Earlier this summer, a six-year-old girl from my son’s class came to visit. She told me what she wants to be when she grows up. (I don’t remember asking that dreaded question. I remember how awkward it was to answer when I was a child!)
“I want to be a mermaid who swims with cats,” she said.
“A mermaid!” I replied, taken aback. The poor dear, I thought. She doesn’t know that mermaids aren’t real or that cats hate water.
As I searched for words to validate her whimsical dream, a summer memory from my childhood emerged.
“You can!” I exclaimed. “If you substitute a pig for the cats.”
I hadn’t thought of it in years! In the late 1980s my mother and uncle had taken my sisters and me to Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Texas, on our way to South Padre Island. In addition to glass-bottom boats, there had been an underwater theater. My sisters and I had watched the aquarium, mesmerized, as mermaids had an underwater tea party. Near the end of the show, a swimming pig named Ralph dove in to join them!
I told the little girl all about it. She looked confident, as if she’d known all along her dream was possible. “Yes, but I’m going to do that with cats,” she said.
A few weeks later, a five-year-old girl from Switzerland came to visit us. She, too, offered up her hopes for her future. Looking exactly like an Eloise Wilkin’s illustration, she said, “I want to be a fluffy unicorn that jumps over rainbows.” This time I was ready. I smiled big, nodded, and pondered the wonder of childhood.
P.S. I looked up Aquarena Springs and confirmed my recollections with the video below. Sadly, the underwater theater has been demolished. Ah, but the magical memories . . .