Monday, April 26, 2010

FIRST Night at Georgia Aquarium

Back when we were having planning meetings about how to get a high school robotics club to Atlanta, Georgia... back when we were totally blown away by the magnitude of the team's success and the honor of being invited to compete in the FIRST Championships... back then, it was not easy to appreciate adding an aquarium visit to the itinerary. And that is why it is so wonderful, so critical, to have a large and supportive membership, because it increases the likeliness that someone will see what's needed, when life gets complicated.

Raising funds, organizing, believing... we were definitely in a complicated phase of this year's robotic journey. And thanks to sponsors and supporters, to the regular volunteers and the new, fresh volunteers, we did manage to get to the competition, to sleep in comfy beds, eat regularly, and stay safe. Amazing. But the really cool thing is that Dennis, one of those fresh-new volunteers, loves aquariums. He ignored the naysayers, encouraged the doubtful, and redoubled our faith in spreadsheets and carpool organization, and he bought enough tickets for everyone to go to FIRST Night at the Georgia Aquarium.

Dear Dennis,
Thank you for knowing what we needed, and getting all those tickets. Thank you for seeing that the beauty of nature, of water, and cool, quiet spaces, would be the perfect antidote for long, hot, competitive, high energy days. We were restored and filled with wonder. Being in the Georgia Aquarium was amazing enough, but after hours and with our robo peers, those bright and enthusiastic students and families, was truly an exceptional opportunity... one I will never forget.

1. First of all, you must remember that we were in jet-lag mode. Everything was happening three hours earlier than our customary time. So when the day of walking, scouting, cheering, dancing, walking building, and walking, began at seven in the morning, for us it was 4 AM.

2. Remember too: It is wonderful, and critical, to have a large and supportive membership, because it increases the likeliness that someone will see what's needed, when life gets complicated. Former president, now mentor Matt, made Isaac's message and louder, so all could hear. It's hard to be heard in the Georgia Dome. And a special mention of 2102 Team Paradox's present president: Isaac broke his collarbone during spring break, and postponed his surgery until after Atlanta. He never complained, and he demonstrated as much clarity and enthusiasm as ever. We are so fortunate to have these two...

I just wanted to give you a picture of the particular challenges and obstacles between us and a visit to an aquarium. Envision about fifty tired, revved-up, hungry, new to town Paradoxan... were we in for a treat...

Welcome to the Georgia Aquarium. It's FIRST night, an after hours party for about three thousand FIRST attendees.

Coming from the California coast, I have to say I was surprised to learn that we were visiting the world's largest aquarium. Atlanta is pretty far inland, so whale sharks and jelly fish were not anything I was expecting to see on this trip.

I think everyone was impressed.
And delighted.
It was such a big contrast from all we left behind back in the pits and arena.
We decompressed.
We touched stingray, manta rays, and horseshoe crabs.
We watched shrimp.


Mmmmm... shrimp.

It was so cool.
An aquarium, or a classroom for that matter, full of intelligent and curious students gives the atmosphere amazing energy. It magnifies the value and interest of the experience. It was amazing in there.

I have two anecdotes. Little stories that I never want to forget.

Maria and Geoff were together, when Maria decided to climb in the playset. One of those toddler habitrails, like they make for hamsters and mice. Slowly she made her way to the top, and we could hear her "hellos" from every new level she conquered.

Suddenly, from somewhere inside the maze, she starts screaming. It's the cry. The one that is not phony or tired or needy. It's the rattlesnakes in my breakfast cereal cry, and she had everyone's attention.

See the vertical blue tube? That was the first access to the top, that I found. I dropped my bag and shot up it as fast as possible. Inside it is layer after layer of offset shelves, made especially for wriggly three foot tall munchkins. Then there are narrow bubbles, and twisty-turny places with bumps... I faced one obstacle after another, and all the while Maria was in absolute panic mode. So, you know, my heart was just at the back of my throat.

I reached her at the cargo net tube, where she had her panic attack. The net dropped under weight and all the holes gave her a clear view to the floor below. It was a sensory nightmare for her. We spent a good while calming down, and letting her regain her confidence about getting out of there.

So. This is kind of usual parenting stuff. Been there. Done that. I was glad I did not have to be manually extracted from the tube. I was glad Maria was all in one piece.

But then something very nice happened.
I wish that every mom and dad, doing their job, gets witnessed and praised, at least once, in the line of duty, by a woman like Veronica.

As I wriggled my way out of the tube, Veronica came up to greet me. And she said that she had witnessed this scenario plenty of times... crying kid, stuck in the habitrail, but that she had never seen a faster rescue than the one I had just conducted. She was very excited, and she was searching for the right description of my sweet moves *ahem*... and then she hit on it, "You were like one of those bottles they send up a mailing tube. I saw you drop your bag, and then vooooosh! You were gone!"

Oh, look. She was ready with a fist bump. I think I was still a bit too adrenalized to notice much. Look at Maria. Obviously she had a complete recovery.

Oh man. I don't often get noticed for my rescue skills, for my mail tube abilities, so this was a highlight, a golden moment for me. Thank you Veronica. I cannot say I am athletic or graceful, but you gave me a glimpse of myself as a swift and mighty mother, and it felt good.

So after my race to the top, and respectfully watching all the swimming ceviche shrimp, I was feeling an appetite.

I know.
Fish = Dinner = Rude.


But I thought Matt had a great idea: Skip the long line at the burger counter, and go for ambience and taste at Legal Sea Foods. A bunch of us agreed, we could relax, dine, chat, and come back to the aquarium with our hearts and stomachs content and emotionally aligned. So we we skipped over to the Boston institution in Atlanta, and was it ever worthwhile. They were totally cool about painted faces and red pants, and we filled both bars with hungry Paradoxan. I think Maria enjoyed the best service of all, as she made fast friends with the three sweet women behind the bar. They treated her very well. Very.

We returned to the aquarium even more relaxed and definitely satisfied.

Down in front are Maria and her good friend Erika. The size of this tank was as amazing as what was in it.

I recognize Maria and Erika sitting in front, and Steve and Dennis standing to their right. After this many hours, days, and nights working and playing together, I find our circle of friends growing and growing. It's a blessing.

I love that under the sea is a world that is mysterious, strange, and sometimes utterly unbelievable.

I love that these remind me of Hawaii.

Alex said to me, "This really is a once in a lifetime experience, isn't it?"
He was right. Being in the aquarium after hours, when everyone behaved so nicely, the rules were a bit lax, and we could enjoy the unique opportunity in unique ways...

Naturally riding the moving walkway through the aquarium was fun and mesmerizing...

and awe inspiring.

Tube aquariums are amazing.

Aren't they amazing, Dennis?
I love how happy this night made Dennis.
He loves aquariums...

Standing through a tube is good, but if you can ever get away with this... with sitting down, totally kicking back, then go for it! Seriously. Never turn down an opportunity to look up and all around while riding through a fish tube.

It was dreamy.
When I took my ride, I could hear the fuddies saying "hmph," but I did not care. And by the time I came back to take pictures of the cool people, even some of the fuddies had given in. Good for you, I say!

Once in a life time?
Maybe, but I hope not.

Thank you Dennis.
Thank you FIRST.
Thank you Georgia Aquarium.

Dennis and I were thinking of all the ways to ensure the team earns another visit to Atlanta, just so our families could swim in this tank, and have a sleepover...

Is there an aquarium in St Louis?!


Laura Jane said...

Why am I not surprised that you are good at rescuing?

Is it wrong to laugh at the description of a 'rattlesnakes in your cereal" scream?

That photo of the jellyfish with the long tentacles is gorgeous.

Phutt! to the fogies and naysayers, I'm riding the aquarium autorider on MY back too next time (if I can get away with it)

Looks terrific!

judy in ky said...

Your photos are beautiful, and truly mesmerizing. Through them, I feel like I had a little escape into a fascinating world. Isn't it incredible that there are all these creatures we rarely even see in our world?

Chris said...

What beautiful photos! So glad you had the chance to visit the aquarium.

And you, "super-mom" to the rescue! Quite a trip I'd say!

Emily Cole said...

Natalie! Your rescue made me tear up! What an awesome Mom moment! I have had the pleasure of visiting that aquarium twice so far on visits to my Aunt's house in Atlanta. I love it! I have never seen anyone ride through the tube on their backs though! That is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience as it's usually SO crowded in there. You guys sure did have a special time!

warren said...

HA! The crabs remind me of Finding Nemo "Mine, mine, mine, mine..."

Looks like a bunch of fun!

mtnchild said...

Heya Super Rescue Mom, wonderful pictures of fish, Paradoxans - - oh just wonderful pictures of everything.

nikkipolani said...

Makes you wonder what the fish think of the biped visitors as they wave and smile and point.