The National Aquarium in Baltimore is an amazing place. It's a place you can sit down in front of a coral reef tank and watch the fish swim by, a place you can see dolphins jumping in a training session or streaking by the underwater viewing window, a place that holds pieces of Australia and the Amazon together under one roof. My family goes there quite often, especially since my husband's parents live in Baltimore. We headed up there this weekend, as we often do when we need a little cheering. My husband's parents are unfailingly loving and welcoming, so a few hours at the aquarium followed by an afternoon at their house is often the tune up we need.
Recently though there's something at the aquarium that upsets our daughter. They have a sea turtle named Calypso swimming in the main tank. Calypso is huge and I'm not sure exactly how old, but I remember her from visiting when I was in college. The problem is, Calypso has only one arm. She is a rescued turtle and at some point her arm became badly infected and had to be amputated. My daughter never noticed the missing arm until recently (growth and development are not an unmixed blessing, you see) but now that she has it really upsets her.
The first time she noticed she was almost in tears. We had to get a helpful volunteer to explain that Calypso is very happy in the tank. The kind woman explained that Calypso plays with the divers and insists that they pet her, and that she eats brussels sprouts like ice cream, and that seemed to be enough to calm our daughter down. We were able to go look at dolphins after that and enjoy the rest of the day. However ever since then our daughter repeatedly asks for a story about Calypso. Sometimes she uses the name and sometimes she says the "cutted-off-arm-turtle."
The request for the story comes out of the blue, sometimes at home while we're getting ready for bed, sometimes in the car, sometimes while we're out and about. We've probably told it about 30 times by now. I tell her the story each time, using the same words as much as I can. I gently explain that Calypso's arm got infected and was making her whole body sick, and she was sad and couldn't play. She was getting sicker and sicker and the vets couldn't make her better and were afraid she might die. Until one day a wise vet said they needed to cut off her arm. So they gave her medicine to make her sleepy and more medicine so she wouldn't feel pain and they very carefully removed her arm. When Calypso woke up from the medicine her infection was gone, she felt much better and was able to go swim with her friends in the tank and eat brussels sprouts and be petted by the divers.
This seems to be helping as this time at the aquarium there were no tears. We looked for Calypso and then went on to other exhibits and all seemed well. I wonder though what a three and a half-year old takes from a story like this, how she puts everything together. I know she knows what being sick is, since we've been doing a lot of that lately at our house. We've had to talk about death recently too as my daughter has both experienced the loss of our cat and also started asking questions like "where's your Mommy, Mimi?" to my mother. I don't want her to be afraid that when she is ill something dreadful is going to happen to her, and so far I don't think she is. I'm constantly surprised, though, at the new challenges parenting presents.