I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!


If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.


Comments on: "A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”" (17)

  1. Bless your heart. I guess you can look back and smile about it now but at the time…sounds like it was one of those times that you can’t prepare for except to be ready for anything. Parenting is the ultimate adventure!

  2. It sounds like a wonderful place. And a wonderful sensory experience for a child with a disability. 🙂 Despite the interesting ending, it sounds like the experience was worth it overall. Who else can say they got to swim with stingrays?

  3. Wow! I am so glad you stopped by my blog! Reading your blog has been a blessing.
    Thank you so much for sharing your writing with others.
    Peace and Love~

  4. Notes From The Backseat said:

    This reminds me so much of us trying to bathe our daughter when she was younger. It took two of us because of the screaming and volatile explosions of emotion that would burst from our tiny baby girl. Up to the age of three, we fought violent tantrums whenever her face or ears got wet. She still doesn’t like it and won’t go swimming, but we at least can get her in the shower without a fight now, though she still won’t take a bath. Autism has many hidden blessings, but bath time isn’t one of them lol

  5. Thank you for visiting our blog. We too think Laura’s posts and pictures are really wonderful!

    Regarding taking your daughter, Marie, into the water at Discovery Cove, at one time they allowed guests to swim with the dauphins. I do not know if they still have this available, but there have been a number of studies done about dauphins and how they relate to pregnant women and to people with disabilities. Apparently they know that they have to be especially gentle with them. As far as children who have a disability swimming with the dauphins, there have also been studies on how much benefit it is to those children. Something to keep in mind if your mother every decides to take you with her to Sea World again.

    • I actually did take Emily to swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove and it was awesome! She beamed the whole time. Because it was her birthday, a dolphin swam up to her with a buoy on which Happy Birthday Marie was written. She actually has it in her room which is decorated with dolphins!

      • That sounds wonderful. Although my sister-in-law, a scuba diver, swam with the dolphins several times, my husband has always wanted to do so also. Sadly, they were not offering it when we were at Sea World and we have not been back with the “crowd” that it takes to get him out of his wheelchair, into the water and then back into his chair after his swim. We hope that sometime in the future we’ll return with enough help to make the swim and transfers possible …

  6. That sounds frightening for both of you – I’m you were both ok.

  7. This is an awesome. Thank you for telling us all about it. Parenthood and life itself can be so difficult, I consider this story one of triumph. You attended to your little one in the best human and humane way possible. I am relieved you keep writing.

  8. Great mom. Great story.

  9. At least you’re both ok!

  10. Even with it ending scary, I’m sure it was a day to remember! May be multiple ways 😉 how neat to get to swim with everything,

  11. Love it! You know..there would be plenty of people who might have not given their child that experience…but you did. Its a great lesson about taking risks for the gain of our children.

  12. Wow. That’s amazing.

  13. So glad you’re both okay, and how brave of you both!

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