Becoming Family on the Green River

This August, I became a mom (again) on the Green River.

It wasn’t a traditional birth, of course, or a literal one. But it was a birth nonetheless.

You see, six months earlier, Angela came to live with me and my 17-year-old son. She’d run away from her former home in February, crashed on our couch for a couple of weeks and celebrated her 16th birthday with us before officially becoming my foster daughter.

But slapping the word “daughter” on our relationship didn’t make me feel like her mom. That happened on the river.

Kimiko and daughter at Split Mountain

I can remember almost the exact instant when it happened too. It was the last day of the rafting trip. And after spending three full days of essentially being inseparable 24/7, Angela decided to share a two-person kayak with a newfound 13-year-old friend. There were some Class III rapids on this stretch of the Green River, so I’d opted for the paddle raft, hoping to be close to the action (but not too close).

As our boat made its way into a particularly intense-looking stretch (think swirling, splashing waves of water at the base of dramatic 50-foot jagged rock cliffs), I worried about the giggly, uncoordinated team of teenagers 100 feet behind us.

Of course, the reality was that the guides wouldn’t have let the girls run the rapids if they’d felt they would be in any real danger. But the mom brain in me snapped on and I couldn’t quell that anxiety. I looked back, holding my breath, to make sure the girls made it through unscathed.

And it was in that moment—in that stressed, worried, protective mindset—that I knew I’d become her mother.

Certainly the other moments on the rafting trip had led to this moment: The time spent singing together (loudly, and badly) and figuring out how to work as a team in our two-person kayak (one camper described it best when he said: “wherever your relationship is going, it’ll get there faster when you go tandem”); the sharing of a two-person tent (what personal space?); and peeing together in the river (if that doesn’t generate a level of intimacy, nothing will).

It was during the time we spent together on the river laughing together, learning to rely on each other, and finally getting on each other’s nerves that the two of us finally became family. And on Aug. 3, 2014, I became the proud mother of a 16-year-old girl. And I couldn’t be prouder.

 

Photo: Brian Clark