Commercial Free, Please!

I sometimes feel queasy in malls. It could be the stale conditioned air, or the odor from the fake plants, or the mess of smells that emanate from the food court. Or maybe it is the massive amount of commercialism and the constant thought that runs through my head when I find myself in such a place – “Why the hell does anyone need this stuff?”

I’ll get back to that. My boys and I are all off from school this week. My wife decided to take the week off as well, so we could enjoy some family time together. After some debate, we ended up going to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. Located on the waterfront across the river from downtown Philadelphia, the aquarium had ample parking with a fish motif throughout the lot and entrance area. There was a line to get in, but it moved quickly. The entrance fee was somewhat steep – they were not open to negotiations – but I was convinced the large aquarium surely would have much to offer.

It feels good to say told you so. There were numerous displays in the aquarium including some where you could touch the fish. I actually petted a shark and a stingray. I was trying to be a good parent – definitely would not have bothered if I was there childless – and inspire my children to take chances and get out of their comfort zone. Nothing doing. Oh well. There was one room that was more like a tunnel through an aquarium with sharks all about. Another area included a spot where children could put their heads into an inverted fish bowl and look out and see the fish up close and personal. Photo op! Anyway, we also wandered outside where they have Penguin Island. My children, who are more into “hands-on” than “eyes-on” displays, enjoyed themselves at a breakneck pace, rarely slowing down to stare at the fish.

So, as you can tell from this description, a good time was had by all. However, there was something about the aquarium that bothered me. It seemed as if everywhere you turned, there was something for sale. Firstly, the food court was massive and was a throughway that we seemed to have to use perpetually. Then, there was the gift shop. It was large and filled with so many useless items. They also had face painting, an area to have your child pose on a surfboard, and other cash guzzlers located throughout the aquarium.  None of this is outrageous and is almost standard these days at attractions. Probably just my craziness. Yet, it felt as though the commercialism was everywhere. We were in the aquarium 10 minutes before we actually saw fish, though we had passed half a dozen stands selling all types of unnecessary items. Aquarium? Mall? I don’t think it was the smell of fish making me queasy!

Taking Responsibility

This past Sunday, we took the children to a carnival.  The carnival featured your typical amusements – there were clowns, animal balloons, and games of chance.  However, what really makes a carnival besides cotton candy, which I don’t think they had, is goldfish.  To truly qualify as a carnival, there has to be a table with glass jars set up and ping pong balls ready to be thrown in order to win the beloved goldfish. We all have won goldfish at some points in our lives – it’s a rite of passage. Anyway, one thing that people come to realize quickly is the short life span of a goldfish.  I once won a goldfish at a carnival, and it died before we got home.

My older son is seven going on eight. At the carnival, he won his first goldfish. He came over to where I was standing with my younger son who instantly decided he wanted a fish too. So, I went back with my older son to where the game was set up. He tried to win one for his little brother, before I, the expert, had to step in. A moment later we walked away with two more goldfish. On the way home, I tried to warn the kids that goldfish don’t tend to live very long, “Hey, it looks like we got dinner.”  They were not interested in hearing it.

Well, a few days have passed, and so far all three goldfish are alive and swimming (I wrote that quietly – don’t want to alert the evil eye).  My older son is convinced the one that is downstairs is the one he won because it is happy when it sees him. He also says it is female though when asked how he knows he did not provide a clear answer. Anyway, he is thrilled to feed them, wants the fish near him when he does his homework, and is talking about them. While he has talked about pets before, I did not expect to see him this excited over goldfish. His excitement has made me reconsider a previous held stand against pets. I think it may be good for him. I’ve heard it said before that having pets teaches kids responsibility.  So, what’s the harm in getting some fish? Not a big deal right?

Well, my wife is having none of it. “Who do you think is going to end up taking care of it,” she asked when I brought up the idea of getting some more fish?  It was déjà vu for me. When I was a kid, my family and I always ended up in a split decision over a dog. My father, one of my brothers and I wanted a dog. Two of my brothers and my mother did not. My mother’s rationale always won the case, “Who do you think is going to end up taking care of it?”  She was probably right. 

My wife is probably right too. However, I still think we should do it. She can handle it. Besides, I’m talking fish not a dog.  Either way, let’s bring the kid joy. If we don’t let him learn responsibility and the joy of caring for another, the first he might have to take care of someone/thing is us in our old age. I’d like to see him work out the kinks with the fish. They’re replaceable – they’re always at the carnival.