The Hand of Man Museum never gets dull. There's always something to look at and always something new to learn. It even has a magic candy machine. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Sarah Simpson Column: The Hand of Man Museum has a magic candy machine

Take a break and look on the Bright Side

Have you ever been so completely mortified of your children’s behaviour that you don’t even know what to do? I mean, any parent knows that despite what non-parents may believe, we really can’t control our children’s day-to-day behaviour any more than we can control that of the adults around us. Although small and not yet fully developed, they are actual individuals with their own thoughts and feelings and motivations and, while often not immediately clear to us, they do the things they do for a reason…even if it’s a terrible one.

An old friend, actually an old roommate and co-worker of mine, was visiting the other day. I hadn’t seen her in real life since before I had children so that’s at least seven years. In that time she’d had a son of her own, got her PhD and is working in a lab researching all sorts of sciencey things including cancer and COVID-19.

What activity could we do that would interest a geek like that and our children? Jim Shockey’s Hand of Man Museum of Natural History, Cultural Arts & Conservation of course.

Years ago, when my son and husband first visited the Hand of Man on a boys’ day out, he was terrified. He clung to his dad’s leg and came home saying the best part was the coin-operated candy machine in the facility’s gym, which now holds a giant woolly mammoth among other interesting animals, bones, and artifacts.

My son returned home noting he’d never go back to that place. That was just a bit of drama because when it came time for his younger sister to visit, he offered to join her, you know, to protect her from all the bad stuff, but mostly to show her the candy machine.

“I’m scared!” they sometimes say.

“That’s great!” I always reply. “Because you can’t really be brave without being a little scared.”

Anyway, although just as terrified as my son was, my daughter survived her first visit, too, despite needing to be held.

We’ve visited several times since. We generally bring company (the grandparents, Auntie, the cousins, etc.) when they’re here.

Each time, the kids have become more and more brave. Each time the kids zero in on a thing or two that really captures their attention. First it was the honey badger. We had to go home and Google them to learn more about how vicious they are. We’ve spent a great deal of time looking at the bugs and the butterflies in the hallway, the big taxidermied cats, the archery gear and spears, and the birds.

Each time, the kids point out the candy machine, each time we talk about which animal we’d like to bring home to live with us — assuming they were tame.

And each time, we try desperately to pull our kids away from the gift shop before they start begging us to buy them everything. It’s great marketing to force us to exit through the gift shop, Hand of Man people, but it’s just plain cruel to us parents!

Where was I? So my nerdy friend and her son were in town so we went to Hand of Man. Remember that mortifying behaviour I was talking about? This is where that comes in. We drove all the way to Maple Bay and my kid refused to get out of the car. He wasn’t going in. In front of my friend who I haven’t seen in years. Why can’t you just be a little angel child? Just please do what I ask for a couple hours? No?

I did the only thing I could think of: I left him in the parking lot with his dad and the rest of us went in. Not five minutes later they joined us. Seems the car is a lot more boring than the museum.

The poor behaviour continued. This trip my son opted to notice anything and everything inappropriate from pretending to hug the statue of Jesus, to pointing out any and all pieces of anatomy on humans and animals that we tend to keep private. That was, until we made it to the gym, and to the candy machine.

“Yeah sure, go see it,” I said, knowing he didn’t have any coins so all he could do was look. My friend and I were learning about the bones on the stage, when my son walked up with a hand full of what appeared to be M&Ms.

“How’d you get those?” I asked

“I don’t know, Mom!” he said, beaming. “I just turned the knob and they came out!”

He took me to the machine to showed me and lo and behold it worked again. I looked and of course there was a coin stuck in the slot allowing him an unlimited supply of candy should be choose to take it.

To my great surprise, he did not. The magic machine provided him just enough to give his sister a couple of pieces and they went on their merry way looking at anything and everything inside the overflowing exhibit. No buried heads, no misbehaviour, just questions and observations and great behaviour.

The Hand of Man museum and its magical candy machine distracted my child away from his mortifying behaviour and I’m thankful for it. Now, if only they could do something about that gift shop….

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