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Stingrays rock, but watch out for the birds
Stingrays rock
THATCHER’S STINGRAY DREAMS came true during his family’s recent visit to the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. - photo by Emily Schendel

GAYS MILLS - This weekend, we set off on some grand adventures. 

Friday, Thatcher was a little under the weather and got to skip going to preschool. He stayed home coughing, hacking, and snuggling with his dad. Apparently all that good down time charged him up because by Saturday morning he was “rock, rollin’ and ready MA!” as he told me. 

When I was pregnant and my friend and I set off on a wild adventure to the casino buffet, I discovered the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. I had wanted to go ever since. But pregnancy, childbirth, and bad weather all got in the way. 

Last Saturday came, and it struck me as the perfect day to give the trip a whirl. 

We’ve learned now with two kids it takes twice as long to go anywhere. We’re getting better at remembering to bring everything too. We’re not quite there yet, but getting closer. We still manage to forget things like snacks, and a crinkly toy for the baby, but managed to remember the stroller and a couple of diapers, so things weren’t so bad. 

Thatcher made it all the way to Lancaster before he got hungry, hot and cranky about being in his dad’s car. 

“This buckle is too HIGH!” squealed the rosy-cheeked toddler as he clenched his car seat chest clip. 

“You have to do it,” his dad said gravely glancing over at me. The task he was referencing was playing Thatcher’s favorite music. 

We thought we were so cool, and hip skipping over the ‘Baby Shark’ phenomenon by tuning into the Okee Dokee brothers. Which, if you have kids and like (or LOVE) blue grass music and don’t wanna suffer through Baby Shark-they seem like a great alternative. Their music is good, and lyrics are fun for kids and adults. Except, toddlers are relentless about listening to things on repeat. Until you wish you could throw the CD out the window like a silver Frisbee. 

So. Now, until Thatcher at least agrees to listen to one of their other albums, the Okee Dokee Brother’s ‘Winterland’ is only reserved to defuse escalating situations in the car. Luckily for him, when you’re three that’s fairly often. 

So we tuned in the song, and he was in the back seat for the remainder of the drive happily chirping along about ice fishing shacks, Yeti, and a ukulele in a snowstorm.

Fast forward to our arrival and we are awestruck by the massive building, and just Dubuque in general. I may be late to get aboard with this hip town, but we were both struck by its impressive old factories and buildings and interesting downtown. 

Thatcher wasn't too hip to what was going on, as its kind of hard to explain an aquarium to a three year old, apparently. He knew there were going to be fish and it’s going to be cool, but he wasn't certain of the whole thing. 

We saw that you could touch a Stingray as part of the experience so we decided to make a beeline right to the tank. Thatcher usually is packing at least one teeny tiny Stingray on his person at all times. On this day, we discovered it was hidden in the leg of his sweatpants, ‘safe and sound’ he reassured is. 

I was surprised to learn that Stingrays are very curious creatures and will come up to you in the tank to say hello if you stick your fingers in. The staff trims their barbs so they are non-threatening and seem to just like attention, kind of like a puppy. Only a big, grey, sandpapery flat puppy.  

I kind of expected a whole lot of rambunctious excitement out of Thatcher, getting to witness his favorite sea creature in the flesh. However, he just stood there, almost star struck. The rays all seemed very interested in him and kept coming over and appearing as they might jump right out of the tank and into his hands. He was a bit too intimidated to actually touch one, but his dad did for him and that was satisfactory. Surprisingly even the Waylee bop baby himself was entertained just to be parked in front of the tank and watch them all swim around. 

The quiet, timid Thatcher didn't last long however, as he turned back into his happy squealing self once he’s saw the tanks full of tropical fish–running, squealing and announcing the color of each magical fish to everyone in the joint. 

We only had one foul moment of the whole trip, when I was accosted, dare I say attacked, by a bird. We decided to take a pit stop to feed Waylon in the outside area between the two indoor facilities. It was lovely, humid and in between rains so we found a nice semi secluded bench. Suddenly, a red-winged black bird landed at our feet. 

“Wow! Would you look at that! I’ve never seen one so close! Take a picture!” I eagerly said to Chasca. No sooner did he whip out his phone than the bird landed on a branch right next to us. 

“I’m going to get up and move before it comes after me,” I said jokingly. Apparently that was the wrong move as the bird dive-bombed right into my head. I scuttled off screaming and covering the baby from what I was sure was going to be a secondary attack. But, my sweet little Thatcher swooped in himself and issued the angry bird a rabbit-shaped animal cracker, which seemed to appease it. 

So, if you ever get the itch to take a trip to Dubuque to this Museum and Aquarium, we highly recommend it. Just watch out for the birds.