It’s funny how memories pop up sometimes, emerging in full technicolor detail from the mists of the past. This happened to me just recently. I don’t even remember what I was doing at the time, but suddenly I was thinking about Lydia and the shark tank.
This happened years ago. We were in Boothbay Harbor, Maine at the small aquarium there. I’m not sure how old Lydia was–maybe 3? If so, Adeline would have been 5 and Connor, 7. We were thoroughly enjoying our visit to the aquarium, wandering through the displays, peering into fish tanks and trying out the interactive exhibits. I remember that in one area you reached your hand through a small circular opening into wooden boxes. Inside the box was a mystery object ,and you were supposed to try to figure out what it was. It took a bit of nerve, but we all enthusiastically thrust our hands into the dark hole and did our best to determine what was within. I can’t even remember what was in there–maybe shells? lobster claws? It’s all a bit fuzzy now, 17-18 years later. But what I do recall in full focus is the shark tank.
It was a circular tank in the middle of the room, fairly large and maybe 3 feet high. Swimming about in it were a number of sharks. I’m not sure what kind they were, but there was a sign inviting visitors to pet them, so I assumed they must be friendly. The kids were beyond excited at this opportunity. Kurt quickly helped Connor and Adeline get their hands in the water. They reached out to touch the circulating sharks, exclaiming loudly. Lydia was in my arms, pulling toward the tank. I moved closer, struggling to hold onto her as she stretched forward enthusiastically. When I had a firm hold on her, we edged into the side of the tank and she leaned over, her chubby hand trailing in the water, reaching toward the sharks. After a few minutes, finally a shark came by within reaching distance. Lydia stretched and just as her fingers were about to brush the shark, I jerked her back, startling both of us.
She looked at me in surprise, and honestly, I was just as surprised as she was.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” I said, laughing. “I didn’t mean to do that. Let’s try again!”
Lydia gave me one of her patented lowered-eyebrow glares, but thankfully turned her attention to the tank again. I repositioned us and we waited for another shark to approach. Within moments, one swam by. Lydia reached out and just as her fingers neared the shark, I once again jerked her away.
We tried this again a few more times, but I just couldn’t do it. It was the funniest thing. I was literally incapable of letting her hand touch that shark. Each time, no matter how hard I tried to let her touch the shark, at the last minute, I pulled her away. Finally, I handed a disgruntled Lydia off to Kurt.
“I just can’t do it,” I laughed.
Kurt and Lydia settled in by the tank and within moments a delighted Lydia had touched her first shark. I watched her face light up, thankful she had this experience. Still amazed that I hadn’t been able to let her have it. That bone-deep instinct to protect her was just way too strong for me to overcome. Let my toddler touch a shark? No way!
Remembering this now, as she enters her senior year in college, I think about protecting her and how this has changed over the years. I also wonder if there are other opportunities I denied her because of my instinct to keep her far from danger, real or perceived. These days I can’t simply hold her in my arms and pull her away from the sharks of the world. I can only let her know that she’s always welcome in my arms and that I’ll stand in between her and any sharks as necessary. I guess the thing is that now she’s the one who will be identifying those dangers, not me.