The other day one of the moms in our moms group posted about how her neighbor had an alligator in her garage and how scary that was! Now I have to admit, I'm a second generation Florida native, AND I work in the woods for my career, but that would scare the begeezus out of me, too! They also frequently post about how they saw a snake in their yard where their kids were playing and what to do.
Well, folks, as a conservationist, a biologist, a Florida native, and a mom I know that this is Florida and we are a swamp. People that have moved here have tried hard to tame this swamp and make it so it is liveable. Famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte Broward tried to drain the Florida Everglades, farmers have diked and drained rivers and lakes for the nutrient rich muck soils, we have tried to keep ocean water from coming in with sea walls and jetties, and we have removed fresh water by turning it to tide when it rains too much. Yet still, the reality is, Florida always wins. Tropical storms and hurricanes come and flood cities, ocean currents tear down walls. There are still alligators, there are lots of snakes. The result of mosquito control is more mosquitoes and every air conditioning unit in this hot, humid, sweltering place breaks down in summer.
So what is a mom new to Florida to do to coexist with their families and the wild Florida nature? I thought I'd put together a list of things to know about Florida life with kids. Scroll down to see what we're up against and how to survive. And as the Florida Gators stay, "WELCOME TO THE SWAMP!"
1. If you leave a bath tub sitting long enough you'll get a gator in it.
That's a Florida-ism that means any body of water could have an alligator-anywhere. Its kind of an exaggeration, but not really! Florida is a swamp and alligators are a part of life. They are the mascot of our beloved University of Florida, Florida Gators. Alligators are the official reptile of the state of Florida! They were once on the verge of extinction and through conservation measures they have bounced back, being downgraded to threatened on the US Endangered species list. That means biologists have worked hard to help alligators, there are many protections in place for them, and they are here to stay. Moms should read as much as they can about them. Be vigilant when around our many lakes, ponds, borrow pits, and water treatment retention ponds. Never feed alligators and never wade into these water bodies at dawn or dusk. Kids should always be supervised around water. Here is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Nuisance Alligator program contact phone number.
2. Assume snakes, lizards, something that is buggy or bites are everywhere.
The other day our neighbor came screaming to our back porch. Alarmed, we went out and tried to understand what she was saying. She had a snake on her porch where her kids had been coloring just a few minutes before. My handsome snake charmer husband came to the rescue, picked it up with his bare hands, and relocated it quickly. One lady even had a water moccasin under her couch cushion! Most Florida snakes are not venomous and are more scared of you then you are of them, but that doesn't mean we don't still freak out when we see them! Even grown men, cowboys that grew up in the woods, SCREAM like a girl when they see them. The instinct is to whack them with a shovel over and over again, and then some more, to be sure they are dead and gone. There's just something about a slithery, blithery snake.
So, what do do? Just be on the lookout for snakes in Florida. They aren't out roaming everywhere all the time, but they could be anywhere...does that make sense? Read up about snakes and understand which are venomous. The most common here are Dusky pigmy rattle snakes, Cottonmouths, Eastern diamondback rattle snakes, and Coral snakes. Don't worry about the red on black friend of Jack saying-don't go near them at all!
They can be in grass, bordering conservation areas if your house backs up to one of those in a subdivision, on hiking trails and even on playgrounds, like the one at my daughter's school last month. PLEASE don't kill them because even that is dangerous, and they are part of Florida nature and have a right to be there. If you do feel a need to kill them, DO NOT touch them afterwards. They can still strike, even with a separated head. Here is a good website with photos to help you identify snakes: Florida Natural History Museum.
3. Check pools and kiddie houses before kids play in them.
Here is just a good rule of thumb. There could be snakes, alligators, or just little frogs in your playground or pool, even if you have a screened in pool. Just check!
4. Lightning is no joke. Don't mow your grass, check your mail, or pump gas during a storm.
Florida is the lightning capital of the United States. That means during our summer rainy season we get daily thunderstorms that come with one MILLION lightning strikes a year! If you see a storm blowing in while at the beach, leave immediately, even if you know it will just be a 10 minute shower.
5. Prepare for the sun in sunny Florida!
There are 246 sunny days per year in Florida! That means in cool, crisp winter and during long, hot summers it is sunny. Therefore it is usually hot and humid and there is much risk for sunburn. Be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go to the beach or pool. Then keep applying! Apply every hour or so that you are in the sun because water and sweat wear off the sunscreen. Don't forget to apply on the ears and feet as well.
Be sure to get baby gear that is all light colored. You don't want to purchase a black stroller, black car seat or black baby wearing gear. Baby wearing gear comes in mesh so look for those models. Don't cover strollers or car seats in strollers with blankets, even white shear ones. They can cause strollers to rise in temperatures quickly and overheat babies and children.
Dress kids in light material and if you can find clothes with SPF in the clothes, go that route. Be sure to make cold water available to kids at all times. And lastly, DO go outside! Get used to the Florida heat and embrace it! It will help you get acclimated more quickly. There are plenty of hot weather activities to enjoy like splash parks, pools, beautiful beaches and springs!
So what does all of this mean if you're a mom new to Florida? It just means that yes, we ARE a paradise with our sun rising over the ocean, we have the option for a daily beach visit (although we rarely exercise that option), and you won't ever have to shovel snow again. But we are also still a swamp! And the swamp creatures like alligators, snakes, and even Florida black bear and Florida panthers are here to stay. They make "Old Florida" a unique paradise in and of itself. We have invaded their habitat so we must be understanding of why they are in our backyards, even pools and garages. But that doesn't mean it isn't scary as we try to protect our children every second of the day. Just be vigilant and educated as you enjoy our natural Florida wonders. And...Go Gators!
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