Recently I took my son to an aquarium. He says the word fish now, recognizes different types of fish in books and those in the framed pictures on his bedroom walls. He says seahorse, starfish (yes, I KNOW it’s politically correct in aquariums to say SEASTAR since the starfish is not a fish, but COME ON NOW—the whale shark is not a shark, but who wants to say The Great And Awe Inspiring Whale Fish—the seahorse not a horse, the jellyfish not a—-etc.), and he says an entertaining version of octopus, so I thought it was time we hit the fish-stocked tanks to see those words up-close and swimming around.
What my son preferred more than viewing the marine subjects, however, was pushing buttons on the giant squid that made it squirt water at passersby. He could have done that all day. All. Day. alldayalldayalldayalldayallday…
I was grateful when he agreed to a lunch break.
T never ceases to amaze me: I bought a sandwich and the second we were outside at the picnic tables he zipped into a chair, snatched half the sandwich from me and chowed down as though high chairs and lovingly prepared bite-sized pieces of food have never been a part of his life. I took a chair next to him and marveled over eating lunch with my son. Maaaarveled at his big boy bites that included lettuce, marveled that he never eats this way at home, my mind click-clicking away on new ideas for home mealtimes for my normally finnicky son—like, make EVERYTHING sandwiches!!!—T pointing at the pigeons and finches surrounding us, talking excitedly with his mouth full—when suddenly I noticed: Them.
Similar to the zoo with its Silverback’s Cafe grilling meat within smelling distance of the gorillas in their little exhibit, the aquarium’s Cafe Scuba sells fish and chips. So you can walk around and view the lovely fish and then——eat fish. A group of barely-teens boys sat at the table next to ours, inhaling their cooked fish fare, until they decided it was more fun to throw their fish and chips at the birds, kick at the birds with their feet and make a big fuss squealing (yes, squealing) about the birds milling around our tables. One boy wadded up a piece of bread into a tight pellet and beaned a finch so hard it peeped in shock and no doubt pain.
“No, you don’t hit the birds with your food or kick them, okay? You do not do that.”
The boys avoided eye contact with me. I’d probably humiliated them. I looked around. A table of elders was nearby, totally ignoring the boys. Should I have told their elders? Should I have gone inside and fetched an aquarium security type? Should I have tattled vs. take action? I glanced at my son. He was finger painting his arm with a dollop of mayo and uttering pleasant gibberish. I knew that if it wasn’t for his presence, if it wasn’t for the fact that one day he would be as old as those bird-abusing boys next to us, I would have confronted the boys more directly, in a manner I would never want my son to see or think his mother capable of, as in:
1. Get the f*#% away from the f*%@ing birds NOW! Okay? NOW!
2. You know what, dude? You know how you look, beaning a tiny bird? You look weeeeeeeeak, dude. Weeeeeeeeak. Now get the f*@% away from that finch!
3. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! (the blood curdling kind of scream that brings the whole world running, emitted while standing atop a chair, fists clenched and shaking with rage)
I’m currently trying to teach T not to pull the cats’ tails or sit on Al The Naturally Large Cat’s enormous belly. I’m trying to teach him the joys of live fish and gorillas. All over the aquarium, dedicated volunteers speak daily, tirelessly to the crowds about conservation and respect for ocean inhabitants. Enter: The Bird Beaning Boys. What to do? How to react? How to prepare my son for field trips in his future? How to point out injustice without humiliating young, developing minds? But why are the developing minds committing injustices anyway? Why aren’t they listening? Why aren’t they practicing what they’re being taught? Why will boys be boys? What the hell does that really mean? Why the HELL do I ask why? How can I be a mother and be this clueless?
T and I packed up and went for a walk to the park outside the aquarium, the one with the view of the Queen Mary and that pretty lighthouse. T can say lighthouse. And oose iner for cruise liner. But he wasn’t interested in those things or the kids racing around the lawn, 10/11-year-oldish kids running off their lunches. T was interested in sitting under a shady palm tree and ransacking my backpack. As he did so, I watched the children, unable to imagine my baby that old. Hey, a girl running with a pack (pod?) of other girls declared loudly. Who dares me to kick a pigeon?
Oh dear god, I muttered, glancing around for elders, but my intervention wasn’t necessary this time. The elders blew whistles and children immediatley formed lines and marched off towards the lighthouse.
I confess I don’t ever want my son to bean finches with his food or to kick pigeons or shoot elk or polar bears or 3-legged wolves or take out any aggression on any animal. I want him to love Al The Naturally Large Cat and the entire animal kingdom. I may snuff the occasional cockroach or ant legion, but I have always championed for animal rights, saved birds, dogs, cats, mice, squirrels, or tried to. I know children need to flex control and power muscles—but probably I need to read up on teaching limits, or teaching the benefits of not kicking a pigeon or harpooning a whale. Right? Still, I thought, helping T put everything back into the pack. I’m glad I told the bird beaning boys to cut it out, even if my tone wasn’t—the nicest. Maybe there is no “nice” way of stopping such things, or not from a stranger.
I watched my son find the only mud patch in the park and grind his shoes in it gleefully. I cheered him on. Nearby, a pigeon watched us, head cocked, as though really, REALLY listening.