Thursday, August 03, 2006

How life works out for polar bears, whales and penguins

Sometimes life isn’t fair. So I whine and sigh and pretend I’m resigned, all the while hoping someone comes along to prove me wrong. He would, of course, be amazing, and I would think that I was so happy I’d waited for him! Or I’ll die alone. Hard to tell.

Life, as I was reminded today, can be quite funny. I’m blessed because generally after having a day where things don’t go my way, I’m granted one with some moment of brightness. Find myself shaking my head, smiling over how delightful situations are.

I had a meeting today with the whale, little whale and penguin. (It's the 4th of my points if you missed the analogy the first couple times I used it.) I was all prepared to demand not only my turn to slide down the hill on my belly, but one for the little whale as well. Because I’m a polar bear, dammit, and I have big paws! And if God or fate or whatever can’t send me someone who loves me, then I can at least slide down the freaking hill on my white belly! So I walked to my meeting alone with grim determination, greeted the little whale and asked about her summer, research and family (I can make small talk! I didn’t even consider asking her how females were treated in a male-dominated work environment, though I did think about it.)

Then the penguin arrived and I greeted him with my fake sweet smile, and silently promised the little whale she’d get her turn at the hill.

I coughed to cover a surprised laugh when the penguin announced he had been ill. His tummy was sore, he announced, rubbing at it. And I instantly realized that if we were going to spend our meeting sliding down the hill, he’d be unable to participate.

We met the big whale and I chose a spot from where I could race to the hill first, blocking the whale while the penguin decided if it was worth the pain to take a turn, and the little whale could gracefully slip down the hill, flapping her tail happily.

She insisted I take a different spot, one closer to the other animals but in a less ideal position to block their progress. I think she was making sure I got enough attention, which was sweet. I like attention in meetings, but I was determined that she would get some too.

While we were being nice in our corner, the penguin was busy explaining his hurt tummy and how he’d be unable to take the turns as he wanted to do.

“Fine, fine.” Said the whale, and patted the spot at the top of the hill.

Penguin, despite his injury, stood to take the first turn.

“I think…” I started to protest, only to be interrupted by the whale.

“No.” He said calmly, and the penguin blinked at him, surprised. “Little whale should go first. She did a lot of work since we last met.”

He cocked his head at me while I beamed at him, filled with pleasure that the penguin was unable to hog the hill and the whale had easily demanded adequate turns for his smaller counterpart. She did a lovely job sliding down the hill, using her whale-like shape to do a fancy turn near the end.

“I’ve never seen such a fancy turn.” I told the whale, smiling down the hill at the little whale. “Last time, I used my big paws to try to slow down when I got to the bottom of the hill. But she uses her tail and flippers to twist around. Then she makes such a happy sound with her blowhole!”

Whale made the happy sound himself, and I frowned, looking down at my fuzzy white paws. “I don’t have a blowhole.” I said softly.

Penguin started to flap his arms, so whale and I started down the hill together, leaving penguin standing at the top of the hill, rubbing his belly in frustration. Whale told me how I could lift my cute black nose to the sky and mimic the sound their blowhole made with a kind of modified roar. I demonstrated and the two whales nodded – we were speaking the same happy language.

The penguin just looked confused. I asked a few more questions – clarifying her fancy sliding technique and making the happy sound again just to be sure I understood everything. I shook the whale’s flipper with my paw, smiled fondly when I thanked the little whale and told her to be in touch.

“You did nice work.” Whale said as I walked out the door. I turned to look back, then smiled. He's a kind whale. I had done nice work, I mused, secure in the knowledge that I would have demanded turns for myself and the little whale had they not been offered. I was comforted by the fact that my demands weren’t necessary. Circumstances had rendered the penguin temporarily unable to play. The whale had meanwhile decided to offer turns freely. It worked out exactly how it should have, and it was effortless on my part. I was able to enjoy my turns down the hill, knowing little whale would get to go next.

I walked out with penguin, answering his questions about the fancy turns and happy noise. He’s a good penguin – just a bit overly excited. He had tried to take a couple of turns on the hill, but decided against it or was gently nudged out of the way by whale or myself. He gave in gracefully, offering his admiration for the fancy turn though he didn’t really understand why it was important. Expressed his appreciation for making progress on our movement techniques so we could get his ice where it needed to go. After discussing the ice-moving timeline, we parted ways.

I smiled on the way back to my office, pleased with my polar bear ability to understand both whales and penguins. I was more proud, however, of doing good polar bear work, noticing the skills of the other animals, and laughing at how life often – not always, but often enough to be spectacular – works out for the best.

Note: ScienceWoman wrote me email after my last polar bear post. She sweetly reminded me of her post that polar bears and penguins don't belong together. I'm going to go with a lame "if it's good enough to go on wrapping paper, it's good enough for my analogy." If that doesn't help, perhaps you could picture us in the same general region of the zoo? So I'll smile and say I appreciate your patience in this overly cute analogy.


ceresina said...

I love the way you turned the whole thing into an analogy. I'd get lost somewhere after the hill. But the flip! and the funny noise with your nose! So clever.
And you say you aren't a writer. Phoo.

Lucy said...

yay! You need the guy who does the Little Polar Bear books ( to illustrate your stories now :)

JustMe said...

i a so dying to know what the actual "activity" is! i mean something thing actually involves a body part that penguin has hurt, a hand? but a hand can't have been ill. the best i can come up with is some sort of thing you need to blow into. maybe you work with breathalyzers or those asthma things? but how does one blow differently or have differernt technique. you see my predicament! now by no means reveal what it is, just know that i am dying of curiosity, your writing is fantabulous, and i will keep thinking of differnt scienc-y things that involve hill sliding.

MapleMama said...

A great post, as usual!

I'm so glad that your team worked out the hill-sliding in such a healthy manner. Kudos to whale and little whale, and of course, to you polar bear!

I know that these animals live on different poles, but I like the analogy that such separated creatures could work together. And they are so cute in Coke's Christmas ad.

ScienceWoman said...

I like the analogy. It is very cute. :) I'm going to guess that penguin had laryngitis and couldn't hog the talking time. But I'm lost as to the fancy turns and happy noises.

Lucy is right - this really could be a children's story.

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