There are a handful of transformational moments in our lives. The rest of the time, there are all those other smaller moments that shape who we are and who we become. I just never thought a rafting trip could, or would be, one of those instances.
But after spending four days on a Green River rafting trip with my 16-year-old foster daughter Angela, I realized there are a lot of things river trips can teach us, especially our daughters.
Looking back, our defining “moment” came on day two of our trip—the first getaway that’s been just us girls since she came to live with my family earlier this year. That morning Angela and I opted for a relaxing day on a raft with the only female guide on the trip. It was chilly in the shaded canyon. And early. We were still groggy when we hopped onto the “sweep” raft, bringing up the rear and ensuring all the other rafts made it through the first rapids of the day safely.
I’m an on-the-go type, so simply sitting and enjoying the scenery—instead of hopping into a more exercise-intensive kayak or paddle raft—while our guide “Smiles” did all the work was a challenge. But my guilt was short-lived. The three of us were chatting about how some of the strongest women Smiles had ever met were other river guides…and then we got stuck on a boulder that had been lurking just beneath the surface before it grabbed hold of us—for what seemed like an hour, but in reality was only 20 minutes.
We rocked and pulled, threw around our weight, used the oars to get us enough leverage to get off the boulder wedged beneath us. But nothing seemed to work. Smiles kept her cool as one by one the other guides began to appear over the hill and offer support from the rocky shore about 40 feet away. To nobody’s surprise, Smiles, with only the help of a little muscle from my daughter and myself, ultimately got us unstuck and moving downstream again.
Though I’m a grown woman, I felt a lot of pride knowing that we had “saved” ourselves. I prayed that Angela was paying attention. Because there was a whole bundle of life lessons in that one experience.
1) You’re stronger than you think.
Though there were just three women on that raft and more than a ton of gear (literally), we had the physical and mental strength to get us out of a rocky situation (pun intended!). Smiles had the training, experience, and critical thinking skills to contemplate options for getting us unstuck. And while it took us a good 20 minutes to free ourselves, there was no option for anyone to come in and save us. We simply had to do it ourselves.
2) Ask for help when you need it.
Just because you can do it yourself, doesn’t mean you always should. Though the rest of the crew on the river bank couldn’t do much to unwedge us from that boulder, they were there to offer perspective from a different vantage point and provide support. Isn’t that all we need sometimes to get us unstuck—a little outside perspective and support?
3) Crap happens, and it’s not the end of the world.
Smiles’ reaction to our misadventure was really a fantastic example of what to do when things go wrong. Instead of going to pieces about being stuck, Smiles kicked into “fix-it” mode, assessing what we could do to get unstuck. It was clear that this snafu wasn’t the end of the world—we weren’t in any real danger, we knew we wouldn’t be there forever, and we’d figure it out eventually. I hope that Angela picked up on that and realizes down the road when she’s in her own less-than-ideal situation that keeping your cool is the best way to handle those moments.
4) There will be bumps ahead.
I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of the world. But I also want her to be prepared. After our run-in with the boulder I thought it was the perfect time to remind her that sometimes life can get rocky. Sometimes a rock will blindside you. Other times you’ll know it’s there, but a slight misstep might land you in a precarious situation. And sometimes, you’ll be saved at the last moment by a current (fate?) that effortlessly swoops you out of the way…as we learned the next day while navigating our two-person kayak. That’s just the way life is.
Though it’s sometimes hard as a parent to let your kids fall (or fail), making mistakes and figuring out how to navigate through those situations is a big step into adulthood. Who knew that life lesson would be so easily passed along on a rafting trip?
Oh, and a little side note: When your daughter wants to hop into an inflatable kayak—without you—to run a Class III rapid with sheer jagged walls on each side, try to remember that letting her make her own decisions is essential for developing that sense of self and inner trust that she needs to grow into a strong women (that’s the lesson I got on the river).