Forty dollars is far too much to pay to look at fish. But I bought tickets anyway to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for me and my wife. I consoled myself, however, with the fact that my seven month old son would get in free. Indeed the primary reason for this outing was to impart to him an early interest in nature by exposing him to the wonders of the sea.
I glanced down at Luke’s stroller as we left the ticket booth and meandered our way through the crowd to the main entrance. He had just completed a cavernous yawn and was blinking his eyes heavily. “Make sure he doesn’t go to sleep,” I quipped to my wife, “I don’t want him to miss a moment of this.”
At last we entered the great glass doors of the aquarium and were instantly greeted by the smell of salt water and air conditioning. A giant, cylindrical fish tank stood like a pillar of crystal just in front of us. Inside, a kaleidoscope of fish darted about in all directions. I pulled out my camera so that I would be able to capture Luke’s first expression of surprise.
It was here that my disappointment began. Rather than the vibrant curiosity I expected, my camera lens was greeted by yet another yawn as Luke eased back into his stroller with a settled air of indifference. I began to point vigorously at the tank with cries of “look!” and “fishy!”, but in spite of my gesticulations, my son remained unmoved. “He must be overwhelmed with it all,” I remarked to my wife.
“He just looks bored to me,” she replied as we began to stroll down the walkway to the various exhibits.
In spite of my initial disappointment, I was determined that my son be thrilled and enlightened by this experience. As we proceeded through the aquarium I made every effort to stoke his interest. I positioned his stroller in front of every tank so that he would have an excellent view of its contents. I read every placard to him and we watched every video that accompanied the exhibits. I even broke the rules at the horseshoe crab-petting station by picking up one of the writhing creatures so that he could touch it. This only drew a shriek of terror from my son which, in turn, caused me to drop the crab and drench my shirt in the process.
At last we neared the end of the tour. We had seen everything from sharks to salamanders, yet nothing had sparked Luke’s interest. It seemed that there was nothing in this multi-million dollar facility that would excite my son. As we rounded the final corner I despaired of ever seeing his curiosity aroused. That is, until we came upon the giant spider crab exhibit.
Strategically positioned at the end of the aquarium tour, the giant spider crab is certain to dissolve the most stalwart apathy. Imagine a common daddy longlegs on steroids complete with spiky armor and three foot long legs and you will get some idea of the spider crab’s appearance as it sat perched on a large rock in its murky, cylindrical tank. This, I was certain, would grab Luke’s attention.
I wheeled his stroller next to the tank and knelt down beside him to await his response. At first nothing happened. Then Luke carefully stretched his hands out before him as a look of absolute wonder enveloped his face. A sense of satisfaction steadily grew within me until I noticed that there was something strange about the way his eyes were set, as though his focus was upon something much nearer than the brooding creature in the tank before him. I watched in amazement as Luke slowly flexed his tiny fingers up and down with a look of utter concentration on his brow. My son had discovered his hands.