We were happy to get the last Tuesday slot; we did not know this was the worst time to go.
My nine year old loves waterslides, sharks, and milky ways. His career goal is to be a marine biologist focusing on the study of tiger sharks. So, when a friend told me a place exists that has a waterslide that goes through a pool of sharks, I knew I had to go. And, you could (for a large fee) sign up for an excursion where you walk with the sharks in that pool. While I was excited to give this experience to my budding Jacques Cousteau, I had a problem. Having run out of the opening credits of Jaws, I do not share my child’s enthusiasm for sharks. Since that summer of Jaws mania, I have not even been able to lay in a bath with the water running — I have visions that a ferocious baby shark will dive out of the faucet and have me as soup.
As my husband does not have my affliction, he volunteered to go on the trip. Because of my galeophobia, I was on the tank’s rim as to whether I would join my boys. Do I use this as an opportunity to get over my fear? Or, do I pretend that being the photographer and cheerleader is just as good as sharing a potentially life-changing experience with my only kid? I decide not to decide and wait until we get to the resort to make the reservation.
“I would like to make a reservation for three, 2 adults and 1 child for the walk of the sharks. Before I sign up, is this excursion refundable should one change her mind?” I am told that this is a non refundable purchase. Great. I am tired from the flight. My kid gives me a look of you’re kidding, you’re not going? The husband tries not to show his disappointment, but he is doing a lousy job. Feeling peer pressure, I schedule the tour for Tuesday at 3:30. I have a few days until then, maybe, I will be lucky and the excursion will be canceled because of a hurricane. I am now hoping for a severe weather condition to ruin my expensive vacation, which of course does not happen.
On Tuesday at 3:15, we head to the shark tank and join the other tour goers. We get fitted for and squeeze into our wetsuits. The tour guide tells us how to step down into the tank without blowing our ears out. He confirms with the future shark walkers that no one is flying home that day as that could use you to get bubbles in your blood which could prove fatal. Why am I doing this again? He also points to the waving scuba divers in the tank who will guide us. We are warned not to pet the sharks and not to get upset if a sharks rubs against us. I won’t get upset; I’ll have a nervous breakdown. My kid is overjoyed with the possibility that a shark might touch him. Are we related? I cannot believe that soon not only will I voluntarily go into a tank of healthy sharks, but I will also take my world, my son and husband, with me on this adventure.
To try and relax, I ask what I thought would be an educational question that would calm me down.
“How do we know the sharks won’t eat us?”
“First, these sharks are scavengers. So, unless you are dead they won’t eat you.”
My sharkologist junior nods agreeing with our knowledgeable chaperon. Note to self, look alive!
“Second, they are fed on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning.”
Ergo, they are at their hungriest right now, as I chose the last tour on Tuesday. I wish I knew that before I made the reservation. I would have scheduled the walk for the first tour on Wednesday. I don’t care how much these creatures ate on Monday, they have not eaten in over 24 hours. I know what I am like right before break fast on Yom Kippur.
We go to the ladder that will take us down into the tank. We decide to submerge in this order, husband, kid, and mom. Before we are completely in, a globe is put over our heads and snapped into our suits. We look like the Jetsons minus Judy and Astro. Balloons are attached to our suits so we are weighed down, and my little guy needs several balloons. He looks like a martian celebrating a birthday. Slowly, I step down into the tank and join my fellows. Watching sharks swim in arm’s length distance with my family in the background is a once in a lifetime experience. Hopefully. I look at my kid, I can feel his happiness even through the fish bowl globe I have on my head. A scuba diver hands him a shark tooth.
I realize, though, what a submerge of faith I took getting in the tank. If anything happened to my kid, like a shark going rogue (maybe one shark thinks he is tired of dead food, this kid looks delicious) or my kid’s oxygen tank exploding, there is nothing that I could do. And, my husband, as good as he is with setting up and programming a smart tv, he does not know much about scuba gear. We are sunk. I have to trust these two scuba divers who I never met or vetted with my most precious life member.
This feeling of helplessness passes for two reasons: the walk part is only twenty minutes, and I am kind of enjoying my self. The scuba divers signal time’s up, get out of the tank. My marine biologist gestures like an English chap you first, to my husband, me, and the rest of the shark walkers — as he wants to soak in every last second of this excursion.
As a parent, you take so many leaps of faith, small, medium, and large: putting your little one on a bus to camp, allowing your fifth grader to walk to school, and letting him sort of scuba dive with hungry creatures of the ocean. I surrender myself to the universe many times in a given day. It’s maddening. Some letting go moments you have to do and some you do to yourself. And, some work out well in the end.