Peace and quiet. We all need it from time to time. Sometimes we just need to block out the noise. You’d think an aquarium would be the perfect spot for quiet contemplation. Not so much. I know. I went to one last Sunday along with thousands of other people, including someone who stood out from the crowd as if he were the main attraction.
If you haven’t been to Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto yet and you’re not ethically opposed, I’d highly recommend a visit (unless, of course, you’re after some peace and quiet). One of the highlights is a moving walkway (airport-style but slower) that allows you to travel beneath the water with a plethora of fish, sharks and the smiling white underbellies of stingrays on glorious display. It’s breathtaking.
If only I’d been able to control the volume.
Contrary to what you might think, the chitter chatter of excited children wasn’t the issue. The issue was the enthusiastic young father moving along beside me. Bless his heart and no doubt genuinely good intentions, this dad felt the need to articulate the name of every single creature that swam past his eyes as if his little cherub might otherwise miss it.
“Jacob, look, a fish. Oh, a shark. There’s another one. Look at the stingray. Another shark. Look Jacob, a turtle. A shark. Another stingray. WOW!”
Jacob couldn’t have been more than 18 months old. Wide-eyed and silent as his father held him close, their faces just inches apart, it was hard for me to tell whether he was mesmerized by the fish or completely overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Jacob’s sealife adventure reminded me of one of my own.
Traveling in Australia just shy of my 30th birthday, I decided a trip down under wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. When I got to Cairns, I signed up for a one-day scuba diving adventure. The banter among the travelers on my tour boat was light and friendly, which put me at ease. Too much ease. So much ease that I volunteered to be the first off the boat despite having zero diving experience. Bad call.
To say I experienced sensory overload is an understatement. First came the physical weight of my scuba gear. Then the sound of my own breathing. Then the change of temperature as my skin hit the water. Fully submerged, I held onto the line as instructed, waiting for the rest of the class to make their way down, fish of all colours coming at me from all directions.
I told myself to relax, spelling out step-by-step what was going on by using the quiet voice in my head:
“That weight you’re carrying, it’s a helmet. That noise is just you breathing. Those things coming at you are fish. Just fish. They are not going to hurt you. All is good.”
I was just beginning to get a handle on things when the next student, our class comedian (every class has one), joined me on the line. Despite telling myself not to look at him (I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the added stimulation) I glanced his way and was immediately greeted by a frantic wave and the goofiest grin I’d ever seen. It was simply too much.
That was it. I gave my instructor the hand signal for ‘get me the hell out of here’ and the second my helmet was off, burst into tears.
Back to this notion of peace and quiet.
After reflecting on my scuba diving adventure, I longed for Jacob’s father to stop talking. Trust me, I completely understand where he was coming from; I no doubt talked my daughter’s ear off on many an outing back in the day, and probably still do. But on this occasion, I had the benefit of being an outsider, and as I looked from the outside in, I was pretty certain that the visual stimuli were more than enough for little Jacob to process.
I wished, oh how I wished, that his father would save the vocabulary lesson for a picture book and hush up so that his sweet son could take it all in.
As I’ve said before, I’m no psychologist. Just a parent with an opinion. One of my opinions happens to be that children, including very little children, need more blank canvases — more empty spaces in which to let their minds wander, become thoughtful observers, and listen to their own voices without interruption.
I searched online and couldn’t find a single article to support this opinion so it’s completely unsubstantiated. It’s nothing more than a hunch, but it’s my hunch and this is my blog, so I’m putting it out there. I’d love to hear what you think.
Viv for today xo
We only have so much time to influence our children. How much time exactly? That’s something I explore in When to stop parenting.
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