So of all of the stories to tell from our trip to Australia (and I hope to be telling a few more in the coming days) this is the one that sticks with me:
It takes two hours on a fast boat out of Port Douglas to reach the Great Barrier Reef, and when we get there and tie up there is nothing, and I mean nothing but a very blue Coral Sea stretching out in every direction. In spots, where the reef is, the turquoise becomes greener or bluer depending on the depth. But it is a big, big ocean no matter how you slice it.
As soon as the boat settles, the group of 20 of us begins to don wetsuits and flippers. Some get into scuba gear, but we opt for snorkels, even Tess and Tucker, just 10 and 8 now, whose eyes are darting between the gear and the horizon. Tucker, I can tell, isnâ€™t sure how he feels about all of this. Itâ€™s a lot of water, and heâ€™s heard the â€œsâ€ word mentioned. But heâ€™s getting ready. My own heart is pounding as people start slipping into the waves, and eventually, when itâ€™s my turn, I swallow a couple of mouthfuls of sea water before I relax and get my breathing down and put my mask into the ocean.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I look up and see my incredible daughter already skimming the surface by my side. She pops her face out of the water, and sheâ€™s got this look of total amazement, eyes wide, magnified by the mask, smiling around the snorkel. Another moment, and Wendy is there, and when I look for Tucker, heâ€™s standing on the back of the boat, trying to dig inside and jump in with us, but hesitating. I flipper back and ease him in the water; heâ€™s got a noodle floaty thing under him, and the wetsuit is buoyant, but as we swim farther from the boat, I can see the panic in his eyes.
â€œCâ€™mon, Tuck. I got you. Itâ€™s beautiful, wait â€˜til you see.â€
â€œI canâ€™t, Daddy.â€
Heâ€™s swimming like a puppy, head way out of the water, kicking frenetically.
â€œRelax. Take a deep breath, just like we practiced.â€
He tries to breathe, but it catches.
â€œJust put your mask in, youâ€™ll see. Breathe through your mouth.â€
He tries, but the water and the moment is too much. Itâ€™s too big. And he shakes his head and turns back toward the boat.
But behind him, one of the boatâ€™s divers appears and she gently takes his hand and puts it on a life preserver and then waves me away. I hear her say â€œItâ€™s ok Tucker, Iâ€™ll take you with me.â€ Heâ€™s holding on with both hands, and I offer a thumbs up. He nods slightly, and I swim away.
The reef is amazing. The coral. The fish. The colors. Wendy Tess and I group up and head into the chop and wind, pointing out what we see, me trying to take pictures of it all. I try as much as I can to relax, to become one with the ocean, a part of the fish, to take it all in. â€˜I may never see this again,â€™ I tell myself, and for a few moments, at least, I stop moving and just float. And watch.
And a few moments later, it gets even better.
Itâ€™s Tucker. Heâ€™s kicking toward me, alone, smile on his face. That same look of awe as his sister wore. He reaches for my hand and says â€œItâ€™s so cool!â€ And it is. We swim along that way, eventually meet up with Wendy and Tess, and spend much of our time just floating with each other, trying to imprint the moment in our minds.
At some point, the boat diver reappears and has the kids hold on to the preserver as she starts to explain what we are looking at. We watch her dive down and point out a giant clam, and she brings up a small sponge for us to hold before letting it sink back to the sea floor. Thatâ€™s the moment captured above. Of all of the 700 or so pictures we snapped on this trip, I think that is my favorite. You want engagement? You want learning? Thatâ€™s it. Two kids, absolutely in the moment, soaking it up in every way. I love Tessâ€™s face, how intense it is. And I just love the fact that they are both there, Tucker fighting through his fear and, hopefully, learning more about himself as well.
I spent a lot of my time this trip watching my children learn as they fed wallabies in the wild, snuck up on kangaroos, chased after wild parakeets, played rugby with Aborigine kids and watched an Australian Rules Football game among many other things. It was, as my son said, â€œso cool,â€ and I feel so very fortunate to have been given that opportunity. I learned much as well.
Technorati Tags: australia, great_barrier_reef, learning
Ewan McIntosh says
Yay! This is the kind of story I love. It reminds me of taking my 42 kids to France every year on the school trip and taking them through their first snail or frogs’ legs, or getting them through their fear of heights on the Eiffel Tower. The fear, the metaphorical or literal holding of hands, the breakthrough.
What’s amazing is how bad some educators get at doing this the more they leave the classroom and join the administration. They’re not prepared to be the instructor or the ‘dad’, holding the hands of the fearful and letting them see the light.
Take your story as a metaphor for what US education admins have to start doing. Sometimes ‘dad’ just has to go away a bit and leave an outsider to, for want of better words, work some magic. The admins will come back one day as excited as we are.
Chris Miller says
Having been to “the reef” and experienced the same thing as an adult, I cannot wait to take my daughters some day. When learning is good it feels just like seeing one of Earth’s natural wonders for the first time.
Will, Not only are you a great advocate for educational change but you are a wonderful role model for dads. Not because you took your kids to a cool place but because you so obviously love facilitating their learning. If more parents did this, teachers would have a much easier time of it.
Gary Christenson says
What a beautiful picture. Cherish it! Your experience reminds me of the summers we spent in Colorado when the kids were small. They learned so much by being immersed for a month each year into new surroundings. We never made it to Disney World, but we did hike mountain tundra and meet up with moose in the meadows of the Rockies. Best of all, my kids, now grown, tell me how lucky they were.
Just wanted to say welcome back. I have missed your posts, but this story was worth the wait. There is nothing better than being “in” a learning moment together with your family. The awe of discovery, the exhilaration of doing something outside your comfort zone, the new connections made to previous things learned, and most importantly, being able to experience it with the ones you love most…wow, truly priceless. Thank you for allowing us a glimpse.
Gary Stager says
Which boat did you take?
I hope you got the chance to go into the rain-forest above Cape Tribulation too!
I was jaded and ho-hum about going to the rain-forest since “school” has done such a fabulous job of beating the subject to a pulp, but was blown away by the natural beauty, diversity and ingenuity. Some plants can kill you. Others store water in their trunk and then their branches stab themselves to get nourishment. Feral pigs brought by the British for hunting tear up tracks of land like a monster truck and coral is found 2 miles in-land.
I was so taken by the rain-forest that I decided to go stay in a secluded eco-lodge by myself for three days about ten years ago. My wife loves telling the story of how I told everyone that I would be off the grid to recharge and refresh for a few days. Within six hours she received an email from me saying, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I begged the proprietor to let me plug my laptop into his fax line so I could get online.” (This was during the Clinton presidency)
Your children might enjoy this story…
Last year we took a day-long 4WD trip from Cairns to Cooktown. As were discussing how incredibly rare the nearly extinct cassowary is one walked right in front of our jeep.
Next trip you have to see the stars from Uluru! The sky is white at night.
My children have learned many important lessons while traveling – too many to mention. Perhaps the best lesson is, “the world’s a good place.”
My all-time favorite piece of learning technology is made by Boeing.
Will Richardson says
@Ewan…funny, I was thinking of giving my kids away to teachers who are passionate about what they are doing.
@Dottie…thanks for those kind words…but remember, I only let you see the good moments! It’s not nearly so rosy for my kids in real life. ;0)
@Gary C…what’s Disneyworld?
@Gary S…believe it or not, a cassowary walked right in front of us too…the only time we left the camera in the trunk. By the time we got it, he was gone. Rare, wild bird indeed.
Gary Stager says
Was it the same cassowary?
They’re either like Bigfoot, Elvis at the 7-11 or hardly endangered.
David Warlick says
Tell me you didn’t have your iPhone in the water.
Looks like a blast!
— dave —
When I took my kids out to see the reef in 2000 the comment of the tour operator was “You’re lucky to be able to do this. They won’t be able to take their children to see it, because it won’t be here”.