Stomp on This, Kid.

The bug stomp is a huge toddler draw at our new science museum.

Not real bugs, of course: it’s one of those projections where the entire floor becomes a computer screen filled with plants and ants and beetles and cockroaches and ladybugs. You’re supposed to play the role of collecting scientist: you gently guide the bugs into special pit traps with gentle toe movements — the floor graphics actually interact with your feet. It’s pretty slick.

But a toddler loose on that game turns it into a bug massacre. See a bug come out from under a bush? Stomp on it and it runs away! Then the next one comes out, you stomp on it, and it runs away, too! Stomp, bug, stomp! That’s pretty slick, too.

But that engenders an age-related culture clash: older kids want to catch bugs, toddlers want to smash bugs. As you’d expect, it’s up to the parents to keep peace.

Unless there is no parent.

Today, a 4-year old girl and her 6-year old brother were trying to catch some bugs, surrounded by 2-year old jungle Godzillas, smash-smash-smashing everything in sight. The girl’s response was to scream in every toddler’s face — “DON’T STEP ON THE BUGS!” — and push them bodily out of the way. Although you have to admire her dedication to science, she came across (as do so many scientists, bless them!) as a little mean, an effect enhanced by the trail of crying toddlers she left in her wake.

Since Ms. Junior Queen Bee’s parents were nowhere in sight, most of the others pulled their crying toddlers away and on to the next exhibit, and we nearly did the same until I remembered that a) I’m bigger than her and b) I’m smarter than her.

So the next time Boo stomped a bug and Attila (or whatever her name was) charged, I stepped between them, knelt down, and said in my best Severus Snape, “We’re playing this way over here. You can play your way over there. Got it?” (I know Mike will be disappointed that I didn’t tell her that her lunch was poisoned — but I’m a wimp that way.)

Boo went right back to stomping bugs and the big unsupervised four-year old (where were her parents, anyway? ran out for a couple of drinks?) went off to terrorize other small children in the corner I’d indicated.

Instantly, Boo returned to a state of glee. As she happily scared the virtual crap out of a virtual ladybug, it struck me how short is the time when Boo will tolerate such intervention. The day will come when she tells me all about the bitchy girls at school but won’t let me give them my grownup teacherly eye of doom. There comes a time in every girl’s life — and from Boo’s general attitude, I’d say it’s coming soon — when they want and need to navigate their own social obstacle courses.

For now, though, when Boo needs me to stomp on mean four-year old girls, I can still stomp.


By the way, if you’re heading over to the new California Academy of Sciences, I wrote a toddler survival guide over on Savvy Source.