I heard his tell-tale screeches from all the way down the beach. A young boy, around eight by my best guess, clearly thought he was going to die of pain. I stayed out of the pandemonium at first, trying not to be the (nosy) kind of person who tells someone else how to do their job, but his parents were turning themselves around in circles, picking up and dropping towels, dumping water bottles onto his skinny, paralyzed little limbs and making a wrinkled, sandy mess of their perfect pallets near the water’s edge.
They were jellyfish virgins, it was clear.
I used pure drama to get the kid’s attention. It was a sensational performance, be assured. “Hey Everybody! I live here and I know exactly what happened! You’ve been attacked by a jellyfish and I’m afraid the only thing we can do is pee on it. Dad, can you do it or would his sister be better?” I stared at the kid, pretend-waiting for an answer, and he went dead silent. He took a huge step backwards, holding his arm and shaking his head before bellowing out a resolute “Nooooo!” from in between his returning sobs. Dad’s comic radar of my impromptu ‘hysteria’ didn’t skip a beat. “Perfect!” he said, “I have to pee anyway. Come on Will! We can do this!”
Will was beyond horrified. And since Will was, in fact, an eight- or nine-year old boy, he thought there was something kind of gross and awesome (if not alarming) about the idea of his dad pissing on his arm. Sister, age five or six, was giggling hysterically at the prospect, yelling “You’re gonna pee on the beach, Daddy? WHAT!”
Mom was a little more afraid of me at first, and horrified I’m sure, that a jellyfish sting might kill her child right in front of her, based on his brain-rattling wails. I reassured her with a wink that I was an old pro on jellies and that I lived ‘right there,’ pointing to my house nearby and encouraging her to believe in my expertise.
Make no mistake, I told them all, jelly stings were just a normal part of swimming in the ocean.
I returned my attention to Will and said, “If you can make it for five minutes, the sting goes away and already, two have passed. You’re almost there. OR… (shrugging) we can pee.” While I let him think about it (but not really), I asked him if I could show him what had actually happened. He opened his towel for me, revealing the strips of pink welts on his stomach and his right arm. Oh yeah, it was indeed a gnarly jelly, I’ll tell ya that. But he was fascinated by my lesson on jellyfish bodies and how that poor jelly was probably just swimming along minding its own business when they quite literally just bumped into each other. “He can’t help it that his tentacles are three feet long” and I assured Will that jellies don’t ever mean to sting anyone. The tears had stopped by then and I was on a roll.
It was getting dark so the family packed up their things while I asked the kids if they wanted to see where some baby sea turtles had hatched.
Well, of course they did.
I did the warmer-warmer-colder-warmer game until both kids were standing on the exact spot where 97 Loggerheads were born this past summer. We talked about how they all crawled up through the sand and into the world and then headed in all directions following the moonlight before finally making it out to the ocean. I also announced to them that sea turtles eat jellyfish, although I don’t even know if that’s true or not, and that turned Will into a pretty smug little dude.
The little girl told her dad the whole story again verbatim as we all walked up the boardwalk together. She didn’t forget a single detail. Before we said our goodbyes, I told them the dolphins swim right by their spot on the beach every morning and they assured me with wide eyes they wouldn’t miss it for the world. Turns out, they were from North Georgia and dolphins were quite a big deal it seemed.
Then Will said to me, “Are you an ocean teacher?” “No,” I replied, “just a regular teacher.” No big deal.