Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Adventures with Children and Boats

Ava and I are both first children. We got the first crack at most things and didn’t have to bid our time until we were big enough to do something our siblings were doing. The significance of this experience wasn’t fully appreciated by either of us until the arrival of Polly, our second child. Now, each day we get a reminder of how influential that birth order is…

My parents live in a house on a lake. As such, they have the requisite dock and a pair of vehicles for moving around on the water – in their case a jetski and a 21 foot cruiser. The boat used to spend its weekends pulling around skiers and crazy teenagers on inner tubes. Now, it mostly leaves its cradle for a nice sunset cruise or to ferry people from one place to another.

How the kids would handle the boat had been an item of discussion between Ava and I prior to our trip to my parents’ house. The last time we had visited them Polly had not yet been conceived and Pip had been too young to go out on the boat. So this would be their first opportunity to take a ride and we could only guess how they would react to it. With the noise of the engine and the force of a twenty mile an hour wind hitting you in the face, a ride on the boat hits a lot of senses pretty hard. I felt like Pip would be okay, but was not sure that Polly would understand enough to be able to enjoy it.

The first full day of our visit with my parents brought us the opportunity to find out. We decided to visit some of my parents’ friends on the lake and make use of a small, shaded beach these friends had created on their property. The quickest, easiest, and cleanest way to get there and back was by boat. Pip had gotten the chance to go out on the boat for a short while the evening before and, after a warming up period, had found that he liked it. As Polly did not get this kind of test run, we debated some over whether to drive Polly over by car. Ultimately, we decided to let her give the boat a try. It turned out to be a somewhat rough experience.

To start with she did not like her lifejacket. It was a black and yellow infant model designed to keep a young child’s head upright should they accidentally fall into the water. This made it extra bulky, particularly around the neck. When Ava first attempted to put it on Polly, Polly made her displeasure well known. After a few minutes however, Polly settled down enough for us to continue on with the experiment. She waddled down to the dock looking uncomfortable, top-heavy, and quite suspicious about what was to come next. We hoisted her into the cabin area of the boat and set her up on my lap so that the windshield could block much of the wind. As we slowly pulled out from the dock her little chocolate eyes flipped back and forth between Ava and I letting both of us know that this was not her idea of a good time. When my dad ran the boat up on to plane, Polly went to a special place. She let her legs and arms go limp. Her face held no expression. Her only movement was to periodically squint when I inadvertently let too much sun hit her face. It was as if I was holding an inanimate doll on my lap.

Once we got to our destination and got off the boat, Polly came back to life. At the beach she happily got out of her life jacket and set off to play in the sand. She spent a good hour digging holes with a stick and splashing in the first few inches of water at the edge of the lake. But when it was time to go, she went through the same process again. She fussed while we put on her life jacket and then went to her special place while the boat was in motion. I guess that’s what she needed to do to make it through the ride.

A couple of days later my parents wanted to take Pip by boat to see one of the lake’s long-standing institutions. One of the marinas has over time built up a herd of a large catfish like fish called carp. On the back side of the dock where this marina has its gas pumps is a eight by ten foot area where people have for at least thirty years fed popcorn to these fish as a way to pass the time. The herd now is a couple hundred in number and when you throw a handful of popcorn to them the fish start jumping and splashing all over the place in their efforts to suck up every last floating kernel. Its quite a sight, and my parents rightfully thought Pip would get a kick out of it.

We talked about whether to bring Polly as well but given her discomfort with her first boat ride, I decided to keep her back at the house. While Pip and my parents went out, I would give her a bath and spend some one-on-one play time with her.

So, when the kids woke up from their nap that afternoon, my parents told Pip what we had planned. He was very excited and ran over to where the life jackets were kept. Polly was sitting on my lap at the time. When she saw Pip coming back to us with his life jacket in his hand, she quickly got up and, without making a sound, toddled over to the life jackets, picked hers up, and brought it back over. She stood directly in front of me and dropped the jacket into my lap. My parents barely held off a peal of laughter, but Polly was determinedly matter of fact about things. The look on her face said, “He’s not going anywhere without me.”

For a moment I considered trying to dissuade her but quickly realized how foolish that effort would be. So, we got both kids suited up. Polly grimly allowed us to once again buckle up the jacket around her neck and once again she went to her special place until the ride was over.

Both kids enjoyed the carp immensely. Pip threw popcorn, and Polly watched intently as the bodies and tails of the fish flopped around the surface of the water. My mom got some great pictures. But there was one picture she did not get that I wish she had. It was of Polly walking back up from the dock after we had returned home. Bobbling along the sidewalk with her life jacket still in place, there was a look of accomplishment on her face and almost a swagger to her movements. I could easily imagine her saying “I am the second child, and I will not be left behind.”

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