Up to now Dave and I have done a pretty job of ensuring that Little Man is afraid of water. He is more like his mother who likes warm, tropical waters, than his father who must be part polar bear. When Little Man was 6 months old we dipped his little baby feet into the subarctic waters of Barrier Lake where Dave’s family has a cabin. Little Man responded as any 6 month old should, pulled his feet up to his ears and wailed his protest. About a year later we repeated this process at Laguna Beach, California. Now admittedly the ocean water was a little bit warmer… a little bit… but it was still January temperatures for California and Little Man’s response was the same as his lake water experience.
Most recently, while living on Vancouver Island, we found a lovely area of the Nanaimo River where it is very calm and still. Winnie the Pooh would describe this part of the river as an area where the river itself was calm and sure about where it was headed, and therefore not in any particular rush to reach its destination. If there was a little bridge this would be the perfect place for a game of Pooh Sticks. The river is also, fed by numerous mountain streams coming from heights where even in the warmth of July snow still blanketed the peaks. While calm, these were not tropical waters. On this particularly hot day I was able to wade in just past my knees before refusing to go much deeper, while my polar bear husband was splashing and swimming with reckless abandon. Our cautious two year old dipped his toes in the water, intuited what his sneaky parents had in mind, and did his best to turn tail immediately and head for the hills… literally. We, on the other hand, thought that we would help him over his fear of the water and brought him in deeper, with Little Man clinging to his daddy like the best koala bear imaginable. A little bit later with chattering teeth and blue lips we all got out of the water and went home for some well-deserved grilled cheese sandwiches and a warm bath.
Amongst these arctic water experiences we had a couple of pool excursions that were fine, but Little Man was by no means excited about the idea of playing in water. At this point I was starting to get a little nervous that my own reticence towards water was rubbing off on my son. I am the first to admit that I am not the strongest of swimmers, but Dave’s family just might be part mer-people. They all love the water, doesn’t matter how warm or frigid it might be. My parents also love taking the grandkids to special pools through a time-share that they are a part of, though most of this has been done with my brother’s fantastic children and not with Little Man since we’ve lived so far away. My biggest concern was that I don’t want Little Man to miss out on special family aquatic adventures just because his mom is more of a land lover and his well-intentioned parents keep dipping him in arctic waters.
Around the same time that I was mulling over this “dilemma” I heard about the Nanaimo Aquatic Center. I filed the name away, associating it with the sad, little indoor pools that I remember as a child; the fumes of chlorine wafting heavy above the water. My memories are further soured by a couple of teenage swimming instructors that were too young to understand how to work with a child who was afraid (or at least strongly concerned) about the water. In my mind, therefore, the Aquatic Center was something that we might try in the dead of winter when no other outside activities were at all possible. That would have been a horrible mistake.
The Nanaimo Aquatic Center is one of the coolest public access indoor pools that I’ve seen. It contains multiple pools, some for laps, some for aquatic aerobic and other exercise classes, some for great heated soaking, and a large one for kids. The “kiddie pool” is the first thing you see when you leave the changing areas, and you come face to face with what appears to be the better half of a schooner suspended over ankle-deep warm waters. The ship has stairs leading up to its cockpit and a small slide splashing down into shallow waters. When Little Man first tried this slide he ended up ankles in the air with a stunned fish-like expression. The shallow waters lead to a small, secluded pool where the water is half a meter deep and protected from the splashing of the other areas, perfect for tired parents or nervous kids. Both of these areas lead to the larger Wave Pool.
I have not yet seen the actual waves in the Wave Pool, since the machine is turned on later in the afternoon after we’ve had our morning swim. The pool itself, however, is pretty cool. On one end you can walk in from a shallow slope until on the far end it reaches a depth of 1.5 meters. The pool is ringed by a series of low walls designed to look like the craggy rocks lining the shore, with a diorama in the deep end of a few pine trees complete with seagulls. The ceiling over the pool is festooned with colorful banners depicting artists’ views of the ocean. My favorite is the one of a person and a dog swimming in the ocean, but the view is from underneath the water looking up like from a fish’s point of view. The other end of the pool has a small lazy river, or Magic Waters in Little Man’s parlance, and a heated bubbling cauldron of a jacuzzi at its center. In short, Little Man loves this pool and all of its waters. So do his parents.
Our first visit there showed me just how well we had trained Little Man to fear the water. He cried at the shower where everyone starts out rinsing off before hitting the pool itself. Then when we cleared the changing rooms and he saw the expanse of water that we were carrying him to his experience told him that this could only end one way; with him being dunked into ice cold water. His feet zipped up to his ears, his cries echoed off the far walls, and his koala-bear hold on his Daddy near choked Dave out. It took us a good 30 to 45 minutes of warm, shallow water with him sitting in our laps or clinging like a koala before he was ready to stand on his own. That first day we considered it a success when he let us hold him and just move around the pool. The second visit I took him by myself since Dave was working. That visit went better than the first and Little Man was more comfortable in the water. He let me pull him through the deeper parts of the pool, ran around splashing in the shallows, and the only tears shed were those of a tired toddler who didn’t want to leave the fun when it was time to go home for lunch and a nap. Since then, each time we’ve gone back he’s gotten a bit braver and a bit more adventurous, until now he asks to go to the pool. Dave and I have to use code words like “Warehouse 13” (aka place of wonder) when we talk about the pool at home. If we forget to use code Little Man will head straight to the closet where we store his swim vest and declare he’s ready to go “float like a mer-baby.”
That term comes from when giving Little Man a bath I wanted to rinse out his curly locks, but he didn’t want to get his head wet. So when I laid him back to rinse out his hair, I would say that he was “floating like a turtle” referring to one of his favorite bath toys. Then one bath time he corrected me saying that he wasn’t a turtle, he was a mermaid. I didn’t want to debate the gender differences here, so instead we used the term mer-baby and it stuck. From that moment on, floating on his back, letting his curly locks flow in the water, has been called floating like a mer-baby. Now that’s one of his favorite things to do at the pool, float on his back, with his curls rippling in the water, gazing up at the beautiful banners hanging from the ceiling, and singing softly to himself. This has become one of my favorite memories of our first few months in Nanaimo.
Since first discovering the Aquatic Center I’ve found numerous other pools like this across the region. Beban Pool has a similar, if older, version to what we have at the Aquatic Center. Down in Victoria there are six different pool centers like this, the one described by my friends as the best is the Crystal Pool. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance the last time we were in Victoria, but I can’t wait to check it out the next time we get to visit.
When we got home from that first successful day at the Aquatic Center I wanted a simple, but celebratory lunch. My goal was to continue the great feelings from the pool with something special at home too; linking memories of water to fun comforting times with family. What popped immediately to mind was a Bacon and Tomato sandwich. The best Bacon and Tomato sandwiches are made by Dave’s dad, Joe. In fact, one of Little Man’s favorite books is Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayres, this book was first had read to him by Miss Katie, the excellent Children’s Librarian at the Pella Public Library in Iowa, and describes how different plants grow in a garden. At the end of the story the little boy sits down with his dad, a friend and some animals to feast on the bounty of the garden. Little Man likes to point out all the different foods being eaten. The dad in the picture is biting into a sandwich, and when we ask Little Man what it is that the dad is eating he replies “Bacon and Tomato Sandwich.” Then when we ask him who likes that kind of sandwich, he says “Papa Hopwood.” So from the mouths of babes, this sandwich is elevated by Joe. The best one I’ve ever had was up at the cabin this summer. It’s a simple creation of lightly toasted wheat bread (the whole wheat can be accredited to Ruth’s influences) with a generous slather of mayonnaise, lots of great summer ripe tomatoes and of course the bacon. The pictures here are of that delicious sandwich that Little Man devoured, and would have licked the plate clean if I’d let him.
Joe’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich
For my version of the sandwich I’ve made a few tweaks, all of which Dave objects to since the original is already perfection. I can’t disagree with that, but I wanted to make this more of my own so I had to mess with it… just a little. I like to add peppery greens to the sandwich to cut through the richness of the bacon, and arugula or watercress as my two favorites. I also like to mix a little Dijon mustard into the mayonnaise before slathering it into the bread. I find that the mustard brightens the heaviness of the sandwich without taking away from any of its bacony awesomeness. So while this is not, Joe’s Bacon and Tomato sandwich, it is awfully good.
Not Your Daddy’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich
1 lb. good quality, thick cut, smoked bacon
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 large ripe tomatoes
8 slices good whole wheat bread
2 cups fresh arugula, or peppery lettuce
Preheat the oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Line a large sheet pan with paper towels, and then top the paper towels with a cooling rack. Lay the bacon slices down without overlapping them onto the rack and roast them for 15-20 minutes. Be sure to check the bacon periodically to be sure that it isn’t browning too quickly. Once the bacon is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. I love cooking bacon this way, since it not only allows me to multitask other parts of the meal, but it also gets rid of the splattering mess all over my stove and therefor cuts down on clean up. Double bonus.
While the bacon is roasting, combine the mayonnaise with the mustard in a small bowl and set aside. Then slice the tomatoes thickly, lay them on a plate and sprinkle them lightly with salt.
About 7-10 minutes before the bacon is done, toast the bread lightly. This should be just enough to give the bread a little bit of a crunch, but leaves the interior nice and fluffy. Once the bacon is out of the oven, slather one side of each piece of bread with the mayonnaise/mustard mixture. Layer the tomatoes across four of the pieces of bread. Top the tomatoes with the bacon, dividing it up between the sandwiches. Then top the bacon with the arugla or other greens. Lastly, crown the sandwich with the remaining slice of bread, cut each sandwich in half (if desired) and enjoy.
Click here for a printable card of the Not Your Daddy’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich.
Little Man, having completely devoured his own sandwich, was now working his whiles to get mine too.