Mummy outing: A day with kids at the VMFA (and other places)

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Including kids in the process of navigating museums leads to exciting discoveries like 4,050-year-old Tjeby, Count and Sealbearer of the King of Lower Egypt, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of VMFA Including kids in the process of navigating museums leads to exciting discoveries like 4,050-year-old Tjeby, Count and Sealbearer of the King of Lower Egypt, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of VMFA

It’s worth it to drive to Richmond on a rainy day. It might actually be the best time to make the trip—instead of moping around home or doing errands, you defy the weather and make a bold strike for the capital city. After all, there’s lots to do there. Like, mummy-viewing—which was enough to get me and my kids, ages 5 and 8, on the road to Richmond one recent drizzly day.

Yes, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a mummy on display. Does a mummy qualify as fine art? No matter. We had other business to attend to before we approached the ancient one.

First on the agenda was the factory store of Red Rocker Candy in the town of Troy—a handy stop that breaks up the Richmond drive. Red Rocker is not only a woman-owned local business, it’s a tourist attraction with a production facility open to visitors, and a shop offering Red Rocker treats you can’t get anywhere else.

Standing at a large window in the shop, we watched as employees weighed out portions of Red Rocker’s signature pretzel mix, scooping from a big mound on a stainless-steel table, then sealing and labeling the containers. In a different area, a worker was spreading chocolate over a baking sheet and sprinkling copious amounts of nonpareils over it—then another sheet, then another. Several employees welcomed us warmly with samples and friendly chatting, and then we nibbled even more delights from jars in the shop.

On that big Mother Report Card in the sky, I wasn’t exactly earning an A in the feed-them-healthy-food column, but they sure were happy.

Continuing on, we arrived in Richmond hungry for lunch, sugary calories notwithstanding, so I steered toward Carytown. Our recent obsession with Greek mythology prompted me to seek out Greek food, which might not make a lot of rational sense, but jived perfectly with the logic of children. They were delighted to sit down to lunch at Greek On Cary, and though the meal was served by an ordinary mortal rather than an Olympian god, it proved plenty exciting—a sizable octopus tentacle served over grilled veggies (delicious), fried calamari mixed with piquant peppers, and a hunk of kefalograviera cheese, which our waitress set aflame before our astonished eyes. And: good old bread.

We ran through the rain back to our car and made the short drive to the VMFA. I love this museum for so many reasons, starting with its convenience and accessibility for families—admission is free, the coat check is free, and though the garage isn’t free, you can usually find street parking (free).

And the size is just right—small enough to be navigable, big enough to harbor many surprises. We headed first for the Egyptian artifacts, housed mainly in one room. The mummy waits in a darkened corner as visitors make their way past canopic jars, casts of relief carvings from ancient temples, and elaborate sarcophagi.

As you near the mummy, lights automatically illuminate its coffin. Tjeby, Count and Sealbearer of the King of Lower Egypt, died around 4,050 years ago. He wasn’t given quite the King Tut treatment—rather, he lies on his side in a narrow wooden box decorated with a single line of hieroglyphs and a pair of eyes meant to allow Tjeby to see out into the world. A tilted mirror affords a view down onto his linen-wrapped body. The girls were suitably impressed.

In nearby rooms, we were excited to see some of the Greek myths and epics we’ve been learning about represented on urns and other antiquities. There was Athena, springing from the skull of Zeus! There was the Trojan War!

Both girls were interested in a large mosaic depicting the four seasons, and crowns made of gold myrtle leaves, but my younger daughter started to drag a little as her sister and I checked out a statue of the evil Roman emperor Caligula. “Art museums are boring,” she said—a statement which, though it defied the enjoyment she’d shown just minutes earlier, did speak a certain truth. Art museums are not really made for kids; a lot of the artworks are just plain too high off the ground, for one thing, and the sheer volume of the collection means that a family shouldn’t even try to see it all in one visit.

So how to keep things rolling? I settled on this approach: 1. Give everybody a turn to decide what to look at next (including the grownup; I chose African masks). 2. Intersperse gallery time with stops in the gift shop and café. 3. Freely give piggyback rides.

In short, museum-with-kids is not the same experience as museum-with-adults. Hoofing my 5-year-old through a hall of tapestries, I felt a long way from those past days when I’d wander for hours, uninterrupted, through marble galleries, having one aesthetic revelation after another. But this was another kind of wonderful.


If you go

The Red Rocker Candy factory store is located at 170 Industrial Way in Troy. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday.

Greek On Cary is at 3107 W. Cary St. in Richmond and serves lunch and dinner daily. See .

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, is open every day of the year and offers free general admission. The museum also offers Family Days and other kid-friendly activities.

For more on Richmond museums to visit with kids, see this previous Day Trip column.

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