Lighthouse Reef, Belize – When we were in Florida, the twins practiced using their new masks and snorkels in the swimming pool. Now we’re in the midst of the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world and a World Heritage Site. Now there is actually something to see.
One of the many wonderful things about Half Moon Caye is that you can snorkel right off the beach. You literally walk into the water and swim out to the reef. So that’s where we started.
Twin S was nervous. He was whiny and anxious and crying about every minor discomfort, as we walked to the beach and got our gear on. He complained every step of the way — hot sand, long walk, stubbed toe, water shoes, no water shoes, leaky mask, tight mask, etc. But when he finally got geared up and put his face in the water, a magical transformation took place. It was less than a foot of water–there was nothing to see but minnows and sea shells–but both boys were entranced by the wondrous world they were suddenly allowed to enter.
Besides their masks and snorkels, the boys wore shorty wet suits for warmth and life jackets for flotation. And with that, they morphed into little sea creatures, content to float around and spy on the colorful fish and coral populating the reef.
Our awesome snorkel guide Dayton had brought a life belt for the boys to hang onto, so he could pull them around. But Twins S and V were having none of that. Twin V wanted to hold his mama’s hand, and swim side by side, seeing what I saw and feeling the security of that connection. I was happy to oblige. Twin S, by contrast, wanted to swim independently, so he could see what we were looking at–and then swim off in his own direction to do his own thing. The whiny, anxious boy had become the master of the seas.
The next day was a big day. Our tour group planned to sail their kayaks to a neighboring island, Long Caye, where we would picnic and snorkel. The twins and I would ride in the support boat. We played on the beach and entertained ourselves until it was time to see the paddlers/sailors off. That’s when disaster struck. As the twins were “helping” to send the kayaks on their way, poor Twin S got his hand caught in a rudder. The scream was ear-splitting (at least to his mother’s ears). The skin was penetrated on two fronts. And with that, we bid farewell to any chance that Twin S would snorkel again on this trip.
It’s not that the cut was so deep or so serious–it wasn’t. But it was an open wound. And when the salt water came into contact with the open wound, it stung. And Twin S just couldn’t get past that.
We tried, we really did. In fact, I tried too hard. I insisted that Twin S get in the water, even though he didn’t want to. It seemed so silly to call off our plans just because he got a little cut on his hand. And I really wanted him to have another great day snorkeling.
And therein lay the problem. Under these circumstances, what I really wanted was sort of irrelevant.
In retrospect, I realize this was a BIG THING. Snorkeling was a big thing. And the cuts on his hand were a big thing. Twin S recognized his own limitations, knowing he could not handle both of these big things at the same time.
I finally recognized it at the point that my child was hysterical in the water. I realized I had gone overboard (figuratively, as well as literally). We got back in the boat. And there we sat–fuming at each other.
Of course, I have twins. And Twin V still wanted to snorkel. Fortunately, he was content to go with his friend Dayton, who pulled him around the reef on the life belt for almost an hour. And in the afternoon, he did it all over again with another guide. I was so proud of that little guy!
Meanwhile, once Twin S realized he would not be forced to go into the water, he turned into a sweet, cooperative, fun-loving child. And once I realized that my son is an autonomous being with his own needs and desires, I turned into a sweet, cooperative, fun-loving mom. He and I explored the island and lounged in hammocks, which was not what I intended, but it wasn’t the worst way to spend the afternoon.
The Great Blue Hole! Today was the day we were scheduled to snorkel around the rim of the Blue Hole, the mysterious submarine sinkhole at the center of Lighthouse Reef. The Blue Hole is probably Belize’s number one tourist destination, mostly attracting divers who descend to investigate the Hole’s massive underwater stalactites (which are pretty amazing, I can now say from experience). But non-divers can also appreciate this World Heritage Site, as it’s pretty thrilling just to snorkel around the edge, admire the pristine reef and peer down into the abyss.
Twin S and I had a talk. I knew that I had made a big mistake the day before, and I was not going to repeat it. But this would be our last opportunity for snorkeling (and I still really wanted the twins to have another great day snorkeling). So we reached an agreement: Twin S promised to get in the water and give it a try, and I promised that he could get out of the water whenever he wanted.
Twin S bravely fulfilled his side of the agreement. He was scared his hand would hurt, but he did try to swim and snorkel. (He’s not waving in this picture; he’s trying to keep his hand from getting wet.) And then he had had enough.
Shortly thereafter, Twin V decided that he too had had enough (perhaps deterred by the deeper, cooler, wavier water). So the twins climbed back onto the boat, where they were apparently content to watch the snorkelers and feed crackers to the sea chubs (which eventually attracted two reef sharks!).
I got to stay in the water and snorkel almost all the way around the rim. I have to admit I was disappointed the twins didn’t stay to see more. But then I regained my senses and appreciated my solitude, as I was free to swim with schools of blue tangs; socialize with the Nassau groupers; and spy on trigger fish, angel fish, squirrel fish and parrot fish.
Most importantly, I was reminded (again!) that my children are autonomous little people, whom I can guide but not control, and who deserve my compassion not coercion.
Days later–after a week full of adventures–I asked the twins what was the best thing we did in Belize. My heart soared when Twin S answered with hesitation: “Snorkeling”.