Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Field Trip: Chicago Aquarium

One of the best things about a homeschooling group is that you can score awesome deals with group rates. Our homeschooling group managed to get a group rate of $7 per person to the Shedd aquarium in Chicago, IL. Normally tickets would have cost $26.95 for adults and $19.95 for children plus $2 extra for the dolphin show (which was included in our $7 ticket.) However, there are some things that I wish I knew before I got to the aquarium just so I would be a little more prepared.

As a group you all have to arrive and enter as a group on time otherwise your slots can be given to other groups. Parking is a $1.50 an hour with the parking meters that take quarters only or $16 for the day for the parking lot. The other catch to entering as a group is that you are assigned a specific time to eat lunch in the group cafeteria. You can not eat early or later. To help make lunch smoother the aquarium does allow you to bring in your sack lunch at the beginning of the day and put it into a bin labeled with your group name so you don’t have to carry your lunch around all day. Once you get to lunch, you have 30 minutes to eat. Normally 30 minutes would be plenty of time to feed myself, but when I am feeding an infant who wants to feed herself, a preschooler, and myself, I felt rushed, but that is not the aquarium’s fault. Our group was 28 people so we were suppose to share the cafeteria with another group, but they never showed up to lunch, so we got to eat by ourselves. After lunch we had the option to put our lunch pails back in the bin labeled with our group so we didn’t have to carry our lunch boxes around. The other catch of a group rate is that you are assigned a time to see the dolphin show. Again you can not be late.

Overall these are not terrible demands. In fact most school kids would find this schedule very lax, but homeschoolers are not known for punctuality, schedules, or structure (or at least our group is not.) We were a chaotic blob. In our group there are the extremes. We have people who are perpetually early and people who are perpetually late and the people who are completely random. We have people who follow strict curriculum for their homeschooling and we have unschoolers who learn on their own unique path. If anything, going on field trips with so many diverse people makes you learn how to work with different types of people. For me starting my journey into homeschooling and parenting has taught me to be more flexible. As a scientist I thrived on making experimental plans. When plans went awry, you followed plan B, C, or D. I have found that kids and in particular homeschooled kids do not work like well oiled machines.

My son, Little BBQ, is highly sensitive. He hates loud sounds and as I have learned on this trip he hates blue lights. Yes blue lights. This is the same little boy who goes to sleep every night with a light on because he is scared of the dark. White lights are good, but blue lights are bad. He was also petrified of the fish at the aquarium. However, he is not scared of the fish at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. What is the difference? I am not sure. Little BBQ was so excited to go to the aquarium that I was sure that he was going to love it, but he turned out to be paralyzed with fear. Upon entering the aquarium he informed me that he wanted to go home. Eventually after some coaxing from an older member of our homeschooling group he warmed up to the aquarium a little bit. His little sister Miss Bubbles got kicked out of her stroller so Little BBQ could watch the fish nestled in his little cocoon of safety in the stroller. Thankfully Miss Bubbles liked the fish and did not mind being carried everywhere.

I thought Little BBQ had finally warmed up to the whole aquarium experience because he finally out of the stroller and was free roaming around with the rest of the kids when it was time to attend the dolphin show. Little BBQ sat down with his best friend and prepared for the show with the rest of the kids. Then it happened. The blue lights came on as the dolphin show started. Little BBQ got up and bolted for the exit with tears filling his eyes. One of the dads in our group who can be equated to a giant teddy bear ran after him and gave him a giant bear hug until he calmed down. One of the other moms who also had a child who was sensitive at the preschool age was able to decipher what was bothering Little BBQ. He told the other mom that the blue lights were, “too loud.” So there you have it. Little BBQ hates blue lights. Instead of going to the dolphin show Little BBQ hung out at the gift shop with teddy bear dad.

Later that day we were walking around the polar exhibit having a great time. Little BBQ played in the hands on exhibit with the other kids; he had a blast. Then we decided to walk on to meet up with some other people in our group when we saw the dreaded blue lights again. Little BBQ immediately freaked out. At least he is consistent. I had to carry him for the rest of the trip to keep him calm. We were able to avoid the blue lights by going through the other side of the polar exhibit. Luckily, Miss Bubbles did not have a lot of anxiety that day and let someone else carry her while I carried Little BBQ.

On this trip I learned more about my sensitive son, and I was secretly happy that Little BBQ wanted me the second time that he got scared of the blue lights since he generally gravitates towards males for comforting (dad is the ultimate comforter for Little BBQ is this house.) I also was relieved to learn that I am not the only person with a sensitive child. I have read books on sensitive kids and read about other parents with sensitive kids, but I had not actually met anyone else with a sensitive child. Likewise, I am relieved that my friends with a sensitive child now have a teenager who is well adjusted and unique in his own right. It is also nice to have someone around who understands and can offer some good advice on ways to handle the situation. Most parents have told me, “just make him deal with it,” but for Little BBQ the things that he is sensitive to are very real for him even if they are not very real for us. All of our realities are unique. We each perceive the world around us differently. There is no well beaten path or a road less traveled. We all have own unique ever evolving path.

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