We spent 10 windy days in the city of Ludington Michigan, which is perched on Lake Michigan. With miles of beaches and sparkling blue water, Ludington is a wildly popular summer destination.
Ludington State Park is a family affair. The park straddles Lake Michigan and the much smaller Hamlin Lake. It has three big campgrounds, bike and hiking trails, but the water and beach are the main attractions. Sections of Hamlin Lake are quiet and it’s possible to float from the dam below the lake on a tube to Lake Michigan. There are dozens of people on the water, either drifting on tubes or on/in more advanced paddle craft like paddle boards, kayaks and canoes. The state park does a brisk business renting all manner of such vessels. The allure of water recreation is too tempting for most people. Sooner or later, on such a vacation, some family member makes a suggestion: “Let’s take a canoe trip together.” It may be that this person last dipped a paddle in water as a Boy or Girl Scout, or on seeing so many boats moving easily across the water, a little voice whispers to them ‘you can do that too.’ However that decision is made, this person rents a canoe and encourages the whole family to ride in the same boat. There is a reason the phrase “we’re all in the same boat” has come to mean (according to the Cambridge dictionary) “to be in the same unpleasant situation as other people.” One inexperienced paddler in a boat is awkward. Two inexperienced paddlers in the same boat can be—unpleasant.
We shared the water with many boats that day, but two canoes provided us with great entertainment.
Paddling with dogs has become a thing in recent years. The internet is packed with cute pictures of jolly dogs on paddle boards or in kayaks and canoes. A Mom and Dad in a canoe with a large German Shepherd between them approached us as their kids paddled on either side, with Daughter on a paddle board and Son on a kayak. The dog was not happy, and displayed his discontent by yodeling “ArrrrroooRRROOOOOoooorrrwwwww,” and jumping abruptly in the canoe to see the kids on either side. Mom, situated in the bow, cried “EEK” each time the dog moved. Mom paddled while Dad used his paddle as a rudder, “steering” the boat on a wobbly course. Son wisely paddled ahead while Daughter trailed her parents, giving a running critique of Dad’s technique. “Daaaad, you’re going into the WEEDS!” “Daaaad, you need to paddle on the other side of the boat!” “Daaaaaad, you’re doing it WRONG!” Her father answered each comment with “Calm down, I know what I’m doing,” as the canoe hooked left into the weeds. “EEK!” Shouted mom as the dog lurched in the boat. “ArrrrroooRRROOOOOoooorrrwwwww,” wailed the dog. We paddled off to a remote part of the lake. All we could hear was a distant and haunting “aaarrrrooowww.” We pretended it was a wolf singing the Song of Its People.
After a couple hours of admiring birds and water lilies, we headed back to our car. The Michigan DNR has recently added an accessible kayak launch near the dock where rental boats are dropped off. The launch is intended to make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to launch their boat. For able-bodied people the grassy bank right next to both structures works great for both kayaks and canoes, but one family was especially confused by the two structures.
We landed our boats on the grassy bank just as a family of four in a canoe rounded the corner toward the nearby docks. They were at the end of their ride—and their rope. The parents were in their respective bow and stern positions with Little Sister and Tween Sister sitting between them. They veered toward the kayak launch. Tween Sister called out. “DaaaaaaAAAAD, THIS is the WRONG DOCK!” Dad replied, “I’m just taking a look at this thing,” as if reasoning with Tween Sister was a possible thing. “We did NOT get on HERE, we got on OVER THERE,” she yelled, punching her words so Dad would understand her better. Both parents looked grim. As dad assessed the launch situation the canoe drifted into shallow water. When Mom stabbed the water with her paddle it sank into the silty bottom. When she yanked the paddle out, the canoe rocked and lurched. Tween Sister wailed. “YOU’RE GOING TO SINK US” After a little more flailing and a lot more wailing, they maneuvered the canoe to the “right” dock next to the kayak launch and after a few tippy moments Tween Sister stood on the dock, ripped off her life jacket and stomped off the dock. Mom called her back. “Felicity**, get back here. We have to unload all this stuff while Dad gets the car.” Tween Sister, hereafter called Felicity stalked back to the dock, her face contorted into an expression that looked like she was trying to shoot death rays out of her eyes. I swear she had an eye roll that was audible. By now she had attracted quite an audience, including us. We onlookers exchanged bemused looks. Felicity snarled at her mother. “I HATE THIS PLACE! We almost drowned and I WANT TO LEAVE THIS PLACE NOW! This is the WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!” Mom didn’t blink, just handed Felicity a pile of stuff and helped Little Sister collect her things. Dad looked at her and said wearily, “Felicity, just knock-it-off.” Felicity shot everyone another epic eye roll and SIGHED. Dad headed for the car. He looked a lot like he really wanted to keep walking away from Felicity forever and might have done so when a woman in our midst leaned toward him and said “Don’t worry Dad, this phase doesn’t last forever. It will pass.” He paused mid-step and a ghost of a smile crossed his face. Those of us gathered gave him knowing looks. We probably would have given him a standing ovation for tolerance, but we were afraid to set Felicity off into another rant. He disappeared into the parking lot, and a few minutes later came back to collect his family—including Felicity. They drove away and with the show over, the rest of us also packed up and left.
Families share all kinds of stories, and it’s been my personal experience that the best stories are the ones where some tribulation, real or imagined has been faced and resolved. My family has those stories as does your family. Raising kids is hard work. I’d love to be present years from now when Felicity is at the dining room table griping about the behavior of her own children to her relatives. Her father will launch into the “That Time When We Were All In The Same Boat With Felicity” story, and her parents will, at last, laugh. Really hard.
**Felicity is this girl’s real name. I promise. Fits well, doesn’t it?