Yesterday when I was waiting with my son for his ride to DC, we reminisced about this incident from last year. I originally posted this on April 9, 2014…
The cherry blossoms hadn’t quite popped yet, but the Cherry Blossom Festival was in full swing this weekend.
After lunch, we decided to go paddle-boating in the Tidal Basin.
Two people had to peddle in our four person boat. My three kids argued over who would get to peddle as if they were vying for seats on the U.S. Olympic rowing team. The man who was helping us into the boat solved the problem by suggesting that we return to the dock halfway through to switch positions.
“Remember! You’re not allowed to switch positions in the middle of the water,” he warned, “When you’re ready to switch, you have to come back here and we’ll help you do it.”
The boys took the first shift while my daughter and I relaxed:
Halfway through the hour, we returned to the dock so that my daughter could have a turn. My oldest son graciously gave up his coveted spot to switch positions with her…
Moments before all hell broke loose.
…and immediately transformed into a crazed martinet. “FASTER! Peddle faster, you maggots!” he shouted gleefully.
His siblings bore his strident orders with good humor at first, but the relentless nature of his hectoring soon began to pall. Undeterred by my dirty looks and increasingly forceful requests that he put a sock in it, he kept goading his younger siblings. We were like the characters in Sartre’s Huis Clos, who eventually come to realize that they are in hell, and that their punishment is being trapped for eternity with each other.
To distract the kids, I suggested that we go investigate some white rocks I could see in the distance. I didn’t recognize them and wanted to get a closer look.
The two kids got the boat fairly close to the rocks, but not close enough for me to make out what they were.
“I still can’t see what they are. Can you get a little closer?” I asked.
My conscientious eleven year old, our family’s own Jiminy Cricket, advised me against this unwise course of action. “It will take us too long to get back to the dock if we get any closer to the rock.”
“But I really want to see what they are. How about you get us just a little closer?”
Meanwhile, my eldest took this as a signal to renew his taunts.
“CLOSER! Get CLOSER! Peddle harder, you maggots! I want to see bubbles in our wake!!!”
Against his own better judgment, Jiminy Cricket steered us close enough to the rocks so that I could see at last that it was the new(ish) Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial:
“OK, let’s head back now!” I said, sneaking a peek at the time.
“How much time do we have left to get back to the dock? NO! Don’t tell me, it will just stress me out. OK, go ahead and tell me.”
“Ummm, well, we have about ten minutes.”
Now Jiminy Cricket was pissed. He started scolding both of us.
“You HAD to see the rock! And NOW we’re going to be late getting back to the dock. Don’t blame me if they make us pay more for the boat! I TOLD you it would take too long, but NO, you HAD to get closer.”
“Don’t stress out about it! If we have to pay extra, we’ll just pay extra. It’s not a big deal,” I tried to reassure him.
All the while, his brother provided a steady dose of maddening counterpoint: “Is that the best you can do? We’re not even moving! Come ON! Peddle for all your worth, Maggots!”
Jiminy Cricket lost it: “YOU peddle then. I’m not going to peddle anymore!”
“I’d be glad to peddle, but we’re not allowed to switch.” (For some reason, now my eldest son switched to a velvety, smarmy English accent dripping with evil).
For dramatic effect my second son stopped peddling, even though I know it was killing him not to be making any progress back toward the dock.
“Well somebody has to peddle…,” I ventured, as the boat came to a standstill.
At that point we realized the youngest was not feeling well.
“I think I might throw up,” she moaned.
“Just stop peddling. STOP PEDDLING! Take your feet OFF the pedals. I can manage myself!” shrieked my poor little Jiminy Cricket as he resumed peddling as fast as he could, “UGH! My back is KILLING me! My legs are killing me!”
“QUIT your whining, you maggot and peddle!” (I whacked the boy to shut him up – to no avail). “Don’t tell me that’s the best you can do. Peddle harder!!!”
The ridiculousness of it got to me and I started shaking with silent laughter.
“You think this is FUNNY?!” asked Jiminy Cricket, apoplectic with rage.
“NO! I’m sorry! It’s not funny at ALL!” I said trying to get a hold of myself, “I’m sorry, I wish I could help you peddle, but….”
Finally, we made it back to the dock, about fifteen minutes past the time we were due. Fortunately, they took pity on us, and let us stagger off into the sunset without any additional payment.
As we walked on, my sweet Jiminy Cricket said, “Thanks so much for taking us on the awesome boat ride, Mommy.” I looked at him suspiciously to see if he was mocking me, but he continued with earnest sincerity, “It was so much fun!” (That one’s a keeper, I’m telling you)!
The three siblings reconciled…
and we headed back to meet up with my sister for our ride back to Arlington.