Dealing with Alligators: Tips from a Florida Girl

I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and have spent plenty of time in and around alligator infested waters. Below are my tips for avoiding an unwelcome encounter:

1.) Assume there is an alligator in the water.
They live pretty much everywhere. We have a small retention pond in our backyard. 90% of the time it is alligator-free, but since that 10% exists we have to keep an eye on it. Don’t think that big gators only live in big rivers. My husband once saw a 14-foot gator swimming in the Little Econlockhatchee. We’ve even seen gators swimming in salt water!

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I bet there’s a gator in there… (Black Bear Wilderness Area, Sanford)

2.) There’s a saying in Florida…
If you see one gator there are 10 more lurking right below the surface. I have no idea if there is any scientific proof to this saying, but it seems like a good rule to live by.

3.) Do not be afraid.
It is a good idea to be cautious and respectful of alligators. It is a bad idea to panic and make a big scene. If you are near the water and you see an alligator your best bet is to slowly walk away. If you are in the water and you see a gator do not splash or act distressed. Typically, they are more afraid of you than you are of them.

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Getting close to a gator in a controlled setting is best. (Midway Airboat Rides, Christmas, FL)

4.) Stay away from the grassy parts.
Every Floridian knows alligators nest in the grassy part of the water. Lilly pads, thick algae and debris make great cover. The water is usually full of tannins in those areas too which makes it difficult to see below the surface.

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The grassy parts… stay away from the grassy parts (Christmas, FL)

5.) Don’t go in if you’re not confident
I’ve been swimming in Florida waterways my entire life. I always weigh the risk before getting into the water. If its gator mating season or if I’m in a stretch of river known to be the home of an aggressive gator, I will not step foot in the water.

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Just chillin’ by the water’s edge at 30 weeks pregnant (Flagler Trail, Econ River)

6.) Do not swim at night
I would never swim or walk along the edge of a Florida waterway at night. (See number one if you are confused as to why.)

Dear moms, We cannot protect them.

It’s a harsh statement, isn’t it? We cannot protect them.

There’s something so primal about giving birth. As we grunt, groan, scream and curse our bodies into releasing new life into the world, something else triggers too. We become animal. We become overwhelmed by an uncontrollable desire to protect the tiny human that just came out of our bodies. We may even literally snarl at anybody who comes too close. You know the saying, “I would die for you?” We moms know that isn’t a dramatic expression. It is the truth.

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Seem familiar, mama?

This isn’t going to be another mommy blogger post about how the Internet-of-moms should band together and support a mother who is being criticized because something tragic happened to her child. My goal here is to simply bring attention to the truth.

We cannot protect them.

Mother nature/God/The Devil/Whatever you believe in is stronger than us. Our babies can be taken away from us in an instant.

Truth is, it is insanely easy to forget how fragile our lives are. It takes a freak event, like a toddler getting killed by the jaws of a gator at the Happiest Place on Earth, for us to realize that the one thing we love with every fiber of our being can be suddenly ripped away from us. (I do apologize for the cliches, but its the truth.)

Here’s the thing though: We can’t let it dictate our lives.

Yes, last week an alligator killed a child at Disney World. But I live in Florida and we will still canoe, kayak, and swim in the waters.

Yes, last month a child slipped into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. But my son enjoys animals and we will still visit the zoo.

Yes, last month four young sisters were killed on their mother’s birthday when the SUV they were riding in crashed on the way home from a trip to the beach. But I like to drive and we will still travel together as a family.

Yes, last week 49 people were killed by a gunman at an Orlando nightclub. But I enjoy a good drink and I will still stop at a bar to socialize and have a beverage.

These tragedies become “news events” because they are rare. We cannot let our own quality of life suffer out of fear. Have fun and do your best to keep them safe,  but in the back of your mind know even the strongest mamabear is no match for mother nature. We cannot protect them. That’s why we must love, teach, and cherish our children every single day.

To my son: You are already changing the world.

Here you are, 9-months-old, happily jumping in our bedroom doorway. You are so sweet, so innocent, so unaware of the circumstances of today. 20160612_125802

Today a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub and killed at least 50 people. The FBI is calling it terrorism. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and it happened in the town we call home. I have been to that nightclub before, celebrating a friend’s birthday years ago. I can picture what it looks like inside. There are a bunch of white couches and mirrors and two bars where people dance and party. Everybody I met there was kind and fun. We danced. We laughed. We had fun.

Last night that fun abruptly stopped. A man full of hate came in with a gun. He tore apart dozens of families. I’m assuming at this point (because so much has yet to be determined about the shooter or the motive) that he did it because the people inside were different from him. They have a different lifestyle. They have different religious beliefs. Some of them, perhaps, live by a different moral code than the majority of society. So, he killed them.

What I want you to know, my sweet boy, is that there are terrible people in this world. At some point, someone will hurt you. Your job is to be one of the good guys. You don’t have to love everyone. You don’t have to agree with everyone.  But you do have to respect them. Let your voice be heard. But speak with only your mouth and mind, never with violence.

That said, you do have the right to protect yourself. Always protect yourself and those whom you love. Only then is it acceptable to resort to violence. Understand that I am talking about true, physical danger: a threat to your life, not to your lifestyle.

I could be cliché and say I’m scared of the world you will be raised in, but I am not afraid. You are already changing the world, my sweet boy. I see it in your eyes. They are full of kindness. It is my job as a Mother to make sure that kindness never goes away. And there are thousands of babies born every day to parents who feel the same way.

Yes, we live in a time of terror. But I believe this is only a hiccup in history. I have faith that your generation can fix the world. But I am sorry it falls into your hands. You are amazing, my sweet boy.

Love,
Mama