What it is Like to be Caught in a Rip Current

Ripcurrent

I’ve heard about the dangers of rip currents all my life, and have also been taught how to escape their powerful pull. I had always assumed that being caught in one would feel like suddenly being pulled away from the shore. It turns out that it can actually feel like nothing at all, and you often don’t realize you are in one until you are in real danger. And I never REALLY thought that it would happen to ME.

Let me rewind. Last week my family went on a mini-vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The winds were 10 to 15 miles an hour the entire time we were there, and the surf was very active. Some areas had red flags, but some had yellow. My children had been waiting all year to swim in the ocean waves, so on our first day we decided to travel to a yellow flag area and swim in front of a lifeguard to help ensure safety. Nags Head had even employed hang-gliders to help monitor the ocean from above (that has got to be the Coolest. Job. EVER.). In the Outer Banks there are a lot of areas with steep drop-offs right at the water’s edge, but we found an area that had a sandbar not too far out. It helped us enjoy the water without being in very deep. My husband and I were very cautious, kept our children at arm’s length, and tried not to get in water that was above waist-high. We also didn’t stay in the water longer than an hour because we knew the dangers of becoming overtired. We had a fun and uneventful afternoon, and in hindsight I think that made me overconfident.  Continue reading

Jellyfish in the Baby Pool: Protecting my child with special needs

pool fun

All parents want to protect their children. We are constantly on guard, looking for potential threats. Parenting a child with special needs often requires an extra measure of caution, because problems can hide in the most innocent of places. Where some parents see fun and merriment, we may only see danger, potential meltdowns, or sensory overload.

An experience we had many years ago on a family vacation comes to mind as an analogy. My husband and I took our two small sons to the beach and it was a lot more work than we expected, partly because our toddler and preschooler had distinctly different sensory needs at that stage. My oldest child spent most of his time avoiding the sand and crying “Dirty, dirty…” under his breath. My youngest, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the sand. He would sit and eat it by the handfuls.

sticky fingers                      sand feast

After a while I was exhausted and decided it was time for “easy.” We headed to what I thought would be a safe haven: the baby pool at the beach club. After a few minutes of play I stepped on something squishy at the bottom of the pool. I picked it up, and to my horror realized I was holding a jellyfish. A JELLYFISH. In the BABY POOL! A man saw my reaction and said nonchalantly, “Oh yeah. my kid was playing with that. It doesn’t have any tentacles!” I was appalled. Why would anyone take a risk like that with the safety of small children? Not to mention the fact that a baby pool doesn’t need any extra organic material, if you know what I’m saying. Not wanting to take that man’s word for it that no one could get stung, I disposed of the jellyfish. It was a wake-up call to me that there was something potentially dangerous in an environment that should be protected.

As my children got older, and my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I realized that the world is full of “jellyfish in the baby pool,” so to speak. Other parents of children with special needs know what I am talking about. Experiences that may be perfectly safe or enjoyable for typical children can be dangerous or overwhelming for a child who is physically or neurologically different.

Dinner out as a family? Lots of ways you could get stung by jellyfish. Taking your kids with you grocery shopping? Jellyfish. Public school? Jellyfish. Amusement parks? Jellyfish. Trick or Treating? Jellyfish. Dentist appointments? Jellyfish. Enjoying the latest Disney movie at the theater? Jellyfish. Haircuts? Jellyfish. Playing outside with other children? Jellyfish. Easter egg hunts? Have mercy. (If your child can get through the waiting for the start of the hunt then you sure as heck better have some emergency eggs stashed in your pockets just in case the hunt itself doesn’t go well.)  Chuck E. Cheese? Actually, never mind that last one. I’m pretty sure all parents feel the same way about that place.

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