My son Cooper has Down syndrome. He’s now six years old, and it’s still hard for me to say that, at least some of the time. He’s a sweet boy, at least most of the time, but he does have a strong will and a tendency to want to do things his way. I think that’ll actually serve him well in life, but it can be pretty tough when you’re trying to get him ready for school. The kid knows what he wants and you better not try to give him strawberries when he’s in the mood for grapes.

We have a boat, and we really like to get out on the lake as a family (well, I really like it, more so than the rest of the family). My older son Max has taken to fishing with me and we’ve had some awesome days out on the water just the two of us. Unfortunately, Cooper gets scared on the boat.

But I think that’s changing!

This past weekend we went out as a family. It was my birthday (I’m now 46) and when the fam asked me what I wanted to do, there was only one thing that came to mind: go out on the boat. I got up fairly early and hit the lake by myself. I made my first cast at 7:48 a.m. I love mornings on the lake. It’s quiet. No jet-skis and no wakeboard boats. The water is usually calm and the air is still cool. I worked an elbow-shaped area with a deep dropoff and some grass and pads on the shallows. At about 8:30 the bass started to wake up. I watched them pushing minnows over the grass flats and feeding in big splashes. I caught a few fish and enjoyed my coffee.

At around 10 a.m. my wife called, saying they were over at the neighborhood lake lot, where the launch ramp is, and ready to be picked up. I made my way over and Max and Cooper were super excited to go out on the boat. Especially Cooper, which was a first. He didn’t fight putting on the life jacket. He didn’t yell or try to run when I reached up for him from the boat as he stood on the dock. He did the complete opposite. He kind of leapt into my arms. He sat down where I asked him to. I wouldn’t say he was an angel (he did reach for a lure and almost get impaled), but this is a complete 180 from how he used to act on the boat. He was pretty chill. No tears and no screams. But we still had the speed test.

In the past, Cooper would yell and cower into my wife when I ran the boat at anything more than idle speed. He’d hold his ears and sometimes cry. Not this time. He was a little scared at first, but then he started having fun. We made our way over to a little beach so the kids could play in the water. After a couple of hours at the beach, I shoved off and we used the trolling motor to move up the shoreline. Me and Max fished. I caught two more and Cooper held the bass for the camera. No fear. Just smiles.

Max hadn’t caught a fish (one jumped off) but he finally got his as we were headed back toward home. It was a wonderful day. Cooper is progressing in so many ways and I think there are many more fishing adventures to come.

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