Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Gates of Lodore VS The First Day of Kindergarten

A few months back we were invited on a 4 day River trip through a section of the Green River called "The Gates of Lodore." I immediately said yes, without realizing that the launch date August 19th, was also the first day of Kindergarten. Once this fact was revealed to me, I immediately withdrew from the trip, my social programing screaming "you can't skip the first day of Kindergarten, it's the first day of Kintergarten!" Well, I beat myself up over it for a while... a few weeks actually, so I started asking other Moms, other River Moms, other boaters that aren't Moms, Moms that are Kintergarten teachers... they all said "GO!" Slowly I broke through my cultural programing and came to the realization that I remember nothing about my first day of Kindergarten, but I sure as heck remember everything about every multi day raft trip we did when I was a kid. And so, we were back on board & ready to roll, with the schools blessing and gratitude for an early absentee notice even. So, we started off Charlotte's school career right, truant! Truant in lieu of the educational pursuit of life and adventure, and what an amazing learning adventure it was!

A facebook meme a friend posted just after we returned from our trip.

Even before our launch day we found great learning experience! While spotting the trailer backing down the boat ramp, my attention was distracted just like I was a curious Kindergartener,  by a small hopping motion out of the corner of my eye. Immediately leaving my post as trailer spotter I squatted down to pick up the tiniest little toad I have ever seen! I showed it to Charlotte and we talked about amphibians & how tadpoles turn into frogs & toads. She continued to play with her new little friend, hopping along the shore while the trailer got parked & unloaded.
Charlotte playing with her tiny amphibian friend.

Day one Charlotte kayaked the whole day! OK, so it was only a 2 mile day, but it was perfect for her to kayak! Nice "real" flat water, unlike the "flat" (not) water on our home River. Charlotte & Alan (aka Daddy) practiced eddy turns, talked about paddling technique and reading water. When we got to camp she parked her own boat, pulling it all the way up onto shore & out of the way. She was very proud and made sure I saw her great parking job.

Kayak lessons with Daddy.

Sand castle erosion & geology lessons!
That afternoon, the three of us went exploring down stream from camp and found the most amazingly beautiful little beach where we frolicked for hours! Splashing, playing, jumping, running & rolling, building sand castles upon the cliffs of Dover only to watch the lapping River waves reduce it to rubble, calving glaciers of sand off the edge of the little beach with our feet. We talked about geology, erosion, how the water affects the sand, how the canyon we were sitting in the bottom of was formed, how the gates of Lodore (which we could still see from our camp that night) came to tower over the low fertile fields which the Green River meanders through before entering it's cataract. Somehow I don't think Kintergarden covers geology, but we are simply rolling with the curriculum of life!

Leaping into Life!
I am not a tent person. I just really like sleeping out and don't really like messing with tents. In fact I don't even own a tent. Charlotte owns one though, and quite enjoys the little kingdom within her tent. Night one I told her that if she wanted to sleep in her tent then she had to learn to set it up herself. Super excited about the prospect, she was an eager student and did quite a remarkable job of learning to set up her tent! In fact, by the end of the trip Charlotte was setting up and breaking down her 2 man REI backpacking tent mostly all by herself, and was so very proud of her new found ability!

Day two was a big rapid day, with a class IV in it... I'm comfortable with Charlotte running class III, she has done allot of it, and a "very" little bit of "very" low water class IV. But the idea of "Hells Half Mile" made me nervous, even though I was assured by a friend who guides there and is a Mom herself that it is fine at low water (our trip was indeed low water,) and that they take 6 year old's commercially. The scout seemed relatively straight forward, though I knew that all the water was pushing where I didn't want to go... I implored  my friend Michelle to ride on my boat just so she could grab Charlotte if need be. Running the rapid I was so gripped! More gripped than usual... something about having my little one on my boat in a big rapid that I don't know like the back of my hand (much of the whitewater Charlotte runs are rapids that I DO know like the back of my hand.) Tempering my overly amped heart in throat- was Charlotte; giggling, squealing and saying"Weeeeeeee!" Of course we made it just fine, and honestly, I think Mommy was the one learning this time.
The crux move in "Hells Half Mile"

Charlotte spent a good portion of day three in her kayak again. This time tackling some class I and easy class II wave trains, still practicing catching eddies and exploring all of the fun little coves and crevices where rafts can not go. She was Rocking it! She seemed so comfortable in her boat, getting it exactly where she wanted it when she wanted it. Wave trains became an object of delight instead of fear, I could hear her shouting "Weeeeeee!" while paddling through them. All in all Charlotte paddled a full 5 miles of the trip, and loved every minute of it.

Charlotte also spent a good bit of time on the oars. She has always loved sitting on Mommy's lap and rowing, even as a baby. As she has gotten older she has started actually affecting the boat with the oars, moving it, and even maneuvering it. She now sits on the captains seat as well, as opposed to mommy lap. It's all her, no mommy hands on the oars. Night two Charlotte actually pulled the raft into camp (essentially) all by herself. I was impressed! She had to angle the boat through a wave train and *PUSH* into the eddy. She had been rowing for quite some time at that point as well, so I was surprised that she had the energy, let alone the strength to get that big heavy 14' raft into that eddy! WOW!

 Another big thing that happened on this trip was a moment that I had been waiting for for years, a moment that I blogged about two seasons ago in the post Inevitability and Fear. Well, the inevitable finally happened... Charlotte took her first swim! It was just flat water, my friend Michelle was rowing. Charlotte & I were both sitting up on the bow with our feet hanging over the side. We bumped a small rock and Charlotte did a very slow motion slide/plop! At first she looked wide eyed and surprised, then immediately began laughing! She swam right back to the boat and grabbed onto the spare oar. I pulled her in & we both tumbled down in giggling fits. I congratulated her on becoming a member of the elite "Green River swim team," and we talked all about her experience; how it felt, what she thought, how she reacted, what made it scary, what made it fun, etc... All in all that first swim was a perfectly glorious and beautiful experience, and I am so very grateful!

About to jump off the bow for a swim!
Swimming back after visiting another raft.
I felt like I was watching Charlotte blossom on that trip, like I could see her grow before my eyes. I never had one moment of regret for skipping that "all important" first week of Kindergarten. I did however have many moments of humbling gratitude for being on the trip, many moments of absolute awe at watching the strides that Charlotte was taking. Some things small, like jumping off the raft instead of slowly sliding in, swimming away from the raft to Daddy's kayak, other rafts & back again, instead of only hanging on to the perimeter line. Some things big, like kayaking miles on her own & taking care of her tent by herself. I watched her confidence grow in leaps and bounds! I mean, we learned things about the natural world around us: big horn sheep, crayfish, tadpoles, milk thistle, peppermint, poison ivy, pictographs, geology, hydrology, cartography, etc... We sang songs, counted things and read books, talked about letters and words. She also spent much quality imaginative time playing with the fairies of the canyon. I think though that what really prepared her for the upcoming massive life event of starting school, more than anything, was simply that growth of confidence and independence, that sense of accomplishment.
Cartography lessons! Where are we on the map?

We walked into Kindergarten the next week, still her magical "first day." So what if it wasn't everyone's first day, it was hers. My only trepidation was immediately quelled. I knew that Charlotte would catch on to the rules & catch up with the class quickly, but I was slightly concerned about her having that "awkward new kid" social syndrome coming into class a week late. As it turned out though, she instead pulled a "fashionably late rock star" maneuver. Some of the kids in her class she already new from daycare and other various places. They had apparently been asking about her all week, anxious for Charlotte to show up, so when Charlotte did show up, there was a chorus of "Yay Charlotte! Charlotte's here!" Whew, no awkward new kid social syndrome! I think most of my Mommy fears are completely unfounded... at lest that's what the universe generally shows me to be true anyways.

We are about to take another leave of absence from Kindergarten. In fact tomorrow Mommy & Daddy set out for a 23 day Grand Canyon trip and Charlotte, equipped with the months curriculum from her teacher, will be spending the time at Grandmas house. I am a firm believer that the "school of life" can be just as much of an education as any class room. I am sure that Charlotte will learn just as much during her visit with Grandma as I will in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and more than she would have learned in our daily routine of school & home. I think I'm a believer... "Adventure IS the best way to learn!" Oh, and the Gates of Lodore wins Hand's Down to the first day of Kindergarten!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Down River, an Exercise in Letting Go...

Preface: I initially wrote this post three months ago, but when I clicked the "publish" button, something terrible happened, some glitch, some twist of fate: instead of publishing my post, my computer deleted two thirds of it... gone, forever. My agonized screams of "Nooooooooo!" echoed through the quiet neighborhood morning as I closed my computer and walked away, let it go... I fully intended to rewrite the post in the not too distant future. But as so many best intentions go, and as time has such a way of slipping away, here I am three months later, attempting to remember the small nuances and strong emotions that accompanied the day I wish to wright about. I feel this post is important to write about, and feel the need to publish it before I write the next one, which is also a story eager to be told... So here we have, "Down River, an exercise in letting go," three months late.

 Down River, an Exercise in Letting Go...

Lately I have found myself reading a plethora of articles and blog posts about parenting in our 21st century American culture. More specifically about things like over protective helicopter parenting & overzealous academic pushing. Articles titled things like A Nation of Wimps and Have American Parents got it all Backwards? I feel like I have always been conscientious of my parenting style, trying to empower my daughter while still setting safety boundaries.
OK, really... I am overly anal retentive about safety. I probably fall right into that category with parents who use hand sanitizer 1,000 times a day & make their kids wear helmets on the soft modern rubberized playgrounds. Though in my own way of course... it's not germs or metal monkey bars that scare me... but rather 200 lb out of control skiers/snowboarders, deep powder tree wells, fast current, deep water, big hydraulics... Things that scare ME, as a strong cognitive adult. I am aware that these are important safety concerns, but I am also aware that I get too worked up about it. I get upset, I yell... "CHARLOTTE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!? YOU NEED TO LOOK UPHILL WHEN MERGING ONTO A TRAIL!" Overkill Mommy... overkill. I know that my reaction doesn't have the kind of impressionable effect that I am looking for. When parents gets mad & yell, the anger & "in trouble" is what sticks in kids heads, not the lesson: what Mom is angry about/ kid is in trouble for. I have super vivid memories of pissing my parents off & can remember how upset they were, getting spanked, getting grounded... but can not for the life of me remember why, ever. OK, so lesson here is chill out Mom. Be safety conscious of course, but chill on the hyper-agro safety reactions. No need to yell.
Also, risks... as humans we all have to take risks. We have to calculate those risks, accept the rewards as well as the consequences.  Kids need to take risks too, they need to learn their own boundaries. They need to know that we have faith and trust in them so that they can learn to have faith and trust in themselves. So yeah... all these article I have been reading, they got me thinking... I need to have more faith and trust in her. I need to let go a little, let her take some risks, let her take some personal responsibility. Ok, Ok, I know what your thinking "but she's only five!" Seriously though, if I don't start letting her be responsible now... how hard will it be when she's thirteen? Yeah. And so we begin... those sharp kitchen knives she has been begging to learn to use for like two years now? It's time to get them out & start chopping. I was actually rather surprised at how gentle she was with them, how concentrated, how intense, and at how proud she felt at doing a good and safe job using them. See Mommy, that wasn't so bad?
Practicing paddling on a pond
Then there is that whole River thing... So Charlotte has spent lots and lots of time paddling her kayak in pools & ponds, and has good control over it. She has also spent much time in the big eddy at the town whitewater park, on a leash. She practices eddy turns and current peelout's, all with the safety of moms death gripped hand on the tail end of a 20' strap tethered to the back of her boat, preventing the possibility of accidentally drifting into the play hole below... number two, the biggest one. No glassy waves here, just a churning pile of white. Missing the eddy turn would result in an  inevitable swim, (at least in my paranoid mommy mind anyways.)

The leash...
One day while we were practicing down at the park, I had all these parenting concepts on my mind and I suddenly realized that it was time to let go... so I did, literally. I let go of that cam strap and piled it onto the little treasure tray in the stern of her boat, and told her she was in her own. At first she protested, but I encouraged her as my stomach flip flopped and I prepared myself for a shallow cobbley swim, ready to make a flying leap if she missed that eddy turn... which of course she nailed. She was elated, "Mommy! I did it all by myself!" Her little voice was so excited! I clapped, yeehawed and wohooed! A few more independent laps and we headed home tired, excited and empowered. Whew...

The next step of course is going down River, but the Arkansas River has little in the way of beginner (5 year old) friendly flat water. Every "family float" stretch here consists of pretty much constant class II boogie water; boulders, cobble bars, wrap rocks, sleepers & strainers galore. A far cry from true family float style flat water, in fact there is nothing flat about it. Fortunately there is a (very) short section just in front of our boathouse where we can put in at a private boat ramp and take out two wave trains & a few football field lengths later. So Charlotte, Grandpa, the dogs & I all rallied at our little put in for Charlotte's first solo down River experience.

The Mommy Harangue, looking at our eddy line.

At the put in I of course had to satisfy my mommy paranoia by having a Very Serious safety talk with Charlotte, reiterating the fact that she will be on her own & in control of her own boat, as well as (of course) rehashing all of the safety rules & what to do "if..." Harangue over, she started by doing her current peelout/ eddy turn practice, and made the first few, but then started staring off into lala land with her paddle high & dry, drifting right past the eddy and bumping down the cobble bar. To her credit, she (with some prompting) stopped her boat, and walked it back up the cobble bar to the eddy. A little more focused this time, she was nailing it! And so, we shoved off "Down River." She made a perfect current peel out and aimed for the little waves past the cobble bar, Mommy & Grandpa fallowing in a little green raft shouting encouragement & excitement.

About to shove off "Down River..."

We got to the first little wave train and I instruct Charlotte to catch the eddy below it, "OK, but it's too scary!" she responds. "Your good!" I tell her, while shouting instructions, which soon turns into "Paddle, paddle! Use your paddle!" as Grandpa joins the chorus. Charlotte makes the eddy! The next wave train is a little bigger, and the take out eddy is hard to catch. It is just one of those tricky eddies, which of course makes me super nervous. Lots of shouting encouragement & directions from the peanut gallery for this one, including "Get it, get it, get it! You can get it!" And... (of course) she got it! At which point she sat in her trophy eddy beaming... "I got it!" The exuberance and empowerment that rang through her voice with those three simple words sent chills down my spine, swelled my heart like spring runoff, with gushing pride and joy. She got it several more times that day too...

As hard as it is for us as parents to let go, to give our children that little push of flight, to take that deep breath and trust in our child's ability, despite our nagging fears... It is so worth every moment of agony, every knotted stomach, every heart in throat feeling, just to see that glowing beaming look of elation and accomplishment on her face, to see her empowerment blossom. To know that she will grow up to be a strong and confidant woman.