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Behind the scenes at the South Carolina Aquarium

Improvise is not necessarily our favorite word or my favorite thing to do, but I feel like we are all getting used to it in this particular season of change. Whether its cancelled plans, stores being out of the supplies you need, or taking on new responsibilities that you didn’t plan for, sometimes improvising is just plain tough. But what if it turns out to be more than you could have expected simply because of the kindness of strangers?

A few weeks ago, during the seemingly never-ending monsoon, we’d planned a day trip to the Charleston area to visit a place I’d been anticipating for months. I’d watched the weather forecast every day starting the previous weekend and knew that while I had time constraints that evening, I could make this work. I’d planned it down to perfection. The morning we left for Charleston, the weather forecasted rain to move in around 2:30. Perfect, because that’s precisely when I needed to leave to be home for the plans we had that evening. So, off we went.

Although I wish I were lying to you, as soon as we turned onto the road where our destination was located, the bottom fell out of the sky. Cold. Hard. Rain. And lots of it! At 10am! It was raining so badly that when I pulled in, a worker (in full raingear to boot) actually stopped what he was doing and watched us drive by. We were the only car in the parking lot. I turned to look at the kids and they were looking back at me, all of us wondering what in the world we were going to do now. All the while, the rain is beating down on our car. My ‘mom-brain’ starts immediately scrambling for an inside activity in Charleston! After checking the radar, which conveniently showed the rain would stop at…. you guessed it….2:30, my fingers finally stopped on the South Carolina Aquarium while scrolling madly through a list of things to do in Charleston. I hadn’t visited since I was in the 7th grade, so I didn’t really know what to expect. With my tail tucked between my legs, we drove back by the same guy (who still stared at us like we were crazy) and made our way towards the aquarium. Have I mentioned that I don’t like to improvise?

What I didn’t know was how amazing our trip would be, all because of a few kind people. We arrived at the aquarium and began to wander through the exhibits. As we were looking at the various snakes, a volunteer stopped by and mentioned that she was going to go get a snake to show everyone if we wanted to wait around for a few minutes. Since my son loves snakes, we decided to wait. When she came back, there was a small group of around 5 kids and their parents waiting on her. She sat down and told us all about the snake, Monty, and even let them touch him. We hung around for a few extra minutes making small talk and she asked us if we’d ever been to the aquarium before and if we’d seen the big tank yet. We hadn’t quite made it that far in the exhibits and she ended up asking us to wait for her in front of the tank. When she came back from putting the snake away, she offered to take us behind the scenes to look at the tank from the top. Since I’d mentioned that we homeschool, she made sure to let me know about the homeschool programs that the aquarium offers and even got me card with the contact information of the person who coordinates these activities. I couldn’t believe our luck.

Our first stop was by the kitchen where we were able to watch meals being prepared for some of the animals who lived there. We also got to play a game that involved matching the stuffed animals up to the food that their real counterparts eat. After this, she took us through another set of doors to show us many of the different tanks behind the scenes that house new animals that are waiting to go on exhibit or animals that are being treated for health conditions. As we walked just past the smaller tanks, a bustling array of fish swam around in a large blue-green opening in the floor. I’ve never seen anything like it, nor had my kids. She began to tell us about the divers who work in the tank, several of the fish, and the story of the sea turtle who calls it home.

We were soon joined by one of the divers who talked to the kids in depth about what he does and the different fish, sharks, and eels in the tank. He dug around in a small tray he was carrying and handed each of my children a different tooth. He explained that they find many teeth each day while cleaning the tank. One got a tooth from the big, green moray eel and the other got a tooth from the deadly looking barracuda. As he continued to talk to them, he also handed them a tooth from a nurse shark and a sandbar shark. After spending around an hour with these two kind folks, we made our way back to the main exhibits and continued on with our exploration. They made sure to point out specific things to do and see while we were there which helped give us a sense of direction for the rest of the day. While the time they spent with these two redheads and their picture-snapping mom may have been a blip on their radar for the day, it was the cherry on top of ours. My heart squeezed a little as these complete strangers took what had started as a makeshift trip and turned it into something wonderful.

I say all of this to reiterate that while things may be out of sorts, it’s the small acts of kindness that can brighten someone’s day and ultimately bring us together as people. Don’t stop being kind. Reach out to your family and friends (figuratively, of course), check on neighbors around you, and keep being the “nice folks” that make a difference.

And to Ms. Tita, the volunteer, and Mr. Ed, the diver, of the South Carolina Aquarium, thank you for a fantastic day! ♣

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