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!
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.