Fury and glee, erupting from half a dozen children tearing around the carpeted causeway, fills the spaces between exhibits of the Orlando Science Center. I walk and observe all of this with caution and reserve while walking with my girlfriend, slowly adjusting to a place where fascination is found at every stop, of which there are an hundred.
At the Orange grove, the infinite possibilities of an orange plastic ball were never more apparent than in the small hands of a child. As he pushes the item, intended to represent the signature Florida orange fruit, back into the Erector set-like conveyor belt, the tireless, make believe orange will be harvested for likely the thousandth time that day.
The hands of children are intended to touch and manipulate nearly every single block, rope, dinosaur bone, cloud machine, paper airplane, and electrical simulator that can be reached for in this place. This is the intention, as if the Orlando Science Center was also tasked with the very lengthening of growing bones, as it fosters the growing imaginations of its visitors. Even the small zoo is ripe for interaction, as some of the live animals, normally safe behind their exhibit glass, are available to touch and speak to. A friendly and exercise conscious Tortoise ambles along the walkway, with informative guide in toe.
The small aquariums, scientific demonstration exhibits, and the indoor cypress swamp (a favorite of my elementary school days) house the other live animals, but in a more accessible fashion. Small, standing blocks are lined up and ready to be pushed or maybe even stacked on top of one another, so that children of all heights can enjoy the frogs, toads, snakes, and fish as they bob around their habitats.
Physics is brought down to bite size proportions as children can pull themselves up above even the comfortable shoulders of their fathers, with only a rope and their own muscle. I found myself particularly taken with the make-your-own ball tunnel, which is endlessly customizable. Only a few types of of PVC corners and length pieces, mounted on magnets, are offered. But to my surprise, I became drawn into my imagination by the simple tunnel’s construction. I used every-single piece of pipe they had to build the tunnel. The tunnel would have functioned to perfection if not for cognizance of my sensible girlfriend, who played the role of my grade school teacher by gently reminding me that the Center was closing and the volunteers would need to clean up all of my work. It would seem that my old energy and glee were not lost after all. My small bones had grown around my longer ones, but they were ready to play again, helping me make believe that schedules and to-do lists were words I had yet to learn. I left the Orlando Science Center on time, driving, not riding in the back seat, but holding hands up front like my parents had on trips from memory.
When I arrived, I honestly thought it was a childish diversion to find joy in the seemingly innocent puzzles of my early youth. However, I left without having done everything I had wanted to, unsatisfied that I hadn’t dug up every dinosaur bone, or experimented with every type of paper airplane. Especially because I wanted to send that little wooden ball through all twenty feet of PVC pipe which always felt a small adjustment away from perfect. Oh well, that's how science goes.
I learned there that something great is still lying within my bones, which I knew as a given when I was young. It's on display at the Center in Tyrannosaurus fashion, or in the pieces which can be put together however I find they work. A visit brings that little part back in a big way.