Before She’s Gone: Mother-Daughter Rafting Trip

If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother

Mother-daughter relationships are complicated. Mother-teenage daughter relationships, doubly so.

Maybe it’s because this is a time in life that you can borrow each other’s shoes…but also wonder how the other could actually leave the house in that outfit. (I swear she rolls her eyes at my clothing choices just as much as I lament hers. Moms are SO embarrassing.)

However, it’s also a time when you start to truly become friends. I can turn to my 19-year-old daughter Brontë for insight. And she occasionally asks me for advice too. (Just not about fashion.)

Mother-daughter rafting Tuolumne River

So when Brontë started making noises about moving far away, as many late teens do, there was no advice I could muster without blubbering about losing my little girl. Instead, I decided to take her someplace where having water on my face would be more appropriate—the river.

This July, we left the men in our lives behind to challenge ourselves to thirty-five Class IV rapids…in a single day…on an 18 mile stretch of California’s Tuolumne River. You know, to prove we are strong, powerful women who aren’t afraid to break a nail.

Though, before I’d even had time to think about the challenge ahead of us, Brontë had seized the opportunity to make this trip about her and not me. Instead of bonding, it became a lesson in her independence.

Me: “Bring a hat.” “Don’t forget your river shoes.” “Do you know where your water bottle is?” Typical motherly-reminders that were met with: “Mom, stop it.”

And that was just the beginning.

Mother-daughter rafting Tuolumne River

A few days later when we finally set up camp on the banks of “The T” (as the river is affectionately known) Brontë couldn’t get away from me fast enough, setting up her tent at the opposite end of the camp. When we went for a hike along the river to check out a waterfall she stayed many paces ahead of me. During happy hour, when the guides brought out delicious hors d’oeuvres and craft beer, she sat opposite of me in our circle. But instead of being disappointed that my “bonding time” was slipping away, I was thrilled to watch her engage with our fellow travelers in such a mature and charming way.

The next morning, after a scrumptious breakfast (where do those guides learn to cook like that?), I was prepping for our big day on the river. No surprise, my river shoes had gone missing. And no surprise, I found them on Brontë’s feet. “Didn’t pack your river shoes, did you?” I scolded. (Thankfully, being a clever mom, I had packed an extra pair.)

From there, the practice in independence continued. Brontë insisted on going on a different raft than the one I was on. But our trip leader had different ideas and put us on the same boat. I smiled. She scowled. I chose the lead position on the boat, she chose the back.

Once on the river though, any thought of my daughter’s proximity (or lack there of) faded. Rafting 18 miles of Class IV rapids in one day requires concentration, team spirit and a willingness to get wet. Very, very wet.

Mother-daughter rafting Tuolumne River

“Just let me know if she falls off,” I asked our guide Sean.

A couple of times I heard Brontë scream with delight…and maybe a little terror. It really was an absolutely exhilarating day—challenging and spectacular. When we finally made it to the “take out,” my daughter rushed to show me her blistered hand and the bruise she had on her shin. And even though she was walking in my shoes, quite literally, I knew she would always be my little girl.