I watched across the sunlit lake as my son, Simon, and his camp counselor, JD, were fishing for sunfish. It was Simon’s third day at Camp Little Rock for children with visual impairments in Medford, New Jersey, and more importantly, it was his first time fishing. Simon is blind from retinopathy of prematurity and he was determined to catch a fish on this muggy August day. I was at the camp as a volunteer-slash-helicopter mom, teaching a dance class as well as helping out with various tasks throughout the one-week experience. Trying to contain my tendency to hover too closely, I decided to sit on the other side of the lake (equipped with my video camera) to quietly observe his inaugural adventure in the patient art of fishing. The camp is on the grounds of a YMCA in the pine barrens of New Jersey. The activities include boating, swimming, arts and crafts, a challenge course, horse-back riding, adapted sports, and lots of fun.
After what seemed like endlessly fruitless bites on his line, Simon’s fishing rod started to tug and tremble. He called out for help and held tightly onto the pole. JD, another volunteer named Jim, and the camp director, Tina Fiorentino, came running to his side, watching the splashing and thrashing at the end of his line. In a familiar hand-over-hand technique I watched (and filmed) with glee as Tina showed Simon how to reel in his line, JD cheered Simon on, and Jim reached close to the water to grab the large stubborn bass trying to escape. Simon couldn’t see their faces, their eyes popping with shock and excitement, but he could hear their shouts of encouragement and thrill. He was yelling along with them continuing to hold on to that dancing fishing pole.
Ultimately, the fish got away. A collective groan could be heard around the small crowd of campers and counselors that had assembled around Simon. We learned that they had been trying to catch that same fish all week. It swam away and remained an elusive challenge.
Simon’s time fishing was not in vain, however, and the disappointment of his Moby Dick-like moment did not deter him. Not long after the one that got away, Simon caught a small sunfish. He was smiling and jumping around like Ahab catching the whale and I watched as Jim gently took Simon’s hand to let him feel the fish. Simon has some sensory resistance, so he was hesitant to explore the wriggling, slippery fish, but he acquiesced and let his fingertips glide along the scales and fins before he pulled away.
I ran across the foot bridge over the lake to congratulate Simon on his new “first.” He and JD posed for a picture with the fish before throwing it back into the lake, and Simon smelled his hand for the fishy odor that accompanies the sport. “Simon!” I exclaimed, beginning my barrage of questions that follows a new experience. “What did you think? How did it feel? Did you have fun?”
“My hands are wet,” he said. “The fish was wet. Why was it so wet?”