A home schooling friend (and mentor) had at one point suggested that as Ben got older, if the shark fascination continued, I should look into possible intern programs at an animal shelter, museum or aquarium for him...that she knew of other home schoolers who were able to work out individualized opportunities for their children...
Yesterday, at the Atlantis Marine World aquarium in Riverhead, I had to remember that conversation and laugh. We arrived in time to feed and pet the stingrays before heading up to the shark deck to hear the afternoon shark lecture. The aquarium houses about four sand tiger sharks and as many nurse sharks in it's largest tank "The Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit." (There is also a 300-pound loggerhead turtle named Jaws in the tank, who, according to our lector, rules the watery roost!)
When the shark lecture was done, I urged Ben to go up to the lector and ask HIM all of the questions he tends to bombard me with at 11:30 at night when reasonable children ARE ASLEEP.
"Maybe he has a good working theory on why steccocanthus died out, go ask HIM!" I said encouragingly. "This is your chance!"
But instead of asking any questions, Ben started pointing out possible problems with the guy's lecture.
"You know, you were wrong when you said that aquariums have never housed a Great White...the Monterey Aquarium in California had a great white for three months, but unfortunately had to let it go because it was eating its tank mates."
Poor Dave. The nervous-looking, college-aged lector. You know that all the guy wanted to do was a little quiet professional research away from the public, but that this speaking bit was somehow tied to his internship or grant money.
"Well, yeah, that's true, actually," Dave conceded. "It's just easier to explain things the way I did."
"Mmmmmmmmmm," Ben replied critically. This is a child who never sacrifices truth on the altar of brevity. Still, in this case, he was clearly willing to give a fellow scientist the benefit of the doubt.
The six-foot plus Dave and my prepubescent 11-year old son spent the next couple of minutes quizzing each other on shark knowledge. I'm not sure if Dave was surprised, impressed or deeply shaken by the results of the conversation. And, to add to Dave's already palpable tension, Ben was videotaping all of Dave's responses.
"Hun, I think you're making Dave uncomfortable," I finally whispered, and motioned that he put the camera away.
"Oh," Ben replied, looking at Dave and then his video camera in a bemused way, "sorry dude."
Later, while we were waiting for our lunch to be deep-fried, Ben went back over to the shark tank. When I ultimately went to retrieve him, he was lecturing a four-year old boy and his mom.
"Now, these sand tigers may look ferocious, but remember: in reality, they very rarely attack human beings. You are much more likely to be injured in a car accident or struck by lightening than you are to ever be attacked by a shark of any kind."
The boy and his mom thanked Ben for taking the time to talk to them as we left.
"I like doing that," Ben explained to me as we walked back to the cafeteria. "It's my way of sharing what I've learned. And I like to talk to kids because they're going to be making the decisions of the future."
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