A family gets the most out of the season, and time together, by unplugging for a warm-weather adventure.
It’s early spring, and life is messy. My Subaru, nicknamed Uber-u, races from one carpool to the next. As with so many families with teenage kids, our meals have become a grab-it-and-zap-it event between school and sports.
There was a time when my kids wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace or privacy. Now friends, laptops, phones and social media take priority on their to-do lists – and admittedly, sometimes on mine as well.
In short? I’m starving for face time. Real, intimate face time.
“Clear your Saturday,” I announce in a burst of inspiration toward the end of the school week. “It’s mandatory family fun day.”
I feel the kids’ eyes roll, and I know I have to make this outing a good one.
The Fischers: Jennifer, Darrell, Ava, Zach
A Boy and His Bucket List
After fruitlessly searching for activities online that might appeal to everyone, I remember a bucket list we made too many summers ago. My son, Zach, wanted to chill out on a pontoon boat – it actually may have been a seaplane, but pontoons were definitely involved.
I did some research and ended up booking a boat about an hour’s drive away. Dreams would soon be realized: Zach would have his pontoon experience, and I would have my husband, Darrell, and our kids, Zach and Ava, for four hours of sun-drenched, nonrefundable bliss.
Blue Cypress Lake near Fellsmere, Florida. Photo: Robert H Ellis / Shutterstock
Wild and Unplugged
We got lucky, and Saturday morning welcomed us with sunshine and a light breeze. Perfect boating weather! We fueled up at a coffee shop and stopped at the market for a portable picnic of fresh fruit, baguettes, a hunk of salami and those delectable, little cheese wedges wrapped in foil. Onward to adventure.
Set on a scenic nature preserve, Blue Cypress Lake is a relatively undeveloped lake about a half hour outside Vero Beach in central Florida. We found the little fish camp with our pontoon rental at the very end of a private, rustic road surrounded by miles of scrubby flat wood and pine forest. Birds chittered, and a cat lazily stretched on the front stoop of the quaint check-in cabin just steps from the water.
“Welcome!” a voice boomed from one of the tall rocking chairs lining the porch.
I correctly assumed the large, outdoorsy man with the tan face and sparkling blue eyes was the camp’s owner. In my excitement to reach his outstretched hand as he stood, I missed a step and nearly fell into his lap.
And that’s when it happened. My kids were laughing. Definitely at me, not with me, but that was okay – they were shoulder-to-shoulder and enjoying the moment. Bonding in their shared horror at my un-coolness.
After pleasantries and introductions, we climbed aboard our pontoon boat, received our safety instructions and life jackets, and pushed off.
#squadgoals (Ava says I’m not allowed to say squad, goals or speak in hashtags; but my story, my rules.)
The Voyage Begins
Easy to drive and quiet, pontoon boats are perfect for exploring. Darrell took on the role of captain and looked right at home in the plush cockpit. The rest of us spread out and tested the different seats – all comfortable and inviting.
“I’m starving,” Zach announced as we headed out into the center of the lake. We decided to break out the snacks early.
Food tastes better outside – especially from the deck of a boat. After devouring most of our feast, we turned our attention to the many fish swimming near our boat. Ava dragged her finger along the water’s surface and squealed when a fish came too close. Her laughter turned into loud hiccups, which only made us laugh more.
Zach stretched out on the long chaise and closed his eyes. Minutes later, though, he was on his feet. “Hey, look out there,” he said.
A large, prehistoric-looking bird flew in slow circles above us. Zach had just spotted the first of many ospreys we would see that day. Later, I’d learn that more than 200 pairs of these majestic raptors nest in the cypress trees that grow in the shallow areas of the lake. We also saw great blue heron, a muskrat and even an eagle.
As we slowly crossed the lake, Ava ambled over to her dad and sat on his lap. Free from the pull of Snapchat selfies and Instagram likes, daddy’s girl was back.
Together, they steered our little ship past a small island buzzing with dragonflies. The gentle rocking of the boat and sun on our faces lulled us all into a welcome state of calm and stillness.
The four of us relaxed the afternoon away, idling along the well-timbered shoreline. Because our lake was part of a nature preserve, it had a 10-mph limit, which was just my speed. We were all in the moment – present. Not wanting to break the spell, I was silently thankful.
Removing teenagers from their chosen spaces and social lives isn’t easy, but it’s worth all the effort. For four lazy hours, the queen of all toys – a pontoon boat – confined us to a small, floating world, where all we had were fabulous views and each other.
Sorry (not-sorry!), Ava.