Issue: September 2001
Heart Burn

When it comes to a jiggly heart, Vice President Dick Cheney has nothing on me this boating season. This, the summer of toddler-hood, the summer of the great life jacket rebellion. Every time I watch my 16-month-old daughter Kailani trundle on up to the bow to visit her four-year-old brother-who is frequently perched in front of the headstay watching for pirates, crab pots and other Bay marauders-I experience a coronary fibrillation that would impress even the veep. That they're both wearing life jackets does little to still the palpitations.

I'm thinking we should have a portable defibrillator as required onboard equipment, stored next to the flares, the sound-producing device and the flashlight that blinks SOS. Or perhaps I could just fortify my nerves with some industrial-strength bloody marys. They're a little easier to take than paddles to the heart.

Johnny reminds me we went through this with our son, Kaeo. And I remind him that boating with a toddler is a lot like labor-nature has a way of making you forget the most unsavory aspects of the whole ordeal. Without this natural amnesia, the human race would have gone belly-up long ago, and so would have our sailing season. For instance, I conveniently forgot how 45 sun block magically insinuates its way into a toddler's eyes as soon as you apply it to their cheeks, provoking a wailing that'll bring the nearest child-welfare advocate running. Also there's that greased-pig effect. They ought to make Coppertone with nonskid. I forgot about a young one's penchant for choosing the exact moment of critical mooring to try hanging off the stern pulpit. And I probably need not even mention the peanut butter and jelly all over the nav station.

But the main thing is the toddler part, as in "to toddle"-which, in certain nautical dictionaries and lexicographies, is synonymous with "unguided missile." Johnny and I have tried to find a flotation device that would not set our daughter off like a Polaris. In a perfect world, she would have her own little Lirakis harness and she would be tethered to the deck at all times with jacklines. But nobody dares make a harness for a toddler (although I was tossing around the idea of stopping by the PetSmart and seeing if they had anything for, say, a feisty labrador. That oughta do the trick). Inflatable PFDs are out for little kids too. Nope, it's strap on the double-barreled kapok and damn the humidity. And she thought learning to walk was tricky-now she's trying to do it on a surface that moves without warning, encased in an insulated, Day-Glo suit that gives her the approximate height-to-width ratio of a Maytag appliance. No wonder she's piqued. All I have to do is walk toward her with the orange straitjacket and she starts yowling, trying to scramble up the companionway and flee before I can catch her.

However, there is an upside to this. It's a great way to clear a crowded anchorage; her indignant bellowing ensures that anyone with any sense will run for the hills and the quiet, air-conditioned comfort of their homes. You'll hear us coming. Believe me.