Life with Liz: Adventures on the water
Last weekend we did one of the most fun things I think I’ve ever done. We went on a whitewater rafting trip with the boys’ Scout troop. The day did not go at all as I had expected, and in the end, that made it even more epic.
Our family is no stranger to rafting. The Wonderful Husband was a river guide for many years, and we’ve taken more than a few trips together. Even though he’d prefer to be in a kayak, he’s made the sacrifice and rafted with the rest of the family. It’s been a few years since our last family trip, and I had it in my head that we’d float down the river and the WH would instruct the boys on the finer points of paddling and the features of the river that he knows like the back of his hand.
The last time we went, E was barely more than a toddler, and truthfully, the experience had been a little overwhelming for her. She wasn’t looking forward to going as much as the rest of us were. I suspected that most of her trepidation was because she was going to be surrounded by her brothers and all their best friends. Once she found out that a sister or two would be in the mix, she relented and agreed to go into the trip with a better attitude.
Since the boys were doing a combination camping and rafting trip, and this mama avoids camping at all costs, especially when the camp is 10 miles away from my bed, I met them at the rafting center bright and early. I got there just in time for the safety briefing.
We were instructed to sit in groups according to who would be traveling in our rafts. I looked around and discovered that all three kids were already in “full” rafts with all their friends. This was already not going according to plan. The WH was also off checking out the guides’ kayaks and reliving stories from his glory days. Spending a quiet day alone wasn’t quite what I had pictured. I was also questioning my ability to guide a raft down the river by myself.
I shouldn’t have worried. I soon found the raft of deserted parents. It wasn’t quite the Island of Misfit Toys, but it was close. As we sat dejectedly in our mock raft, we nervously glanced over at the boys, who were completely oblivious to us and our concerns. “They’ve all done this before, right?” we nervously asked each other. Sure enough, just about every raft had one or two veteran rafters, some of whom had even rafted bigger rivers than the Lehigh. To their credit, they did seem to be paying close attention to the guide as he laid out the rules for the day. It really helped that he was fluent in teenage boy humor.
Soon, they traipsed off to the buses, and once again, I found myself left behind. I tried to comfort myself with the fact that the padded seats of the 14 passenger van were way more comfortable than a bus full of slightly smelly and loud teenage boys, but I will admit, I was a little sad about missing a possible rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
One of the perks of the comfortable van was that we arrived at “put in” first, and thanks to the WH’s desire to hit the water ASAP, we were the first raft to launch. As we held steady in the current, I was able to watch the kids load into their rafts. I was struck by the confidence with which all the kids took to the water. Sure, they were ribbing each other, and the insults and the jokes were flying, but the smiles on their faces told the real story.
I watched as A assumed his position at the head of his boat and proceeded to order everyone around. Luckily for him, his friends are used to his ways and have perfected the art of listening to him when it’s important and ignoring him when it’s not. G quietly assumed a position in the back of his raft but kept an eagle eye out for upcoming hazards and adjusted his paddling to the needs of the river.
We weren’t on the river long before the first round of water battles broke out. If you’ve never rafted before, you’re given a bucket that is ostensibly to be used for bailing water out of your raft. About 20% of the time, it’s used for this. The other 80% of the time, it is used to throw water on people in other rafts. That ratio becomes more like 5%/95% when you’re dealing with a band of merry kids. Although I took a few good buckets full, I quickly claimed neutrality in the interest of getting some pictures to preserve our memories forever.
About halfway through the trip, the WH had the opportunity to finish the trip in a kayak, and the final member of my family abandoned me. As I sat laughing with my friends and the guides who were bringing up the back of the trip (our raft was only at the back of the pack because it’s the best place to avoid water battles, not because we’re old and slow or anything!), I thought about how differently our “family day out” had turned out from what I had planned. I spent the day keeping an eye on all three of my kids, and eventually the WH, as we all enjoyed the same activity, but all did it in our own unique way.
Later that afternoon, as we wound down the day resting at the camp site and inhaling hot dogs and s’mores, A came up for a quick mom check.
“I think today was one of the most fun days ever, Mom, thanks for bringing us.” I know I’m not far from the days when he and his buddies will load up their own vehicles with rafts or kayaks or inner tubes and take off for a day of adventure with no parental guidance whatsoever, and I’m glad that we’ve equipped them with the skills to do it. I won’t worry any less, but at least I know they’ll be enjoying it more.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.