Most people assume that kids need to be a certain age before you talk to them about death (and, presumably, taxes). I always did. Somehow, I figured my kid would be older than four before asking what we do with dead people (flash to Vincent D’Onofrio collaring an unsuspecting sidewalk vendor, shouting "Where do you keep your dead!?").
But on a recent geocaching trip, we traversed a 19th century graveyard. This brought on a predictable series of questions. "What are all these rocks?" "There are people in the ground!?" "Why?" "And now they’re all bones inside?" This, followed by days upon days of queries about bones and graves and, like clockwork, an extended arm as we pass the nearby cemetery and an exclamation of "That’s where the dead people live!" True story.
So I started wondering how to teach the squirt more about bones. (For those who are surprised that my wife puts up with me teaching the kiddo about dead stuff…she’s a biological anthropology major who spent several summers freeze-drying specimens for a local museum.) There’s always the option of reconstructing dinner, which I might do, but at four she’s far more interested in looking than she is in exercising her fine motor skills. I thought perhaps a place that sells bones — preferably of all types and sizes — might be a good place to start. I know of two.
Maxilla & Mandible of New York City is an old familiar to me. Last time I was in, the place looked like a Victorian whatnot shop had collided with a natural history museum, producing a variety of shop familiar to readers of Terry Pratchett. Purveyors of fossils, bones, insects, butterflies, anatomical models and reproductions, as well as a variety of natural history-related items and oddities, M&M has been a family favorite since my wife was a small child. I get the impression that they’ve shifted mostly to selling online, but they still maintain a storefront on Columbus Avenue. On our next trip to Manhattan, the geeklet will get a thorough introduction.
Berkeley, California’s The Bone Room is new to me. The Mythbusters headed out to Berkeley to get a skull from the store for their Lockpick of Death episode. Self-billed as "the Web’s premier natural history store," they carry much the same array of goods as M&M, just on the other coast. Since we make an annual pilgrimage to worship at the altar of Jobs (also known as "work sends me to Worldwide Developer’s Conference), a side trip to Berkeley will officially be in order.
All of this is by way of asking: Where else can a GeekDad with a penchant for teaching his kid(s) the lighter side of death go for a good field trip? And I don’t mean museums, where you generally can’t actually put hands on anything. I mean places with the good stuff…bones you can handle and take home, big insect specimens you can get up close and personal with, and anatomical models that’ll let your kids pull out someone else’s spleen without any annoying legal repercussions. Reputable dealers only, of course. It’d be awesome to compile a list of GeekDad-friendly emporia of this sort.