Growing Up is a Hard Thing To Do
We have been sailing with Jaru, a Canadian family with a fish-obsessed 9 year old boy.
It had been a hectic day of provisioning, lessons and beach play. We were finally back at the boat and steaming ahead for a peaceful tropical evening. Jaru was anchored just a few yards away within easy yelling distance. On a usual whim, Tiegan threw a line over and in 4 seconds had hooked a large Mutton Snapper. He was whooping and hollering as they fought it aboard. Nika stood transfixed.
"Can I fish?" she asked excitedly. Sure kid, sure. I had snorkeled our anchorage when we set the hook and knew it to be deserted sand and grass. I figured she would give up in a few minutes.
I started dinner and was vaguely aware a half an hour later that Nika was still fishing in earnest. Her brow was knit as she stared into the water, trying to filter the glare and see the fish which surely must be there and just about to bite. Another half hour passed. My heart was breaking for the girl. Then, a brief rain burst opened up, but she fished on. The rain stopped a minute later and the clouds broke. Her favorite yellow shirt had huge wet spots all over it.
A key part of parenting is knowing when to let your kids crash and burn on their own. It's a painful process for both dad and kid. Nika was so intent on getting a fish, but she was plowing ahead against terrible odds. She was a poster child for what a fishing girl must do: be earnest, patient and accept failure with a stiff upper lip.
But still, it hurt to watch her be disappointed cast after cast. The irony is, if you make a habit of bailing kids out, you end up building them a cage. "The pain", as my track coach used to say, "is good".
I was just about to my breaking point. I was going to walk up softly, ask about how things were going, reminisce about some of the great fishing moments we have had and then invite her to pack it in for the day. It was just about then that we heard the yelling, "Fish! I got a fish!"
The girl had done it, bless her heart. I fired up a thankful prayer while tripping my way up the stairs. I rounded the corner and saw her pole bent and bouncing. She was reeling in the line with all the tenacity of a nine year old who had been fishing fruitlessly for what must have seemed an eternity.
By the time I got there she had the Snapper dangling in midair. "What do I do?" she asked breathlessly. "Swing him over the tramp!" I nearly yelled fearing one more flip would send him spiralling back into the drink. "Get a bucket Nana, quick!" All hands were converging. A bucket of water appeared and Nika dropped her Yellow Tail Snapper in.
"I FINALLY got a fish Papa!" she beamed from ear to ear.
Nika learns what no amount of talking can ever teach you, "luck" smiles on the persistent.
We probably went a little overboard. I thumped her on the back like a football player who had just scored the winning touchdown, squeezed her tight, praised her temerity and diligence up one side of the world and down the other. Mom came running out with the camera and there were the usual kid + fish smiling poses. Nika was flushed with success and happier then a clam at high tide.
Our rule is you can't keep a fish unless he'll be eaten. I normally take a dim view of processing small seafood since the cost benefit analysis on a fish worth 5 bites doesn't pencil out too well. But somehow none of that mattered.
"I want to keep him!" Nika said with conviction. Dinner got cold, the drinks got warm. The fillets were smaller than a graham cracker each. Fish scales glued themselves to every kitchen surface. That certain smell permeated the boat.
But, for the first time in a long time, nobody cared.