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What I Learned On a Paddle Board

by | Aug 2, 2019

I think I’m a pretty fun mom. I try to plan things that both my kids and I will enjoy. Things that are active, outside, new, and somewhat adventurous.

I decided we needed to spend more time on water. My son already likes kayaking and I really wanted to try paddle boarding. I gave my 15 year old daughter the choice between kayaking and paddle boarding, and she informed me she’d hate it all, but if forced she’d choose paddle boarding. She was forced; paddle boarding it was.

It was an ideal day. Perfect, actually. Already hot and sunny, there was little to no wind and the tributary of the Columbia I’d chosen to rent our water crafts was calm, still and flat. “Oh man, you guys…this is going to be so awesome!” 

“I don’t want to do this.” “This is going to suck.” “I hate this already.” “Why couldn’t I have just stayed at home?”

Breathe, smile, encourage.

We got all geared up after I had to make a middle aged run to the restroom, then another to move the car, and my kids practically hurt themselves rolling their eyes at me and how embarrassing and annoying I was. 

Finally, we were on the water. Son comfortable in the kayak. Daughter not comfortable on her knees on the paddle board and me delightedly challenged on my own board. We set out. Within about 2.7 minutes my daughter was not happy. She was doing great from what I could see, she even stood up and was paddling perfectly. But, she started to panic. My daughter came into this life hard-wired with anxiety. It’s become poignant in the last few years and is the area of the most discord between us. I am not someone who tends toward anxiety, and I have a really hard time understanding and embracing how anxiety shows up for her. But I’m trying and I’m learning.

As I was offering advice and encouragement, I could tell it was the exact wrong things to be saying. It didn’t matter that she was in no danger, or that the worst that could happen was that she’d fall in the river and get wet. It didn’t mean anything that she was doing great, or that she’d get more comfortable if she just took some deep breaths and stuck with it. What I’m learning is that I am powerless against her anxiety. And I fucking hate it. I hate it because the thing we least want as parents is to see our children suffer. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that I can say or do from my perspective helps. Talk about letting go of control…

So I did the only thing that I knew would help. I asked her what she wanted to do. “Get off this board immediately.” So, we paddled back the 200 yards and she fought through her embarrassment of “failure” and got off the board. And I was sad and frustrated and disappointed, but resigned. 

Then the son and I went back out because what my daughter didn’t need was more attention or coddling, or for us to give up too and feel guilty about that. She needed to take care of herself. Which meant being alone, in my car, on her phone, and distracting herself from anxiety. Was that MY choice for the day? Hell no. But so it was.

The other kid and I paddled down the river for a bit and he decided he was sore and tired and bored and done. Jesus! What is up with these kids?? ARRRGGG. Why fight it? He bailed on me too. But I decided to stay on that goddamn paddle board for the entire 2 fucking hours that I had paid to be on it. And I did. And even though it was only about another 45 minutes, I felt like it was a year of therapy:

  • First: I was soooooo annoyed. I spent several minutes wishing my kids were different: more resilient, more active, more tenacious.
  • Then: I felt guilty for spending any time wishing my amazing, smart, opinionated, hilarious, capable, strong kids were, in any way, different. I silently berated myself for being a terrible mother.
  • Sent waves of apology and prayers of forgiveness to them and into the universe and started to try some gratitude instead. It’s always served me in the past, why not now.
  • I am grateful to be alive, to have kids who are healthy and smart enough to argue with me and stand their ground. I am grateful to be outside in this beautiful place. I am grateful to be healthy and strong enough to be on this board, etc.
  • It helped. 
  • Then I got the idea that maybe if I was going to be on this goddamn paddle board and, maybe I should fucking enjoy it instead of seething or thinking bad thoughts or feeling guilty.
  • So I moved into mindfulness. I literally said to myself, outloud because no one was around to hear me, “feel the sun on your shoulders, notice the breeze against your skin, listen to the sound of the water against the paddle, pay attention to the birds singing…”
  • Sensed a shift
  • Decided to embrace my alone time
  • Realized that I wasn’t angry or wishing kids were different. I was disappointed because I had expectations that had been broken. That’s all. I had future cast a picture of what “this perfect” day would look like, and my expectations had been broken. Big deal. Be present…what else is hBe grateful for kids that are willing to try things even when they are pretty sure they won’t like it or have to be forced into it. They’re still willing, and that’s huge.
  • Remember back to when I was 15, I would have HATED paddle boarding. Especially with my mother! 
  • Perspective: I was afraid a lot at 15, and lazy, and always looked for the easiest way to do things…oh! Maybe my kids are NORMAL and are great and actually our relationship is fantastic, especially if I compare it to my relationship with my mother. Holy Hell…I’m doing AWESOME as a mom, not failing!! Wow…perspective.
  • Big picture: I am proud that my daughter tried something hard and scary even when she was nervous. AND I’m really proud when she said “Fuck this. Not worth it. And I’m not staying on this board to prove anything to you, mom.”  Goddamn, that is going to serve her well in life.
  • The universe sends another lesson: As I was on my way back to the dock, fighting a little bit of wind and current that had come up, I hit the wake from a boat at just the wrong angle and got thrown to my knees. I didn’t get hurt or anything, but I got really wet and very surprised. I realized after I stood back up that I was shaking. Hmmmm. A little anxiety to consider. I lost control, and although there was no way I was going to get hurt and I was doing great, (and all the other stuff I had said to my daughter not 2 hours earlier), I felt a loss of control. And then a little anxiety. It was like God, source, higher guides (whatever word you like) gave me just a taste of what my daughter had experienced earlier.
  • Get a serious ah-ha and see the big picture.

By the time I got to the car I was pretty wiped, physically and mentally. But I was excited emotionally. I lived a whole lifetime on that board in the span of 2 hours. As soon as I walked up my daughter smiled her big beautiful smile and apologized for the butt sweat on my seat, and I could tell she had taken care of herself. I immediately told her how proud I was of her and what I’d learned. And told my son thanks for staying out there with me for a bit. And they asked how my alone time was, with real interest and understanding that each of us did what we needed to do. In that moment I felt incredibly lucky, beyond grateful, and super appreciative of all the lessons.

And then we ate tacos. 

It turned out to be a better day than my expectations could have dreamed up.

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