In a Van Down by the River

Although I have no photographic evidence to support this story at this time, I singlehandedly maneuvered a canoe holding two small 10 year olds on a four hour trek down the Au Sable River. I wasn’t willing to jeopardize the safety of my iPhone as difficult as it was to be without it. I say singlehandedly although whichever pipsqueak occupied the front was in possession of a paddle, they really didn’t know what to do with it therefore their attempts to help often caused trouble yet their little spaghetti arms were not able to move much water all truth be told so it was almost as though there was no front paddler. Except that I was constantly worried about the fate of that paddle as I watched it time and again nearly slip through the fingertips of my boating partner. I spent a little too much time wondering how I would retrieve that paddle if it did escape into the rushing water, or from the mud when attempting to push out of the bank during one of the many times we went off course.

It was a rather strange scenario for me to find myself a chaperone for a group of 4th graders canoeing down the river. I and my social issues which do not like to engage and interact with people because people still scare me entirely. I try to be friendly, I really do. Yet most interactions net the same result; an uncomfortable silence which leaves me even more insecure over my own (lack of) social skills. Unless I’ve had a drink or two at which point people think that I am the funniest, most interesting dork they ever met, but I wasn’t about to put Jesus Juice in my water bottle while acting as a role model for young children. That would be wrong.

It’s really not the kids that I have a problem with, anyway. It’s the adults, and their need to ask me questions to get me to divulge information to support their prejudice against me. Does that sound paranoid? It’s just that I’ve lived it so many times, there is really no way for me to deny it. I have some theories about what is going on there, but it is somewhat divergent from the given topic, and deserves its own space for dissection and introspection. But I can tell you that internally, my social anxiety revolves around the rude responses I have received from strangers after they pester me with questions. Thanks to the complex PTSD I suffer with due to having my self-esteem whittled away by a mad man who felt it necessary to criticize and traumatize me every few days to keep me in line, my natural response system (detached and probably amused) just doesn’t seem to work anymore. Instead, I panic, my head becomes focused on how to get out of the situation, and not what is being said. Or, if you’ve pissed me off enough, I could be holding back my standard response, “Fuck You.” This is also behavior that would not be appropriate when dealing with the parents of Lilly’s classmates in this tiny little town.

Lilly has been talking about this canoe trip since around January. It has been a 4th grade rite of passage here for many years. The river is important to this town, it runs through the blood of the inhabitants, it is a love they pass on to younger generations and I respect that. Canoeing is an amazing way to spend a day, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the sights and sounds of untouched wilderness, it is great exercise, and requires teamwork so it can be a great bonding experience. I was excited for her to go, so as the time drew near, and the notes started coming home that they didn’t have enough parents to man the canoes, ideally they wanted one adult and two children in a canoe. Fourth Graders are big enough that they don’t care to be doubled up in the middle of a canoe, but to avoid that requires pretty much every other student to bring a parent. Based on my observations throughout the year, I was afraid there were not enough competent parents to dedicate time to this field trip. I became concerned that it might not happen, there were cancellation rumors.
I don’t want my daughter to be disappointed. I don’t want my daughter to be one of the kids who feels like a burden and gets smashed in the middle of a canoe with another miscellaneous child while a stranger ports them down the river. That would suck. There were four boats with three kids, without my participation, more than half of the boats would have been over filled.

I have been in a canoe twice in my life, the first was more than twenty years ago and most recent, maybe seven years ago. My canoe partners made me sit in the front and told me what to do then blamed me when the boat went careening into the riverbank, apparently I was supposed to row where they told me to row AND control the currents and eddies of the river. Silly me. I have never manned the back of a canoe and now that I have, I realize it is the seat of ultimate power. I now understand that had my boating partners had been more adept, I would have been spared a few tongue lashings.

Since I don’t actually know how a canoe works, and if I hadn’t spent the week prior to the trip carrying around a sick two year old (which turned into nursing my own ear and sinus infection) I didn’t do the research I should have that would have given me a little edge. As it was, I really didn’t know what to tell the person with the front paddle except, “Please help me paddle out of this!” when It seemed that for all my effort we were not moving. We got hung up on a tree stump before we even left the landing, which silenced the positive self talk I had been generating to convince myself that I could handle this field trip. I began to panic.

There is no place to run in a canoe.

So, I took deep breaths, and I asked the spirits of the river to guide us. Perhaps they did, because I eventually figured out how to use the oar as a rudder, and came gliding gracefully around the river bends, dead on center. I didn’t always get it right, and occasionally may have done more harm than good, but I did get us down the waterway. I also learned to use the little bobbing head at the front of the canoe as a compass point which I tried to keep in the center of the river, one extra stroke on the wrong side of the boat will quickly get you tangled in a tree stump. We were not able to keep up with the main group, which consisted of a bunch of men who likely participate in the yearly race they host in this town, but we weren’t last either. We just came on alone, which is fine because my canoe steering skills are as clumsy as my social skills, and would likely cause us to crash into any canoe that tried to share the waterway.

As we picnicked on the river-bank, I overheard the teacher commenting to a couple of the hot dads in the lead canoes who each walked in with back packs full of survival gear and emergency kits in the pockets of their cargo pants. She was going on about how one year there was a parent so bad at steering the canoe that they made her sit in the middle and let the kids do the paddling. She then said she just couldn’t understand why you would volunteer if you didn’t know what you were doing…

I lost my appetite.

I know I can not allow other people’s opinions taint me permanently even if it makes me feel horrid when it happens. I’ve been told I’m too sensitive. I think I am exactly as sensitive as God created me to be. Maybe other’s are brutish and inconsiderate, and if they thought before they opened their mouth, they would realize that adults, just like children have a unique set of talents and experience and what is easy for one, is a stretch for another. I will be the first to admit that I prefer to be on a team with the guys who know what they are doing. I do not necessarily like to be the one in charge, and I do not always feel equipped to handle responsibility as much as I try to be responsible. All I can do is my best. I reach beyond where I am at because I love my kids. If I stayed where I really exist in my heart I would still be crying my eyes out day and night because I feel so lost and confused but it doesn’t get me anywhere and my kid wanted to go canoeing.