn’t a bench, but I said okay. And it turned out there were a couple of chairs (Topia by Barbara Gallucci) that the kids were allowed to sit on that were part of the installation. 

I honestly hadn’t planned on Modern Art because a lot of it is disturbing and difficult and I wasn’t familiar enough with the exhibit to be able to decide how to approach it with them. But this was perfect. Out in an open hallway, the kids set to work.

Kids at the MFA

Tessa likes drawing. If anything, the problem was that she’d scribble for a few seconds then turn the page. She used up every page in the sketch book by the time she was done. But she was happy.

Tessa colors

She did notice Graham’s wide assortment of color for his project so she got more colorful, too.

Tessa colors

As for Graham, he hunkered down and got to work. I’ve seen him draw train tracks and race tracks and work pretty hard at it, but I’ve never seen him focus this intently on any other drawing. We were probably there for a half hour.

Graham draws

Graham draws

When he was done, he was so proud of the final product. I was pretty proud, too. I didn’t prod him or encourage him while he worked. I didn’t need to. He was so intent on what he was doing and so excited about it. It was a pleasure to watch. He didn’t even mind me photographing him.

Graham's art

I told him how great his picture was, but he didn’t really need me to. “It’s so good,” he said, “it’s super good.” I suggested we take a picture and show Grammy and he was all for it. 

I have no idea if he’s a budding artist, if he has any talent or interest in it. But by the time we were done, he asked, “Can we come back here again?” And my heart sang.

Sometimes I feel like it’s a little eg0-centric how we as parents take pride in our kids enjoying things we enjoy. As if this makes them better people than if they were kids whose interests diverged from ours. 

I love art and art museums, but it wasn’t that that made me so happy. It was seeing Graham get interested in something when he wasn’t being told to, didn’t have to, wasn’t made to. It was seeing him absorbed in something that he saw that stuck out to him. That? Was pretty amazing. Definitely not what I was expecting from our trip. I expected fighting off whining until none of us could take it any more and instead got one of those transformative experiences that hits you when you least expect it.


    • says

      They always have them! If you ask for the kid kits at the Visitor’s Center you can get them any time. There’s a bunch of other activities, too, but I decided this was the best place to start for us.

  1. Shawna says

    Woohoo! I’m so glad that you guys had a fun weekend, it seems like you were due for a great one! The kiddos are getting so big!! Graham’s smile is so. . . heartwarming! And Tessa! She has so much hair!

  2. Melissa says

    This story and the last three photos in particular make my heart sing. Great job, Mom. You get to take credit for this one!

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