Sea Turtles, Snorkeling, and Slashing Expectations
Have you ever envisioned something in your mind, but when reality set in, it didn’t look the way you pictured? It’s like “expectation versus reality” smacks you square in the face.
Our last family vacation definitely didn’t go how I pictured it. I spent forever trying to plan excursions that the whole family would be happy with. It was nearly impossible.
We couldn’t zipline because my youngest isn’t old enough, and my husband’s afraid of heights.
We couldn’t snorkel with baby sharks because that’s way too scary for my 5-year-old.
Riding the cable car over the trees to see the view? Yeah, that couldn’t happen, either. (That fear of heights strikes again!)
Finally, I landed on snorkeling with turtles. I could see it: my husband and I holding hands and laughing together, the kids not far away, all of us pointing joyously at the beautiful sealife. Like those old resort commercials. Surely this was the perfect excursion, right?
Little did I know what was coming.
I really thought it was going to be a fabulous experience. But then the crew on the catamaran started fitting us for snorkels and flippers. Cue instant panic.
My daughter asked, “We have to breathe with these?!” The whole family looked at me in shock. Suddenly, it was occurring to me that we’ve spent most of our free time in Florida, but I never once thought to get my kids used to snorkeling around the ocean… or even a pool for practice.
There we were on a boat with 100 other people. I knew that, as the mama, I had to to lead the charge. So I leapt off the boat first, ready to see some turtles! My youngest followed quickly behind me. He was gleeful one moment, and scared to death of the turtles the next. He got back on the boat and decided to watch from “safety” instead.
I flipped through the water to find the rest of my family. I ran into my husband, who was swimming in the opposite direction.
“Come on, let’s see some sea turtles!” I exclaimed.
“Nope, I’m going back to the boat. I swallowed too much salt water.”
Suddenly my fabulous vision wasn’t feeling very fabulous at all. I couldn’t help but start thinking about all the things I knew I shouldn’t.
A once in a lifetime experience and half of my family is sitting it out.
And worse… Why can’t we be like everyone else?
I kept swimming until I noticed a crowd of other snorkelers. They had found a turtle! It needed to come up for air, so we got a front row, eye level view of the big guy before he took off back under the water. I was elated! But, somehow, still thinking all the things I knew I shouldn’t be.
Where are the girls?
Why isn’t Kyle here? He should see this.
We’re supposed to be holding hands and pointing at sealife underwater like in all the commercials.
Right there in the middle of the water, surrounded by turtles, I had to make a choice. I needed to rejoice in the ridiculousness. I slashed my expectations and looked for joy in the moment. I swam off on my own and saw so many amazing things in the water. Stinging corals! Brightly colored fish! Eels! And, wait a minute, what was that? My daughter!
“Mama!” She was so happy to see me. I asked her what she had seen, so thrilled that one of my family members was still in the water.
“Two turtles and lots of fish! Let’s go!” She grabbed my hand and we glided through the water – the way the commercials said we would.
It didn’t happen the way I pictured it. But it did happen. And it was even better than I expected.
While stopping to look at some beautiful purple fish, we came across something amazing. A huge conch shell on the ocean floor. “Try and pick it up!” I whispered to her, hoping our guide wouldn’t be disappointed in us for doing so.
We dove down together. The water was deeper than we anticipated so it took us 3-4 tries. I grabbed the shell – which was bigger than both my hands – and charged up to the surface. I showed my daughter and she squealed.
“Oh my gosh, mama! There’s a crab in there!”
We laughed and decided together to put it back. She swam back down to put him in his rightful place, and when she resurfaced she said something I won’t forget.
“That was the best part about today!”
I agreed wholeheartedly. Though my inner voice tried to tell me that it wasn’t what I planned, I know it happened exactly as it was supposed to.
Isn’t that one of the most important lessons we can learn? Life is never going to go exactly as we picture it. Especially when you have three kids under 10. We can either let mom guilt, shame, and regret get the best of us, or we can shift our mindset to focus on the good, letting go of what we can’t control.
I’m so happy that’s what I did this day. It meant creating an unexpected and beautiful memory with my daughter – one that wouldn’t have happened if I decided to throw in the towel.