Even though I’m a Florida native, I’ve only visited the “real” Key West once. Key West at Sea World? Oh gosh! Too many to count. It’s one of the key (Get it? KEY?) stops for our family because of the Stingray Lagoon.
Walking up to the 40,000-gallon habitat you may think a roller coaster is nearby. Actually the occasional little-girl like screams are from grown men and women getting their first splash from one of the inhabitants or perhaps an unexpected brush from a fin. (And, OK, sometimes the screams really are from little girls and boys, too!) They need not be frightened, though. These gentle creatures are just looking for a hand-out… literally.
“Say, that hand may have a delicious fish, squid, or other treat for me. Yum! Please, human, put my seafood where I can see it… between your fingers, longest piece up, and then lay your hand flat on the bottom. I’ll swim by and suck it right up! And I don’t bite.” Or perhaps he or she wonders if the hand will offer a nice fin rub. (Just don’t grab their tail. You wouldn’t want someone grabbing yours!)
Since my son was old enough to stand he’s loved dipping his tiny hand over into the cool water. And bonus! The water is teeming with splash-inducing slimy things, just perfect for a snips-and-snails kind of little boy who wouldn’t mind in the least getting soaking wet in the process!
Being the photo-obsessed mother I am, I often camp out anywhere except right next to whichever family member or loved one is holding Daniel. Sometimes I go directly across the lagoon, or occasionally I take up a position catty-corner to where they’re leaning over the low wall. Getting a bit farther away from the action helps get that perfect shot. I’m smiling at the memory of a couple of those photos. One shows a chubby 18-month-old face… eyes closed, face wet, grin as wide as his fat little cheeks will allow as a single black fin can be seen poking out of the water with JAWS-like determination. In another my “full-blown” toddler bravely thrusts his hand into the swirl of velvety ray bodies as they jockey for position in hopes that this little hand will give a back rub. Or some food. His face beams with “big boy” pride. “Those guys are so silly, Mommy! Did you see them splash me?”
We easily spend an hour or more in Key West, Sea World nearly every visit. Yes, it’s a perpetual splash zone, and yes we spend a lot of time at the nearby clean-up sinks (only to walk away still half-baptized by our slimy sea friends). The joy of connecting with marine life in such a personal and meaningful way, however, far outweighs the minor inconvenience of a soggy son. He’s soaking up not only water, but knowledge… about his world, and his place in it. Experience with caring for and loving our fellow Earth-inhabitants is key to helping young minds develop the habit of conservation and kindness. And to think, I have some of those fun, teachable moments on film.