Watching the otters



At a weekend workshop on literacy tutoring, I learned that my Girl from the East has met most of the academic requirements for the completion of kindergarten. She will not even enter kindergarten until this fall. I wonder how her first year of formal education will play out knowing this?  Will she be too far ahead of her peers? Will things quickly equalize once she balances her academic skills with the rigors of a full day of school? Time will answer these questions.

Meanwhile, my days are spent keeping up with her hearty appetite for knowledge. I am not a Tiger Mom, as some of my friends teasingly have suggested. I just follow this child’s lead. I like to think she is my teacher as well.

Last week, on a rare warmish, sunny afternoon, neither of us wanted to go home after preschool.  I had a long list of to-dos that nagged at my conscience. My girl wanted to run in the wind and bask in the sunshine. What to do? We decided on a quick trip to the zoo.

After I flashed our membership card at the gate, I let Girl from the East decide our fate.

“Otters. Otters,” she begged.

We always end up in the otter house. Girl from the East has a fierce affection for the trio of rescued otters living at the Detroit Zoo. I never protest. The otter house is a nice refuge no matter what time of year. It’s quiet and naturally lighted by a bank of picture windows that overlook the otter’s watery, woodsy domain.

Otters are very much like my daughter. Well, except for the fish-, clam- and frog-eating tendencies. When the otters are sleeping, they are curled up, content and unmoving. When they are awake, they are in constant motion, leaping into and out of the water, gliding through the blue depths, and splashing in the falls until it seems they are on the brink of cardiac arrest.

Although I have never been able to capture it well either in still photography or on video, my Girl plays a game with the otter. As the otter swims to and fro on the watery side of the glass, my girl chases him back and forth on the viewing side of the glass. It seems as if the otter knows it’s being followed but cannot stop itself from repeating the pattern. This goes on almost endlessly.

On our last visit, this game of chase lasted for an hour. Then the docent nicely shooed us out of the building.  But before that happened, I was reminded that my life is too much like that otter. I’m racing back and forth in a crazed frenzy, unable to stop myself.

But my life is also not like the otter at all. The otter isn’t confused about what it is.  It eats, sleeps, poops, and plays just like an otter should. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that is just fine.

Lessons from my five year old. Lessons from an otter.

Otter and child on the move



White bear, white bear, what do you see?


Like bears holed up in their dens for too long, we jumped at last week’s unusual day of sunshine and ambled outdoors to stretch our limbs. We dressed in many layers and headed to our favorite winter destination to walk off a few calories: The Detroit Zoo.

Within that destination is a favorite place: The Arctic Ring of Life, a simulated polar habitat that is home to arctic foxes, polar bears and seals. The animals here come to life in the colder months. This past December was one of our coldest, snowiest and iciest in nearly a decade. During our visit, the bears were practically dancing on their simulated polar ice cap.

One of the best features of this exhibit is the underwater viewing tunnel. I love how the shafts of sunlight shimmer through the blue water. I love how on one side of the tunnel, seals swoop and twirl in the current like flocks of birds while the hulking polar bears bounce like astronauts doing the moonwalk on the other. (The seals and bears do not intermingle, for obvious, food-chain related reasons.)

In this scene below, a bear sits with its back to the many human visitors watching from the tunnel. Within seconds, the bear plunges under the surface and swims directly toward Girl from the East. For a heartbeat, they are nose-to-nose at the glass. Girl then lets out a little shriek and jumps into my arms. The bear then paddles upward and stands atop the glass tube, looking down at us, swiping its massive paws at a seemingly unreachable human snack buffet.

The guy next to us shoots a question out the room: “Hey! What if that glass broke? We’d all be lunch!”

Nice observation to make in a room full of preschoolers. Even if we were all thinking the same thought.