The Spider Pavilion

Z and I have been doing a lot of science trips lately.  Most recently, we checked out the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, which did not disappoint.  I have vivid memories of the Natural History Museum in New York, and nothing has every really topped that experience of seeing giant dinosaur bones as a five-year-old.  But I was pleased to see that the LA museum is a pretty close second.  They’ve got the giant hallways of wildlife dioramas, and that’s enough to get an NYC girl nostalgic.  For Z, who’s two, it was just an awesome place to run around and yell, “Elephant!  Polar bear!”

We also bought tickets to the special exhibit going on now:  the Spider Pavilion.  It’s a small outdoor space where visitors can get up close and personal with spiders.  The spiders are out in the open–no glass between you and them.

When I describe this exhibit to my friends, they immediately know what I somehow managed to hide from myself while preparing for this trip:  room full of spiders plus Julie equals HORRIBLE IDEA.

Z is so fascinated by bugs of all kinds that I have become much less freaked out by them than I used to be.  So I was honestly thinking that seeing giant, Malaysian spiders up close would be super cool.  Here’s what happened instead.

Perfectly happy to sprint up and down hallways full of stuffed African animals, Z was upset when I had to break it to him that we were due at the Spider Pavilion (where you must buy tickets on the half hour).  My five minutes, three minutes, okay time to go thing didn’t really work like it usually does.  Even when I offered, “We’re going to go see the spiders now!” he was a mess about leaving the hallway.  Always fun to carry your screaming kid onto the next adventure.  I somehow did not quite finesse that transition like I often can.  Oh well.  Onward!

We parked our stroller outside the pavilion and went into the foyer of the exhibit, where Z spotted some toy cars he wanted–in the hands of another toddler.  When I empathetically reminded him that it’s not nice to grab and those cars weren’t his, he threw himself onto the floor in a puddle of slobbering sadness.  It was all too much.  He couldn’t run in the hallway.  He couldn’t have the car.  He was distraught.

So…one of those quick decision moments.  Back to the stroller?  Back to the hallway?  Outside to calm down?  Or…what I did:  press on!  Spiders await us.

And now you can picture my entrance.  I open the door to the Spider Pavilion carrying a crying two-year-old, and immediately I exclaim, to the confusion of everyone inside, “Holy crap!  There are a lot of spiders in here!”

Um, yes, that would be the point.  Of the Spider Pavilion, you see.

I did recover my cool (after all, the spiders aren’t dangerous) and was able to momentarily distract Z by pointing out the enormous spiders dangling over our heads in their huge orb webs, but he could not fully recover from the car incident and kept breaking down.  Meanwhile, I also could not 100% recover from my own creeped-out-ness, and I kept fearing that I would run into a web.  Finally, as we rounded a corner, I cringed anticipating spider in the face, and Z started to wail again, a group of moms looked over at me, and their expressions very clearly read, “Wow, if your kid is so terrified of the spiders, get him out of here, lady.”  So I responded to their silent criticism, “He’s not upset about the spiders.  He’s upset because he tried to take another kid’s car.”

And then I left.  I mean, screaming kid, room full of loose arachnids, and then social embarrassment?  It was kind of a Pavilion of Lameness for us.

So we went to lunch in the museum cafe.  Too bad.  I’m sure if we hadn’t botched the transition from the hallways (maybe do the pavilion first?) and if there hadn’t been such enticing toys right before our visit, we would have enjoyed our tour.  The video above is pretty fascinating.

While we were at lunch, my sense of social estrangement continued, as a woman I had previously scared the bejeezus out of in the Bug Zoo came in with her daughter.  We recognized each other but didn’t speak, and I’m sure she didn’t want to hear any more from me.  See, as we had been looking at an enormous black widow in the Bug Zoo (where the bugs do live in terrariums, so they’re much less creepifying), this mom had expressed her horror at even seeing the red hourglass mark.  ”I know,” I offered, “And black widows are EVERYwhere in LA.”  Turns out this poor woman was a recent NY transplant herself, and her eyes went wide.  ”Yeah,” I continued, ever the brilliant social networker, “Any web low to the ground is a widow web.  Go out at night with a flashlight and you’ll see them.  They’re out of control around here.”

“My GOD!” she sputtered.  ”Can you exterminate for them?”

And just to really present myself in a great light, I pulled out this tale: “One night my husband went out and killed about 15 of them with a two-by-four.”

And then I spit out a wad of tabacky and adjusted my overalls.

This poor woman.  I sort of laughed it off:  ”They’re nocturnal and not aggressive, so you’ll only see them at night.”

She was aghast.  ”We have kids!  What if somebody disturbs one of these things at night?”

“Oh, they’re really not a big deal.”

“Ha!  I can’t imagine that day when THAT is not a big deal!”

By now this woman is thinking that I am this LA, pot smoking, farm living, spider hunting hippie.  I felt the need to explain that I was once like her and completely lost it when I realized we were surrounded at all times by poisonous spiders in LA.   I begged my landlord to spray outside for them.  I thought we were overrun.  But then I started seeing the webs everywhere (once I knew what to look for), and I realized that I had just never noticed them before.  All the loose webs on the bottom of the playground structures around here are black widow webs.  If you leave a bike in your covered garage overnight, you’re likely to see a widow web on it the next morning.  They’re very prolific, but they don’t bite people often.  Once I learned the facts, I calmed down about them, although I still don’t enjoy running into them.  But I made this stranger jump right out of her skin, and I heard her talking to her friend later about, “This horrible news I just heard!”  And she said, “I can’t get used to this paradise!”  Oy, New Yorkers complaining about the Left Coast–yyyyaaaawwwwn.

A couple other interesting tidbits from this trip.  First, when I was buying my ticket, the ticket booth person stopped a Spider Pavilion expert on the way in and said, “A patron brought this!”  And she held up a terrarium containing a big, fat orb weaver.  And then she held up a mason jar with two egg sacks.  So it’s nice to know that locals are contributing to the spider exhibit–especially since according to another museum employee, a large percentage of the spiders expired during our recent heat wave.  (We always have heat waves here in October, so I have to wonder if the museum loses a lot of its spiders every year, which seems like a bit of an oversight.)

There you have it folks:  Spider Pavilion!  Okay, it didn’t quite work out for us, but you know, life with toddlers isn’t always a smooth ride.  I’d still recommend this as a great science trip if you’re in the area.  I did manage to overcome my own phobia long enough to appreciate the scene and the amazing creatures around us–but I didn’t have enough time to acclimate before I had to remove my screaming child from the premises.

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2 Responses to The Spider Pavilion

  1. Chris says:

    Right now we are being swarmed by spiders in our garden! You must be very careful where you walk, you will run into a web!

    But they are so cool. They are large spotted spiders, and just sit there. I have tried to get a good picture, which I hope to post soon… but the camera is a bit finicky.

    Remember, spiders are our friends. Especially the one that catch so many fruit flies in their webs!

  2. I had to laugh while reading your post. If you substitute in my four year old, a room full of exotic frogs and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, then you could have been writing my story a few months back. I just found your blog and am so glad to find it. Go science parents!

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