I Am Not Your Professional Photographer

I finally went on a field trip with Little Girl. The schools here don’t mess around about volunteering. To volunteer, you have to fill out an application and the office has to do a background check; you also need a TB test. If you’re going to drive, you have to provide a copy of your insurance.

I never got around to filling out all the paperwork until February.

Little Girl had a field trip to the Birch Aquarium, which has always held an especial place in my heart because that’s where Cadillac and I got married (actually, number 2 out of 3 ceremonies). They wouldn’t let us have a deejay; they said it stresses out the fish, so we had piped in music over the sound systems.

Little Girl was so excited, she asked me every day for the past week, “Are you REALLY going?”

Yesterday: “Are you going to just drop us off?”

“Of course not. I’m coming in.”

“Will you stay with us when you come in, or go do something else?”

“Stay with you, of course.” I have no idea why she was so worried.

As you arrive on the grounds, you see a sculpture of blue whales (I think) outside, where we congregated and waited for the aquarium to let us in. I had three kids: my daughter, another girl, and a little boy. All were easy and quiet. But the actual trip was with all the first grade classes.

It was not quiet. I should think the fish would be just as stressed by schoolkids as by music.


Inside, there are a bunch of exhibits. This is a smaller tank.


At one point, while we waited in line for the class to start, the other little girl asked, “What are we going to do next? I’m so bored.”

“They are going to have us put on wetsuits, dive off the pier, and collect seahorses,”I said. “Won’t it be fun?”

She got an uncertain look on her face. But the little boy was giddy. “Oh boy!” he said. I had to quickly tell them I was joking. (I had been joking about other stuff too– she’d also asked why I’d parked SOO FAR AWAY, and I told her it was only another 20 miles; couldn’t she make it?)

Here’s the weather outside today. I thought a cold ocean breeze would be blowing through, but it was very very mild. It was actually colder inland today. Below the aquarium is the Scripps Institute pier for ocean research. (Fun fact: when I told people I went to Scripps College, many thought I was somehow attending college here. The Scripps family lived in San Diego and Southern California, and lots of things are named after them).


So, I was standing here minding my own business, breaking up a fight between Squidward and Patrick the Starfish (two plastic things which were not meant to represent cartoon characters) and watching my three charges besides, when an older couple with two young kids (ages 2 and maybe 10 months) accosted me.

Note: I had seen them minutes before at the tide pools, where an employee repeated said, “Touch with one finger! Do not remove anything from the pool!” which they ignored or didn’t hear, until the employee went over and tapped the grandpa on the shoulder and told them to put the sea star back. This isn’t Sea World, where you can take sea stars (which they said was the real name for starfish) out and poke their tender undersides.

“Will you take our picture?” the woman asked.

“Sure,” I said.

She put it on panoramic view and handed me the camera. Instead of a wrist strap, something like string or dental floss was threaded through.

I waved and made funny noises at the baby, which got her to look at me; the toddler boy looked at me, too. I took one, which was good; then another, for good measure– but the Grandpa was pointing because the kids had stopped looking.

I gave them the camera back. “The second one’s not good, but the first one is.”

Grandpa fumbled with the controls. “That one’s no good,” Grandpa said.

“The first one was good,” I said. I don’t think he knew how to view the first.

“Take another one and get closer this time,” he said. I am not kidding. It was not phrased as a request.

I considered chucking the camera into the ocean. “I hope the kids I’m watching don’t run away,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the lady.

Her apology mollified me just enough to get me to help out. Plus, I am a good-natured person. Let my actions herewith prove it forevermore! I took one more photo and zoomed in. Probably too much for their liking. Then I handed them the camera and turned away.

You know, I don’t know if they thanked me.

Anyway, Little Girl had a grand time. So it was worth it.

(Prints out this blog to show her when she’s, oh, 30. I think that’s when she might appreciate it.)

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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