When I was a child and the rains came, I’d peak over our back fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of the neighborhood playground. If the storm was big enough, the sandbox would flood and I’d grab whatever looked seaworthy: sleds, inflatable pool rafts, snow saucers, sticks and, one time, Whiffle Ball bats stitched together with shoelaces and blind hope.
I couldn’t help it.
I was called to the chocolate-colored water, the pools and channels and foamy storm wrack just deep enough to paddle around in. Amid the slides and swings, I waged a mutiny on the Bounty, captured treasure on the Golden Hind and explored new worlds on the Nina. When my vessels inevitably foundered, I pretended to be on the Titanic, grasping for life rafts.
Years later, when we moved to a new neighborhood in San Francisco, I noticed during a storm that the playground at Dolores Park flooded into miniature lake.
“Someday,” I told Dana, “Someday Emme will be old enough to go sail in that.”
Dana looked at the muddy pools loitering under the play structures.
“That?” she laughed, “Why?”
Because it’s fun.
Last week, during a big storm, I hurriedly gathered supplies when I noticed the playground had flooded again. At nearly 5, I figured Emme might be into it.
Was that an understatement.
One day after preschool, we spent a long, rainy afternoon with a massive cardboard box begged from a trendy furniture store, a couple rolls of duct tape, some makers, garbage bags and a miniature soccer goal. I made her an oar out of a Swiffer pole.
When we finished, Emme dug through her dresser for a “pirate outfit” and then helped me load the vessel into the car.
“Do you really think this will float?” she asked.
I shrugged. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. I never remembered using a cardboard boat, but we had shellacked the seams with duct tape and plastic bags, so I was hopeful we’d get at least a few minutes of floating in before disaster struck.
To our surprise, it worked.
Emme puttered around the playground in the rain, shouting “argh!” and “Ahoy!” to anyone who would listen. At one point, she demanded I hide some “treasure” on the land, while she planned a daring raid.
I got the biggest kick watching her drift around the seas, blasting the slides with cannon shot or forcing invisible pirates to walk an invisible plank. I felt a tinge of envy, because I desperately wanted to be young enough to fit into a cardboard boat; and I felt a touch of guilt, too, wondering if I was foisting my childhood desires and memories onto her. Then she slashed me with her cutlass, stole my treasure again and laughed as she sailed off, shouting, “To my pirate island!”
It was a wise move, heading to port. Seconds later, the boat broke apart.
On the drive home, I turned the heater as high as it could go and blasted us with warm air. In the living room, there was still half of a cardboard box left.
“What do we do with this?” I asked.
Emme’s eyes twinkled.
“I know just the thing.”
She was pretty sure astronauts didn’t have to take a bath after their voyages.