Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sea-Monkeys = Hope

The small plastic container with the algae-laden, slightly brackish water rested on our kitchen counter for weeks.

There was no activity, no "true miracle of nature" frollicking in the tiny tank...as the marketing paperwork promised.

1970s-era order form
A failed experiment about to be flushed in the porcelain depository that also served as the vessel transporting numerous beta fish to their "final resting place."
But the boy had hope...the type of unshakeable optimism that a 9-year-old possesses and adults like me often long for.

He wanted to wait it out.

"A few more days?" he asked, fearing that his $6 investment was a bust but not quite ready to throw in the proverbial towel.

I obliged...grudgingly.

One couldn't look into those large blue eyes and do otherwise.

As I did so, however, the voice in my head cried "RO!" - the term my sister Joyce had often used with her own children in their errant ventures of getting "ripped off" through similar purchases.

And I thought Maryland-based Transcience Corp., the maker of Sea-Monkeys had to have one of the most successful marketing angles of all time.

They were, after all, the same people who lured me in when I was Jack's age...with colorful cartoon-character images of re-hydrated brine shrimp that supposedly grew to a sufficient size and intelligence that they could play on a merry-go-round (a separate RO purchase I made) and do other fantastical feats of dexterity.

I remember how eagerly I clipped the coupon from my comic book, rattled the coins from my piggy bank and counted the exact amount to give my mother so she could enclose a check with the completed mail order form.

The order was sent the next day and I waited an agonizingly long "6 to 8 weeks" until, one day, a small cardboard box arrived.

I tore open the packaging and followed the sparse directions to the letter, making sure the water temperature was spot on and the packages of granular material were poured into the tank in the right order.

And then I waited. And waited.

Weeks passed, and still no dancing, swimming Sea-Monkeys. A month...still nothing. Finally, at about the six-week mark, my mother and I had a similar exchange to the one I had with Jack.

Unlike him, however, my hope was dashed a week prior, when the water turned green and cloudy and the mixture started to smell.

I knew my Sea-Monkeys were an RO and that my hard-saved money was physically and metaphorically flushed away.

I cursed the Sea-Monkeys company and vowed to never be taken in by them again.

And I did well in that regard...for 34 years...until my son went shopping at Reny's with his mother, spied the slickly marketed Sea-Monkeys packaging and made a purchase.

He ran into the house with his new prize, excitedly rattling off the instructions printed on the back of the package. I offered the "adult response," sharing my experience and urging him not to get his hopes up.

But, as it sometimes turns out, I was wrong. Jack's bargaining ended up being successful, for out of the green-coated floor of the tank rose a half-dozen, translucent brine shrimp, swimming for all their worth.

And my son smiled with astonishment - an astonishment which, unlike my own, was one he expected.

There's a lesson to be learned from Sea-Monkeys, after all, it seems.

As we age, the childhood optimism we once possessed can be stripped away - little by little - if we allow it to be.

It becomes far too easy to be cynical, to lower our expectations to a point where we can't be overly disappointed when our plans don't come to fruition.

And, in doing so, we allow our world and life experience to become much smaller than it needs to be.

Jack and his Sea-Monkeys taught me a valuable, incredibly powerful lesson.

In matters both great and small, hope is essential. Without it, we are lost.


  1. Very good post John! I'll be re-blogging this on my blog! Hope is so essential in life! And kids definitely have a better handle on it than we do as adults for sure. You can check out my blog if you'd like at faithisfoundfaithisalive.wordpress.com

  2. funny we have been rasing our sea monkeys since this past christmas.. we spwaned about a dozen in all sizes :-)
    cooler new container than i has 3 decades ago...lol

  3. This was great and took me right back to my own childhood. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  4. Thanks, Sarah. Glad you enjoyed it. Looking forward to checking out your writing.

  5. Thank you, Anonymous. Always nice to learn of another Sea-Monkeys success story. You have several months on us, so I will defer to your obvious skill and expertise. Now that there's "life" in our tank, my focus will be keeping the little critters in that condition as long as possible - or until Jack loses interest.

  6. Glad you enjoyed the post, Greg. It was fun to write and I was especially pleased to find online the same version of the order form I completed as a kid. The Internet is a "great and powerful" thing - like Oz himself.