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Sturgeons, Butterflies, Skittles, and Potties

“Here’s Cookeville and here’s Chattanooga where the aquarium is,” I said, pointing to a map to show Elaine as she, Husband, and I travelled in our van. “Remember what we’ll see there?”

Elaine, age 6, cocked her head. “Lemur. Fish.” Together, we had looked at the Tennessee Aquarium website. “Jellyfish. Otters! And Pop will buy me candy!” My Grand opened her eyes and mouth wide. “When can I have Skittles?” Elaine asked.

“After you eat a good lunch,” Husband said.

“Ah. When’s lunch? Where’ll we eat?”

“The aquarium has two buildings. We’ll walk through one, then eat lunch at a restaurant,” I explained.

“So after lunch, Pop will buy me Skittles?” Husband nodded.

Before exploring the Ocean Journey exhibits, I suggested a bathroom stop. “Do they have flush potties?” Elaine asked. She meant automatic flush toilets, which frighten her and many young children. Upon seeing an automatic flush potty, Elaine decided to only wash her hands.

Elaine bounced through the aquarium. Lemurs crouched high on tree branches. Sea rays glided through water inside a petting tank. Elaine watched as I put my fingers under water. “Hold your fingers straight. The sea ray feels smooth and cool,” I said.

Elaine shook her head, “No thanks. Is it time for lunch?”

In the butterfly room, hundreds of butterflies live in a perfect ecosystem. Elaine slowly turned her head, seeming to study her surroundings. Seeing a butterfly land on a boy’s hand, she moved beside a bush where butterflies fluttered. She stretched her arm, holding her hand under leaves.

Still and silent, she waited until a tiger butterfly lit. “Elaine, look toward me. I’ll take your picture,” I whispered. She lifted her eyes, didn’t move or smile. The butterfly stayed on her hand several minutes while she stood statue still. It flew and she said, “What’s next?”

Elaine led us past huge tanks of ocean life. She briefly watched scuba divers feeding sharks and was mesmerized by penguins diving into water and swimming.

As we walked to the restaurant, Elaine asked two questions. “Do they have flush potties? After lunch, I get Skittles, right?”

Before eating the Skittles Husband poured into her hand, Elaine grouped them by color. Again, she refused a bathroom stop.

In the River Journey exhibits, huge sturgeons circled a petting pool. Elaine held two fingers underwater. For fifteen minutes, she stroked every sturgeon that came close.

Husband doled out Skittles all afternoon and I convinced Elaine I could hold my hand over the motion sensor on a potty. Unfortunately, the toilet flushed before she got out of the bathroom stall.

At Elaine’s home, I handed Daughter a list of twenty-one animals Elaine had dictated that she saw and she said otters were her favorite. “And Gran, where’s the rest of my Skittles?” Elaine asked. I gave them to Daughter. “And guess what, Mom? I’m not afraid of flush potties anymore.”

High fives all around for a fun aquarium trip. For otters. Sturgeons. Butterflies. Skittles. And overcoming the fear of automatic flush potties.

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