The girls and I went rafting for three days just as school ended on the Chama river in northwestern New Mexico. The river is a fairly calm one, good for kids, excellent for a hyper mother’s nerves, and the scenery is world-class with huge bare cliffs with yellow, white and red stripes, tall Ponderosas and wide, wide blue skies. A golden eagle flew directly over our heads, we saw dinosaur prints captured in stone from when NM was a muddy swamp millions of years ago and floated by a Benedictine monastery as Sunday morning services started.
A big highlight, grown-ups included, was playing at the mouth of the Gallina River, a small tributary that turns to six inches of soft, spa-quality mud when it joins the Chama. All of us completely indulged our primal selves in lovely squishy stuff. I fingered war paint on my face, B took on grown men in the mud-flinging battles, while L ran around happily but being careful to allow on only her feet and ankles to get muddy.
And as it goes with wilderness trips, we had a few challenges and we vanquished them all successfully.
Since I’ve done a tiny bit of boating before, the friend who ran the trip urged me and another mom to take our own boat. We resisted and went as passengers. Good decision: at the end of a school year, the work of just simply being self-sufficient in camping for three, plus helping pack and unpack the rafts twice a day was much too overwhelming for me to add in rowing for several hours. My first day, I dozed in the sun ;-). But I didn’t completely escape rowing. On the last day, I was “ordered” to run a small rapid, so row I did: straight into sharp sticks poking out of the water and a few rock walls. Finally, with arms aching to an embarrassing degree, and mind still confused about which hand/oar would propel us in which direction, we slipped sideways (the goal is nose-first) down the Skull Bridge rapid. Amazingly, we stayed right side up. Hooray.
Both girls slept for two nights in the “kids castle”, a giant tent brought generously by another dad. The girls had lanterns and buddies, but struggled with knowing that there was a dark wilderness out there between them and mom in another tent if they changed their mind. And, bless them, they worried about me, no matter how much I insisted they should do what they wanted. L finally put it best, “Mom, last trip I slept with you, so this time, I’m going to the kids tent.”
No matter what I was telling them, this independence was an adjustment. I’d imagined this trip as together time for us, but given that there were seven kids on the trip, including two “big” 11-year-old boys, I ended up being the background support team. I’m still struggling with that role, but I was tired enough to not fight it and sit by the campfire happily at night while they roamed around.
B and L both paddled and rowed the big oars, and played ruthlessly in the water wars between boats. I learned that B is a crack shot with a super soaker and an ace at coming up with irritating nicknames to bug the big boys in defense of her sister. One of the 11-year-olds was called a “bosom” in retribution for earlier teasing offenses. Indignant, he turned to me and said “You let your daughter say that!!!” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. Why not? The girls had been contemplating much worse.
I learned that L., no matter how despondent at the way social dramas are unfolding, will come for a little comforting, but then throw herself back into the fray until she gets to where she wants to be. The older boys confused her in a variety of ways, but she persevered until she felt comfortable. I’d wish for her that she just not worry about it, but she took her own road. The prize? Later, she noted how the sixth-grade boys on the school playground intimidated her last year, but after this trip, she no longer felt so afraid of older boys. Just what we’re looking for!
But thank goodness, both of them also talked a lot about the animals they had seen, how much they like sleeping in a tent, the scavenger hunt they went on (prime item to find: elk poop), the deer skull someone found, the plants they learned to identify. I never did this stuff as a girl in the east – never experienced the feeling of being away in a place where nature is bigger than you no matter what, for a long enough time that it seeps in. I’m determined that my girls know this, see the elemental power of the earth, even if they end up on the 45th floor of some apartment building in a giant city.
At least they’ll have known it, and maybe can find it deep within themselves later in life to save them, as it has saved me, no matter – especially no matter — what the boys are doing.
Note: check out New Wave Rafting, the awesome company that took us on our trip!