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I am a below knee amputee. More importantly, I am also Mommy to two boys, a very active 10 year old (Robby) and an mischievous toddler (Timmy). I have learned that being a parent with a disability can create some unusual and sometimes humorous situations. This blogger is available for hire! Let's talk and learn how a blog can expand your business.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Turtle Tuesday

Yesterday was "Turtle Tuesday" at the Baltimore Aquarium. For a seven year old koopa lover, this event translated into pure Utopian bliss. He was so excited when I revealed our plans for the day that he ran into the bedroom to get dressed without being prompted the typical half dozen times. Of course, in his rush he ended up putting his pants on crooked and his shirt inside out and backwards. These fashion faux pas were inconsequential because we were off to see the turtles!

Robby accepted a map from the aquarium volunteer as soon as we entered the building. Without hesitating he informed me that he was not interested in looking at the fish. "Momom, I already saw fish in the biggest aquarium in the world which is the ocean. I don't need to look at them again." So I guess he isn't going to become a Marine Biologist when he grows up.

Bypassing all of the impressive and beautiful tanks, we made a beeline towards the new sea turtle exhibit. Robby wiggled his way towards the front of the tank and squealed with delight when he saw the giant sea turtle swim gracefully in front of him. Almost in unison, we both gasped when we realized that the turtle was missing his front fin. "Momom, Momom. Did you see? He's an amputee too." (He was definitely the only visitor in the area to view being an amputee as something normal.)
The crowds ebbed and flowed, but Robby maintained his position directly in front of the exhibit. During a lull the aquarium volunteer came to speak with Robby, and my little koopa lover inquired about the missing fin. The volunteer explained that Calypso (the turtle) didn't have his front fin anymore but that he was a happy and healthy turtle. He then asked Robby, "Do you know what you call a turtle who is missing a fin?" Without waiting for a response, he answered his own question by condescendingly declaring, "A survivor."

Without taking his eyes of the turtle, Robby retorted, "No, you call him an amputee. And why doesn't he have a prosthetic fin to help him swim?" The volunteer seemed a little taken aback by this question, and after umming and ahhing several times finally offered that, "We can't get a fin to fit him because he is 450 pounds." He smiled, seemingly satisfied that his answer would quell Robby's unorthodox questions.

He obviously underestimated Robby! My little koopa fan finally took his eyes off the turtle. He smiled, and then glared, at the volunteer and replied, "You are not taking him to the right Prosthetist. You should call Mr. Elliot. He can make a prosthetic that will work for this turtle who is an amputee because he is missing his fin." I think the volunteer realized that this was not an exchange he was going to win, and she quickly busied herself with other visitors at the exhibit.

Wanting to learn more about Calypso, Robby and I found a touch screen information center near the exhibit. Looking at the photograph, we touched the missing fin for information. The screen simply said, "Calypso is missing his fin. This is an indication that he is a survivor." After reading the screen, Robby asked me why they won't call the turtle an amputee. "After all, it isn't a bad word like sh*t, is it?"

Robby and I spent the afternoon at the Aquarium looking for turtles in all of the exhibits. We visited Calypso on three separate occasions, and each time Robby reminded me that he thought it was "dumb that they won't call the turtle an amputee." I have to admit that Robby had a point. Constantly calling the turtle a survivor and actively avoiding the use of the term amputee seemed to be an attempt to sugar coat reality. The turtle was missing a fin, but he was healthy and assumed happy. Calling him an amputee does not diminish his value; if anything the fin loss helps to make him unique.

Calypso could have been an example to teach children (and some of their parents) that a happy and adapted life is possible after a disability. Instead the differences are being ignored instead of celebrated. The aquarium staff should have been able to tell us Calypso's story, but none of them knew his background.

Walking through the gift shop, Robby and I tried to find Calypso souvenirs. All of the postcards, posters and t-shirts showed the turtle from his finned side creating the illusion of his being a completely able-bodied turtle. It seems to me that fabricating merchandise that would celebrate Calypso's journey would be far more beneficial, both monetarily and socially, than trying to mask the reality. I am glad that the turtle has found a home, but I am disappointed that a wonderful and unique teaching opportunity has been lost.

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