Or: How to Trick a 3-Year-Old girl into Getting Excited About a Battleship
I do cherish the concept of the daddy-daughter date, and as such, I decided to take my little girl to Wilmington for the day. She loves the beach, I love warships with a thousand guns, and Wilmington has both. Done deal.
Wilmington is a simple two hour drive from Raleigh. We awoke early to maximize our time, and to try and get there when the fish were still hungry. If I’m going to be on the beach, I’m going to have a hook in the water too.
The main beach drag in Wilmington is Wrightsville Beach. Being a beach adjacent to a city, parking costs money everywhere, lest there be a billion cars circling the same parking lot, waiting like jackals to pounce on the same spot. We found a space right at the south end of the island, and headed down to the water. I picked the beach by the south end because there is a jetty there which would 1)bring in big fish, and 2)make the waves smaller for Shiloh. Both proved to be true.
We spent a good four hours there, running up and down the beach, digging, catching minnows in the surf, and jumping in the waves. Perfect father-daughter bonding. Couldn’t have asked for better morning. The water was gin clear, the sun was shining, the waves were just right, and the wind was minimal. We had a great time, save for the fact that I caught nothing.
I was hoping to catch a drum, but didn’t get a single hit the entire morning. However, right as I was reeling in the line to go back to the car, what should I spot cruising through the shallows, but a massive drum, hunting down a tasty meal. I swear it was at least two feet long. It swam right up to a couple of girls standing in the water. I got within a few feet myself. Seeing a fish like that and not catching it haunted my thoughts for the rest of the day. As a fisherman, that sort of thing is deeply frustrating and a little demoralizing. But, such is life.
We headed downtown to get some food and stroll along the city’s riverfront boardwalk. I love a good waterfront boardwalk, and I had heard Wilmington’s was envious. The whole stretch had been touristified, with trendy restaurants, souvenir shops, a horse-drawn trolley, and art installations. I certainly don’t mean it was touristy in a bad way. It was beautiful. We got a bagel and ice cream and walked around, past all the restored old buildings-turned-hipster hideouts. I would like to return and explore a little more of Wilmington’s historic downtown stretch. It seems like a great place to find some kitsch shops and delicious grub, and see some beautiful old southern architecture.
Then came the battleship. For the entire day, I had been trying different tactics to get my small, female child hyped up to see a colossal floating fortress with more guns than sense. Such a thing would not normally entertain her, but I managed to get her reasonably pumped up beforehand. I capitalized on her natural curiosity of new things, combined with her casual interest in boats. It took a few tries, but my ploy worked.
“Shiloh, later today, we’re gonna go see the BIGGEST BOAT YOU HAVE EVR SEEN! IT IS SO BIG! DO YOU WANNA SEE IT!?!”
I love history, and I love any giant engineering feat that can bring the war to you. The USS North Carolina was just that. It had served during WWII as the first newly commissioned ship to serve during the war, and was involved in every major naval offensive in the pacific theater, earning 15 battle stars, and the title of most decorated battleship of WWII.
I learned all of that from Wikipedia after our visit. While at the memorial, which cost what I thought was a reasonable $15 to enter, I had to keep Shiloh engaged. I couldn’t linger at the displays or take an audio tour. I had to show her the next thing to see with an excited, elevated tone.
The truth is, though, that she loved it. She had no idea what she was looking at, of course, but the novelty of the whole experience was enough to keep her interested of her own accord. In fact, she ended up insisting that we peek into every open room (and a few closed ones) and run down every hallway. She wanted to look through every window, climb every stair, and turn every wheel she could find. She even loved to pretend to load and fire the guns. This steel war machine had helped take down one of the world’s most powerful armies in the biggest war in human history. Now it served as a fascinating playground for a three year old girl (and her father).
There was no time to absorb much of the history, but in the end, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. Running around the bowels of such an impressive ship with an implacably curious, excited, and adorable girl was just the best.
Wilmington makes a great day trip, but I left there feeling certain that there was much more to see. I have a soft spot for quaint, old southern cities, and we didn’t really get the chance to explore that side of things there. We’ll have to go back for longer.