A while back I remember going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium as we often do on the weekends. I was with Claire and we were going to watch the otter feeding. Here is the short version of what happened: people crowded in around Claire, the trainers talked about how important an enriched environment was, I started to cry, the trainers talked about how the otters are relearning to feed themselves by playing games, Claire started to cry, we left. Although we had been been back to the aquarium many times since then, Claire and I hadn’t returned to the otter exhibit at all. Fast forward to this weekend. Saturday night we watched Dolphin Tale, Claire had loved it in the theater and we figured Chloe might like it too. I was busy doing this and that and didn’t really pay much attention to it until Jared stopped me and motioned to pay attention. There was a little girl in a chair similar to Claire’s that was looking through the glass into the dolphins tank. The little girl looked at the dolphin missing it’s tail and proclaimed to her mother, “she’s just like me”. While that scene alone is enough to bring anyone to tears, the look on Claire’s face as she watched and then looked into Jared’s eyes was so much more amazing. Suffice to say, this is one of Claire’s favorite movies and I suspect it will be for a long while. Sunday morning we got up and went to the aquarium. We did our usual tour and took a little break on the observation deck in the big open ocean tank. Claire was very peaceful and engaged as we watched the the large tuna, various sharks and schools of smaller fish gracefully dance in the vast space. I leaned in and asked her if she thought that Winter (the dolphin from the movie) would be a good addition to the exhibit and she clearly responded yes. Then, for whatever reason, it clicked. I mentioned the otters to her. I told her that much like Winter, the otters at the aquarium couldn’t survive in the wild and that they are in the process of getting stronger as well. She lit up. We went on with the rest of our visit as we typically do. She touched the sea stars and the kelp. Chloe pushed her around like a maniac and we tried to keep her from running into too many strangers. Before we left Claire and I had a few minutes to ourselves so we went and sat on the glass at the otter exhibit. It helped that there were few other people around since their feeding was all over. She sat and watched with bright eyes as the otters played at the surface. I told her about the game that they were playing and that it helps them get better at being able to feed themselves and in that moment, she looked at me and with those beautiful eyes all I heard was “mommy, they are just like me”. Funny how a little different perspective and slight shift in mindset can make the biggest difference. At first I hated the otters because I didn’t want to hear the terms “enriched environment” and “therapy” at all more or less that otters get it when so often girls with Rett Syndrome don’t. Looking at them through Claire’s eyes I don’t see my frustration and pain, I see equality and inspiration. Note to self, look at things through her eyes more often.
It isn’t the best pic, but eventually Jared and Chloe met up with us and Claire took a minute before we left to show her dad what she had seen. I just love seeing those two together.