My dad, (who admittedly was the king of planning age-inappropriate activities), became obsessed for a while with the Hearst Castle. He loved the Hearst Castle. He went far more times than is reasonable, and loved to take other people with him. When we went to visit he wanted to take us and he was just so excited that we couldn't say "no" even though it would be me, my toddler, my infant, and my exceptionally enthusiastic dad.
I started to realize my mistake as soon as we entered the visitor center. There would be a long bus ride up the hill to the castle, where we would then tour the property, which has been maintained and staged to highlight it's opulence. There were no strollers allowed. But we were here and we were doing this. Sydney was nestled cozily into her sling and Eli was pretty well behaved generally.
The bus ride was great, as I remember it. There's wild zebras and Eli was riding in a bus. What's not to love? That was the last moment of calm. As soon as we disembarked, we were greeted with dozens of "do not touch" signs. DOZENS. I'm an anxious guest as is, and now I had to manage to keep a three year old from touching gold plated everything while also trying to keep the baby quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the tour. As you can imagine, it did not go well. It was so miserable that I think I truly would have abandoned ship, except that we'd taken a bus. To the top of a mountain. To a castle where no one was allowed to be unescorted. I had no options but to suffer and try to avoid the glares of the other tour members who'd paid a ridiculous amount of money to see the real life version of Gatsby.
About halfway through, after the 27th dirty look from the tour guide and a near constant refrain of "Please don't touch that. No, it's not real food. No, you can't touch that. Please just put your hands in your pocket. We're almost done", a rogue docent quietly approached me and asked me to follow him. I could have died right there. Not only had I been trying obviously in vain to be inconspicuous, now I was getting kicked out of this tour.
But no. This kind, kind volunteer ushered us off of the tour and into a huge kitchen behind the scenes. He showed Eli all the fake food that was stored back there and let him touch it all, encouraging him to try to pour out the drinks and crack the eggs. He showed us the wall of ovens and talked about how what it was like when there were parties. He walked us through the ballroom and told us how the volunteers had Christmas parties there, and once a year were allowed to swim in the pool. From there he took us to a garden NOT filled with breakable antique Roman artifacts and showed us the koi pond full of fish. It was amazing. Eli was enthralled. Sydney was quiet because we were actually moving so she was lulled into a nap. I could breathe. And my dad and my step-mom were able to take the tour they'd wanted.
I'm not sure what made me think about this today, other than lately life has been peppered with small acts of kindness that it seems always mean more to the recipient than to the giver. I'm sure that lovely docent stepped in mostly to avoid disruption of an over-priced tour full of affluence-enthusiasts, but to me it meant enough that it remains a vivid, and fond, memory fifteen years later.
I tried to find a picture but this was in the age before selfies and I'm sure that there was no way I was juggling both kids AND the camera. So I'll leave you with a few pictures of the cute little disruptors instead