Fear and Loathing in Lahaina

Ah. Sitting on the beach on Maui. Well not at this exact moment. No internet access down there. I don’t think the wi-fi goes quite that far. Though the condo we’re staying at is pretty darn close to the beach.

But anyways, now that I’ve gotten my gloat in…

Sitting on the beach. You might think that this wouldn’t be the best time to devise a new blog post. You would, of course, be wrong.

It wasn’t actually the sitting on the beach part that got me ruminating about blogging. It was the snorkeling. Which involved, for me at least, some sitting on the beach beforehand deciding just how badly I wanted to do it.

You see I have a phobia of the ocean. It’s just so damn big. And deep. And it has a lot of forces going on, many of which I am not able to deal with, using my puny human body. It’s scary. At least for me. With my phobia.

Now, I have made a lot of progress over the years to work on managing my fears. I actually have a tendency to attempt to face my fears head on and learn from them. It’s one of the reasons I taught middle school for my first year of teaching. The idea of teaching tweens scared me, so I decided to do it. And it turned out to be hard, but fun, work. And I’ve dealt with my ocean fears in similar ways. I go on boats, I wade in the water. I even go swimming in places like Maui, where the water is nice and warm. But I don’t go out very far. And usually I don’t put my head under water. Part of that is due to the fact that I wear contacts, so I don’t put my head under any water without goggles on or squeezing my eyes closed really really tight. And part of it is due to being scared.

Luckily, I have a very supportive boyfriend, who is willing to come back from snorkeling and haul me up out of my beach chair and drag me into the water–because he realizes that, deep down, I really do want to go in. Just kidding, everyone. Avery didn’t have to drag me in. I went willingly.

You see, I love snorkeling. I love seeing all of the fish and the coral and even a few scuba divers. It is so cool. And I refuse to let some stupid fear stand in my way of doing something awesome. Though if it weren’t awesome, I would never set a toe in the water. Roller coasters; I’m looking at you. Not awesome. We don’t need to do that ever again.

However, I don’t snorkel often enough to just dive right in without any hesitation. Anyways, somehow or another I got myself into the water, and into my fins and snorkel mask. There are pictures of that somewhere. Ugh. Probably not to be posted anytime soon. Avery and I kicked out to the reef, which was right near shore and started seeing sea urchins living on top of the coral and fish swimming around. I saw some really neat fish. At some point Avery popped his head up out of the water and I did the same and he asked me how I was doing and what I wanted to do. I was doing fine. I wanted to keep going around the reef. Apparently that meant going out even farther from shore so we could swim around the rocks. Nervous, but undeterred, I said that would be fine and got my face back in the water.

One of the things that I find so scary is being far away from shore. If I’m looking at the coral reef I can’t see how far away the shore is. Problem (sort of) solved.

The other thing I’m scared of is not being able to see the bottom. Addressing this involves a combination of swimming in the right places and a willfully contrived ignorance of the fact that there is a huge drop off right over there. I see the deep part, swim away from it, and then pretend that it isn’t there. Not particularly sensible, but it (again, sort of) works. I remember one time when Avery and I were snorkeling in Florida, where I literally held his hand and closed my eyes when we swam over a deep, dark part out to a shallower sand bar where there were cannons that had been dropped under the water.

So, I have my coping strategies for being away from shore–denial–and for deep water–avoidance. God, when I put them that way it sounds horrible. But I’m being honest here.

In any event, I have some coping strategies for dealing with my fears about the ocean. How many of our students have some sort of strategy for dealing with their fears about math? Is it a part of our job description to help students with “math phobias” develop some methods of working with their fears? Should it be?

Ideally we’d like all of our students to not be afraid of math. We want them to enjoy it. But perhaps there are some kids out there who, like me, enjoy doing the math once they are involved in the process, but who for whatever reason are scared to get their feet wet. How do we help those students?


Note: I am not actually staying in Lahaina. But Kihei didn’t work with the alliteration. I think they call that “poetic license.”

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