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Yesterday was full of errands, more Pippi Longstocking, the joyful discovery that Terran can tell back a chapter in vivid detail, and the playing of board games.

I’d like to say a word about those errands. I remember my (single) mother dragging my younger brother and myself on a tour of all our suburb’s parking lots in the little black Pontiac Grand Am she’d inherited from her grandmother. We would sit in the car while she ran into the bank, follow her around mindlessly while she ran around the grocery, then sit in the waiting room while she was with a doctor. We had fun because we didn’t have Gameboys, just each other and our wild imaginations and the car radio station. (We sang along to Billy Joel and Elton John.) But that is not the kind of errand-running I mean when I report that I ran errands with my kids.

We don’t have a car or live in a suburb. We walk or bus or bike everywhere. Because of this, and because of our location, all our errands start with the state museum.

The museum is connected to a long complex of government buildings, including the state capitol, and by walking through these buildings it is possible to get across the city. Also, pretty much any bus you might want to take to anywhere in the capitol region comes to the capitol building, so you really can get anywhere from there. The museum door happens to be our closest entrance to this complex, so, every time we go out on an errand, the kids walk into the museum, past the rotating front-lobby display. This month it’s a history of soap box derby. They routinely wave hello to the now-familiar fossils permanently on display in the lobby, as well.

Then it’s a ride down an escalator and into an underground mall, which contains most of the paintings in the ninety-two works collection of modern art displayed in this complex. Just by the repetition of walking past these two or three times a week, the kids have many of the artists memorized.

In this underground mall, as well as all the modern art, we will pass by our bank, post office, stationary store, florist, YMCA branch, a bunch of government offices, the state university, a convention center, and on Wednesdays a farmer’s market.

If it is nice out and we decide to walk across the mall above ground, we’ll pass most of the sculptures in this collection, giant wind-animated things and loop-de-loops that would be a skateboarder’s dream.

ImageAt the end of the mall, we arrive at a security clearance. The guards know us by name. The boys’ favorite part of the walk is there: the portal. It’s meant to be an after-hours secure gateway for people holding passes that let them in after hours, but it lets anyone through during business hours if you just press a button. Here’s Terran going through it yesterday. Usually at this point he starts pretending he has walked into an alternative universe that is identical to ours, and he and Bear take delight in pointing out all the spooky differences from the world they know. Good thing we always come back home through the portal, too.

After this security clearance point, the building changes, and instead of the super-modern 1970s environment, we find ourselves looking at classical columns. Verdi once said it was like entering Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic, the transformation is that dramatic. Up an escalator and we’re in the capitol itself. There’s a cafe where we often stop for a cup of joe and to eavesdrop on government doings. You can see the underside of what they call the “million dollar staircase” from our favorite table in the cafe, with all the little intricate carvings that people travel from all over the state to take pictures of. There are always some portraits and displays of historical objects, too, itchy Civil War uniforms and whatlike. The Marquis de Lafayette in this portrait is making a ridiculous fish face and here Terran is yesterday, attempting to mimic it. 

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Then we’re out of the complex, through another security clearance (where, again, all the guards know us). Our bus stop is out there, a side door from the capitol.  The architecture once you step out here is amazing, classical-style buildings looming around us in every direction, and the park that hosted Occupy Albany right there as well, featuring a sculptural fountain and an age-old school building.

As often as not when we come out of the capitol onto the lawn, we’re in for a game of guess-the-protest. Once we were thoroughly stumped. Clearly it was something, because brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people in their fifties and sixties, all of whom looked very well-kept and conservative, had descended upon the lawn en masse. We couldn’t figure out what they were there for, though. We now refer to that protest as The Mysterious Abuelita Convention.

ImageHere is Terran, yesterday, climbing around while we wait. At lunch times the capitol is surrounded by food trucks offering gourmet ethnic stuff, crazy  good food, and men in very fancy suits scrambling away with paper dishes full of this food. We’ll stand and watch them (rarely do we indulge in food), wondering who they all are, until our bus comes to whisk us away on our errands.

I try in general to be more engaging than my mom was when I’m running errands with my kids. I look for the teachable moments. I had a very long conversation with Terran yesterday about dialect and race and his privileges and responsibilities as a white man, inspired by his reaction to two people on the bus, and I spent an extra forty minutes in Target so that he could figure out unit prices all on his own and get the most bang from the buck he’d earned working for his dad. But no matter where we’re going, or what we’re doing, just walking out of our neighborhood reinforces my sons’ education in art and in civics. I’m lucky to live in a place people consider a destination.

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