“I’m feeling distressed,” Susanna tells me one day after school.
“Oh yeah?” I respond, not terribly concerned. Susanna has a penchant for being dramatic so I wait for her to continue before I decide if I need to get down on my knees and cradle her face in my hands.
“Yeah. I’m distressed because I’ve never, EVER, not even ONCE been to West Edmonton Mall!”
“Mmm,” I say, my hands still in the dish water. “Yep, West Edmonton Mall is pretty cool. Have all your friends been there?”
“Yes! And Disneyland too! I’m the only one in my class who hasn’t been to Disneyland!”
“That’s tough,” I say, because I am super-mom; so empathetic, so non-judgmental, and patient. But only for a few minutes. When her litany of complaints goes on a little too long something snaps and suddenly I don’t feel sorry for my well-fed, completely-clothed child. She senses my change in demeanor (I think it has to do with me telling her I will get very mad if she keeps on talking) and quiets down.
After a moment or two of silence I add, “We haven’t gone to West Edmonton Mall or Disneyland, but we’ve done other things. How many kids in your class have slept overnight in an igloo? Have any of them gone on a canoe trip? Or how about sailing on ice?”
You don’t get to chose the family you are born into; you don’t get to chose if your parents give birth to you in Japan, Canada, or Iran. You don’t get to chose if they are Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim. And you don’t get to chose if they are the kind of people who will take you to Disneyland or West Edmonton Mall… or take you ice-boating. My daughters got Canadian Christians who take them ice-boating. And they’re stuck with them.
Belén and Susie with friends Jillian and Evan
We drive an hour to find a lake without any snow cover and when we arrive the conditions are perfect. Our friends, Kevin and Carol, have already spread a buffet of snacks on their tailgate and set-up lawn chairs around freshly drilled fishing holes. The sun is shining, (our thermometer reads +8c!), the wind is blowing, and the ice is thick. Even though the surface layer will melt throughout the day, there are still about 20 inches below all the puddles to support us and our vehicles.
Stan unloads the boat he fashioned out of wood, a bed frame, and an old hockey stick. While he puts the pieces together the children take turns helping and tripping over each other, discussing who will go first.
I interrupt them. “I think Dad should go first and explain how to do it; he needs to give instructions while everyone is listening,” I say firmly. “Right, Stan?”
“Uh… I think this is the kind of thing that you just have to figure out while you do it,” Stan mutters while trying to attach the guy wires to steady the mast, which isn’t really the response I was looking for.
After everything is rigged Stan gets in the boat and motions for Susanna to sit in his lap. I am watching from afar (changing Vivi’s diaper in the front seat of our car) and hoping Susanna’s helmet is on tight. The wind isn’t strong enough to propel them both so Stan gets out after a little ride and gives Susanna what I imagine to be more instructions and a strict warning not to go near the open water by the mouth of the river. At least this is the conversation I have in my own head when I see my daughter lay low in the boat, haul in the sail, and pick up speed.
“Does she know how to stop?” I yell at Stan while I grip Vivi’s bare ankles. Stan can’t hear me of course and it’s useless to shout at Susanna–all I can do is watch silently. My daughter is riding the wind, flying across the ice, whooping and screaming, and heading straight for our Mazda 5 and our friends’ half-ton truck. I stop pulling at Vivi’s diaper tabs and wait for the moment, and the fear, to pass. It does. Susanna sails the boat right between our parked vehicles and then steers into the wind to stall it. Turns out she does know how to stop.
Giving Susanna a push to get her going
When Belén tries it for the first time the sail catches the wind and lifts the right side of the boat a few feet into the air. The next moment all three skates are in contact with the ice and she is in motion. Stan tells me the the boat is inherently stable and the risk is fairly low but adrenaline courses through my body anyway. I feel the same rush when it’s my turn and I’m scared, amazed, and confused all at the same time; it goes faster and is more fun than I expected, but I don’t understand how it works. When should I let the sail out? When do I suck it in? How does the speed of the boat interact with the force of the wind?
Stan tells me it’s something you just get a feel for, so all of us take turns feeling the wind as it pushes us across the lake, listening to the metal blades on the ice. The breeze dies down sooner than we’d like and it’s almost completely calm by the afternoon’s end. Never before have I wished it would get good and cold and windy, but I do now. If the mild weather keeps up we might have to wait until November to try it again, which seems too far away.
Soaked through! Using our car to dry layers of clothing.
Shelly and Jack come in time for another fish!
On the way home both Belén and Susanna thank their dad for building the boat and taking them sailing. I agree with them. “That’s the coolest thing we’ve ever done with our kids,” I say to Stan. But don’t take my opinion at face value. We’ve never taken them to West Edmonton Mall or Disneyland after all.