Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kissing Dolphins

Last week in Hawaii, E and I went swimming with dolphins.

It had been an emotional couple of days, and a "super-fun awesome adventure," as E likes to say, seemed to be in order as prescriptive therapy for all of us. When I spotted a "dolphin experience" package that 3-year-olds could participate in, I was sold. (As an added bonus, this discovery helped heal E's still-raw wounds after needing to be 4 in order to ride the "horsey ride" at Legoland...)

I've always wanted to meet a dolphin.
E's animal-obsessed.
We couldn't wait.

E sat patiently on my hip in the water, frail and shivering in her too-large life jacket, eyes fixed on the dolphin trainer as she explained about the dolphin's anatomy ("Dolphins have belly buttons TOO, Mommy!") and how they learned to communicate with humans. I was so proud of E for listening carefully, paying attention, following instructions not to splash or kick (the noise hurts the dolphin's ears.)

After demonstrating the proper hand signals to kiss, hug and dance with the dolphin, the trainer asked for volunteers.

E raised her hand.

She didn't say a word. She didn't look at me for approval. She didn't show one shred of hesitation.

She just raised her hand high in the air, confident and calm.
And smiled with pleasure when the dolphin swam to her.

When I found out I was having a daughter, I promised myself I'd never compare myself to her. I wanted to give her an absolutely blank slate to form herself upon, a free pass to learn and explore and form her own opinions without fear of judgement or disappointment from me. If I had to make one wish for her, it's that she'll grow up braver and happier, smarter and prettier and wiser than me.

Because I want her to have everything I do...times a million.

But in that moment, I couldn't help flashing back to my own childhood. When I lived in fear of being picked first for anything. I rarely raised my hand in class, even if I knew the answer. I spent hours trying to shrink into the scenery during kickball games and school dances and field trips to the aquarium.

I never volunteered.

Even right that minute, I was quaking in my bikini at the thought of needing to volunteer for dolphin face time for E and me. Even though I'd signed us up. Even though kissing dolphins was why we were standing here, freezing in a waist-high ocean water tank, waiting our once-in-a-lifetime turn to meet Flipper's long lost cousin.

I never could have raised my hand like that. Not even as the fearless-Mommy adult I'm supposed to have become.

But E did. And it was the proudest moment of my life.

Sweet E, I'll spare you the comparisons, the stories about my own too-shy childhood. I will only say this:

You amaze me.

Your bravery, your quiet confidence, your sweet, gentle disposition that makes you a natural for kissing dolphins--all of that inspires me.

"I think he likes me," you whispered as the dolphin nuzzled your cheeks and nose. When he kissed your lips I could swear he was smiling.

But not as big as I was.


  1. Aw! Such a wonderful moment! And what a wonderful little girl you are raising, mama! Way to go!

  2. I couldn't possibly love this more. Beautiful, Jenny. Just beautiful.

  3. Oh oh oh!!! That brought tears to my eyes. When you said she raised her hands, I could tell it was huge, but when you explained WHY it was so big, I wanted to cheer. Because it mans you've done what you set out to do! You haven't turned her into a smaller version of yourself. You have given her the power of her own strength, and she is rocking it.