Playing with Dolphins

by Abby on October 20, 2017

It’s not every day I find myself on a standup paddleboard in warm, turquoise waters. But one morning last week, that’s exactly where I was, three days into a girls’ trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. The trip could not have been better timed, stress-wise or weather-wise. I pushed for the paddleboards, having done it a few times before and loved it. To me, the perfect vacation is a mix of relaxation and outdoor activity, preferably somewhere near or on the water.

Me, stand-up paddle boarding in Siesta Key

It took me a few minutes to get my sea legs after we dragged the long, heavy boards through the sand and into the waves. But before long I was standing up and gliding along in the shallow water. Schools of small, silvery fish shimmered just below the clear, blue-green surface. Billowy, white-cotton clouds scudded overhead. This might sound strange, but I knew what was about to happen next.

First, I thought I saw a dark flash out of the corner of my eye. But no, that was just a wave. Then, unmistakable: one, then two, dark, triangular fins broke the surface of the water. Dolphins! And look, a third! I could not contain my excitement as I watched these playful sea creatures leap and circle, dive and splash. I waved frantically to my friends back on the beach. Look! LOOK!!

Dolphin fins in the ocean

The other friend who was paddleboarding with me and I decided to get a little closer. But not TOO close. Silently, we paddled toward the dolphins. They saw or sensed us and swam over to check us out. Only then did a spasm of fear grip my chest, and my knees buckled slightly for a second. Miraculously, I did not lose my balance as one of the dolphins swam underneath the surface, just a few feet away from me. Close up, their sleek, dark bodies were massive, nearly the size of my paddleboard. I was in awe. Actual AWE.

I have seen dolphins in the wild maybe twice before. Once was off the coast of Delaware, and the other time was also in Florida, when a pair of them frolicked next to the Naples Pier at sunset. Those dolphins like to put on a show.

What was the most significant part of this experience for me? Was it the thrill of seeing dolphins? Was it the calm certainty of knowing that we would see them just before we did? Or was it the fact that I was happy, steady, and balanced until fear threatened to knock me off course?

I am not a person of strong faith. Perhaps I was more so when I was younger, but that is no longer the case. Interestingly, though, one of the women on the trip was a person of very strong faith. This made for interesting conversations, as I always appreciate someone who can articulate a different perspective without being judgmental or sanctimonious. When we were out shopping, she bought a print for a friend: “Be still and know” was part of its message.

It’s from the Bible, even I know that. I will leave the scriptural interpretations to others. I do think it’s an interesting phrase to consider, though. Many people struggle with the “be still” part. They text, scroll, and socialize their way through life, anything to avoid being bored or alone with their thoughts. Then there are those for whom the “and know” part is the challenge. That’s me.

I don’t “just know” anything. Even less as I get older. Well, except that I love my kids unconditionally and that the third glass of wine is usually a bad idea. Gretchen Rubin would call me a Questioner. My tax return says I’m a writer and researcher. I may not know stuff inherently, but I know how to find people who do. All the more reason why knowing we’d see dolphins that morning was so unusual for me.

If I knew that, what else might I know? What the next right steps are in my life? How to help my children avoid unnecessary suffering? The answer to world peace??

I think the secret lies in the “be still” part, at least for me. Those quiet, rare moments of solitude when I can think my own thoughts, dream my own dreams, listen to my own instincts. Give me some more time with the dolphins, and I’m sure I can figure it all out.

Florida sunrise over the water

P.S. Several people I shared this story with asked, “Did you think they were sharks at first?” No! Never! Thanks for making me retroactively terrified, though. And stop watching Shark Week!

Present Over Perfect, by Shauna NiequistREAD O’ THE WEEK: Yet another example of the right book finding me at the right time. I really enjoyed Present Over Perfect, a collection of essays from author and mother Shauna Niequist. Also a fellow water-lover, clearly. To get a sense of the book, see her recent discussion with Oprah on SuperSoul Sunday.

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Back-to-school time is more stressful than the holidays, a mammogram, and an extended visit with the in-laws COMBINED for most moms I know. My September breakdowns have been well-documented here. The unfortunate fundraiser meltdown of 2011. The carpool catastrophes. The scavenger-hunt supply lists, the endless forms to fill out. I was hoping to breeze through back-to-school this year. After all, I’ve been doing this awhile now. Didn’t happen.

Back to School paper overload

In my defense, my older son just started middle school. He’s got 4 main teachers, not including his teachers for art, gym, library, Spanish, and technology. He switches classrooms throughout the day, somehow navigating his way through the labyrinthine hallways clogged with students, backpacks, Axe body spray, and general mayhem in 4-min. intervals between classes.

I know this because I followed his schedule at Back-to-School Night. Which is now referred to as “#B2SN,” apparently.

Listen. I am all about embracing technology to enhance learning, connection, and efficiency. I love my smartphone and social media. But THERE ARE LIMITS. Get a load of this tech overload, will you?

Each teacher provided the parents with no few than 4 ways to contact them. They all have email addresses, of course. Yet, there is no consistent email format at our school, and most of the accounts were set up with the (now-married) teachers’ maiden names. It’s not confusing at all.

Some teachers provided their Facebook and Twitter pages, along with their cell phone numbers. They also let us know about several web-based platforms where we could check on our students’ grades, behavior, and assignments. All require different login codes and passwords. That sounds easy. {eyeroll emoji}

Then came the forms. Oh, the forms, forms, forms, FORMS. You might think that, given this shift toward technology, maybe we could fill out those dreaded medical forms online now? Maybe we could even save the data from year to year or have it autofill in siblings’ parent contact info and addresses? Nope. We’re not there yet. Paper forms for all, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate. On recycled paper, naturally.

The school principal did a video welcome message, which was intended to save time. But the individual teachers still could not get their AV equipment to work properly. Some were stymied by sound issues, or beleaguered by buffering. Powerpoints perplexed many. Some things never change.

The school lunch menu? There’s an app for that.

Weather cancellations? Sign up for text alerts.

See? Everything is so much SIMPLER now, thanks to technology!!! Wonder what my next year’s back-to-school breakdown will be about… #B2SB2018

LINK O’ THE DAY {Sponsored}: Speaking of paper and trying to cut down on it, have you seen Paperless Post’s attractive online invitations? And they actually do paper stationery now, too. Who knew? When they invited me to peruse their back-to-school invitations, this design caught my eye.

Paperless Post invitation - back to school picnic

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