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.

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