One aim of our journey had been to give our children opportunities to experience things they would never otherwise see or do. We set up activities that were educational as well as entertaining. Edutainment, if you will, which often took us to places we would have otherwise shunned as being too touristy. To keep us on track with their education, we were part of a home schooling program from a school called Wondertree. This was a government approved ‘school without walls’, based in Vancouver, BC, with a curriculum largely focusing on the Self Design program, developed on our own Sunshine Coast. Using a very holistic approach, we worked with a learning consultant and the student to create a curriculum that would meet everyone’s needs. We made weekly reports on the learner’s progress in a variety of subject categories, and would record their hours online.
The result was that the learning consultant could keep a school record in the same way they would in a regular classroom, and the learner could have flexibility with the education process. All progress and activity is registered with the BC Ministry of Education, and is in line with the provincial curriculum. Funds are made available to the learner for the purchase of supplies and experiences with a reloadable VISA card. This makes it much easier financially when taking the whole family to the zoo, although doesn’t quite afford a trip to the International Space Station.
There is a fair bit of flexibility for what we can consider educational, and so had a bit of leeway in how we can use our funds. On the road, you can’t carry a lot of textbooks, so life experience became the textbook. This provided us with the perfect reasoning to try ‘Snuba’ diving. The beauty of Snuba (think snorkeling and scuba) is that you need minimal training, minimal gear, and anyone aged 8 and up can do it.
In Snuba, you wear a mask and flippers, but rather than have air tanks on your back, they’re kept on a raft floating peacefully above you. A 20 foot hose provides the air to the breathing regulator, which allows for a less cumbersome (although more limited) experience. You are taken out to a small sheltered reef at a depth of less than 15 feet and allowed to roam around with the sea critters. It is a safe, gentle way to experience the wonders of the underwater world.
We showed up for the brief training session, and were fitted with our gear. Cyrus is one of the skinniest eleven year olds I know, and the weight belt they used for the eight year olds was hanging off him. Better that it be a problem that encourages him to float, rather than to sink, I reckoned. We waded out into the water and put our masks and regulators on. We were given time to adjust to breathing the canned air, which does take some getting used to.
My initial reaction after putting the regulator in my mouth was that I wasn’t getting enough air. They warn you that if you feel this way and react to it, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You must relax and accept that you’re getting all the air you need, even if it does taste a little like the inside of a tin can. Panic can easily make mountains out of molehills. After a minute or two of getting comfortable, you’re told to put your flippers on while sitting underwater.
That was easier said than done. I’m sure I looked a bit like a drunken seal, flailing about with my artificial fins, but I managed to slip them on and get them buckled, and looked over to see how Cyrus was doing. He was sort of flopping about, and the assistant instructor was trying to lash his flippers on for him. I lumbered over to see if I could help, but in the 20 minutes it took me to walk the ten feet, they had gotten it under control. I asked Cyrus how he was doing, and he commented that he found the breathing awkward, but that he felt OK. The group was moving out at this point, and the head instructor was obviously trying to keep things to a tight schedule.
We followed them out, and at this point, I must confess to my only known weakness as a human being. OK, far from my only weakness. But my wife has made me promise not to reveal my others on pain of tickling. I have an intense and completely irrational fear of water. Not of drinking it, or looking at a glass of it. Not even of seeing it in every direction as far as the eye can see from 30,000 feet in the air. No, my fear is of being in water over my head, and not being able to see below me. If the water is crystal clear, no fear. If I can’t see my feet, panic sets in.
One may pause here and wonder if I metaphorically fear my own subconscious, or if I simply fear the unknown. Perhaps I have some forgotten trauma from my childhood. I like to think that I was eaten by a shark in a past life, thus absolving me of any responsibility for the issue in this lifetime. Here I was, about to come face to face with a fear that has plagued me all my life, and I felt exhilarated.
Cyrus seemed to take comfort in the fact that he was holding onto the small raft as we floated out, and as we got deeper, I could feel my fear growing. We finally got out to our dive site, and I realized that the only way to deal with fear was to go through it. Or at least I think I heard that in a movie once. Or maybe it was a self-help book. Anyways, I let go of the raft, and swam down into the unknown depths.
There is a certain calm that comes from going through your fears and facing the beast head on. In this case, the beast was a school of brightly coloured fish all swirling about the coral rock formations searching for food. I was so transfixed, I forgot all about my concerns, and enjoyed the sights around me.
I could see all around, and had nothing to be afraid of! I was now in a position of deep knowing. My mystery had been solved, and to paraphrase an American president, there was only fear for me to be afraid of. This under world that had kept me feeling terrified for all these years was home to some of the most tantalizing beauty I had ever seen! And this hidden realm covers most of our world!
It didn’t take long before I started looking around for Cyrus, to see his reaction to the wonders around us. I finally spotted him above me, still clinging to the raft. I swam up to see where he was at. “The breathing thing is kinda hard to get used to,” he said, obviously struggling with the prospect of trusting this mouthpiece and hose as his lifeline.
It began to dawn on me that I should have spent more time with Cyrus at the beach, making sure he was comfortable with the whole process. It also dawned on me that the instructor should have seen to that as well. But, here we were, and it seemed like there was no point in turning back. We were, after all, only a few hundred feet from the beach, and the water was only 12 feet deep. We were as safe as houses.
I started trying to coax Cyrus. My reassurance was enough to convince him to stick his face under and try breathing and viewing. After a minute, he pulled his head up. Despite my hope that the beauty of it all would capture him and make him forget his fears, he was still having difficulty. I offered him some more reassurance and invited him to join me on another dive, but he seemed content to just float on the top, despite my repeated pleas.
I spent most of the rest of our time exploring in the small area we were limited to. Just the sensation of weightlessness alone was enough to leave me full of exhilaration, and being surrounded by the sea life shed some light on the world that lies below the surface.
In the end, I couldn’t convince Cyrus to dive down, but he did get to experience the life aquatic from the newfound perspective. I suppose I received as much education as he, in that I realized where the line between meeting my fears and meeting another’s needs must be drawn, and that there is only so much you can do for another person; there is a point where they must be ready to meet you and conquer their own fears.