Charms of the boating life

sun on boatWe are boat people.

Well, to be honest, one of us is a boat person. Or, to be more precise, wants to be a boat person.

That would be the hubs. He became the captain of his own one-boat fleet five years ago, and ever since, he and the kids have had a fairly good time about twice a summer, once the boat is unfettered by its trailer and me, the fun sucker of the family.

Hey, someone has to do it. And I can’t get the memories of previous voyages out of my head. Trips such as this one, which I blogged about several summers ago.

This summer, as usual, we took the boat to the northern Missouri lake we frequent infrequently. We generally make it there over Memorial Day weekend, when the rest of my extended family visits my parents’ farm in Brookfield.

Last summer, we actually took the boat to Longview Lake for Joe’s birthday, taking him and some friends tubing. Putting the boat in the water there is a little stressful, what with the large numbers of other weekend water crafters waiting to plunk theirs in, too. For the life of me, I could not back the Suburban and boat trailer down the steep ramp, having instead to rely on one of Joe’s buddies, a 16-year-old boy, to back it down for me.

This year, though, when we made it to Lake Nehai we were looking practically like pros. We didn’t inflate the tube until we got to the little country store across the road from the boat ramp. While the hubs filled up the three-person tube, the kids and I went into the little store and bought sodas, snacks and two bags of ice at highly inflated prices.

Finally, we were ready and headed for the boat ramp. Our timing was perfect – no one ahead of us, no one waiting. Matt backed the truck and trailer toward the water, put the Suburban in park and hopped out. He climbed into the boat and instructed me to back the trailer into the water. Like the good little boaters they are, the kids told me when we’d gone far enough. I turned off the trucked and hopped out, and Maggie and I unclipped the boat’s bow from the trailer.

We pushed it a little and waited for it to set adrift. Matt turned on the motor and revved it a little, but the boat went nowhere.

We were perplexed. What was going on?

“It’s like it’s still connected to the trailer,” I said. “That’s weird.”

Matt grimaced. “I forgot to unclip the belts on the back of the boat,” he said. “It is still connected to the trailer. Pull it out.”

So I jumped back into the truck and pulled forward enough for him to unhook the back end. I had to pull it far enough out that backing it in was a doozy. It took me two or three tries and stops to remember that I had to turn the steering wheel the opposite direction of where I wanted the trailer to go.

It was starting to feel like last year all over again.

Eventually, the trailer made it back in to the water, we unhooked the bow, and Matt was off. While he and kids docked the boat and attached the tube, I parked the truck and trailer.

Life on Lake Nehai
Life on Lake Nehai

Two of the kids decided to stay on shore and fish a while, so four kids and I joined Matt in the boat. Two of them hopped onto the tube, and away we went for a nice, leisurely jaunt around the little lake. It was a glorious 30 minutes or so, and then Maggie and her BFF decided it was their turn in the tube. My niece stayed into, too, but Tom jumped back into the boat.

He doesn’t weigh much, and with two teen agers in the tube, the boat had a hard time planing. Matt assured Tom we weren’t going to capsize, but he was scared. Petrified, really, as he huddled on the boat’s floor in the fetal position.

I didn’t much like the ride, either, so I told Matt to take Tom and me to shore, where Joe and his cousin were finished fishing (nothing was biting) and could take our places in the boat.

When we docked, Tom and I climbed out, and the two boys got in. Matt took off.

jumping off boatTom asked for the keys to the Suburban; he thought he’d left his iPod in there. I gave him the keys with a stern warning: Don’t lock them in the truck. The other set was in the Suburban in my purse.

He headed up the hill, and I sat down on the dock to sunbathe. Pretty soon a pontoon boat full of fairly inebriated folks headed toward the dock. Most of the five occupants disembarked to use the portable toilet near the boat ramp. We chatted amiably about whether a storm was brewing as dark clouds gathered to the north of the lake.

Then they left. And I waited. And I realized that Tom had been gone a long time. The city girl in me wondered if he’d been kidnapped, but the more practical maternal side had another foreboding thought.

I took off up the hill. When I reached the Suburban, I found Tom with a stick in his hand, trying to pick the lock on the driver’s door.

“Stop!” I said. “What happened?”

He hung his head and told me he’d locked the keys in the car. He’d been in the back and thought he saw a ginormous spider, so he jumped out and slammed the door shut, leaving the keys and forgetting that he’d already hit “lock” on the key fob so he wouldn’t forget to lock the truck when he left. Tears stained his dirty little face.

I just sighed. Was I surprised? Not in the least.

I headed to the guardhouse to see if they had a phonebook. For once, I gave thanks for my mobile phone. Eventually, I reached AAA Missouri, who promised me a) Tom wasn’t the first kid to try to pick a car lock with a stick and b) a guy with a Slim Jim would be there in 30 minutes to two hours.

It was more like 90 minutes by the time the country mechanic from Meadville, a town about 45 miles away, made it to the lake.

He had the Suburban unlocked in about 20 seconds.

I thanked him profusely and headed back to the dock to wait. Eventually, the boat returned, and the kids said they were bushed and ready to head back to the farm.

I’d been on the water all of 30 minutes the whole day.

But the Captain was happy, and his little crew of kids and cousins was worn out. And I guess that’s about all you can ask for when you’re a weekend warrior.


Summer, don’t quit me now

For some reason, I think my family and I should pile into the Suburban and head for the state fair on Sunday.

I won’t be able to eat anything – at least without feeling guilty, since I’m perpetually counting calories. We’re not big monster truck or rodeo fans, and we have not grown the biggest tomato or potato or pumpkin or what have you. Our cherry tomato plants aren’t even bearing fruit.

I just don’t want school to start.

I don’t want it to start because we’ll have to roll out of bed at 0-dark-hundred every morning to get kids up and out the door to early-morning band. I don’t want it to start because I don’t want to go back to my graduate classes and papers and tests and bullshitting. I don’t want it to start because I want more summer.

But mainly, I don’t want it to start because I want life to slow down.

Why does it move so quickly? Did it always? Did my parents feel this way when they were raising three kids in a small southern Missouri town? Or is this a symptom of living in “the city,” as Mom and Dad call it?

Maybe it’s the latter. When I was growing up, we had to drive at least 30 minutes to get to a sizable shopping area. You didn’t just run out to Target if you needed pantyhose. We planned our trips, which meant we had more free time at home.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but I don’t remember feeling perpetually rushed.

If I had to be at school early, it only took me five minutes to get there. It only took five minutes to get just about anywhere in our little town – although my dad would say it really took normal drivers longer. I just drove too fast. Now that I’m the parent of a teen-age driver, I’m certain he’s correct.

I have so many closets to clean out during these last waning days of summer vacation, but I find that inertia has overtaken me. I just want to sit around on the sectional and watch “Phineas and Ferb” with the kids. Is that so wrong?

I don’t want to live in a small town again, I just want the lifestyle. How do I get it?

Things I’ve learned this summer

I’ve always thought I was pretty quick on the uptake, but I’m gradually realizing I am a slow learner.

That’s pretty much the gist of what I’ve gleaned from a year in graduate school, studying social work. I thought I was going through the motions of getting the degree that would help me land employment doing the things I was doing for free in a volunteer capacity.

But like a good scrubbing with Windex lets the light shine through a clean window, I appreciate now that I was barely seeing the trees, let alone the forest.

This summer I’m spending two afternoons a week at a non-profit family services center in the inner city. It’s a place I’ve visited often during my years as a court-appointed special advocate. The center has an awesome daycare and preschool that can serve 600 needy kids, with a waiting list at least as large.

I don’t know what I expected to learn at Operation Breakthrough; I just knew it was where the rubber meets the road, to be trite. I knew I needed some real-world experience after a year of grad school and before my first practicum. I don’t have an undergraduate degree in the social services. I barely have any relevant undergrad coursework: A rural sociology course on the Old Order Amish doesn’t translate too well to 31st and Troost Avenue in Kansas City.

So what have I learned that’s so earth-shattering? Lots. I’m pretty liberal, but I admit I have biases. Lord knows, I’ve had to examine them aplenty during my recent coursework. And one that I discovered is that I really did sort of pass judgment on folks who’ve been convicted of crimes.

Where does this come from? I don’t know. No deep-seated childhood fear or up-close-and-personal contact with someone like Max Cady from Cape Fear . My daddy wasn’t no jailhouse lawyer, my grandpa never spent time in the pokey.  I just had this bias.

Until this summer. This summer, I’ve been working with moms who need to find jobs. They all want to work. They need to work. Some are not on public assistance. Others are, but it’s a finite thing – it does eventually run out. Some have high school diplomas, some even have college degrees. Others dropped out and don’t even have GEDs. Some are all these things and have one other stigma – they’re convicted felons.

They’re the toughest. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a Harvard Ph.D. if you’re a convicted felon. You will be hard-pressed to find a job.

I can sincerely say I never truly understood this fact until this summer. I figured if you did your time, paid your debt to society, you got a do-over, except for voting.

Except that’s not the case. Politicians rant and rave about “welfare moms” and people taking advantage of the system, implying that people without jobs don’t want to work. And then they pass laws or allow companies to discriminate against people who’ve committed crimes.

Felons have a hard time even receiving public assistance – food vouchers, public housing, what have you.

This isn’t fair. How long does someone have to pay for a mistake?

And here’s something else I’ve changed my mind about: Many of these people that I work with have felonies related to drug charges. Where once I would have pursed my lips and passed judgment, now I see human beings who made bad choices and who are being punished with no end in sight.

Like yesterday. I spent several hours with a woman looking for work. She once directed a transitional housing program for drug offenders, until she made a mistake. Thirteen years ago she was convicted of marijuana possession. It was a Class C felony. She served her time.

Yet now, after losing her job in March, she can’t find work. Her voice broke as she talked about her felony. She’s embarrassed. Every time she applies for a job, it comes up. She has a great employment history and good references, but the background check trips her up every time.

Meanwhile, she’s unable to pay her bills. She got a speeding ticket, which made her appeal for clemency to the state get delayed by two years. She’s on the verge of bankruptcy. I could see the desperation in her eyes.

It’s no wonder that recidivism is a problem.

What kind of parent would I be if every time one of my children made a mistake, I held it against him or her for infinity? I believe in doling out consequences and moving on.

Social work is based on the belief that humans have the capacity to change, and that’s long been my mantra. People make mistakes, but people can change.  But they can’t as long as society holds them back, excludes them, treats them as untouchables.

I don’t know what to do about this, but something needs to change. With drug laws and “three-strikes-and-you’re-out,” the untouchables class will continue to grow.