The Best (11th) Birthday Ever

For years, we rented a bouncy castle for Roman’s birthday, invited all the neighbors for an all day jump-a-thon, then called it a day. Some years, we’d have a killer turnout, and hardly anyone would even get hurt! The parents would sit around chatting, drinking a few beers, and nursing random children following accidental collisions. It was fantastic, except for that one year when Roman had seizures all day and would. Not. Come. Outside.

This year, we wanted to do something special. Double hockey sticks. The start of a new decade. The promise of things to come. ELEVEN.

So, brimming with anticipation, we hopped the Amtrak down to Boston to go to the New England Aquarium. Roman has a thing about sea creatures- he fixates on squids (his favorite socktopus is named “Squilliam” in honor of Squidward’s fancy nemesis), and sea horses (insisting that he can smell them), but octopi are his favorites. Train ride + octopi = slam dunk. We had this.

Romi diligently sat by the window during the entire trip to Boston- two whole hours. That’s like- forever- in Roman time. Might as well be in Roman numerals! Jeff had to pry him away from the view to visit the cafeteria car, but it’s a good thing they were stocking pretzels that day. Or I fear we might have witnessed the first ever Train Snack Mutiny.

We arrive at Boston North Station and buy tickets on the subway, destination: Aquarium. After some map reading and re-orienting, we’re there! Even better- discounted tickets. Mmmm. I love that word. Discounted.

Once inside, Romi spiraled up to the top floor at a pretty good clip in search of the elusive octopi- the Boston aquarium is sort of set up like the Guggenheim- with us tracking him from behind by his trademark hair.

We were bummed to see that the central column-shaped aquarium was closed for renovations (hence the off-price tickets), and mostly papered up. What we could see inside was depressing though- like seeing a makeup-free Jessica Rabbit. Without the magic of water and the sea creatures in motion, the habitat was just an assembly of garishly painted plastic “plants” and approximated “coral.”

But Roman was transfixed. He parked himself across from an unnaturally large, fuchsia sea anemone, convinced that an octopus lived inside- if he just stayed long enough, he would see it’s creepy tentacles emerge into thin air. And that child was committed. I hardly even saw him blink.

After twenty minutes or so, we started cajoling him to come see the live fish, and Lucca discovered that an actual OCTOPUS was just ahead. We pleaded, we bribed, we tickled, and we chased him right up to the tank.

Sometimes I wonder how Roman sees the world. For example, I know that when most of us picture a banana in our mind’s eye, it’s sideways, a yellow arc. When we arrived in front of the octopus tank though, we discovered a white creature attached directly to the glass, sucker-side up. Even though it was right in front of him, Roman could not see it. It was not an argyle stuffed sock, with its tentacles carefully arranged straight down. I think that broke his fresh, little 11-year old spirit.

We continued on to the seahorses- I asked Roman if they were stinky, but he was nonplussed. Not interested in sticking his little hands in the Touch Tank. Weedy sea dragons, and the absolutely mesmerizing leafy sea dragons? Roman kept walking. A big, green anaconda, adorable sea turtles, creepy flat frogs that live underwater, toothy barracudas, graceful rays, lobst-AHHs, electric eels, sharks, a ginormous, canary yellow moray eel, playful harbor seals, and Isaac the fur seal (who seriously looks dead until the food arrives, then he’s all Jazz Flippers). Nothing.

Little! Blue! Penguins! I ask you, who couldn’t watch penguins for hours? Roman.

All he wanted to do was see the octopus pop out of its plastic waterless habitat, then ride the train home. We did get him to sit still enough to watch an IMAX movie: The Last Reef 3D- Roman made it as long as the popcorn held out. And he did not share.

With only twenty minutes to spare before our train, we hopped a taxi. The driver let us out in the median across from the station- I gripped Roman’s hand tightly so he wouldn’t bolt off across traffic. Romi does not like to be restrained in any way, so that’s when he told me to “shut my face off.” I have laughed about that many times since- he conjures up the best zingers!

We just made the train with a couple of minutes to spare, and settled in for the ride- Roman took up his position at the window. Before we knew it, we were back in Portland, unlocking the car door in the parking lot. It had been a long day, and I was frankly looking forward to Portland's best chocolate cupcakes waiting for us at home. But Roman? I wanna get back on the train!


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