Thoughts on Drowning and Other Revelations

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Recently the image of a drowned three-year-old boy on a Turkish beach has awakened something in the world that story after story depicting the horrors of the migrant crisis had so far failed to do. I think the desperation of how bad it is, that’s the point. And the power of that photo to me is rooted in the universal fear of water that’s over our heads that none of us ever gets over.

This story has resonated with me. I don’t wish to downplay the situation there and I think there’s much to be done to resolve it. Hopefully seeing a child done in by the water should be a wake-up call to the world.

While I don’t wish to compare our daughter to that boy in the tragic photograph, I have a certain perspective as a parent: Zuzu is advancing in leaps and bounds in her aquatic education. She’s learning to swim and to be confident around the water. And while I don’t want her to be afraid of the water, I do want her to have a healthy respect for the sea and its unforgiving nature.

I’ll never forget jumping from a dock for a swimming test at a summer camp. Into ten feet of water. I took a couple of halfhearted strokes WHERE WAS THE BOTTOM?!? and proceeded to swallow what felt like a gallon of lake water. A counselor on the dock pushed the end of a bamboo pole toward me to grab and as my wide eyes (I imagine) watched him, the water’s surface closed over my head. The water surrounded me with its cold completely. I’ll never forget that moment, though I don’t think I’ve ever shared that with anyone before.

Now when Zuzu swims I generally swim with her, always ready to crack the joke I learned from Chet Roche. Chester was my folks’ friend and neighbor who was so generous with his swimming pool when I was growing up. He and his wife BJ would have us up to the top of the hill where we lived to swim and dive and use their slide (really probably all ill-advised by the insurance underwriters who seemingly control so much now). At any rate, whenever my older brother Matt or I would surface from his pool coughing and hacking from inhaling a lungful of water, Chet would laugh and say, “Don’t drink my water! That’s expensive pool water!” And it always struck me as funny, because here I was trying to catch my breath and coughing or watching my brother’s face turn a shade of pale blue-gray as he did the same, and Chet—an adult, mind you—was joking around.

I try to do the same to my daughter. Don’t drink the whole ocean, I say. We won’t have anything left to swim in. If you’re thirsty, just ask, we’ll get you a drink. Her eyes fix on me as I say this, as she hacks and tries to catch her breath. Does she get it?

I do. I now understand how it works: Acknowledge her plight but also make light of it. And while it worked to some degree for me, I hope it works much better on her.

That’s what this boat is to me. A way to face up to this and everything else. And show her how to do that too.

Thoughts on Drowning and Other Revelations

Firsts and Bests

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My wife Erica and I were able to confirm a few key things about our daughter and boats. You see, I got an assignment for the magazine to take a crewed charter with my family in the British Virgin Islands with a company called The Moorings. If you’ve never been to the BVI, trust me when I tell you it is truly a beautiful place and a cruisers’ paradise. I don’t think I could really lay out the islands in a more pleasing array, were I given the chance to reach down from Olympus like some color-obsessed deity and place the landmasses in water that ranged from cobalt to cerulean to palest azure. The distances we ran each day gave us just enough boat time to cleanse our palates to appreciate the next spectacular stop. The coves our skipper David Blacklock and first mate/cook Deb Mahan put us in were a terrific combination of views (both above and below the water) and protection (we needed to find the lee of the islands since a couple of tropical storms were playing cat and mouse with each other—and us).

Taking a crewed charter makes it easy on parents too, since we found we can focus on time together and leave the details to the experts. Turns out our daughter Zuzu is great on a boat, and managed to fashion a distilled version of her lubberly life (a few toys, a few new books to read) that worked very well on board. She’s shown a tendency toward motion sickness in the past but she got acclimated well and quickly on our cruise, with a bit of help in the form of carefully considered doses of Dramamine for long or rough passages.

As we ran about an hour to Anegada, an open-water run that we expected would have a bit of a roll thanks to a storm-pushed swell, Erica sat with Zuzu in a shady spot with a fresh breeze and talked as Anegada rose from the haze of the horizon—asking imaginative questions that provided the distraction that did the trick. It’s not easy to explain but watching them talk, the wind drowning out the words, I was as proud of my family as I could be: Watching them because I was concerned about how Zuzu was feeling (Erica’s sea legs put us all to shame), and when our daughter’s face broke into a smiling giggle I knew she felt fine.

We all swam off the boat, Zuzu always in her life jacket as she’s a very new swimmer, and of course we saw a bunch of marine life around. At one point I felt a tingle in the middle of my back, and as it heated up a bit I moved Zuzu toward the ladder. Too late. Some sort of jellyfish fry or an errant cnidocyte got her on the leg. She said she thought she too had been stung, and climbed the ladder, with me right behind her. Deb got her a white vinegar compress as we watched tiny welts rise on her leg. But no tears, and, most importantly, no fear the next time we had an opportunity to jump in.

In fact Zuzu may have indicated some marine-biologist tendencies as she sketched fish from a snorkeling guidebook the crew had on board. Good times and more to share soon.

Firsts and Bests

Five Reasons I Won’t Give Up

I know, it’s a weird title for a blog with just three items. Maybe I’ll add a couple more later.

Ideas Surrendered Don’t Exist

Frankly I’ve realized the ideas don’t come to me as often as they used to. Once it was a constant stream, steady and fast. But now, while the volume rises occasionally, often the flow slows to a trickle. Sometimes it’s redirected elsewhere.

The point is I don’t have many good ideas anymore and this is the best one I have had in a long time. It’s got all the elements: It’s brash (pushing through many facets of the seemingly shrinking box that is my comfort zone) and creative (on many levels).

Problem is, when you shelve an idea or stop doing anything about it, it goes away. It’s not like you can bottle them. Think about the waste. Something must be done.

Casey Neistat

Strangely enough, I had a T magazine dated March 2014 that I kept holding onto (I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat in many ways but I couldn’t seem to get past this one. I’ve tossed it now, as periodicals have a beauty in their ephemeral nature, like flowers, that fades over time). Anyway I kept grabbing it and flipping it open and reading one of the pieces that I was sure was the reason I had held onto it. I read them one by one. Flipping through to find things that interested me until I could chuck it (I know this is outdated since it all exists online, but hey I love print as a medium). I kept thinking I was done, until I got to the last one, a “Wanderlust” feature about Casey Neistat, the filmmaker whom I have come to respect in ensuing research, though I had never heard of him before. This guy pushes it. You can tell he always has. But he’s a little inspiring depending on my mood.

It’s not just this guy. It’s a lot of people. But just now he comes to mind.

It’s the Most Important Thing

In our lives, our daughter is very important. My wife and I are working toward something great here (at least I hope we are, and feel we must be, because sometimes it can feel like a bit of slog), and our daughter is a very large part of the point. We want her to live a rich, full life, and this project is my way of contributing to that as best I can. So, we keep on going.

Five Reasons I Won’t Give Up

Invitations and Showing Up

I think I’m on the right track.

I had a few opportunities with our daughter, to see her and her classmates in action. For one, there was a school field trip. They needed chaperones, and I remembered well that my parents used to pitch in. My father ended up being run through numerous times (make believe, of course) as a volunteer in a sword-fighting demonstration at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts. My mom, on the other hand, made a name for herself among my classmates by following the wrong car as we made our way somewhere in a caravan. That was back when parents just brought their cars to drive kids places and the liability issues that we have today weren’t exactly as hard on school districts… or at least it would seem. Sometimes I’m amazed they still do field trips—so risky!

But it gave me an opportunity to see how our daughter interacts with her fellow students. Maybe it’s a bad example this year because she’s in a class with some really rambunctious kids (both boys and girls), but you can see, even on a field trip, how behavior of a few can influence the interaction of the group. A teacher isn’t teaching much in the way of the subject matter if she can’t get more than three sentences out without having to switch gears completely to mete out discipline. I know they’re young. But I see the results somewhat in her lessons. She’s rushing. And I know she is because I remember feeling the same way at her age: Done is just as good as done right.

That doesn’t work on a boat. It’s focus, but it’s a different kind of focus, one that allows inward as well as outward observation. It’s good for everyone to get that change in scenery and just be there.

The same week of the field trip, our daughter had a birthday party on Saturday. The party was to be at an indoor water park at a fitness facility nearby. Plenty of the same kids were going to be there and when I heard about the party I knew I would be there too. Maybe you think me overprotective but the risk of leaving her there, merely for an hour and a half of free time is not a good tradeoff. I saw another dad from our party clue in a lifeguard to a boy who may have been drowning. I missed it but in the aftermath it was pretty obvious he was in trouble and literally out of his depth. I was glad to stick around.

But it was on the way to the party after picking up a gift at the local toy shop (shop small everyone!) we got stuck in a little traffic jam as a funeral procession stopped traffic as it made a left turn in front of us to pull into the cemetery. As car after car made its way across our lanes and I glanced at my watch, our daughter piped up, “How many people did they invite to this thing?”

It made me laugh. And think. And I said, “People don’t really get invited. They just come. There’s a notice in the paper and the people who knew the person tell other people that the person died. And they just come.”

Invitations and Showing Up

Putting It All Together

Funny thing how opportunities arise unexpectedly, especially when children are involved. Let’s face it, kids can be mercurial, and I think a part of that springs from their innate sensitivity to the world around them.

The opportunity that came to mind was that recently, while visiting relatives, I was offered a second-hand propane Weber grill. Now if you know me and my proclivity for cooking, grilling year-round is a big part of that. I couldn’t say no to the offer, even though the thing had been well used, and was old when my brother-in-law acquired it, and so on (reason after reason not to take it). It worked perfectly, and is even painted dark green to match the shutters on my house (or so I mentioned to my wife). Ah, my wife. Of course she has a role here. After all we had taken her new, pristine car on the weekend away, light-tan interior and all. The thought of shoehorning a sooty, dismembered grill into it made me cringe. As usual she was completely onboard, with a slow shake of the head betraying her good-humored disbelief.

Of course the grill fit. And though some of the loose parts jangled a bit on the way, we had an uneventful and traffic-free journey home.

My daughter, over the course of the three hours in the car seemed to grow very interested in the grill jutting into the back seat. And so when I arrayed the various parts on the patio at dusk after that long drive, she insisted on throwing on her cowboy boots (easy to slip on) and finding a baseball cap (I was wearing one) to help me. And suddenly what I thought was going to be the next day’s project began to come together in the fading light.

The supporting frame and legs of this grill are easy to assemble and have bolts that fit into threaded holes, and my daughter wanted to put a couple of them in herself. I showed her how the bolts go in easily when you have them lined up properly, and of course, by hand, that they won’t go in at all when they’re cross-threaded. I showed her how to try turning it (she has a natural understanding of right-hand thread and which way to turn bolts, faucet valves, and everything else that I wholly lacked at her age), and when it didn’t go in easily and immediately, to back it off and adjust the angle slightly then try again.

It’s just easier to show someone than to explain it (or, it turns out, to write about it). And it’s gratifying to see how she got it, and picked it up so quickly.

This is a very, very small version of what I hope to do with my daughter and the boat: To get her excited about the prospect of doing something together, and learning along the way.

Putting It All Together

Five Factors Relevant to the Project

Here’s a bit more about whys and wherefores of the idea I have, which, if you’re just joining, is to get our daughter on a boat beginning at a young age and, by spending time together on the water, to help give her the tools to succeed throughout her life. I always like a good list to get information out there quickly, don’t you?

  1. A hard look at myself: To be frank I’m not one of these touchy-feely guys when it comes to kids. If you ask anyone they’ll probably tell you, I didn’t like them until I had my own. Girls especially. I didn’t get it, at all. I would meet these doting fathers and say, “Hey that’s great. She’s cute. Did you see my Land Rover?”
  1. All that changed when our daughter was born. She’s the apple of my eye, but it’s because she’s spunky and funny and smart all at once.
  1. I make no bones that this will be an easy boat to learn on—more on that later. I know what I’m up against there, and not just for her. But it’s just like when you first drove a stick shift. No one can tell you how, there’s just too much to it, all happening at once. You must experience it. Get in the driver’s seat. So much in life is like that, no? Try to cast a flyrod once and you’ll know what I mean.
  1. Girls vs. Boys. This is not about that, except where it is. I always noticed that many behavior patterns (aggressiveness is rewarded in boys and frowned upon for girls, but often so is confidence. It’s a real problem and I would say many of society’s problems spring directly from it. I noticed it mostly because my wife pointed it out: In school my daughter gets upset when another girl does better than she in class. When a boy does better, it’s not a big deal. So it would seem that she’s trying to be the best girl in class, rather than the best. Where’d that come from? Well I’ll tell you—it comes from everywhere. I just changed it, but when I started writing this part I titled it “Boys vs. Girls” because that’s the natural order of that phrase.
  1. Why boats? Well as I explained, I’ve worked as an editor for marine magazines for my entire career. And I’ve seen what the water can do for people’s outlook on things. I need that. My family needs it. And my daughter is young enough that she can benefit from it in ways on which I’ll continue to elaborate.
Five Factors Relevant to the Project