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.