From Wild Dolphins to Shark Scares
Updated: Sep 10
My little vacation showed me just how much I'd changed.
When my boys were all of the age of three and five years old I boated with them to the front Shell Island to swim with the Wild Dolphins. No doubt the dolphins had gotten a little used to tourist showing up and feeding them sardines. But this happened to be a trip with nothing in mind more than hitting the beach and hanging out in the sun. On this day the dolphins showed up in a pod all around the boat. They were friendly dolphins and I could tell this by the way one expects to tell good aliens from bad aliens. ET aliens from those creepy, crusty aliens of ALIEN. So in my very, young mother self I dive off the boat into the water. That is to say I went overboard but I doubt anything about it was as graceful as a dive. I've never taken a dive in my life. I'd say plunging is more my style.
So I'm in the water with the wild dolphins and after determining they haven't eaten me or drowned me I let both my little boys jump in the water with me. I won't go into deep detail about that day but I'll table that thought to revisit.
“We swam with the wild dolphins like the Gulf of Mexico was the garden of Eden, our own private moment in the beginning of creation. I could see how incredibly large they actually were after we went dove off the boat and into the water with them. Massive, hovering next to me where they appeared three times my size. At least double and powerful. But they stayed with us, swimming around and hovering in place as Dolphins do, watching us and I even dare to say - enjoying us. It was an interaction of tribes. Not one where we were watching them and they were watching us but a communion of communication. They meant us no harm. We knew this. And they realized we were in in a state of absolute wonder. Like the radar they used to speak to each other, everything about us, every pore of our being danced in their presence.
There was a baby dolphin with the pod that was about the same size as my youngest son. And while we were oohhh and awing over how cute he was - all of the adult dolphins formed a semi-circle around my youngest just staring at him. It was obvious they were thinking - A BABY HUMAN and just couldn't get enough of him. My oldest was hanging onto another dolphin by the fin and swimming around with him. It was a glorious time and I would bet one of their best memories. Now, did I mention I was a very young mother? I think in the long run this worked out great for the boys. But would I have allowed THEIR children - my adorables and charmings to get in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico with wild dolphins? Not on your life. I would have fist fought anyone including my sons who tried to drop them over the boat. And lost - to my sons at least and then become hysterical. I think. Flash forward to recent fast #vacation days on the Gulf of Mexico. Thank goodness we didn't have a boat because these two Charming wild things at age six and eight are faster than me. They could have jumped overboard faster than I could have caught them. Particularly the eight year old in a way that doesn't seem natural. But even without the boat they had a GLORIOUS FEW DAYS with Cousin Deb and actually being on the beach, in the salt air and sunshine was all they needed for a good time. Due to CoVid I wasn't taking any chances with the kids (or getting Covid and bringing it back to Mom) and we didn't do golf carts or water parks or rides of any kind. Not even miniature golf. It was just an eating in, walking the beach, searching for shells, building sandcastles, playing in the waves, and going to the Jetties. For those of you not from PCB the St. Andrews State Park is one of the most wonderful places on earth. There is a place we call the Jetties where the rocks have been placed to break the incoming waves and it has formed a kiddie pool basically in the natural Gulf waters so that the kids can use floats and play and not drown from undergoes and waves. Where also Zaza can watch them without worrying about them inching their way out and out and out where a wave can take them under in a second. They both say they can swim. They lie. They cannot. Unlike their father who could swim like a fish at three when he was in the water with the #dolphins. Glory, glory saltwater and sun which one would think heals everything. Well, that and a bottle of tequila but this was a family vacation so no tequila on the beach. Deb and I COVERED these Tennessee children in waterproof sunblock. They were sunburnt the first day and learned the value of aloe lotion. That forced us to take-up late day beach going but we were able to build sandcastles as the full moon rose before the sunset, listen to the waves and watch fireworks on the beach. The kind that someone from Tennessee probably took down and began to shoot off every night at sunset. I'm writing this from the hill where I can look out the window and see through the trees across the little valley to the other side of the ridge. Just barely still because all the leaves have come in. Every year I plan to chop down about six trees so that I can see for miles all year around. Every year I do not. I wait for fall, for the seasons to change, the leaves to drop, and the view to open up one fallen leaf at a time. In the meantime the entire world is green and full of birdsong. But I've got a thousand beach days in my heart that I will never lose. I can hear the waves on the turn of a dime in my mind. Hurricane waves, and calm October morning waves, and late-night lazy waves. The sand on the Gulf Coast has a particular characteristic as it squeaks under your feet when you walk. Charming wild thing one said - This sand is so . . . satisfying.
That it is, that it is.
(My mom notices they have quite a vocabulary these guys) I notice it too when they tell me my problem is that I love them too much because I don't let them do what they want to do because I am over protective and shelter them.
Yeah, whatever. Get six inches closer to shore, kid. One evening it was getting close to fireworks time. The sand castles had been built. There had been great swimming adventures with their Dad who had taken off to go have dinner with friends. Cousin Deb and I were relaxing in the beach chairs taking it all in from a short distance from the kids who had been instructed they could play at the edge of the water. The edge. Little by little, inch by inch, they ventured farther out. Jumping one little wave and then walking through the water a little father out to jump the next wave. I watched. The moon was high in the sky, the sun sinking lower, the pelicans were flying in for the night. So calming and picturesque. Except for those two little kids getting farther out - inch by inch. Finally I had enough. Because I am older and slower than my swimming with the dolphin days. I got up and went out and told the oldest, "Hey, know you're having fun but I thought I should come tell you - and as you know I grew up here so I know what I'm talking about - this is the time of day the sharks come in to eat whatever they can find. Just thought you should know," and I turned to go. Yes, I am not beyond using whatever is in my toolkit at this stage of the game. Wild Thing's eyes became very large suddenly as he looked out at the horizon. Then he dropped his arm around his little brother's shoulder, turned him toward the shore and they both hurried back to safer ground. I went back to my chair beside Deb. The boys played in the sand creating great sculptures and original totems. The moonlight fell across the water illuminating the whitecaps at the edge of the sand. And for a few simple minutes, all was well. After we returned my son and I went for dinner at the Riverfront Restaurant which now may be one of my favorite places in the world because it is down the street, on the water, and has outdoor seating. We were talking movies which is something we both like and can talk film and tv series until other people at the table are turning blue - so we went alone. And then I told him about my shark maneuver to get the boys out of the water and how I would NEVER have let them jump over that boat to swim with the dolphins.
To which he laughed and said - You may be older but you're the same person.
I stopped where I was and had to consider this. Do we change? Are we the same? Am I still that wild and crazy to let those kids get in the water with dolphins?
You're telling me, he says, that you wouldn't think for the experience. This once in a lifetime experience.
Sure, I would still go over the boat, I said. But those kids can't' swim like you and your brother.
And on that note, I had him. But I think about it now, from this safe distance and think maybe, I would have said - It's okay kid, just stick close to me. It'll all be alright.