July 7, 2010
All Hands on Deck
“No honey, we’re going on an adventure, perhaps a great one, but not THE Great Adventure.” Zachary looked at me quizzically from over his breakfast waffle, clearly confused as to the day’s events. I assured him that he would enjoy our trip, and to eat his breakfast, because every boy who’s going on an adventure needs a full stomach. He seems to agree with this edict, and complies.
It’s Father’s Day, and I’ve booked the three of us on a pirate ship for the afternoon, which is perhaps not quite my husband’s idea of the perfect holiday activity. Today, however, dads go free, and even though it’s 92 degrees in the shade BY GOD we are going to take advantage of the bargain price. Besides, the free ticket helps mitigate the cost of the babysitter for Justin, who would relish this particular adventure about as much as he enjoys having his blood drawn. Face painting, group instruction on pirate lingo, sea legs, and treasure that doesn’t light up or spin- not Justin’s bag.
The entire experience however will be completely up Zachary’s alley, and it is evident from the moment we disembark from the car, grateful to find the last remnants of shade afforded us by a dumpster on the outskirts of the parking lot. My youngest son is mere steps from our vehicle when he insists on donning his black pirate hat, and even though I know wearing it might actually boil his brains, I concede. Unfortunately my boy reacts to heat in identical fashion to that of his mama, complete with beet-red face and drenched clothes reminiscent of complete immersion in a swimming pool. How I survived fifteen DC summers remains a mystery to me.
But today I’ve come armed with ice-cold water I’ve informed Zachary will be poured on him whether he likes it or not, and he is so entranced with the promise of upcoming activities he puts up little protest as I repeatedly splash him. After we check in and receive our “boarding passes” Zach asks if he can get a tattoo, and since he’s a Jersey boy after all, of course we give him our permission. He sits patiently in the sweltering sun to await the completion of a large, well-defined anchor on his arm, and at the conclusion of his painting activity declares “he is now a pirate”. I fully believe him.
Eventually, the head scoundrel’s buxom assistant calls all hands on deck, and approximately fifteen young buccaneers, ranging in age from three to nine, heed her request. They form a line. They listen to instructions. They repeat pirate axioms with great gusto. Zachary complies with almost every command, attempts the imitations of swarthy pirate moves, bellows pirate terms with great pride.
All of it, every syllable uttered, every movement replicated, seems miraculous.
Eventually we heed the siren call of “All aboard!”, and make our way slowly down the steep dusty slope to board our vessel. Zachary remains in line the entire way to the waiting ship, diverging from his set path only once to relinquish the pirate hat that has indeed begun to permanently alter his brain chemistry. Jeff and I stand off to the side and watch as a dozen or so young children board the boat, exchanging high-fives with the captain, and respond to the command of “all hands on deck” by haphazardly seating themselves on the bow. I watch with some amazement and disbelief, as I realize I have now participated in an activity with someone I’ve given birth to and not held their hand for over fifteen consecutive minutes.
I am already enjoying myself immensely.
Once we are out to sea we gratefully refresh ourselves with the welcome breeze the river affords us, and as I feel the sweat on my body transform into a light layer of salt I realize I may not melt after all. It quickly becomes obvious that parents are supposed to remove themselves somewhat from the activities, and I notice that most of the moms and dads have congregated in the stern of the boat, parceling out whatever remnants of shade they can find to one another. I lay claim to my personal patch of relief, and watch my husband as he searches for his own. I turn around and regard a gaggle of children watching the pirate’s vixen with intense concentration, as she outlines their journey, the upcoming conflict with a rogue pirate, and the inevitable search for stolen treasure.
Zachary is quietly ensconced within their midst, aptly listening. Obviously, he takes his adventures very seriously.
Our journey takes us a little more than an hour, and I watch transfixed as my son (for the most part) follows directions, douses that maritime villain with a cannon that dispenses water, and waits somewhat patiently to claim the treasure so rightfully his after his work on open water. He even partakes of grog (root beer, don’t worry) from an open cup, a receptacle he has adamantly refused to imbibe from both at home and at school.
Apparently drinking from plastic other than a sippy cup is only permitted on the high seas.
I realize, for the better part of an hour, I have sat or stood with my husband, felt the kiss of sun on my face, embraced the cooling gift of the river’s breeze, and left one of my children primarily to his own devices. We’ve even been treated to good tunes, with Springsteen being dutifully and appropriately trotted out intermittently throughout our journey. My husband, despite missing part of the Master’s, is happy. Zachary is ebullient. Although I’d require a margarita for complete fulfillment, I am grinning ear-to-ear with the normalcy, the peacefulness of this tableau.
Technically, this is not “my day”. But to me, this Father’s Day is synonymous with paradise.