“Mom,” Isaac said, “I don’t want to go kayaking in Maine.” He had been asking to go all spring.
“But” I said, “what about the big waves?” What about my dreams to taste salt spray again?
He frowned sadly, “I don’t like kayaking.”
We had overdone it. Safety first had driven all pleasant thoughts of kayaking out of Isaac’s head. All he could think of was the dreaded wet exit. It was a grim end to a pleasant day on Contoocook. And it got worse.
The day of the mountain view fly-in, we bicycled to lake Wentworth for a swim. Isaac splashed in the water, but he wouldn’t swim or put his head under water.
“You swim in the pool with the instructor.” Tyson asked “Why won’t you swim in the lake?”
“It’s no fun” Isaac answered “to swim in lakes.”
We bicycled back to the airplanes defeated.
That evening, Tyson and I debated.
“We could just wait until next year” I offered “and call the dry suit a sunk cost.”
“No, we can do better than that,” Tyson insisted.
“What if” I asked “we just take him out in some waves so he remembers why kayaking is fun?”
“That’s not safe,” Tyson fretted, “He won’t put his head under water, and when he does he can’t keep his mouth shut. We should start with teaching him to swim better.”
We needed resources and motivation for Isaac to swim better. Our best resource was his swim class, but that wasn’t translating to the lakes. We couldn’t bring his instructor. I tried to think of any other differences: pool water vs lake and he borrows goggles at swim school. The goggles might make a difference. Isaac squeezes his eyes so tight the corners of his mouth pull open. So I bought goggles. We also found a whitewater helmet so Isaac wouldn’t worry about the coaming hitting him in the head during a wet exit. Next we needed motivation. The best motivator for Isaac is other kids. I picked a date with a neighbor family to swim at a lake. Fortuitously, Sense held our company summer party the following week on Cape Ann at the beach.
My coworkers asked me to bring my kayaks. When Isaac said he didn’t want to kayak, I didn’t push. Instead, he played onshore with the other kids. I paddled a bit and then came back to be a good mother. The kids were collecting crabs. I joined Isaac in the search. The other kids found hermit crabs. I couldn’t. But, I found pools of water with black crabs hiding behind seaweed. Isaac proudly displayed each one to the other kids. After a bunch of crabs, Isaac offered to come down to the water and play with me.
One of Jonah’s kids, who was about the same age as Isaac, had spent the entire time in the water. I envied him bobbing up and down happily under his mother’s eye. Isaac wore his new goggles. They helped, but not enough for him to go in as deep as the other kid. I did convince Isaac to hang onto me while I body surfed a few waves. Then Isaac wanted to swim back to shore.
Between us and the beach there was a large boulder. The waves had carved a trench around the rock creating a miniature rip tide. Isaac swam up it. He kicked and stroked but couldn’t make progress. “Mom” he shrieked, “help!” I didn’t immediately pluck him out, instead I talked him through swimming sideways (1 foot) to where he could stand on the bottom. I took it as a good sign that he could swim in current, and that in challenging conditions he still listened.
Isaac went back to playing on the beach and I took another coworker out kayaking. Later, when the sun shone low over Cape Ann’s granite hill, I came back from kayaking to find Isaac again. He was building sand fortresses with Jonah’s other kid and Jonah. Not long after I joined them, they all decided to head down to the water. Isaac finished the day playing with Jonah’s two kids in the waves. When we left the party, Isaac said he had fun and he wanted to come back to this beach.
Our next step was swimming with the Bundas’s. Now that Isaac wanted to swim at the beach, I thought it would be a step backwards to go to a lake. I envisioned driving out to Point State Park in the morning; Isaac and Ian playing at the beach all day; and Tyson and I alternating surfing the waves at the mouth of Ipswich Bay and teaching Diane to kayak. Real life proceeded differently.
We didn’t arrive at Plum Island until lunch time. For lunch, we ate at a tasty lobster shack. After inching two blocks along the car line to enter the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a sign that said Point State Park was full. We needed a plan B. I quickly dismissed lots of possibilities that might have been great or might have been full too. We didn’t have time to drive around considering options. We needed a reliable plan B. The safest bet within 30 miles is Crane Beach. It’s a large beach with a large parking lot and facilities, but no kayaking, no kite flying, and a large entrance fee. Any other plan risked spending all day driving.
Diane sat down in her beach chair and relaxed her toes in the sand. The rest of us splashed in the water for a while. Ian built a sand castle. Tyson taught Isaac how to body surf. Then Tyson discovered our Frisbee. He and Isaac chased it up and down the waves in a game of half submerged catch. I chatted some and floated some. Off to the north, I could make out white caps at the mouth of Ipswich Bay. If only I had my kayak… Maybe next time.
Isaac came over to me at the end of the day, “Can we go kayaking next weekend” he asked “in the waves?”
“Will you flip over first?” I checked.
“Yes”, he acknowledge, “just one flip and then we kayak in the waves.”
The next weekend, Tyson, Isaac, and I headed to Little Neck. Before we had a kid, Tyson and I launched there many times. From Little Neck, we could paddle a short distance out through Ipswich Bay to the ocean beyond Crane Beach and Plum Island. Or, we could paddle back into Ipswich Bay to wander around the marshes. Tyson and I agreed Little Neck had just the right mix of conditions for Isaac.
This time, we paddled straight across the bay to Point State Park on Plum Island. There we ate lunch while watching the sailboats and motorboats. After lunch, Tyson and Isaac flipped the Bullitt over. Isaac swam out before the kayak was all the way over. I worried about his lack of progress compared to the AMC pond session. Tyson and I originally agreed we wouldn’t take Isaac out in conditions until he could flip all the way over with the kayak, hold his breath, and then swim out. On the one hand, Isaac had flipped over without complaint. On the other hand, he hadn’t met our safety standards.
We paddled around the corner into mild waves on the ocean. Isaac was disappointed by the waves. Probably all the best for safety. The rest of the day continued on a low key. Tyson hasn’t been stretching his hamstrings, so he needed to rest frequently on the beach at the tip of Plum Island. Isaac flew his kite. Mid afternoon, we paddled back across Ipswich Bay.
The tide had turned. As it flooded into the bay, the outgoing wind blew the water up into short choppy waves. Isaac loved it, though the water swamped his open cockpit. My technique is rusty, I only surfed a ride on one wave. I couldn’t control my boat with the fineness I would have 5 years ago, yet I wasn’t frustrated because I could still predict exactly what each wave would do to my kayak.
We all enjoyed the day. I was left with a nagging worry that we hadn’t made any progress on safety. Tyson, on the other hand, was planning modifications to make Isaac’s cockpit more seaworthy. And Isaac requested “Let’s go somewhere with bigger waves next time.”