A single mom levels up and gains some valuable parenting points on a family rafting trip
Mom: “It’s a beautiful day! Why don’t you ever play outside?”
Teenage son: “Outside? We don’t have that game.”
Mission: Family rafting trip
Target: Engage a surly 16-year-old gamer
Weapons: Hope, humor, and a healthy dose of the great outdoors
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade speaking to the back of my son’s head.
Like many teenagers today, Colden is a gamer. He got his first GameBoy at age 6 and has been increasingly sucked into the virtual worlds that he now prefers to the real one.
Our “conversations” often involve me yelling loud enough to penetrate his earphones. I even leave meals on top of his keyboard so he’ll remember to eat.
It’s not a lifestyle that I would have chosen for my son. But at some point, I decided to stop fighting it and accept that video games are what define him.
Still, as Colden’s 16th birthday approached, I realized my gamer boy was well on his way to manhood and would soon be out the door. As Colden had lost interest in the outside world over the past few years, I was truly desperate to reconnect with him in a meaningful way.
We had been on a one-day OARS trip several years prior and I hoped that another OARS trip would give Colden a look outside his gaming world, where the adrenaline is real and joy can be found in contributing to the group effort.
The negotiation started early. I knew that a five-day rafting trip with no computers and no Internet was going to be a hard sell. But I was prepared.
I started using phrases like “family vacation,” “together time,” and “road trip,” to which most teenagers just roll their eyes. Colden may have done just that. But I’ll never know because I rarely see his face.
Colden dodged these word bombs as skillfully as his zombie-killing alter egos until I mentioned “camping,” “rafting” and “rivers.” Perhaps it was then that he realized that The Great Outdoors was not some lame game that I wanted to buy him, but an in-the-flesh interactive adventure … in nature; with me and his sister.
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and declared, “I won’t be going.” Teenagers can be such jerks.
I switched tactics. Persuasion led to pleading. (“We haven’t spent much quality time together and you and your sister are going to be off to college in just a couple more years!”), which led to bribing (“Just say you’ll go and I’ll never ask you to go on another family vacation again.”) and finally good old parental strong-arming. (Get in the car, NOW!)
The first morning after we arrived Colden was amenable; pleasant even. He watched with interest as the team of guides loaded the rafts with an almost military-like precision. He waited until his sister and I chose a raft (and, of course, then chose another).
Within minutes of starting down the river, we spotted a majestic Bald Eagle. Colden smiled. And I let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps I’d get a glimpse of the little boy still hiding out in the young man he was becoming.
Colden was an enthusiastic participant the entire day. He even helped himself to three servings of the incredibly delicious fresh salmon we had for dinner that night. I declared myself “Mom of the Year.”
My title was short-lived.
The next morning we woke up to a glorious view outside our tent and to the sound of the morning “Coooffffeeeee!” revelry. Colden’s mood had grown dark overnight. Surly even.
After an amazing breakfast of pancakes and bacon, the boats were loaded and ready to take off. Colden stood on the banks of the river, arms crossed, staring down at the 24 other guests, and refused to get on a boat.
I was mortified but decided to ignore his ornery ways and let the group dynamic take over. With a lot of good-natured prompting from our guides and the other guests, Colden began to see the folly of staying behind.
Colden continued to be grumpy for the next few days. The other teenagers on the trip attempted to engage him, as did our guides. They were mostly met with the monosyllabic grunts that make up the unique language of a teenage boy. I was annoyed but thankful for the help, and glad that this “language” was not only reserved for me.
Then, on day four, all six rafts and both duckies started a water fight. Our guides called it “one of the most epic water fights” they had ever witnessed.
Colden stood at the helm of his raft, water cannon in hand looking very much like one of his video game characters. His main target? Me, of course.
And he smiled. A lot. Maybe even let out a laugh or two.
That night, the guides brought out a lighted bocce ball set. Colden jumped at the chance to participate.
More smiling and more laughing.
On the final day, a dear guide named Ben said to Colden, “You know, outside isn’t for everyone.”
“It sure ain’t for me,” Colden grunted.
I hadn’t expected our trip to change who Colden is, but I did hope that it might ever-so-slightly change how he sees himself and his place in the real world; and that one day, maybe – just maybe – he will remember the trip “Mom made me go on” and smile. “In theory, I shouldn’t have had a good time,” Colden said, gazing at the ground when we got home. “But I kinda did.”
Good enough for me.