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January 22, 2009

Please Touch the Animals

Image001 The weekends always pass too quickly. As a result, I sometimes feel pressured to make sure that they're action packed, or at the very least, that each weekend can be marked or remembered with some special pursuit.

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to make it to New Jersey's Liberty Science Center. With generous offers of car rides in both directions, there was nothing stopping us from venturing out of New York City in the bitter cold to eventually warm up in the depths of the Center. After all, who would want to miss some of the all-new kid exhibitions? One in particular sounded cool to me--the "Eat and Be Eaten Encounter". Now if only I could get my 4-year-old daughter to bite.

I ushered my kid, into an auditorium for a chance to "Get up close and personal with the creepy, crawly creatures of the Liberty Science Center." My daughter gripped my hand tightly and asked if we could sit in the back of the room. I explained that we were going to have a chance to see some really cool animals in person, and maybe even touch them! The back row was a no-go. Front row seats were empty and ready for us.

My daughter has had a few chances at her pre-school to get hands-on with some animals. But so far, she's told me that she's only touched the "cute" ones. Sure, she's pet the cat and the ferret, but as for the giant millipede, she said it was "disgusting" and "ugly" and she wasn't interested. Here was a chance to show her that an animal didn't have to be cute and fuzzy to make it worth learning about--as well as getting her past her fears of touching things she deemed "yucky."

I'm not scared of "creepy crawlies" so I'm generally the "exterminator" in the family. I actually don't like to kill bugs, rather opting for removal to the great outdoors and keeping my fingers crossed they won't make their way back in. I usually quell any fears by addressing large water bugs, or the occasional mouse through the years with loud greetings along the lines of, "Until you're willing to pay rent on this place, GET OUT!" And then working to make sure that happens.

An old college boyfriend of mine had two pythons, and I (not in a creepy way or anything) for some reason, found it somewhat relaxing touching their cool, dry, snakeskin as they moved. That probably explained why I didn't leave my RA post at NYU, despite having two separate experiences in which snakes ended up in my dorm room during college. No, they weren't my boyfriend's. One time a black snake slithered across my feet as I was on the phone, just fresh out of the shower, but instead of panicking (OK, I admit I was startled for a moment) I picked it up, put on some clothes while keeping an eye on it, and ended up walking room to room on the floor to find out who it belonged to. It turned out, it was the lost property of a couple of freshman boys who'd let it out for a "stretch" and lost track of it. It made it to my room via the portals that were supposed to be used for computer cabling. When that happened a second time, I felt worse for the snake, than I did for the boys that ended up getting kicked out of student housing.

As the exhibition began, my daughter curled up on her chair and whispered to me, "Mommy, will there be any poisonous frogs? Will we have to touch them?" I reassured her that we would not be asked to touch anything poisonous and that our lives were not in danger. We would make it out alive today! Of course, as I said this, the first animal out of the bag was a tarantula. And it was magnified on a screen in front of us so it appeared about a thousand-times it's original size. Wow! We'd have the opportunity to touch a tarantula! Well, that dream was dashed almost immediately as the curator clarified that we wouldn't be touching it, as it was, ahem, poisonous. Oh yeah, that. I guess I should have figured that was maybe not going to happen with a bunch of 4,5 and 6 year-olds around.

Next up, a giant toad-the world's largest species. She actually jumped right off the exhibit table a few times while we were learning about her. Good for some nervous laughs from the kids, but the curator said she was frustrating him, and he put her back in her container after pointing out some interesting facts. At this point, my kid had relaxed thinking she wasn't going to have to touch a darned thing.

Then finally it happened. Out came a Pine Snake. The curator explained these snakes were local to the area (The Pine Barrens, of course!) and that they were threatened as a species because people were ruining their environment. Then, he walked around with the snake so we could touch it. My husband went first and described what he felt. My daughter was set to go next, but she said she wasn't ready. So I showed her there was nothing to be scared of. Go on, touch the animals! She gently held out two fingers, and I helped her guide them along its back. A wide grin spread across her face, and she turned to me proudly to inform me of what she had just done. Forget the fact she was sitting inches from me. "I'm so proud of you!" I told her. Was this Mother-daughter bonding at its finest, or what?

Next, and last up, was a large tortoise. My daughter let out an, "Aww...that's cute!" But when asked if she'd like to get up to pet it, she replied "After a snake, that turtle is kind of boring, Mommy! Let's make turtle soup." Hmmm. Eat or be Eaten. I'm not sure that's exactly what they meant.

This is an original NYC Moms Blog post.

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