Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The science museum is particularly dense on Tuesday during spring break. There are families, camp groups and others filling their extra time with this hands-on afternoon. We are used to going during the week when it’s quieter. Addie’s propensity to shimmy right up to the front of each exhibit can be indulged without doling apologies to her left and right during these less peopled visits.

Not today. Her speed and motivation - for this is among her favorite places on earth – will require quick reaction times from her companions, my 12 year old Cate and me. After brief parking lot discussion, we choose not to bring Addie’s push chair (a large medical stroller)in. Cate convincingly opined that we must start encouraging her understanding of the rules about running away; that we need to start giving Addie credit for good choices, rather than taking the option to bolt completely away from her by buckling her in. I cannot argue. Though it does mean that I shall be slinging Addie’s 5 pound communication device over my shoulder, along with her other supplies and my purse, hoping this still allows the agility needed in crowded places with my fearless, fast, nonverbal, intellectually original 8year old scientist. Wouldn't be the first risk taken. Won't be the last.

Addie shows great patience waiting in line to renew our membership and get our admission wristbands. Cate cannot help but laud her sister for this. As soon as I secure Addie’s wristband however, she is off and shuffle-running. Cate and I jokingly wonder if Addie may have some belief that in this high tech playground of experimentation, that she may suppose there is a GPS chip in her wristband that will allow us to track and reunite with her… when it is convenient.   For her.

Snickering at this thought, Cate and begin our day of chase. Addie wears a bright orange jacket and under that, a fuchsia tunic over bright leggings. She glows by design. We follow her fast, small body as she briefly slows her steps near the giant watery great lakes replica. She peeks through the glass into Lake Erie and then reaches over the edge of Superior to splash around in it. She will be soaked from neck to waist shortly. Water features big in many of the exhibits here. Water (and all creatures that live in it) is her obsession. But soon the great hall darkens as shades descend and lights dim. She knows what’s coming and she doesn’t care for it much. The simulated thunderstorm is exciting to her at the beginning when it’s just rain bouncing off the lakes’ surfaces. But when the thunder begins, she must make a choice. We can see her thinking - I could stand here and put my hands over my ears until it is finished, or I can move on. Her hands rise slightly, drop, and then she takes off again, down the stairs behind the exhibit.

Cate and I dodge and weave with less expertise than our orange-coated leader, but we make our way. Urgency is slightly diminished by the awareness and anticipation of an area not far from the bottom of the stairs that will slow our small sprite down again. This basement floor holds huge aquariums with all manner of fish and sea creatures. There are also touch tanks where people can reach into the water to interact with starfish, sea urchins, stingrays and sturgeon. But she must find her way through to get to this and her other esteemed spot. Some of the terrain she must cover will give her pause. There are tanks below foot as you make your way over a class tiled walkway. Fish, rocks and coral are visible through this transparent floor. This higher demand of perception throws Addie off a bit and she requires a hand in hers to feel grounded enough to cross. She will stop at the first clear tile, watching, with her hand out, waiting for one of us to take it.

Today, Cate gets to her first. Once she has crossed safely, she shakes her sister’s hand off and swiftly motors past the jellyfish, around the corner and through the overhead aquarium tunnel. The puffer fish used to slow her down, along with the swooshing current overhead, but it doesn’t merit a glance today. She speeds through. We catch up to her just as she bends her knees and collapses into that position most hated by physical and occupational therapists – the dreaded W sit. She is just a few inches from a wall of thick glass housing the biggest fish in the museum. Already a number of them have crossed in front of her. She bends forward, feet out to the sides, giggling as each one glides by. She glances up when we arrive and knows to shimmy back a few inches. I put her communication device down to the right of her while Cate has a seat on the other side. Addie navigates the pages on her device and states the uber-obvious, “I want to see the fish!” Cate laughs. Yeah. Gotcha, pal.

Cate knows we get to rest a bit, so after chatting with her sister a while, she gets up to go check out some other exhibits near us. I stand back, relieved to have the heavy device off my shoulder. If she wants to talk, I’ll see her navigating the pages and get closer to hear. Within a minute or two, a small girl, stylish beret perched on her head, makes a beeline right for Addie and sits down in front of her communication device. She actually turns it away from Addie and towards herself. I hear a man’s voice near me say “Mikayla, no. That’s not for you.” She ignores him and instead says hi to Addie. I let it go for a minute – neither girl looks to me for any sort of assistance, so I just watch.

Mikayla asks Addie her name. Addie ignores her. The other girl turns her attention back to the communication device. She asks Addie what it is. I have to take a step closer. “It’s a talker. Instead of talking with her mouth like you and me, she uses sign language and that computer to talk.”


“Well, things work a little differently for her and her voice doesn’t work for her the same way as ours does.”

“She can’t talk?”

“Not with her mouth, but she can with her hands and with her computer.” Mikayla looks at Addie again and then looks up at me.

“Wow, she’s double lucky!”

She asks Addie some more questions, some of which Addie answers in sign language while I translate. She chooses not to use her communication device. Mikayla asks me some further questions about the device and about school. Through follow up inquiries, she confirms my guess – she is 5 and will be in kindergarten next year. Mikayla’s dad just listens. His daughter has not a moment’s aversion to Addie’s differences, nor does she seem to view them as the least bit of a disadvantage. I do my best to match her sincere, curious, friendly tone at times when I must interject to keep the conversation going.  Addie is mostly engaged with the fish, but occasionally she turns her attention to this new friend. Addie teaches Mikayla a few signs, starting with the sign for hat, as she admires the girl’s beret. Abruptly, Addie determines it’s time to reach in to touch the stingrays a few feet behind us, so we disengage with our young conversationalist.

We end up meeting her again at many of the exhibits throughout the other floors. Her father’s quiet observation and lack of inclination to stop his daughter’s honest quest for understanding impresses me. He trusts his daughter’s intention enough not to measure it as less important than some floating external notion of manners. Mikayla’s genuine, natural regard for Addie as a fellow kid imbues a hopeful lifting of my face for the remainder of our happily frantic race from feature to feature at the museum.

We see our friend one last time just around the corner from one of Addie’s favorites upstairs: a human-sized hamster wheel you run in to try and create enough energy to light a row of bulbs overhead. Cate informs Mikayla this is where Addie wants to go next just as Addie dashes past her toward it. The astute kindergartener-to-be glances after her and asks me, “Oh! Can she run?”

“Yep, see her? She’s running now. And pretty fast!” Skipping after my girls, Mikayla hollers ahead.

“Addie, you are triple lucky just like me!”

Farmer John Cheese and Other Joy


  1. And you were triple lucky to meet her and her dad! Loved that part, and glad that you got to feel that about your girl. Triple lucky, indeed.

  2. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing.