This week my daughter and I went to the store and bought a 5-gallon aquarium kit. I picked out the stuff like tank, filter and heater, and she picked out the essentials like underwater castle, winking sea star, pink and purple plastic plants and blue gravel.
We brought everything home and began putting it together and conditioning the tank. I rinsed the tank. She rinsed the gravel, and pretty much everything else within a 5-foot radius, along with the other treasures. We cleaned off her desk in her bedroom and set up the tank. With a little work I managed to get the water to a reasonable alkalinity, and this weekend we were ready to purchase fish.
We had made a midweek scouting mission, and she had decided on neon tetras, zebra danios and a cleaner fish (to be named Clorox) for her tank. So, we knew what we wanted. But first there would be dance and lunch before the purchases could be made.
While I was doing laundry and dishes, my daughter was entertaining herself.
“Mom, have you seen my pirate hat, sword and boat?”
“The hat was a triangle, and the boat was a rectangle…” As she started describing her treasures I guiltily thought about the wad of papers that had been in her cubby at school, which I had ingloriously tossed in to the trash can the previous afternoon.
After she finished talking I replied, “Well, I don’t know where they are, but let’s see, maybe we can make new ones.”
I found a piece of cardboard in the recycling bin and cut a sword, which she bejeweled and colored. Then we went to the computer and searched for instructions on “how to make a pirate’s hat”. The instructions were for a newspaper hat, she wanted one from black construction paper, so I modified the instructions and produced the desired hat, which was decorated with white chalk “diamonds” and a pink construction paper feather—a stylish master piece, if I do say so myself. And I do.
Then we returned to the computer and searched again for instructions on how to make a paper boat. It turns out the hat was a good warm-up exercise for the boat, which we made from green construction paper, pretty soon the Princess Pirate was fully outfitted with tutu, sword, boat and hat, sailing around the house on her adventures.
We went to dance, returned home for lunch and Sesame Street, and then I suggested to my daughter we go get her fish.
What I expected was a jumping up and down “yes, yes!!!!” What I got was “Well, okay, but can I wear my pirate hat and take my boat and sword?”
“You can wear your hat.”
We went to the pet store and made an amazingly surgical strike to get our fish; although we left the cleaner fish for a later date. We returned home, let the fishes equilibrate and freed them to explore their new home.
It didn’t take long before the Princess Pirate was at the helm of her great ship (bed) calling out orders to her first mate (me).
When she got ready for bed in the evening, I reminded her that we would be visiting Grandma and Papa the next day, “Can I take my pirate hat and sword?”
“Yes, good night. Captain.”
“Good night Matey. Argg!”
I smiled. We spent a fair amount of money on an aquarium and fish, and she is getting something out of it, having learned how to measure pH and watch the temperature. She’s read about the fish and learned a little bit about reading a key in the book on fish care. But the real hits were the construction paper pirate hat, cardboard sword and paper boat. Those things cost virtually nothing but a few moments time, but they are sending her on countless flights of imagination.
But maybe that is what children really want a little time and something simple to help them soar to amazing heights in their imaginations.