Saturday, March 3, 2012

Shark Guts, Tornados and Irish Pubs

Yesterday was an awesome day. An awesome day for many reasons.

In the morning I was lucky enough to be able to participate in probably a once in a lifetime experience with Jake, my son. His third grade class was going to be dissecting a spiny dogfish shark, and I was a volunteer. The third grade classes are required to study about the human digestive system. This has turned into dissecting sharks in order to truly see what they have studied. They have been reading about sharks, studying the internal and external anatomy, done research and a poster on shark facts, and on and on. They have been living and breathing sharks for over a month. This all culminated in the big dissection day!

Warning: Some of these pictures are graphic, so if you are queasy, read on at your own risk!

So here we are Friday morning (the volunteers did have dissection training Thursday night), standing at our tables with our sharks, waiting for the kids. The smell of formaldehyde envelopes the room, and an excited energy fills the space.  We had a female shark who was probably about 30-40 years old. I and another parent volunteer and five children, including our own, were full of anticipation at what we were going to see, smell, and experience.

There were, of course, very specific rules that we had to go over with the children. Rules for procedure and safety. We were using razor blades and most of the children had never even seen a razor blade before, much less handled one. We did practice holding and using them. The kids traced lines on cardboard before we used one on the shark. I am not kidding when I say that the children were not even allowed to touch the shark for 30 minutes. Can you imagine being 8 years old with a shark in front of you, and you can't even touch it for 30 minutes? What patience they had!

Sketching the shark, practicing with the razor blades, and discussion was mostly onto the cutting. The parents were there to assist, but were strictly told that we were not allowed to cut, this was for the kids. On to cutting, one child at a time. Very patient, very brave. One child opted out of the cutting, which was fine. They always had a choice. After many attempts by the children, we finally got our shark open. No matter how gross they thought it was, they were taught to say, "How scientific!" No one really complained about it being gross or "scientific," instead they were absolutely enthralled.

They wanted closer looks at everything. They wanted to touch and feel the different textures. They had a barrage of questions that they wanted answered and answered any one of our questions enthusiastically. That month of studying all came to a head. They knew their parts, and it was so amazing to see them apply what they had learned and see it all click in their brains.

One at at time, the parts of the digestive system were dissected, cleaned off, and set out to be labeled. The child that did not want to dissect was our official labeler. We found shrimp and krill in the shark's stomach, and soon discovered we had a pregnant momma. Unfortunately, she was recently pregnant, and their gestation period is about two years long, so we did not have babies. Instead we saw the ovaries, yolk sacs, and where some sharks were going to develop. Everything was handled gently and in a very respectful manner. They understood that this was once a live animal, and that were we all very lucky to be able to participate in this activity.

All parts were removed and we, the parents, were then allowed to dissect the heart, an eye, and the brain. You could actually see the chambers of the heart. The eye was the most "scientific" part of the dissection, they all agreed. The brain was very small and looked nothing like a human brain in shape.

So, 90 minutes later, soaked with fish oil from the liver and smelling of formaldehyde, our job as volunteers was done. I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of such an interesting and special experience with my son.

Now it was time for more fun. It was onto the gym to spend the day with a friend that I had not seen in a long time. We were going to do a workout, and she was going to take some pictures of me. When she got there, I had to immediately apologize for my fishy-formaldehyde-smelling self. Despite much washing and scrubbing, my hands were still super stinky. We worked out, she took pictures. We laughed at me making stupid faces. It was wonderful to be spending time with her that was not rushed. It was laid back and fun. We are going to do the gym part again on Sunday, and I sincerely look forward to it. Hanging out with her is easy. She is a person that you can be yourself with. No pressure, no expectations. She also has one of the biggest hearts out there. She is a true friend.

We left the gym and headed to my house. We were going to take showers and change, but honestly got lazy. No showers for us, just more hand scrubbing for me, this time with lemons. Less fishy, but still lingering.

Just as we were trying to decide where to go out and eat, the tornado sirens went off. Being that I grew up in Virginia and have only lived here for four years, I am still not used to those sirens. They can send me into a panic in no time. Staying calm, I turned on the news to check the storm. We are OK, it will likely only be a bad thunderstorm, and no tornado in these parts. I was thinking of my children huddling in halls and under desks at school. Their small little bodies unsure of what was truly going on. I knew that they were safe though, so it put my racing heart a bit at ease.

The sirens stopped and my friend Beth and I headed out to eat. We enjoyed some Mexican food and adult beverages. It was fun and felt a bit rebellious to be drinking at 2:30 in the afternoon. We took our time, stuffed our faces with fajitas. We smiled and laughed about the latest topics, feeling safe in our dark cave of a restaurant blaring Mexican music one minute and Whitney Houston the next. As we saw the sun peeking through the drawn blinds, we decided to take our adventure elsewhere. The tornado and storms had passed, although the wind lagged behind and kept us on our toes.

We headed to do some window shopping in Broad Ripple. There are so many interesting shops and boutiques, full of friendly smiles and conversations and thank yous for stopping in. As we walked along the sidewalk, the sun warmed our faces and the wind swooped in to give us a chill.

It was then off to pick up her dog, Millie, from doggy day care, take her home and give her a little love and attention before we set off again. We decided to head to Claddagh Irish Pub for a drink. We continued to talk and just enjoy each other's company. As it was getting "late," it was already 8:30, we decided to finish our drinks and conversation and head home.

So yes, my day went from shark guts to tornados to Irish Pubs, and I was so very grateful for each part of it. It made for an amazingly interesting, fun, laid back and unexpected day.

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