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Vaincre vos peurs en pratiquant la plongée !

Now that the chicks are out of the nest I'm nurturing a new side effect--fearlessness. Okay not exactly fearlessness, but I'm finding that I'm more drawn to crazy antics than I used to be. Perhaps this effect is common in empty nesters--or at least with the baby boomer ones. Were we not the VW bus driving, world-changing, stickin' it to the man, try-anything generation? There must be some latent drive lurking beneath my ex-helicopter mommy exterior--and dammit--it's getting my attention. So I crammed my not-so-perky butt into a wet suit, strapped 16 pounds of weight around my waist (apparently I'm very buoyant) and jumped in. And immediately FREAKED OUT.

There I was in the ocean, treading water like a madwomen, embarrassed and humbled. What happened? I aced the pre-ocean part of the lesson. In the swimming pool I was amazing--a scuba diving machine if there ever was one. I was practically one of those Discovery Channel shark chasers. My mind frantically tried to grasp where things went terribly awry...

On the boat I was excited. I even had built-in inspiration. A couple in their freaking 70s taking on a 100 foot dive with three generations of their family. My new heroes -- maybe I could be one of their kids for the day. I was in awe.

We dropped anchor and the septuagenarians headed down (with their REAL children -- the heartless brats) leaving us newbies behind. The strapping on of the paraphernalia got underway. Before long, I stood there with an air tank on my back (air is WAY heavier than one would think), a weight belt and an extremely binding vest with fifty bazillion tubes hanging off of it. Overwhelmed, the meaning of the tubes started to escape me. Led to the edge of the boat in flippers with little peripheral vision because of the mask I was wearing, I began to unravel. This was not cool.

I switched on my panic mantra (people do this everyday and do not die, people do this everyday and do not die...) and jumped in. Needless to say, after making it down about a whopping five feet, I gave the distress signal (the only thing I remembered from the swimming pool) and was hoisted back onto the boat like a defeated whale. Not my finest moment.

The kindly boat captain and I became fast friends as we sat alone for 45 minutes while everyone else was having the time of their lives. I was angry, jealous and resolute. Luckily, this was a two-tank drive. I had another chance and I wasn't going to blow it.

The elderly couple (who I now hated with every fiber of my being) climbed out of the sea like Jacques Cousteau and started talking (with my husband, no less) about all the fabulous creatures they saw. Now I was REALLY angry, jealous and resolute. Apparently, this is the very mindset I needed to be in.

I jumped in again and down I went along the safety rope. My instructor, the very patient Shelly, stayed right in my face. I was petrified, but I was determined (people do this everyday and do not die...) terror would not win this time. Reaching the end, I clung to the bottom of the rope like it was my job. At this critical point I realized that my main fear was that I was sinking when I normally would be floating. Being a control freak, this wasn't sitting well with me at all. My brain was telling me that if I let go of the rope I would continue to descend slowly until I was stuck forever on the ocean floor. I had forgotten that I had fins, strong legs and a capable instructor. I let go.

Shelly took my hand and lead me to a sting ray hiding in the sand. Kneeling close by this strange and beautiful creature, my Darth Vader breathing noise transcended to a calming yoga-like hum. The ray, deciding it wanted nothing more to do with us, got up and "flew" away. I gave chase. I hadn't even realized that my fear was gone. I was one with the ocean.

Next step--certification. And, just maybe, I'll have my own Discovery Channel shark chasing show--all I have to do is punch the mean ones in their noses, right?