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The Castle of Nature

by Mike

What we’ve realized since the birth of our second child is that family outings are made just as much for us parents as they are for our children. In fact, when one child is only a few months old and has no chance of remembering anything of our visit in her later years, it’s possible that outings at this point are almost exclusively for our benefit.

So, needless to say, we were pretty excited when on my birthday, we decided a family outing was in order and that said family outing would take place at the Museum of Nature’s new Whales Tohora exhibit.

Now, the Museum of Nature, in my opinion, is the best museum in the city (although the Museum of Science and Technology, if for the Crazy Kitchen alone, is pretty close). And, neither me nor my wife had been since the not-so-recent-anymore renovations were completed.

So, like any parent who has a favourite, be it a hockey team, fast food joint, anything, I wanted my kids to like the museum so we'd be able to go back as often as I wanted.

As soon as we got out of the car Leah started calling the museum “the castle” and I knew the day would be won. Still, I wanted to spend the morning actually looking inside the castle as opposed to standing in the unseasonably cool outside the castle temperatures and used the massive whale hanging inside the massive glass showcase window as a temptress.

“Look at how huge that whale is Leah, we have to go inside to see it.”

“Inside the castle daddy?”

“Yes, to see all the whales.”

“Can I ride one like a horse?”

“You can ride one like a pretend horse,” I answered with my fingers crossed behind my back like I used to do when I was five (and 25).

“Let’s go.”

So, we did get into the castle and I swear forevermore that I will visit the museum on school-year, weekday mornings for the rest of my life. The lines were non-existent, the elevators easy to call and the staff were eager to cater to the needs of anyone who even had the appearance of having a question.

In no time, we were on the fourth floor, one child resting neatly in a carrier with mommy and the other running on the spot like the Road Runner, ready to explore the whales.

When you have the run of the exhibit and all the time in the world to play with the interactive features, Whales Tohora is outstanding. The half of the fourth floor of the castle is filled with whales big and small, baleen and toothed and skeletal and skinned.

The first thing we spotted was a massive whale replica used in the movie Whale Rider, which Leah has never seen. No matter though, her observations on the whale had nothing to do with the movie.

“The whale is soft daddy?”

“How do you know? You haven't touched it.” And I swear museum staff that she didn’t.

“The whale has no bum.”

She was right, the replica only covered the front portion of the whale. Still, that in no way explained why the whale was soft.And judging by the way she had moved onto the next stop in the exhibit, she had no intentions of explaining any further.

Next we played a little game that allowed us to, through use of a 1980s style joystick, navigate a whale, or dolphin, through the ocean without killing it. In five tries, we managed to get the dolphin eight feet from its launching spot, killing it twice on plastic bags, twice in a tuna net and once on a bottom of the ocean floor with no water for hours excursion.

Sadly, Leah didn’t seem too put off by the dolphin murders and moved on to pictures of non-dead looking whales and continued to do so until we found another interactive game---a design your own dolphin and see if they’d live game.

Not too worried that this trip was turning into a “create your own dolphin and whale demise adventure” we let Leah pick the size of the dolphin, the size of the whale’s tale and the positioning of the dorsal fin.

“Do you think it’s going to be able to swim to the top of the water Leah?” I asked, quite certain it would not seeing how the fin and the tail were placed almost side by side and the dolphin was the size of a cruiseliner in the middle.

“I think he'll swim to the bottom and eat there.”

And so she pressed the green button to loose the dolphin and watched as it, as predicted, fell quickly to the bottom of the ocean floor “to eat.”

“See daddy, it’s eating on the bottom. And it’s upside down.”

Next, my wife took a turn, making modifications to every setting. Her dolphin at least reached the surface before attempting to, and failing, jump out a la Free Willy. It bobbed on the surface for a moment before making its way down to eat with Leah’s dolphin.

Saving the day, I stepped up to the drawing board and used my ample marine intelligence to put everything exactly where it should be. My dolphin almost jumped out of the screen to kiss me it was so happy to have survived where his friends had not.

With a still good humoured family in tow, we moved to the next portion of the display---a massive model of a whale’s heart that was just big enough for a child to climb into and just small enough for an adult to not be able to climb into.

Leah spent minutes in there, crawling from one side to the next, always just out of reach. So, we took a peek at the rest of the exhibit while she educated herself on the inner workings of a whale heart.

Without a shred of doubt, my favourite part was the baleen display which looked like waves upon waves of wigs that had been left outside for too long. While she didn’t buy the idea, I suggested to my wife that I might try eating that way for a while. Kind of just taking the hair from one of my daughter’s dolls and gluing it to the roof of my mouth to filter my food. I was genuinely that impressed with it.

But, like all good things, our time at the castle had to come to an end, our knell sounding an awful lot like a hungry two-month old. But our time there was well spent and we’re likely to be back some other weekday morning.

Upon leaving, I asked Leah what her favourite part was.

“Just getting to spend time with you daddy,” was exactly what she didn’t say.

What she did say was:

“I liked feeding my dolphin at the bottom of the ocean.”

So at least she knows that dolphins live in the ocean.

Mike Reynolds (blog/Twitter) is an Ottawa born-and-raised husband and father to two beautiful girls. He’s obsessed with making sure his daughter says ‘daddy and mommy’ and not ‘mommy and daddy’ and with finding junk he thinks will one day be considered an antique. He also blogs about his admitted cluelessness when it comes to raising children.