A couple of weekends ago my dad (hereafter referred to as Opa) and I took the seven-year-old Zoologist, the five-year-old Ballerina, and the two-year-old Demolitions Expert fishing. I would like to tell you that we caught a lot of fish. I would like to tell you that it was a relaxing experience. Then again, I would also like to tell you that cheeseburgers make you skinny.
When all was said and done the fishing trip was more successful than riding a boat named the S.S. Minnow with a first mate named Gilligan, but we definitely ignored ominous signs leading up to the trip. For starters it rained quite a bit the two days before our outing. As if the rain wasn’t a bad enough sign the day before we went Ballerina came down with a mysterious knee injury, and her leg hurt too bad to walk.
I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t we just cancel the trip? There were three reasons we persisted. First, Opa has been planning this trip for a while. Second, the kids have been looking forward to this trip for as long as Opa has been planning. Third, we live in Texas and it was either go fishing at the beginning of May or reschedule for sometime in June. So, we struck out for the pond, bad omens and all.
You must understand something about my father, he is a planner. If I had a dollar for every time he told me growing up “Son, you gotta plan your work, and work your plan,” I would have had at least enough money to pay someone to take my place on the fishing trip, but alas I do not have those dollars. Opa, had found a nice kid’s pond at a nearby lake where only children are allowed to fish. He even made a little reconnaissance trip to check everything out. What he told me, and what did not make a big enough impression on me until I got to the lake, was that the kid’s pond was a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot. A quarter-mile didn’t sound that far before the trip.
When we arrived at the lake we got out of the car and began the laborious process of getting our gear out of the car. We grabbed 3 fishing poles, 5 lawn chairs, 3 life vests, a small ice-chest full of water bottles, a fishing tackle box, and a small box of worms, and then began our trek to the pond. It is important to note here that when I say we that really means mostly Opa and I. The Zoologist carried as much as he could, and he is a plucky kid so he was a help, but the Ballerina couldn’t carry much on my shoulders, and the Demolitions Expert was really too small, distracted, and occupied with other matters (which I will get to shortly) to carry anything.
We hadn’t gotten very far down the trail before I realized that this was going to be a long quarter-mile walk. I was carrying a child on my shoulders, the ice-chest in one hand, and a lawn chair in the other. After a few steps I had to stop and explain to the Ballerina, on her perch atop my shoulders, that it just wasn’t going to work if she kept trying to use my eye sockets as handles. Ok, so I said something like that. It was at least reminiscent of that. I probably used different words, and was a little more exasperated thinking of spending the rest of my life with an eye patch or two after my lovely daughter gouged out my eyes.
After the Ballerina and I finally got things situated we resumed our walk on a trail that quickly turned into a quagmire. At this point our caravan began to resemble the video game Frogger, only instead of dodging vehicles we were dodging puddles. We weaved in and out of puddles, and tried to do our best to find the driest spots we could. I would navigate the trail and then call out instructions to the Zoologist and the Demolitions Expert. Here’s the thing about small humans, they don’t really follow instructions well – none of them. But even amongst small humans the Demo Expert is notable for her loathing of any sort of coaching. Some of it is her age, some of it is just a natural part of growing up, and some of it is her personality, but our adorable Demolitions Expert hasn’t yet met a stop sign that she isn’t willing to run. So yeah, trying to get her to avoid the muddiest spots on the trail was a blast. I’m just glad no one took my blood pressure.
Without the mud this would have been taxing, with the mud it was only a matter of seconds before I started to rethink my decision-making paradigm. Then the Demolitions Expert’s shorts came untied.
The Demo Expert was wearing a pair of shorts that morning with a string that tied on the front, but the string wasn’t especially long. Somehow, and I can only assume it had something to do with me having unknowingly entered purgatory, the shorts came untied somewhere around the middle of our quarter-mile trip. So now the Demo Expert was not listening to me trying to direct her around the mud while trying to hold her pants up. It would have been funny if I was watching this happening to someone else on TV. I wasn’t.
Mercifully we finally arrived at the pond and began to set up our operation. Opa was in charge of getting the worms on hooks. When he first came up with this idea I told him that I was happy to participate in this excursion, but I wasn’t doing any planning and I wasn’t messing with any sort of bait. I was there to carry things and keep kids from drowning, anything having to do with the actual fishing was up to Opa. He’s retired, so he can handle the stress.
We got the kids fishing and very quickly it was apparent that the children who had desperately wanted to go fishing didn’t know that fishing involved a lot of sitting in a chair staring at the water. As a father of four kids seven and under at least once a day something happens that I didn’t see coming, but this, I would have bet a large sum of money that this was going to happen. The Demolitions Expert was the first one to tire of sitting there holding a fishing pole watching a cork bob in the water. That took about a minute. After the second minute the Ballerina started to get restless and declared herself about to die because of the heat. It was warm, but we were about 30 degrees and 8 hours of exposure from heat stroke. I handed her a bottle of water and wished her good luck. By the third minute the Zoologist was disappointed that he hadn’t caught any fish yet.
After a bit another group of kids with minimal adult supervision showed up, and I can promise you that if there was a fish in that pond after this other group had been there for five minutes they were so far away we couldn’t have caught them with dynamite. The only thing we hooked that day was when I made an ill-fated attempt at a backhand cast of the line into the water and caught a hook on a chair. And this is the other reason why I let Opa handle all fishing related duties.
We gave it a couple of hours and finally decided to call it a day so we could get the kids lunch on the way home in time for them to get an afternoon nap. The Zoologist was still all verklempt at not having caught any fish, but it was a good life lesson, I just wasn’t totally in the frame of mind to take full advantage of teachable moments because we had to now make our quarter mile voyage back to the car while navigating the same mud puddles. I tied the Demolitions Expert’s shorts as tight as I could without doing permanent damage to her body, hoisted the Ballerina onto my shoulders, grabbed the ice-chest and a lawn chair, and we began our slog back to civilization. At some point the Zoologist and Demolitions Expert both walked right through a puddle that left them ankle deep in mud, but I was so ready to get back we just kept moving. There is a point as a parent where your brain loses the ability to even process what is going on. It’s like your kids have done so much crazy stuff in such a short amount of time your brain just sends an out-of-office message to the rest of your body and hopes that you don’t forget how to breath before it comes back online again. This was my state of mind.
I swear it took five times as long to get to our car as it did to get to the pond, but we finally made it. The kids had fun and got an introduction to fishing. Opa enjoyed himself, but he looked a little shell-shocked. In truth he looked like the guy who gets interviewed by the news because he was sitting in his mobile home when the tornado came through the trailer park. He says he’s found a better place for us to go fishing the second time. He promises there will be fish, and we won’t have to undertake a quarter-mile hike to get there.
I hope he’s right. I would feel bad for him having to walk all that way with three small kids by himself.