Sturgeons, penguins, sharks, oh my

When we visited the Tennessee Aquarium recently, seeing sharks was the main reason she was excited.
Aug 19, 2013

Living in Tennessee, there aren’t many opportunities to see sharks. While I think that’s excellent, it was a real issue for my daughter, who has a fascination with them. I’m not sure if watching Shark Week with a three year old can be considered responsible parenting, but she seemed to enjoy it more than me. She isn’t scared of sharks. In fact, when asked to describe sharks in one word, she chooses “beautiful,” not “terrifying” like some people I know (me). 

When we visited the Tennessee Aquarium recently, seeing sharks was the main reason she was excited. Leading up to the trip, she would frantically ask, “Will the sharks still be there when we go?” She asked to look at pictures of sharks. I hurriedly skipped over the bloody images that inevitably come up when you search for sharks on Google. She wondered out loud if sharks would like her. How do you tell an adorable little girl that sharks don’t like anyone? That if, given the chance, they would gobble her up? 

You don’t. You pretend sharks are most polite and jovial creatures living in the ocean, even though the mere mention of them gives you goose-bumps. You act excited about seeing them. You engage in pretend conversations between the two of you and a friendly shark with a British accent, who says something like: “Ah, hello there. I’m Edmond, the non-vicious shark. I don’t like the taste of blood, like some other sharks. I prefer tea and crumpets, and occasionally a veggie burger. Shall we go for a dip?” My parenting style may not always be realistic, but at the very least, it’s entertaining for Molly. 

Visiting the aquarium was an educational experience for all three of us. It taught me that I enjoy living on land, where scary animals have the decency to warn you with some sort of sign, like a rattle, snarl or snort. 

It taught Michael that striking up a conversation with the man who directs the sting-ray touch pool is a time-consuming, long-winded mistake. And it taught Molly that penguins live in very cold water, which she described as “the way it feels when you first turn on the bath.” It taught us that paying $7.50 for a slice of Lunchables-like pizza and a drink is considered normal, and among some circles, a “great deal.” 

When you take your child to an educational, fun place like the aquarium, it’s easy to get tricked into feeling like Parent of the Year. As you wander the dimly-lit passages filled with interesting creatures, you start to think, “Man, I’m an awesome mom. Look at how much she’s learning under the guise of having fun!” Then, you see a lake sturgeon lurking nearby and are forced to instead think about all the times you’ve been swimming in waters that are probably infested with the things. Well, it’s likely. Or remotely possible. Basically, just find a new swimming partner, Michael.

It’s funny how brave you can be when there’s a sturdy barrier between you and fish the size of boats. I may have even stuck my tongue out at a few gar and did an intimidating lunge at the occasional alligator. You know, because they couldn’t get me, for now. Dun, dun, dun…

Lebanon native Debra Fulcher Carpenter writes when she isn’t studying, or when she’s procrastinating. Mostly when she’s procrastinating. She is a young housewife, student and mom. Email her at or visit the website at


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