Four generations sharing Mother’s Day with a 144-year-old visitor

I taught preschool for so many years that without even thinking about it I tend to create thematic learning opportunities for my grandchildren. When Aimee and I began to put our heads together about what we might do with my mother, her grandmother, for Mother’s Day, an idea popped into my head.

Why don’t we take the girls to see a very special mother who happens to be visiting nearby?

Whistler's Mother

“Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” more commonly referred to as “Whistler’s Mother,” is visiting from the French Museé d’Orsay along with Édouard Manet’s portrait of his friend, Émile Zola, and Paul Cézanne’s Card Players.


Sophia and Karina are frequent visitors to the local Natural History Museum, Science Center and Pasadena’s family-friendly Kidspace, but art museums haven’t yet been a prominent part of their extra-curricular education. I was curious to learn how the girls, 7 1/2 and almost 6, would respond to what they experienced.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the comments to begin. The Rodin collection in front of the museum entrance features several large sculptures, many with the human figure unclothed. Sophia expressed concern, with some distaste, for all the naked bodies. Her art education took a jump-start!

Our thought was to limit this first visit to the Norton Simon Museum to just a few of the halls and then the current exhibition which brought us here in the first place, Tête-à-tête: Three Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, on loan through June 22, 2015.

I was eager for Karina, who dances through life, to experience one of my favorite artists. Industrialist and philanthropist Norton Simon, founder of the Norton Simon museum, also gravitated to the works of Edgar Degas, and with over 100 works by this artist at the museum, there is plenty to absorb. I adore the graceful dancers in his magnificent works. It’s probably because I’m anything but graceful, but great art feeds the imagination and the soul.

Karina in the Degas Room

The girls are very different in their observations. Karina enjoyed discussing some of the paintings with her great-grandmother. She loved flowers and still life and representational art.


Sophia was interested in Van Gogh, Picasso and Andy Warhol. This didn’t surprise me. The girls have distinctively different tastes in almost everything.

Even the outdoor spaces brought out their differing observations.

Karina enthusiastically pointed out interesting water features commenting on their beauty…

While Sophia, with concern and some degree of suspicion asked, “Is this recirculating water?”

Four generations at a favorite art museum. My idea of a wonderful Mother’s Day.


Nan, with her budding artist and future eco-chick!

A new week begins!


48 thoughts on “Four generations sharing Mother’s Day with a 144-year-old visitor

  1. Sounds like a great day out!

    We always seem to expect children to be more ‘excited’ by science than art don’t we – the Natural History Museum and Science Museum were Alasdair’s first ones along with the Royal Air Force Museum which isn’t very far from us. However, he has been to the National Gallery a few times now and the Victoria & Albert. We always aim to do a couple of galleries, spending an hour or so at the most (even I can become tired of looking at paintings!). I think that the static nature of most museum exhibits grates with him – he’s definitely happier visiting a preserved railway line where the past really comes to life.

    I see that Sophia has taken the ‘conserve water’ message on board! 🙂

    • I was motivated to take the girls to see Whistler’s masterpiece because it had not been in California for 83 years and that seemed like a reason to make the effort. They, too, like your son, are more prone to enjoy the natural history museum or one of the several science centers–activity more than just observing. But we enjoyed it enough that I might venture out with them again. I can imagine that you and Alasdair have a wonderful time together with your railway adventures. 🙂 I’m sure he’s learned a great deal from you!

  2. “Is this recirculating water?” 🙂 A sign of the times and of concern. 🙂 Loved it. Love the generations and the appreciation these kids are already showing for things other than electronic or plastic!

    • Thank you, Colleen. It is quite special that we have four generations living in close proximity and able to enjoy special times together. I hope that you, too, had a special Mother’s Day, my friend. 🙂

      • Thank you Debra! 🙂 That is a wonderful gift you have. Four generations in close proximity, sounds like my son in laws family. All right there, I love that about them. We did have a wonderful day, thank you in return dear friend. 🙂

  3. Your little field trip warmed my heart on this cold spring morning, Debra. What a great activity for Mother’s Day, with four, no five generations if you include Whistler’s mother, enjoying art in all its forms and functions. I remember my first trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. My mother took my sister and me, on busses and the el and a bit of walking, which was in and of itself a grand adventure from the ‘burbs. She wisely took us to the miniature rooms first; a fairy tale in art and romance if ever there was, and then to see American Gothic. Sophia and Karina will remember this and some soft May day a long time from now recall going to the Norton Simon on Mother’s Day.

    • It is about creating those memories, isn’t it, Penny? I think back to when I was a child and the occasions of going into “the big city’ with my parents or grandparents and everything seemed so much grander than I think it does today. People used to actually dress in their “Sunday best” to go shopping in the city or go into a museum. Now, it’s flip flops and shorts, and I think somehow I feel like I need to work a little harder to make the occasions special. The one thing about an art museum, however, is it must feel much more “grown up” than some of the other museums we visit. I think having their great grandmother with them was quite exceptional, however, and I think they will always remember that. And more cold spring mornings? Let’s hope it warms up soon. 🙂

    • The children really do understand the water issues, Rob. Sometimes I think maybe we talk about it too much and could create unnecessary anxiety, but baths and showers need to be quick and they certainly observe that our gardens are suffering! We did enjoy ourselves at the art museum, and maybe this summer I’ll see if they’d like to accompany me to another. 🙂

    • You made me laugh, Lori! Recently I’ve been very aware of Darwin’s potential for longevity, and what in the world does my future look like with him as a responsibility. Of course, long-term, he will be someone else’s problem. LOL! He’s only about 7 years old–and he could one day be a very old tortoise, but I’m not sure about 144 years. Imagine! Ha!

    • I thought it was a a good opportunity to take the girls to a local exhibit. Whistler’s famous painting had not been in California for more than 80 years, and should there not be a return for another 80, I thought we’d better get it in. 🙂

  4. That’s a lovely way to spend Mother’s Day… and four generations together is something special too. Not every family manages that! I am so glad you are taking every opportunity to take the girls to museums and cultural attractions. It will stay with them always, even if they develop other interests. Have a great week Debra!

  5. I think it was very special to have the experience of bringing “all the women” in the family to the Norton Simon for a special exhibit. It is often so hard to know when children are favorably impressed, but my goal is to give them exposure to as many opportunities as we can share together and build on those memories. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Cathy. And I hope you have a very pleasant week as well! 🙂

  6. What a wonderful Mother’s Day outing and how wonderful that your granddaughters are so interested in the great masters of art. I would love to go to that exhibition as you have shown me that some of my most favourite works of art are in that collection. I just love that beautiful statue of the ballerina. I’ve just been looking at the news and there was a segment on the terrible drought conditions in your State. It was talking about how those who voice loudly their concerns about water and its conservation, are in fact, the ones using more than their share of that precious resource – Barbra Streisand was loudly mentioned. No wonder your granddaughter is concerned about water! xx

    • It’s interesting for me to learn that the drought conditions we’re experiencing were mentioned all the way to Australia, Charlie. I’m thinking it probably did have a lot to do with what they’re calling “drought shaming,” in particular when it comes to celebrities with their extravagant water usage. It’s such a complex situation because while the average homeowner is expected to take shallow baths, short showers and let our lawns die, there is such waste everywhere. It gets to me sometimes, and in our house we are very aware–thus poor Sophia. I’ve had to tell both girls that we don’t want to waste, but it’s okay to use water. They were starting to report to me how they were barely washing their hands. LOL! Perhaps I’ve been a little too vocal around them. 🙂 Sometime when you come to visit your sister (I’m still hoping that happens!) the Norton Simon would be a very nice small museum for you to enjoy. The Degas exhibit is permanent, too! 🙂

  7. Such a privilege to share the world of art and sculpture with your young folk, Debbie. 🙂 Our responses to art are so different, aren’t they? I’m a soppy Degas person too and how can you not find bliss in Monet? But at the D’Orsay in Paris my husband was spectacularly unmoved, even by the drama of Cezanne. We each have to find our own loves. Your girls are on a happy path of exploration. 🙂

    • Thank you, Cecilia. It was a very low-key weekend, but the time together at the Norton Simon museum was very enjoyable. I hope we can have other opportunities for the four generations to enjoy some outings together. 🙂

  8. What a lovely idea for an outing together. Degas’ dancers are my number one favorite, when I was a young woman I used to try to sketch them with my pastels. I love their grace and beauty! I hope one day I will see that very same statue! xx

  9. We all respond to “art”, we have a feeling a thought or two. I remember being dragged around museums and they weren’t great exoeriences, I feel that so much depends on who is doing the dragging – making it fun, in fact removing expectations and just letting go is surely the best way to see and experience art.
    Love a gallery now though – as long as they aren’t too big as I simply get overwhelmed and overloaded! Lots of small doses for me 🙂

    • It’s so nice to hear from you, Claire. I completely understand your feelings about children, and many adults, and over-saturation at various museums, but maybe even more so at art museums. I do go out of my way trying to make sure we just have a good time–it usually involves taking the girls to a fun lunch. LOL! I was actually the one to say it was time to go and we left several of the galleries behind for another time. Sophia and Karina showed some curiosity about what was “down the hall” and I thought it was better to come back another time. There are dozens of really excellent museums close to where we live and many of them are family-friendly. I think that small doses is good for most of us. 🙂

  10. Isn’t the Norton Simon such a special place? I get in free because I’m a student, but I don’t visit as often as I’d like. The first time I was there the outdoor pond area was in full bloom, and it looked like a living Monet. I was just breathless at the thought that I’d been so deeply influenced by his work, that I was now seeing the world through Monet-colored glasses. Alas, the landscaping was intentional. It is literally called The Monet Garden. *LOL*

    • You’re so right, Janine. The Norton Simon is a treasure and it’s right in our backyard. I have been thinking of obtaining a membership just so I can go and sit in that gorgeous garden! What a great way to unwind without a crowd, right? I guess I knew at one point it was called the Monet Garden, as well, but I had also forgotten that fact–and I agree, it’s fairly obvious. LOL! Do get over and see Whistler’s Mother. The last time she came to California was about 80 years ago, and who knows if she’ll return. 🙂

  11. What a wonderful day and how exciting to hear about your budding eco-chic and artists’ thoughts…they do keep us young don’t they? I went to the museum once and it cast a spell on me–so beautiful and I was surprised by the variety of art displayed. The naked art is what my boys notice first anywhere…not so much with appreciation but with chuckles.

    • When you mention the sense of wonder at a museum and experiencing that “spell,” I think you are describing what I hope will get into the young minds of our children. They don’t need a trained eye to begin sensing that art, or natural history or science is something special. They may not even know what they enjoy quite yet, but the experience can still be magical. We can at least give them the opportunity to begin that discovery. An art museum with young children really does keep you on your toes! LOL! I do find it delightful! Thank you for stopping by, my friend. ox

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