- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

As Aug. 10 rolled in, it was time for the entire family — the Little Viking, now 15 months old, his father and I, and Loke, the 90-pound Rhodesian ridgeback — to pack into our tiny car and head for Lake Michigan and two weeks of swimming, building sand castles on the beach, fishing, riding ferries and sailing.

Notice a common thread? Yes, water. The Little Viking always has enjoyed water. He has had his own backyard baby pool to splash around in; Loke’s water bowl in which to bathe his toys, which, of course, is a no-no; the bathtub, which he shares with rubber ducky and red lobster, et al.; and the occasional trip to a local adult-size pool.

But how would he do in Lake Michigan and aboard a catamaran ferry? Would he be intimidated? Apprehensive? No, not at all. In fact, he couldn’t get enough of the beach or the frothy waves. It didn’t matter how many times he sank into the wet sand or took unplanned dips into the waves. He just wanted more.

He smiled and laughed as we held him in our arms and then let go for a few seconds, allowing him to paddle, surf and float on his own. He didn’t care if the water splashed in his face or even entered his mouth or eyes. He just kept going.

But, the trying-to-be-responsible parents that we are, we limited each beach trip to about an hour so as not to overexpose the little guy to the sun and cold water. (For those of you who have never planted a toe in chilly Lake Michigan, it is just that — chilly — even in August.)

And each time we removed him from what seemed to be his element, the Little Viking put up a fight. How could we? What better place for a toddler? You can get as dirty as you want in the sand and then wash it right off in the water.

Aside from toddling into the Great Lake, the Little Viking (with the help of his daddy) built his first sand castles, which looked more like burial mounds than medieval forts. But who cares, as long as the Little Viking was having a blast?

Kicking beach balls and throwing Frisbees to Loke were also among favorite beach activities. The Little Viking stared, fascinated, at Loke as he threw himself fearlessly in the waves to search for the green Frisbee. The little guy seemed to be thinking, “One day, when I walk, swim and catch better, I’ll be right behind you, buddy.”

Walking along the beach was also a nice activity as long as the Little Viking didn’t have to follow our lead. Why does strolling along a beautiful shoreline have to have a destination? he seemed to say, as he cruised south for a few minutes, then east, then west, then south again, his parents following closely behind.

Fishing, which we did in a much smaller lake a mile east of the Great Lake, did not go as well. Sitting in a tiny boat, waiting for blue gills, rock bass and perch to bite, is not the idea of fun for a 15-month-old, we learned.

The Little Viking wanted to get into the shallow, muddy water the entire 10 minutes we subjected him to fishing. We may have to give him another year or two to realize the fun of fishing: the worms and bugs and squirmy fish. For now, he sort of enjoyed the fruits (read “fish”) of his dad’s labor, which we fried for dinner.

After the fishing catastrophe, we decided the Little Viking wasn’t ready for sailing in a small sailboat either. So, Dad went alone as the rest of the clan looked on. Give him a few years.

The speedy ferry ride to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, however, was a different story. The Little Viking loved to feel the wind and water in his hair and watch the white froth in the ferry’s wake. While other passengers sat below deck eager to get the ferry ride over with, our little adventurer spent the entire time on deck and seemed disappointed at the brevity — only 15 minutes — of the trip.

After such an activity-filled vacation it was a tad difficult to get back to the city (and that’s not just because of the 12-hour drive) with so little room to romp and play, as well as limited possibilities for water games. City-living certainly has its benefits, but cleanliness is not one. Swimming in the Potomac River wouldn’t be wise for anyone, probably not even the fish.

But we definitely want to tap into the Little Viking’s love of water, which he shares with his dad, who has spent many a year in and under water, sailing, surfing and diving as an underwater archaeologist.

So, we’re thinking that a swimming class at a local pool might be the way to go for the Little Viking. That way, he’ll be better prepared for next summer’s adventures while enjoying his favorite element.

As the late English poet W.H. Auden put it so succinctly: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Family Times reporter Gabriella Boston and her husband welcomed their “Little Viking” in May 2002. Send e-mail to [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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