**A note: I'm off exploring the waters of the North Channel with my family, a trip we take every year in August. We're currently stuck at a dock, however,waiting out a band of not-so-lovely weather. The dock has wireless internet. And I'm, apparently, a junkie that takes her computer into the wilderness. I didn't post the week we left (getting ready all but makes me insane), and I haven't been typing away on the back deck (yes, I do have restraint), but I do want to send you some idea of what life is like this week. The following was an article written for a boating magazine about our first adventure into the North Channel after Max was born. "See" you next week, when I'm sure my adventure recounts will include the fact that the only thing Max wanted to pack was his red superhero cape. Oh, and 400 stuffed animals, because "it can get lonely out there."
I distinctly remember when my husband came home and announced that we would be taking our two boys—then ages one and seven— on a boat to the North Channel for a week.
“There is a word for people who take trips like that with multiple small children on board. It’s called ‘crazy,’” I retorted, shaking my head and setting to work scrubbing the kitchen counter (my staple non-verbal way of saying ‘end of discussion’).
Following several days of pleading promises for family fun that ranged from exposing our children to the Channel’s beauty to having un-plugged, old fashioned, ‘round-the-campfire/exploring-on-the-rocks/coffee-and-beautiful-surise-sharing experiences, I began to cave. Still, I had plenty of fears to voice: how do we keep them safe? Won’t they get bored during travel times? What on earth will we do those dirty diapers if we’re anchored in the middle of nowhere?
Standing next to the coffee maker the morning of our departure, I had a feeling quite similar to what one must experience after rolling around on six-foot waves—in a sailboat—for hours on end. The dread of five sure-to-be sleepless nights and six stress filled days on a boat was running full throttle in my mind. Yet, I sucked it up, checked to make sure we had the boys’ life jackets for the third time in ten minutes, and headed down to the marina.
In the backseat, Noah, at seven, was chattering away about the adventures to be had, the pirates to spot, and the folks he hoped to soak with his new squirt gun. Max, not quite two, looked on with amusement and chucked a handful of Cheerios toward the front seat. All I could muster was: “we’re crazy.”
Once we unloaded the gear (and there was a lot of it) my husband went from dad to captain in a matter of moments. His first order of business was to line up the boys to go over “The Rules.”
“Crew,” he said in his most important voice, “there are a few rules that you must follow once you board this boat. One: lifejackets are worn at all time. No exceptions. On the dock or in the boat—if you are not on shore you will have a life vest on your body. Two: one hand for you, one hand for the boat. This is an important one. Whenever we are moving, you must always have one hand holding onto the boat. The same goes for when we are anchored and you want to walk to the bow. Three: When we dock or leave port, you must remain seated. When you are a bit older, I will teach you how to help me with the lines, but right now, the best thing you can do is watch without moving.”
I’ll be honest. What I was seeing amazed me. My two boys (my two busy, busy, selective-hearing suffering boys) were listening as they stood “at attention” for their father, and were suiting up in their lifejackets with minimal complaint. Note to self, I thought, make them feel like important members of this boating crew and set the non-negotiables out from the get-go, and things will—or seem to be—going smoothly.
A short time later we set off for Drummond Island. The late summer waters of Little Traverse Bay were calm; the sky was faded blue and the breeze was warm to the skin. Justin (the aforementioned husband) handed me an Island Bean vanilla latte and told me to relax. The boys sat up front with him, Max pretending to run the helm and Noah launching into a myriad of GPS-related questions. Hmmm. A learning experience and a chance for mom to soak up five minutes of uninterrupted sun? Perhaps this was not such a bad idea after all.
The journey to Drummond Island (and later, to Gore Bay) was long—and at times the kids exercised their right to boredom, but it seemed easily remedied with a few sugarless snacks, “mess-free” color wonder markers (the kind that can only right on special paper, not on boat seats) and overboard-friendly toys, like bath-tub boats or action figures (don’t bring anything of real value…we lost one very dear matchbox car to the bottom of Lake Michigan). I realized that boat travel was far easier than car travel in that the fresh air and lack of car/booster seat restraint left the kids happier with far fewer “are we there yets?”
The moment we hit Gore Bay, all my fears and dread disappeared. The magnificent backdrop the Channel creates was enough make our seven year-old think we were near the set of Swiss Family Robinson, and Max, now used to his ever-present life jacket, began to only object if we wanted to take it off (so yes, he wore it on shore, at dinner, and even to bed). Justin carved out time for special dinghy adventures each day (even just putting from boat to boat to visit those we were cruising with, allowing Noah to help steer, was enough to keep the kids well-behaved in hopes of more rides the next day). During the wind-down hours, I brought out a host of classic movies and TV shows (let’s admit it: these boats have DVD players, so you might as well use them). From Annie to Mary Poppins, The Andy Griffith Show to the Muppets, the boys loved to curl up down below and watch some of mom and dad’s favorites, before taking in one last look at the star-filled sky (we also carried a constellation book for Noah…another learning great opportunity), before drifting off to sleep.
When it came time to drop a hook for a few days, I’ll admit to feeling a surge of “what are we thinking?” rising up yet again. I soon discovered, however, that a disposable camera and a nature notebook kept our eldest busy for hours as he explored the beautiful granite rocks, the grasshoppers, the shallow-rooted trees that fell during a recent storm. The rocking motion of the boat must be a one year-old’s dream, because Max slept like a champ, and when he was awake, dinghy rides or backpack trips on the outcrops kept him more than happy. I even discovered Ziploc sandwich bags serve as perfect dirty diaper keepers. No smells, no messes. Maybe this cruising with kids notion is a little better than first imagined. In fact, the worst moments of the trip came as we were headed home, when we faced seven-foot rollers through Grey’s Reef. The boys, staying true to the “One hand for you, one hand for the boat” rule sat still in the front seats beside me, however, and as we returned to flatter water, the only cry we heard was “let’s do that again!”
For each cruise we’ve embarked on since that first go-round, we’ve gotten smarter, safer, and had even more fun. We pack much less now. We worry about far fewer issues, especially that fear of boredom. On a boating adventure, I’m convinced even teens are bound to find plenty of ways to have fun. The boys have the rules engrained in their brains, and though we offer a refresher each year, safety and on-water etiquette is now second nature.
I remember—with joy—one night that first cruise. The campfire was going. We’d just finished a great open-pit barbeque. Noah sat beside me in a red fleece, shorts, and bare feet. Max was curled up on my lap (in his lifejacket of course), sound asleep. The stars were beginning to light up the sky ten at time, like sparklers that grew brighter instead of burning out. I looked at my husband and smiled the kind of smile that you get when you are away from it all, yet you feel like you finally found the world’s center. We took deep, quiet breathes, raised our plastic cups full of good red wine, and offered a silent toast to the simple, unequivocal, un-hurried time we were sharing with our children.
“We’re a good kind of crazy, I think,” I whispered into the darkening air.
Justin smiled and nodded. “Anyone who takes a trip like this with kids is a good kind of crazy,” he whispered back.
And he’s right.