Backstage With the Penguins

I was recently invited to a press event to see our local aquarium’s latest offering–going up close and personal with their adorable penguins! Anybody know when bloggers became “press?” I must have been asleep when that happened. Or having a baby–I do that a lot. And while it would have been fun, I immediately thought about what an amazing experience it would be for Charlie. You see, Charlie’s low vision means that he isn’t able to really appreciate very many animal exhibits. Most of the time the animals are too far away for him to really see. He usually likes petting zoos, but there are only a few animals available and that’s only if they want to be out.

I knew that getting to see the penguins up close would be a very special experience for him. So asked the public relations girl if it would be possible for Charlie to visit and then I could write a post about the experience. She was very excited about the idea and I waited patiently for her to give me a date that would work.

Last week the big day arrived and it was as amazing as expected. Uh-MAZING!

Sadly, we were late–I haven’t been on time to anything since 2009– but when we showed up, we were ushered to a room with two little penguins just waddling everywhere. Here’s something they don’t tell you: penguins poop everywhere. Not unlike small children, but they don’t wear diapers. Their “handler” Darwin didn’t bat an eye though–he’d just wipe it up and keep talking. I wonder if I could get Darwin over to my house for a bit.

Darwin talked about penguin care and feeding; he described their new habitat, which is now open. He brought two penguins with him: Millicent and Kohl. Millicent is in training and Kohl is a fully calm and can be held and everything.

penguin

Her name is Millicent.

Then came the most-exciting point of the whole thing (for me anyway)–the holding of the penguins! First up we put Kohl in Charlie’s lap. Charlie gave him a pet and then decided that petting Kohl was DISGUSTING and tried to push him off his lap like a dog. I think we can safely scratch “naturalist” off the list of Charlie’s potential professions. Funny thing is, Kohl liked Charlie and even after we took him out of Charlie’s lap, he put his one little wing on him. How cute is that?!? Charlie, the penguin shirt, the little penguin wing–I get a little veklempt just looking at that picture.

boy in a stroller petting a penguin

Charlie then thought that maybe tasting the penguins would be the way to go and I was forced to shut that down. Also, you know, hold a pet the penguin for myself. Sometimes us moms have to make sacrifices to keep our child safe.

We tried again, but the penguin was again found to be lacking.

I want to add that a man who has spent a lifetime working with animals is probably uniquely suited for working with a non-verbal child. Darwin treated Charlie with more respect that I could have hoped for and noticed every gesture and expression change in Charlie’s face and had no trouble interpreting them. When I mentioned Charlie’s vision issues he told us all about one of his penguins who has cataracts. I was incredibly impressed.

Penguin with paint on its feet walkng across a piece of paper

The penguins took turns creating a masterpiece for us that we were able to take home. After that we got to walk the penguins back to their stomping grounds–Millicent tried to ditch us in the staff snack room, but no dice. When we got to the habitat, Kohl greeted his mate with a sound that was not unlike a braying donkey. It was pretty adorable.

It was a day we’ll be talking about for a long time.

And now, without further ado, I present you with Charlie’s first-ever video blog. I’m still holding his hand, but he’s getting better at not need me to do that. You will see me wrestle him a little bit when he tries to close the communication app–he’s still not totally into the whole “talking” thing.


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Below is the full scoop on the Penguin Pass if you’d like to try it for yourself. I think it would make an excellent gift for the kid who’s already got plenty of stuff.

Backstage Penguin Pass program is available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 9 AM and 1:30 PM starting Friday, September 28, 2012.  The encounters will be limited to 6 guests, 4 years old and above and all participants 16 and younger must be accompanied by an adult chaperone (21 or older).  One adult must accompany each child under 10 years of age (one adult per child).

Tickets for the Backstage Penguin Pass are $115 per person for Audubon members and $125 per person non-member.

As a special treat for select lucky visitors, from Friday, September 21 through Sunday, September 23, 2012, every 500th guest to the Aquarium will be invited to spend time with a penguin as part of Audubon’s new Backstage Penguin Pass program.

Backstage Penguin Pass tickets can be purchased can be purchased by visiting AudubonInstitute.org or at any Audubon Nature Institute attractions.

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