Ever had one of those days where you find yourself in tears at a counter in front of some girl half your age who’s looking you in a “You stupid, stupid woman” kind of way, with three children tugging excitedly at your sleeves because a man in a penguin suit is dancing nearby? Sure you have.
Having thoroughly researched becoming members at the Aquarium (or so I thought), I had driven into the city with the kids to join up, only to find the price I had thought was for a year’s membership was for single entry. It turns out the Aquarium’s entry prices have inflated faster than Perth real estate since we were last members two years ago. Unsure of what to do (after all, I had already forked out $10 for all day parking and the kids were baying for fish), I rang The Money Man (my husband), who advised me to pay the membership fee and then just live there for the rest of the year. So with my wallet considerably lighter and my heart considerably heavier, the kids and I walked into the first section of the Aquarium and the minute I saw those heaving school holiday crowds, I realised that the worst of my day was not yet behind me.
At the first exhibit, I successfully lifted each of my children up so that they might catch a glimpse of a real live Emperor Penguin over the heads of the crowd – though why so many adults insist on pressing their noses against the glass when there are so many (much shorter) children behind them, I do not know. In the interests of preserving my back, at the next exhibit I encouraged the kids to snake their way around the legs of those rude adults and push to the front, which only made me feel like Fagan letting his pickpockets loose on a London Market. So then I started using the stroller as a kind of battery ram to push our way through. After some particularly nasty business involving an elderly woman with a zimmerframe snarling at me, we managed to see the clown fish up close and I joined the long succession of parents stretching back in time that exclaimed “Oooh, look children, there’s Nemo”. (That poor poor fish must be thinking “Who the F is Nemo and why are they looking at him and not me?”). Yep, seeing that extremely small and not particularly amusing fish was certainly worth kneecapping that old lady with my nappy change bag.
Eventually we gave up on the small-fry exhibits and headed off down the ramp to see the sharks. Above the ramp dangled huge life-size models of various ocean predators, showing teeth and all and it was at this point that The Pixie absolutely flipped out. She jumped out of the stroller and started running back up the ramp, screaming that she didn’t want to see the sharks because they were going to eat her. Meanwhile, Tiddles McGee – always one to run towards danger rather than away from it – continued to sprint down the ramp. I was left no choice but to divide and conquer – Mr Justice, as 2IC, was sent with the stroller after McGee, while I swam against the tide of people also heading towards the sharks to retrieve The Pixie. After a tense few moments, I managed to pick up a hysterical Pixie and begin uttering sweet reassurances about how thick the glass was that separated us from the sharks, all the while I was thinking “I just spent one hundred and sixty freaking dollars on a membership I’ll never be able to use because of my child’s extreme galeophobia”. Although I didn’t exactly think the word “galeophobia” at the time because it was only when I got home and googled “dacks-crapping fear of sharks” that I found out that’s what it’s called.
Perhaps if I hadn’t spent all that money on a membership I might have called it a day by producing the Exit Strategy Chuppa-Chups from my bag and getting the hell out of there, ne’er to return. But no, the money had been spent so I grimly continued, still murmuring soothingly in my little girl’s ear, down down down into the bowels of the Aquarium to get her to face her fear head on – and also to find my sons. And you know what? When we finally regrouped at the Oceanarium and got our first glimpse of the sharks, she immediately stopped crying and ran up to the glass ooohing and aahing with the other kids. She turned to me and said brightly “The sharks are okay, Mummy! [Mr Justice] said they would eat me but they’re okay!”. Uh, thanks a heap for that, Mr Justice.
Things seemed to improve for us after that – we even managed to find seats in the Ocean Theatre and (even better) stay in them during a special twenty minute presentation by one of the Aquarium Staff. And our little Aquarium adventure might have ended there on a reasonably high note with us going straight from the Theatre to the Exit (with or without the help of the Chuppa-Chups). But the Aquarium Staffer cheerfully reminded the crowd at the end of her presentation to make sure we joined in the Special School Holiday Activities on our way out: penguin tattoos and penguin masks!!!!!!! And those exclamation marks only represent a small percentage of my children’s enthusiastic response to this happy happy news.
“Way to go, sister” I thought to myself, my fists clenched in rage. “You just bought me another half an hour’s hard labour in this joint.”
But because I’m a Nice Mummy (or rather because I decided to make the most of that $10 flat fee for parking), I allowed myself to be dragged to the activity area by my ever eager children. But while it only took us a few minutes to get our tattoos, we found that the craft table was packed with anal-retentive colour-inner-ers who were too busy trying to keep within the lines and make sure all their texta strokes were in the same direction to notice a large queue had formed. Meanwhile, Tiddles McGee switched into fine “two-hours-past-my-naptime” mode and the Pixie decided to lift her skirt to show the room her bright pink underpants. I was started to feel the panic rising when Mr Justice turned to me and said “It’s okay. We can always get the stuff and make the masks at home.”
“That’s a good idea!” exclaimed The Pixie.
Now, under different circumstances I might have shaken them both and shouted “Who are you and what have you done with my children?”. But so great was my gratitude that I grabbed the materials and these apparent imposters and fled the place while I still had my sanity intact. So now I only have to go two more times to make my money back on the membership – although, arguably, I might have happily paid $160 to avoid all that stress in the first place.