We Saw Shamu! (Part II)
The life of a never-been-married, non-custodial parent is one of small increments. You raise the bar, up the ante, and give yourself increasingly demanding challenges until you finally feel like you're a real dad.
Sea World, and it's heaving throngs of like-minded aquatic enthusiasts, is one such challenge.
I figured we'd face a level of insanity and chaos on par with, say, the minor league baseball games we go to in the suburb north of town -- busy, loud, and with a larger sampling of potential Jerry Springer guests than we're normally accustomed.
But holy crap was I wrong.It is giant. It is vast. It is enormous. It is a -- if not the -- overflowing melting pot of humanity. That Saturday was one on which TVs sat silent, phones never rang, and barely a whisper was heard on the vacant streets of towns throughout Texas -- because every single person in the entire state was at Sea World.
It was a population of souls driven by one, singular mission: to enjoy some quality family time (because damnit, we paid for it, and so help me God, we're gonna have fun whether you LIKE IT OR NOT). There was a sense of community -- one in which every member understood that cutting in front of someone else's kid would result in certain death.
And I know why they came, and I know why it's so important. Trips like this are a big deal -- especially at Edan's age. It's a time when you're always on guard -- always trying to work some extra special bit of parenting magic -- because one of these moments is going to be her very first memory of you. Couple that with the fact that, for me, there's no permanence -- only probably. I don't get the same guarantees that Edan will be in my life forever, just because I'm her father.
So these moments count.
* * *
The best parts were the "firsts." As I've mentioned before, when you don't live in the same house with your child full-time, you inevitably miss a lot of these little milestones (like first words, or first steps) that most people take for granted.
So I was excited to be there for her first roller coaster ride. Now, it's worth noting that, like Edan, I went on my first roller coaster when I was just tall enough to do it. When I wobbled off the ride, pale-faced and petrified, I remember sitting on a park bench, trying to collect my brains, noticing remorse -- and a hint of fear -- in my father's voice for the very first time. I was so happy that he thought I was man enough for the Junior Gemini, and he was scared he'd scarred me for life.
It's one of my earliest memories of my dad.
And that memory was running on repeat as I watched Edan, who was watching the riders before her, trying to decide if she was about to die. I was so nervous as I waited at the exit -- right up until I saw her smiling, running towards me shouting about how awesome "and SCARY!" her experience had been.
I was so proud. She's so big, and so much braver than I was.
Later that afternoon, with the temperatures creeping into triple digits, I thought about what Edan might remember as I jogged the two miles through the park, out to the car and back to Shamu stadium (because we were going to do everything at that park, and everything meant swimming, and that meant retreiving my daughter's suit before the whale took the stage).
The thought of missing the look on her face when she finally saw that whale was way worse than the thought of passing out from exhaustion -- so I pushed through the melting pot, and had no problem explaining (red-faced and gasping for breath) to some rather disgruntled parents that I'd be cutting in front of them and their children in order to sit with my daughter who was about to see Shamu for the very first time WHICH IS IMPORTANT SO PLEASE MOVE.
My fellow Sea World patrons stared at me, aghast, wondering who amongst them would deliver punishment for such an egregious breach of our community standards. But I sat down just the same.
And maybe it was just the heat stroke talking, or the reduced amount of oxygen getting to my brain, but I couldn't help tearing up as I watched Edan cheer for the whales, knowing I'd been at least partially responsible for one of the best days ever.