Dolphin Therapy

The main reason we chose Mexico for our trip was for the dolphin therapy. My friend Betsy already had a dolphin trip planned for her family and somehow it fell into place for us to go at the same time. Our vacations were separate, but our stays overlapped, so that we shared our second day at the dolphin center with them. It was perfection to share such a special experience with such a dear friend! Betsy’s son is 18 and profoundly affected by autism. Her husband is an MD who specializes in overall wellness and also autism. They do good work.

This is us on the first day, getting acquainted with the dolphins. The woman with us is Macy Jozsef, Director of  The Dolphin Experience, Living from the Heart Dolphin Therapy. She is awesome. Riley took to her and trusted her immediately. We’d walk down the streets of Cozumel with Riley holding her hand, leaning all over her. It’s an energy thing. Riley responds to love.

Riley was excited to see and interact with the dolphins, but still quite tentative in the water. She absolutely did not want to swim in the deeper section and was content to stand on the shallow landing. This dolphin’s name is Amizcle (Uh-MEEZ-Clay). He is huge. About 600 lbs. He eats 75 pounds of fish per day.  Riley said many times throughout our time with him that he reminded her of her service dog Jingle. Again, it’s about energy and both animals are sweet, playful, helpful (and she liked that they both have pink on their noses).

We had three sessions our first day. In between sessions we were allowed to go to a tiny private beach on the Dolphinaris property. It was there Riley found her own bouyancy for the first time in her life. She had a breakthrough earlier this year, and was finally able to put her face in the water but had not yet gotten the buoyancy concept in her body. We kept the life jackets on, and I carried her out onto the soft waves. She straddled my waist, like a much littler kid, and we bounced and floated, and twirled. Looking up into the blue sky, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is what I wanted for you when you were tiny.” We missed this developmental stage. Her nervous system was so very jangled at the time. She had always been so anxiety filled in the water, she was not light or bouyant at all. She was certain she would sink, and she would have, all contracted like that.

In and out of the water all day. She played in the sand. Laughed and played with Seth. Ate PB & J. More dolphins. Back in the water, holding my hand she finally, truly, got the feel of floating. She was sitting back, relaxing, bobbing along in her life jacket. Holding my hand, but basically doing it herself.

During dolphin therapy, there is a lot of time to socialize with the dolphins, interspersed with moments of receiving sonar. Hear, Amizcle is offering sonar directly to Riley’s head. Sonar is similar to an ultrasound. If you’ve ever had ultrasound used on a sore muscle, it’s kind of like that. It immediately relaxes the body. Sonar would be for a minute or two, and then more playing and fun. Todd and I tried it and both of us felt like wet noodles coming out of the water. It puts you in a total zen state. Beuno cool.

Our next session with the dolphins, we all swam out to the middle of the pool, with Riley clinging to mine and Macy’s hands. We were proud of her for stepping off the landing and coming into the deeper water. I held the back of her life jacket to stabalize her as the dolphins swam past so she could reach out and pet them with one hand.

The third session, we did the same, only this time, she deliberately let go of my hand. There was Riley, floating in 13 foot deep water, reaching out and petting humongous dolphins which slowly kept weaving their way around us.

And then…she surprised us all by agreeing to do this:

Seth did it first and his bravery surely inspired his sister. Todd and I both took a couple of dolphin rides too. They are so strong! Their bodies are pure muscle, and they go super fast, although Riley’s went a bit slower with her, thank goodness. It was a smaller female dolphin that she rode. The dolphin trainers were very intuitive and respectful about what the kids needed. They didn’t push, but at the moment they felt there might be receptivity, Riley was on that dolphin before she could even think about it. And she was so proud!

Seth recieved many sonar session too. We hoped it might help his PANDAS and at the very least, anything that relaxes the body is going to have a positive effect. They even did some sessions together, head to head or feet to feet.

This next photo is one of my very favorite photos from the trip. I just love the tiny boy juxtaposed against the enormous dolphin. Such a gentle majestic, beautiful creature Amizcle is. And any time I can see Seth without his hat, I love it.

Here is HT, getting a smooch from a sweet girl dolphin.

Here I am, loving my good, good kids.

Macy joined us for dinner a couple of times. Her story is interesting. She survived breast cancer decades ago, and felt a strong pull toward dolphins as part of her healing process. She continues to use meditation fueled with dolphin imagary to maintain her vibrant health. This was particularly poignant to me since my friend Clarissa, who made the trip possible, died of the very same disease.

Is there anything more beautiful to a parent than the sight of your children sleeping peacefully? Especially with sun kissed cheeks? I think not. Dream, dream, little ones. Dream of dolphins and floating, and blue water and sky.

Tomorrow, we hit Cancun.

Proud Little Mermaid

If any of you read my contribution to the Special Gifts anthology, you would know about our early experiences with swimming pools and Riley. The sensory bombardment of a locker room, a hot day, bright sun reflecting off the water, people splashing, the strong smell of chlorine, kids squealing, cold water, adult chatter. It was pure hell for Riley as an extremely sensory defensive toddler.

Throw a new baby into the mix, and us living in an area with no family what-so-ever for support and swimming was put on a back burner. Important, yes….but so many other things had to come first.

She’s taken private one-on-one lessons but it was a delicate thing. With her intense anxiety, if you pushed her too hard, you would never get her in the pool again. So, she’s eleven and still can’t swim.

We went for her second lesson this week with a new teacher. It is a different way to learn.

It almost reminds me of the floor time we did when she was little. The teacher rocks her like a little baby in the water. Riley looks completely blissed out. The point is to get her to enjoy and be soothed by the water. When you are tense, you can’t move your body effectively to swim. So by relaxing her, I mean REALLY relaxing…I swear her brain is being re-patterend.

As Riley walked over to the pool to meet her teacher Monday, Seth and I joined hands, closed our eyes and I led him on a gorgeous meditation, where we saw him and his sister on vacation somewhere beautiful, swimming freely, enjoying the water. We imagined Riley underwater like a little mermaid….pure joy.

After that we read a little from a Cricket Magazine someone had left on the table. The next time I looked up, I saw my daughter go underwater up to her goggles. Mouth and nose submerged.

WHAT?

I held my breath.

The next time I looked up, I saw my daughter go completely under water, remain there for a second, then come up smiling.

WHAT?

And then she did it again. And again. And again.

And I cried.

This was her second lesson. And no, she can’t swim yet. But she has overcome the most monumental hurdle, and it won’t be long.

Great, now I’m crying again.

Talk amongst yourselves.