We arrived at the beach and were immediately surrounded by sharks.
I took it as a bad omen.
The decorating scheme of our beachside condo threatened to ruin my hopes of playing with my son in the ocean again.
This boy once loved to swim in the ocean waves. But, for more than a year and a half, he’s been gripped by a new fear of the water. He can’t describe his hesitation, but he’s dropped a few clues that his anxiety might be about “sharks coming in the water.” No amount of coaxing in the last few trips to the beach has helped him face his fear. Last year, on this same beach, he refused to get his feet wet.
His anxiety didn’t keep him from being ecstatic to be at the beach and to spend time with his grandparents. The first few days of our trip, my kid walked and ran and played in the sand. But he still steered clear of the water.
Although he never visibly reacted to the shark paintings adorning the walls, we could hear him occasionally muttering “shark” and “ocean” and “swimming.”
One morning early in the week, he pulled up a video on his Youtube app – the one showing the “Jaws” attraction at Universal Studios.
Nope. I thought. He’s never going back in the water.
But by the middle of the week, he surprised us all.
First, he ventured out to walk along the wet part of the beach.
Then, his toes just touched the water.
I tried to keep my enthusiasm subdued, play it cool. We stood back and whispered to each other – look at him! he’s doing it! way to go, kid!
Whenever he was near the water, he wouldn’t let us get too close. He needed to do this without interference.
We watched from a short distance as each day as he gradually reintroduced himself to his old friend.
We threw a ball in the water, and he allowed the waves to play catch with him – a game he will rarely sustain that long with another person.
By week’s end, my boy wasn’t swimming, but he was splashing in the water up to his knees.
Grinning with glee and loving it.
I am so proud of my kid for overcoming his fear and reconnecting with a favorite joy.
All on his own. In his own time.
Take that, sharks.