Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do Rivers Flow in Confluence With Motherhood?

16 month old Charlotte rowing along with Mommy. Salida float stretch - Arkansas River, CO 
     DO Rivers Flow in Confluence with Motherhood? This is a question I found myself facing rather seriously about three years ago...
     I was raised on the River, my parents were private boaters. In fact, maybe it began in gestation... my Dad started really getting into boating while my Mom was pregnant with me. However it started for me, it never stopped. We would do at least one trip on the Main Salmon, San Juan or Chama ever summer, and got as many day floats in as possible in between. We skied, hiked, climbed, mountain biked too, but none of it touched me the way the River did. The River flowed through my heart, pulsed in my every vein, pulled at my life...
    Due to divorce, my parents quit boating the year I was supposed to get my own kayak, and run my first Grand trip. I was about to turn 12. The River seemed to easily fall to the wayside for everyone else in the family. I however, could not live without it. By the time I was 13 I had found my way back onto the River! At 15 I began training to guide, and at 18 my career as a River Guide began.
     Fast forward eight years... My daughter was conceived on the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida, CO in early June of 2007. I worked the season, puking off the back of my raft every day. Futile beer fines for cleaning up rookies carnage eluded all but one crusty old guide who graciously brought me jugs of apple juice. My PFD pockets housed a constant stash of trail mix and crystalized ginger. "Morning sickness" was a joke, it was 24/7 sickness, and I did my best to not puke in front of guests. Often times that meant holding it until we were in a rapid so they wouldn't notice me hurling over the side of my boat, sometimes that last "paddle forwards!" was a little touch & go...
     Charlotte was born durning early Salt Season the next spring, my home birth didn't work out like I had planned, but somehow I think she wanted to be born on the banks of the Rio Grande, at a hospital three blocks from the Rio, in Alamosa, CO. We visited the Salt River seven weeks later, and her tiny toes were first baptized in the cold clear water of Cibique Creek at it's confluence with the Salt. I got on the water a handful of times that season, but took the year off to just be a full time stay at home mom.
     Fast forward one more year... My marriage had been failing for quite some time, and finally the PBR won him over & Charlotte won me over. So off we went, my one year old daughter and I... to Salt season. I didn't know where else to go, it's where I go every spring. There happened to be a family down there that season with a little girl about Charlottes age. Bella Rio's mom watched both the girls during the day so her Dad & I could guide. She & Charlotte had a blast together! It was a short season, but liberating.
Charlottes first boat ride! Salt River, AZ  (13 months old)

      Upon ascending from the bottom of that magical canyon though, I was faced with the reality of being an instant add water single Mom. We had to do what so many in my position have grudgingly done. We moved in with my Mom.
     Santa Fe, New Mexico was the last place I wanted to be. It was also the only place I could be. So, I printed up my resume, and with Charlotte in a backpack & my dog Alaska on a leash, walked down town to the Kokopelli Rafting Adventures office. There are only two rafting companies in Santa Fe, & knowing the Northern New Mexico Rio Grande commercial industry as intimately as I do, I knew I did not want to work for the other one.
     It was an Amazing season! The Taos Box ran through the second week of July (almost unheard of,) and the company that hired my bedraggled looking, baby toting self... treated me like gold, and still does. I was as high as the River! Life was beautiful!
     I found myself facing much self doubt though... here I was, a single mom, living with my mom, still guiding full time. Something nagged at me, like it wasn't OK to be a single mom raft guide. I didn't know any other single mom raft guides... had never even heard of one! But who was I? A preschool teacher? No. A waitress? No. I am a raft guide.
     This is when I found myself facing that heavy question that haunted me so... "Do Rivers Flow in Confluence with Motherhood?" I justified myself to myself, as I seemed to be the only one judging me. "She was a planned pregnancy." "I'm just trying to get back on my feet." "It's the career I invested in." I felt like somehow society wanted me to get a job at a daycare or something, be responsible, be normal. I tortured myself.
     Then my first overnight trip of the season arrived.  It was my first night away from Charlotte ever, she was safe at home with grandma & a bottle of expressed breast milk. I was excited to be working an overnight, but stressed at being away from my baby girl. I was TL, & had the delight of only other girl guides on the trip. They were both rookies & tried very hard, but I found my hands extra full. The distraction was good, but once the guests were fed & contentedly sat around the fire, dishes done & kitchen put away, I found myself in desperate need of relieving pressure in my breasts! I wandered upstream with my breast pump and sat on a raft, pumping milk, listening to the bubbling gurgle of the Rio Grande, and watching the moon rise over the canyon rim. Emptying a full bottle of breast milk into the lazy eddy, watching the milky water mingling in the moonlight, I suddenly realized that it was perfect. That I AM a River Mamma, and I can not be anything but. I returned to the fire relieved of pain in my breasts as well as my heart, where I sang and fiddled, professing (secretly through subtle song & emotion) my undying Love to the Rio Grande... my first True Love.
     Throughout the rest of the season I plagued myself less, suddenly proud of washing wetsuits with one arm while balancing a nursing Charlotte on my other hip, rather than self conscious. I came to realize that by being true to myself, as (radical as that self may be,) I was being the best possible Mother that I could be. To deny my nature would be cheating Charlotte of the woman she chose to be her Mother.
     Charlotte and I spent two years in the grace of my Moms home, supported, encouraged, Loved. Charlotte ran her first (out of utero) river float trip at 12 months old & her first class III run at 2 1/2 years old. As mentioned in my first post, her incessant begging for a kayak from the age of 2, produced one shortly before the age of 4. She now has well over 200 River miles under her young belt, & is a remarkably proficient paddler for the tender age of 4! She often tells me how much she Loves the River & regularly begs to go rafting, (as well as skiing, but that is a story for a different day...)
    Yes, Rivers DO Flow in Confluence with Motherhood, and I am Proud to be a Happy River Mamma, to a Happy River Baby.
Class III River Baby! 2 1/2 year old Charlotte in "Souse Hole" on the Rio Grande, held by Grandpa. 

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