Every July, my kids set the TV for the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and then hide the remotes for seven days. (Yes, I said “remotes,” plural. Why do modern televisions require, at minimum, two gadgets just to turn the damn thing on and off? I don’t know, but they do. And both disappear.) This is Megalodon‘s big moment, and the children will not have it spoiled by the adults who would rather binge-stream something R-rated on Netflix on a hot summer night.
If you’re wondering why my husband and I don’t simply exit the den and head to another TV elsewhere in the house, or even slip on some headphones and retreat to our individual laptops, it’s because our beloved offspring want us to watch with them. To make murder by shark a bonding family experience, so to speak.
Never mind that much of the quasi-scientific coverage of what lurks beneath has been proven to be pure bunk. That’s beside the point, Mom, they tell me, eyes rolling heavenward. The fun is to be found by sitting back and enjoying the pervasive, sometimes indecipherable Aussie accents issued from the mouths of struggling actors playing brainy marine biologists—who, it follows, are pretending to pursue the mysteries of the bloody, watery deep.
Also: homicidal sharks. They’re pretty awesome, too.
The kids don’t realize how their parents are still recovering from their own childhood shark terror, and by this I refer to Jaws, of course. Whether you first saw this chomp fest in the theater as a prepubescent when it premiered in 1975 (and, honestly, if you did, I might question your parents’ decision-making); enjoyed repeated viewings on Home Box Office, as we quaintly called HBO in the early-1980s; or caught it during summer screenings in the now-extinct drive-in movie theaters that still drew crowds during your high school years, the movie likely left a bite-size psychological scar on your impressionable brain. Do you remember the screaming headlines during the height of Jaws fever about people being afraid to swim in rivers and swimming pools? Or even take a bath?
Suffice it to say, it took us a long time to get back into the water (40 years or so).
Now our kids force us to, and they demand we do more than just daintily dip a toe. “Shark Week” is a full-on submergence for seven straight days. Thankfully, the feeding frenzy ended on Sunday—yes, just in time for our upcoming family beach escape. (Those Discovery programmers should be thrown into open water with some chum as punishment for their purposeful timing.)
As I set out for the shore with my own clan quite soon—our first such holiday in three years—where, yes, my husband plans to go surfing, I realize I’m going to need some serious coping strategies. This is because I’m feeling traumatized, all over again.
Perhaps it’s best to look to Jaws for some therapeutic inspiration:
1. Pretend I’m the mayor of Amity Island: Deny, deny, deny! No one wants to ruin the summer tourist season, least of all me. Especially since my husband and I are paying for the experience to splash in the waves with our kids some 250 miles from home, while boosting the local economy through airbnb. Just call me Mayor Vaughn (played in the cult classic with slimy aplomb by actor Murray Hamilton) as I smile broadly and pretend that all is well. I’ll even blithely signal to my loved ones to join me in the water! Really, it’s lovely! Come on in!
2. Adopt a cool, scientific remove like Hooper’s. Denial works well enough when you’re only knee-deep. Once those waves hit your upper thighs, however, all bets are off. The only way you’re not thinking about Discovery’s Bride of Jaws, aka “Joan of Shark,” is to assume the curiosity and obliviousness of a scientific mind—like the slightly crazed Hooper, as emoted by a young Richard Dreyfuss. “I wonder what just brushed against my left leg?” might be your initial line of inquiry. (This approach lasts approximately four seconds—the amount of time it takes to frantically reach land again.)
3. Drink like a fish, as salty, seafaring Quint does. A better, smarter approach may be true oblivion, as found at the bottom of a bottle of sauvignon blanc (or a few Coronas, or whatever soothes your sails). Give me a few drinks and I might even be up for singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” before skinny-dipping alone in the ocean at midnight. (Cue the Jaws soundtrack: Duh-dunt. Duh-dunt…dunt-dunt-dunt-dunt, dunt-dunt-dunt-dunt…)
4. Take to the water in something that floats, even if it’s as dodgy as the Orca. If all munchable appendages (arms, legs) remain safely out of the water, there’s nothing to worry about, right? Right. Maybe I’ll stick to jet skis and evening cruises, and try not to recall the Great White monster that ate Quint’s creaky vessel, right after making a meal of our brave captain.
5. Be like Brody. Sure, Amity’s police chief was scared. And, no, few moviegoers expected a bespectacled Roy Scheider to save the day. But if all else fails—if I can’t get Discovery’s Monster Mako, Return of the Great White Serial Killer or Sharksanity 2 out of my mind—then I’ll just do as Brody did: strap myself with a harpoon, a pressurized scuba tank and a rifle. Then hope for the best.
We’re just a few weeks away from heading to Cape Cod for that fun and costly family getaway—where, it’s been reported, two Great Whites were just spotted yesterday off the coast of Chatham.
Thanks, kids. It seems we’re going to need to a bigger boat.