My last several Mother’s days were spent at dance competitions where all the focus was on students and performances. I was lucky to get a stray hug and a “happy mother’s day, can you zip up my costume” comment. Now that I’m free and no longer encumbered by business demands, relishing my God given role of “mother” in a natural way, the holiday is mine to celebrate. For the first time ever, I’m aware of how special it is to have a day designated to appreciating mom.
Mother’s day is a designated family day. The best part of this specific family oriented day is that Mother (me) gets to choose how the family spends it. My family asked me a week ago what I “wanted” for Mother’s Day. I said, “Nothing tangible. No gifts. I just want to have a good time.”
I don’t want “things”, per say – but man-o-man, I am thrilled to have the power of choosing the experience for one day. That is truly a great gift. As the mother (I.E. the nurturer, mediator, compromiser) I am always throwing out suggestions, but they are overruled by the majority – or, I withdrawal my desires because I read a family member’s face and feel guilty for pushing for something I want. I tend to feel compelled to give everybody else their wish first and foremost. Not on Mother’s Day. That is a “no-guilt push for whatever you want” day. Therefore, I did.
I told my family I wanted to go kayaking, weather permitting. If that wasn’t possible, we would go to Atlanta to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History to see all the exhibits, especially and specifically, the current tour of the chocolate exhibit, an educational and historical look at chocolate. This is my idea of a good time.
It was only 54 degrees Sunday morning. Overcast. 50% chance of rain. This did not make conditions attractive for kayaking, so we opted for the museum. I dressed in a pretty skirt and lacy top and the family took me out to breakfast. When we left the restaurant, it was a sunny 60 degrees. Now, that isn’t ideal, but it is promising. It might get warmer. I suggested we change plans (and clothes) and go back to the kayaking plan. My husband said, “It’s your day.”
So that is what we did.
We drove to the local River Adventures Company that sponsors whitewater-rafting tours. They also rent kayaks, tubes etc. Because it was rather cold, we didn’t think it would be wise to set up a scenario where we would be wet for hours on the water, so we opted for two canoes rather than kayaks– one for Denver and Kent, and one for Mark and me, with Neva sitting in between. Fun – I love canoes. I packed snacks and water bottles.
The company offered two trips, one a measly 1 ½ miler (which isn’t nearly long enough) and the other a 6 mile float. This is rather long for beginners – which includes everyone in the family other than me, however, it was my day and thus my call. Since I was comfortable being totally selfish, we took the 6-mile trip.
The guide kept commenting about “When we flip the canoe…” I chuckled and said, “I have no intention of flipping these boats. I’ve been canoeing all my life, haven’t turned one over since I was twelve and stupid.” ( O.K – confession – I once stood up and bailed right in the rapids because I was scared. This caused my boat to capsize and my dad (and all our sleeping bags etc) to get drenched. Needless to say, I learned the folly of canoe acrobatics then and there as an adolescent, and I’ve never forgotten it.
The guide smiled and said, “I promise you, at least one of these boats will flip on this trip. Count on it.”
Silly, faithless man.
We get to the site where we put in and Denver and Kent get into a canoe, arguing all the while – much ado about nothing. Too many green paddlers in that boat, I guess, but whatcha gonna do? As they go hilter skilter with the tide, it was our turn to load.
I was going to sit in the back, because I know more about steering, so Mark had to get in first. The guide and I reminded him to hold onto both rims of the boat and step into the middle. He heard us, but his body did not obey the practical advice. The boat rocked. Mark lost his footing and he plummeted into the water – only it wasn’t deep there on the shore, so he fell into mud. He came up with gobs of goo up his shirt and down his pants.
I, of course, started laughing. Couldn’t stop. I asked if he’d be OK for the trip, (trying to be nice) because here he was, already wet, and we had six miles ahead of us and no sun to warm him up. Didn’t bode well for a comfortable trip. He insisted he was fine, the mud in his crack was refreshing and good for the complexion. He was ready to go. He wouldn’t even rinse off as the guide suggested. He was just embarrassed to have slipped in front of this experienced boat guy. And I think he wanted to get this trip over with – the sooner we started, the sooner it would be over.
We loaded a nervous Neva, I got in and we shoved off.
Thus begins a Mother’s day we aren’t likely to forget.
Let me begin by saying, I love canoeing. I love being out on the water. I love the motion of the boat – simple – fueled only by quiet paddling. I love looking at the trees on the banks of the shore, animal sightings and birds, or houses built right on the riverfront. I love how my arms get tired – the sounds of the wind in the trees and the fish jumping and quiet voices rolling over the water from one boat to the other. I love the challenge of maneuvering the boat when obstacles like rocks or a tree get in the way. I especially love rapids. Exhilarating. Canoeing makes me think of my dad and growing up. Canoe trips were normal weekend fare for us – we even owned a canoe. It was painted like white birch bark. I have many fond family memories of that boat and the hours we shared on lakes and rivers and such.
For the first half mile, we all got used to our “teams”, learning how to communicate and paddle to propel the canoes in a controlled manner. My daughter was sitting in the same position as I, in the back of her boat, so I tried to teach her how to steer, but she insisted she and Kent had their “own way” of doing things. I was told to stay out of it.
O.K. Sister. Knock yourself out.
Mark had his own paddling method. I call it the splash and crash method. He slammed the paddle into the water (too shallow), and managed to get everyone behind him wet in the process. He didn’t want to hold the paddle as suggested, so he kept slamming his fingers between the frame of the paddle and the boat. In short order, they were black and blue. Throbbing. Ouch. But he wasn’t much interested in paddling lessons either.
Apparently, the environmental department lets releases water from the damns several times a day which causes a great, hearty flow and a higher water level in the Ocoee river (that is where the former Olympics was – yep we live in that area where the perfect river runs and the entire world agreed that season). But on Mother’s day, they were not letting water out till midnight, so it meant a shallow river. This meant our trip was a virtual minefield of rocks. Cool. Mark did not find this cool, however. He felt rocks are a call for much cussing and complaining. I kept pointing out that he was the lookout and had to tell me where to maneuver the boat. He couldn’t just scream “rock” as we were hitting them. I couldn’t see from the back – partly because he is too big to see around and partly because my eyes suck.
It took us about two miles to get him on the ball in the rock-warning category. But eventually, we started working together fine. We had a method – I call it the “let the kids get ahead and when they get stuck, we will go the other way” method. It worked most of the time.
I think it’s fair to say that much of the six miles we covered was not a float – more a push and scoot method of forcing the boat forward. Sometimes, up ahead was such a perilous obstacle course we just had to let the current take us wherever it wanted, because it was impossible to avoid turmoil and hard work to get through. But get through we did. And we didn’t get out of our boat once.
Everyone was not so lucky.
At one such area where the rapids were rough, my kid’s boat tilted and Kent lost a flip-flop. He reached out to get it just as Denver was compensating with a lean, and their boat flipped. They were dowsed – freezing and mad – yelling. They had to lug the boat to the shoreline to turn it back over to get in.
I felt terrible for them. I couldn’t stop laughing.
I must admit – I laughed all day. I mean, it was like I was possessed or something. I couldn’t stop. I laughed at my loved one’s discomfort, their awkwardness, their stupidity, their good humor, their willingness to go canoeing when they didn’t want to, their jokes, their complaints. They would be in the rapids yelling and shouting at each other, and I’d be yelling “Ye-haw! Whoopee!” and laughing . And the more fun I had, the more annoyed they got.
Finally, Mark looked at me, shook his head, and said, “You are loving this, aren’t you? For the first time ever, instead of the family making you miserable, you are having the time of your life and you get to make US miserable.”
So sue me, I like canoeing.
To be honest, everyone was a great sport about the day for the first three hours. But then, tones began to change. For one thing, everyone was cold. Of course, it is only fair to point out that everyone was wet, but me. I am the only person who remained dry, other than Neva, and since she was sitting in the middle of the boat and Mark had splashed so much water in with his brutal paddling, she was pretty wet from the waist down too. So, naturally, they were less comfortable than I. Their lips were blue and their feet numb. And everyone said their arms felt like they were falling off. Big surprise. They were all paddling furiously for hours on end, while I was paddling and steering and taking leisurely breaks between rapids when we had smooth sailing. I wasn’t sore in the way they were – and frankly, I am more in shape (other than Kent) and that helps too. So at this point, everyone (other than me) lost their humor because they were so darn uncomfortable.
They started singing songs about how they hated canoeing.
I said, “Come on – take a minute to look at the baby ducks. You have to admit the scenery is beautiful. If it was sunny out, this would be great.”
My daughter glared at me and snapped, “It isn’t sunny. And we are OVER this, Mom.”
I was very sensitive to their misery. I laughed some more.
It took us 5 hours to complete the trip. I tried bargaining with snacks to get everyone in a better mood, but when Kent stopped paddling to eat some popcorn or a cereal bar, his sister yelled at him because the boat got off course. Mark dropped his crackers in the water so he threw them overboard with a disappointed snarl. Neva said her fruit roll up was gooey from moisture. Big disappointment. But, I enjoyed my snack. My crackers were crusty and good, even if the duck swimming along side us wouldn’t trust us enough to eat some.
We were half a mile from the exit when Mark shut down completely. He said he couldn’t paddle anymore. He sat there as if he was on a Disney ride and he was expecting it to roll to a halt in front of the exit any minute. The boat kept rocking perilously as he shifted in his seat because his hips and knees were killing him.
He announced he would NEVER get in a canoe again.
I said, “What does that mean? You can’t mean you will never canoe again, just because today it is a bit overcast and cold.”
He assured me, I’d be hard pressed to ever convince anyone in this family to go canoeing again. “Unless your dad comes up to visit and you go out with him, you will be alone if you ever want to get in a canoe again.” He said, with my kids nodding support.
It didn’t matter what they said., because the fact is, Mother’s day comes every year.
I told Mark he had to participate, like it or not, at the end, because we were getting lodged on rocks and the only way he could end the misery was to help me get us to the finish. He started bashing at the water with his paddle, as if he was trying to kill an alligator or something – when the only thing around us was gentle waves. He argued that I wasn’t steering well, when really, I just needed more motion for my steering to have effect. It didn’t help that he changed sides every two minutes all day long. I tried to convince him to just stay left and I would compensate, but taking canoe orders is simply not in the genetic code of these Hendry’s, it seems. But I wasn’t angry at anyone’s bad temper. It was a long trip, after all.
When we finally got to the end of our six-mile adventure, Mark couldn’t even stand because his hips hurt so bad. Denver said her feet were so cold she couldn’t feel them, so she fell as she walked, as if both feet were asleep. Kent was miserable, and Neva (because she didn’t want to feel left out) started complaining too. We dragged the boats onto the shore and I threw away the trash. We lumbered to the car, dragging our wet sweatshirts and shoes.
Denver did comment that she thought we would laugh about this day in the future – but not until then. I had to be quiet until then. I tried. Really.
So, we sat on towels in the car and I drove home (it’s only a fifteen minute drive). Everyone had a shower and slowly, the circulation came back. The heavy gray clouds let loose and it started to rain.
“See, we were lucky in a way.” I said. Everyone groaned.
After changing – tired and beat-up- they took me out to dinner to a Chinese buffet (also something I love but they feel cool about. Hey – it is still Mother’s day – my pick). We laughed a little at their misery. They passed a bottle of Advil around like it was candy, complaining that their arms hurt too much to life their forks. My mother’s day concluded with us opening fortune cookies – all of which seemed eerily apropos to our current life situations. Neat.
It was the BEST ever day.
I don’t think it could have been any better, even if everyone was in a good mood the entire 5 hours of canoeing. I didn’t mind the complaining cause, heck, my family was truly uncomfortable and they don’t have to hide a simple truth that is so apparent. What counts is, they were there, floating along beside me, doing my thing because they were committed to giving me one day a year that is mine all mine. And that meant a lot. I loved it all – the gray sky, the shallow water, the hard seat that numbed my butt, and even the complaining family.
I am seriously thinking it is time to turn in my two-seater kayak for a one man, easy to lift boat. I may have to throw in the towel on the “teaching your family to love a great river trip in a canoe” quest. After this Mother’s day, I’m thinking it aint’ gonna happen. But then again, when the sun comes out and the hot days of summer arrive, it’s amazing how quickly people forget the cold. I might finagle another family try at canoeing, which might go better if I am smart about it.
Yesterday, as I was dropping my daughter off at the airport (I had to lift her luggage cause her shoulders and wrist were so sore) my daughter said she might join me for a gentle cruise around the lake someday in my kayak since there are no evil rocks laying wait to capsize you in a lake. She also said, maybe on a day when the river flows well, she’ll even try a short three-mile trip in a flat bottom kayak. She had to admit paddling must be great for a gal’s arms. I pointed out that her aunt says it gives you boobs like a rock too.
Later, Mark said he wouldn’t mind putting in at the same spot if we parked the car at the public park that is a few miles down the way, on a day when the river is higher.
A shorter trip?
On less frustrating water?
We are talking compromise, right?
I can do that.. . until the next Mother’ s day at least.