Eating their faschables

manateesThis picture from Animal Planet’s River Monsters shows host Jeremy Wade feeding some gentle manatees, also known as sea cows. It reminded me of an epic care giving adventure.

When we lived in Southern California, there were a few years during which Joey seldom slept.  He would catnap now and then, but he would be up at all hours and Melissa and I suffered lots of sleep deprivation taking turns with him.

One 4th of July, he was up at a hellishly early hour. It was my turn to get up with him. I realized I was not going to have a holiday sleep in, so once the sun came up I decided to load him in the car and drive along the coast, hoping to relax him.

In my bleary state, I drove onto the freeway and kept going for over an hour, finding myself in San Diego.

On a lark, I drove over to Sea World to see if it was open for the holiday. Sure enough, the gates were opening.

Joey was surly. Getting out of the car in a strange place, to his mind, means “work” – that he’s going to be put on the spot to respond to other folks and do stuff not of his own impulse. He was making agitated noises, clenching and unclenching his fists and scrunching up his face as I paid the admission.

We walked around, Joey complaining all the way. He stopped a couple of times and even took off in other directions. I kept coaxing him, obeying all the rules about staying calm and giving him constructive options and all the other blah blah care givers have to do in place of normal parent yelling.

A breakthrough came at Penguin Encounter. Inside the cool, dark and quiet exhibit, Joey calmed a bit. He was entertained by the way those waddly birds were impressive torpedoes under the water.

Then we went into a manatee exhibit. Again, it was dark, cool and quiet. A wetsuited diver was in the tank, hand feeding the big critters whole heads of lettuce.

“The manatees eat the faschables” was how Joey vocalized what he was seeing. He was fascinated. Years later, you can ask him what the manatees eat, and he’ll respond with that same answer.

We went on to have a wonderful father-son holiday. He laughed himself silly when I told him that a black Pilot Whale was Monstro from Disney’s Pinnochio. We sat in the “splash zone” of several animal shows, and he cracked up at being doused with cold seawater. We went to a play area and climbed and slid. We found a place for him to have his personal pizza. We hand fed dolphins, avoiding aggressive sea gulls who tried to snatch the sardines.

It is one of those care giving days I think back on with happiness. A “success,” an impromptu victory over the stress and challenges.

And most of all a joy for Joey.

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