Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I had the day off, so I went to the aquarium with Owlet.

The aquarium -- like any large institution that happens to have a death-grip on some of your fonder childhood memories -- skirts around very serious issues and manages to be viewed, by different people and at different times, to be something between Dachau and a historical site commemorating a local battle and the signing of an important document (that, among other things, ensures that the making moonshine whiskey with Idaho potatoes between the hours of 3am and 7pm for people of non-Irish descent to be completely illegal and subject to fine of four cents or the family's 3 largest hens).

In this case the issue is animal captivity. Particularly animals a bit higher on the evolutionary tree (I've yet to see a protest over the forced imprisonment of a small, relatively unsightly pelagic mollusc). Vertebrate, good, mammal, even better. I'm not one to argue against that, however; in an ideal world we wouldn't have Flipper inside a tank of water barely large enough to pass as an underfunded public pool. I mean, I saw Star Trek IV, for crying out loud.

I tend to be on the other side of the debate, though, and not only because I have small children and trying to find activities that one of you don't find brain stabbingly boring is between nil and whatever the probability is that Boss Hogg will get the Duke boys. It's simply, or so I tell myself, that those indelible memories of youth, that seemingly universal attachment to wildlife that pervades Western culture and I'm sure is responsible for 99% of all conservation efforts, is tempered and cast in titanium when a child visits a zoo/wildlife sanctuary/aquarium.

They are evil, in their own way, but the good they do. I'm not sure you're going to get that with anything else, I don't care how high-def your edition of Planet Earth is.

So we went there and we saw frogs, sharks, tortoises, the largest freshwater fish in the world, otters, belugas, dolphins.... and well, with a 3-year-old, that goes by pretty fast. They aren't there for the spiel or to even read the invariably sparse plaque. They go, are amazed, wonder-struck, bored, then fidget. All in the span of about 5 seconds. They are the fruit flies of novelty.

Owlet also asked questions, nothing mind-blowing, I think one of them had me answering, 'the other one died', which she took in stride. Toddlers, or the ones I've met, seem to take the whole death thing in stride pretty well, I'm not sure when the horror and panic sets in about it. Most of questions she asked were mundane or nonsensical or something she answered herself with logic that defied examination or physics.

But it wasn't her questions that really stuck in my mind that day. We were watching the belugas, and a hosh posh overly-fit mother of some adorable children were making a day of it, it seemed, with snacks and a picnic blanket. One of the kids said something, and the mother replied, 'You shouldn't be asking that question, some questions just shouldn't be asked.'. And I thought, that's either the making of a bow-tie wearing, Invisible Hand worshipping, GOP stalwart or the hippiest scientist bum ever.

1 comment:

Chris B. said...

Nice post. We're already planning how much information is too much, but I think easing death into the equation at an early age makes it more a part of things, not as much a shock down the road. Hadn't considered it, but the aquarium (or zoo) is probably helpful on a number of levels.

And yeah - pitiful that a parent would tell a child that it's inappropriate to ask a question at any level.