So now I have survived two traumatic experiences this summer. Back in June I was in a four-car smash-up, and yesterday I went white water rafting. If you know me at all, I know what you’re thinking: “Madhousewife, why were you white water rafting?” I am not fond of the outdoors. I don’t like to have fun. Therefore, it makes little sense that I should have been white water rafting. Except that my husband wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, so naturally that is why I was white water rafting. When my husband says he wants to do something that I’m not particularly interested in doing, my response is to murmur indifferently and hope that he will eventually forget about it. To say I’d rather not do something he’s decided would be fun to do is to invite criticism of my well-established hatred of fun. In addition to fun and the outdoors, criticism of my fundamental personality traits is something I don’t enjoy. I only invite personal criticism when it’s really important. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. Maybe I will get back to that later.
Anyway, my husband went white water rafting with his co-workers as a team-building activity last summer, and for his birthday the white water rafting company sent him a gift certificate for a free white water rafting trip for an individual. This reminded him that he wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, and it wasn’t like he could not take advantage of one of us being free—hence, he booked us on a white water rafting trip. I was not excited to go, but I was willing to go because despite my hatred of fun and my apparent willingness to own it, I am clearly not willing to fully own it because I still occasionally feel guilty about it and doubt my own judgment when it comes to outright rejecting activities that I have no desire to participate in. I have no desire to spend three days at amusement and water parks at the end of this month, but I am uncomfortable saying, “I will not do that,” because a) it just seems rude to tell my family I won’t go on vacation with them, b) what would I suggest instead? I’m not a fun person, and c) even if they left me at the hotel to read a book, which I would enjoy, I would feel like I was missing something because the rest of my family is off having fun and—for want of a less cringe-inducing phrase—making memories without me. I have to go to the amusement park and the water park, or otherwise I am not part of the family. I would sooner excommunicate myself from the church (and I’m not aiming to do that any time soon).
When it comes to things I’ve never done before, there is also the remote possibility that I will end up enjoying it. It isn’t likely, given my nature, but how do I know unless I’ve tried it? I like to think that there are many things I’ll agree to do once. I once agreed to eat tripe. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. But now I know, and now when I’m confronted with the opportunity to eat tripe or not eat tripe, I can make an informed decision, with or without guilt. Well, in the case of tripe, it’s without guilt because there are several people in the family who won’t eat tripe. I don’t have to feel like I’m letting them all down by not eating it. Also, maybe I feel like some tripe today. I don’t know. I also don’t feel guilty about refusing to eat olives. This only affects my family when it’s time to order pizza. I guess this is one of those examples of when inviting personal criticism is worth the risk. I really hate olives. I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Thanks to experience, I also know that I really hate raw baby squids—eating them, not so much their existence—and I have no qualms about refusing to eat those, even if it means offending the entire nation of Japan, should I ever find myself in a remote fishing village there again.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Until yesterday, I had never been white water rafting. Maybe I would like it, maybe I wouldn’t. How would I know unless I tried it? I wasn’t excited to try it, but I was willing to try it, for the aforementioned reasons I have already explained, despite the fact that it involved the outdoors (which I’m not fond of) and also involved water, with which I have a complicated relationship. (I’m not sure it’s worth going into the history.) Despite the fact that I am generally terrified of drowning (part of my complicated relationship with water), my anxiety over the trip was not so much over the (distinct) (but at the same time statistically unlikely) possibility of drowning but the certainty that I was going to have to spend several hours in a wet suit, which didn’t sound comfortable (what if I get an itch I can’t scratch?) and that I would need to exert myself physically (physical exertion being another thing I have a complicated relationship with) in a manner that might require coordination (coordination also not being one of my strengths). So yes, I was anxious, but I wasn’t scared anxious.
That was before I got to the white water rafting place. The wetsuit actually wasn’t that bad. I got an itch. I was able to scratch it. It was unbearably hot, but they told me I’d be grateful for the insulation once I was in the 40 degree water, and I believed them. I still had my doubts about the physical exertion/coordination thing, but they were not overwhelming. What was overwhelming was when they started talking about what I’d need to do if I fell out of the raft or the raft turned over and everyone, including me, fell into the river. Obviously, I knew all along this was a possibility—falling out of the raft and into the river—but I didn’t know-know it until they were giving me instructions on how to deal with this scenario and I realized that I would never in a million years remember all of this stuff. I could remember some of it—Number One rule, for example, “Don’t Panic!” Easy to remember. Not so easy to follow, which brings me to my second overwhelming experience, the realization that I would, in the event of falling into a river, definitely not remember anything I was supposed to do except not panic, and therefore I would definitely panic. I’m sorry, but what is the alternative when you can’t remember how not to drown? I can’t think of one. At the same time, I can’t think of a better way to drown than to panic while underwater, so you see why my anxiety increased exponentially at this point. I really had no choice but to stay in the raft, and being ill-coordinated and inexperienced (at white water rafting), I was not 100 percent confident of my ability to do so. Did I mention that I was now rationally anxious, as opposed to just silly-anxious? Seriously, an itch I couldn’t scratch? How could that ever have bothered me? I’m some kind of idiot, that’s how.
Anyway, back to my story and my determined resolve not to fall out of the raft, since I had already forgotten 85 percent of what they’d told me to do in that event—possibly 90, I couldn’t really tell since I’d forgotten so much. I got in the raft. The raft was in the water. Because we booked the trip late, our family had to split up and be in two separate rafts. Sugar Daddy and Princess Zurg were rafting with some outdoorsy, fun-loving young adults (or maybe they were middle-aged adults, I couldn’t really tell since I was focused mostly on the drowning thing), and Mister Bubby and I were rafting with a family of four—outdoorsy, fun-loving parents and their game-looking teenage daughters, one of whom had been rafting before but not at this level of rapids. I forgot to mention that this trip included level-2 and level 3- and level-4 rapids and also a level-5 waterfall thingy at the end. None of these levels meant anything to me before this trip; frankly, they don’t mean much to me now, except I now know that level-2 is about where my comfort level stops. But back to my story. I was getting off topic. We were in the raft. The raft was in the water. SD was in another raft. He said he was actually kind of glad he was in a separate raft because then he could better watch me as I was having my rafting experience. Forget the logic of this statement. What you need to know is that my husband has admitted that he enjoys witnessing my discomfort, to the extent that it’s important to him to get a good seat. I’m going to leave that for now and come back to it later, or we’ll never get past the part where I’m in the raft.
We’re in the raft, the raft is in the water, and we’re rowing. Or paddling. I guess you paddle in a raft. They taught us how to paddle. It made sense. I am executing the paddling motion. Am I awesome at it? No. Am I better at it than the girl in front of me? Yes. Is that saying much? No, but I don’t have any other reference. We are paddling in the raft, in the water, and we’re coming up on some rapids. What do they call these rapids? I forget. They all have cute names. One is “Maytag.” I do not like that name, but that is not the name of these rapids. I think these were “The Staircase” or something. Honestly, none of the names appeals to me, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re coming up on some rapids, maybe The Staircase, maybe something else fraught with devastating possibilities, and our guide—whom I like very much; he sounds a lot like the Crush the turtle in Finding Nemo, and I feel comfortable with him—tells us to paddle forward two, but I notice there’s a big rock where my paddle would go, and then the next thing I know, the raft is tipping and, despite my determination, I am falling out of it. I am telling this in slow motion. This is how it really went down: we’re paddling, everything’s cool, and then BOOM! I’m in the water and I’m drowning. I knew this would happen!
So I’m in the water, drowning. I don’t know what anyone else is doing because all I can think is, “Don’t panic,” and also, “Panic!” This is the conversation my brain is having with itself: “Don’t panic!” “I’m panicking!” “I said don’t panic!” “I know! I’m drowning!” “You can’t panic when you’re drowning!” “But I’m DROWNING!” “Okay, let’s think, what was that thing they said about recirculating? We don’t want to do that—“ “I AM F***ING DROWNING HERE!” “SHUT UP, I’M TRYING TO THINK!” “I’M PANICKING!” “What you don’t want to do is put your feet down, they told you not to put your feet down—“ “IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT THAT I GET SOME AIR RIGHT NOW” “I’M THINKING!” “Okay, I am breathing air now, but I can’t see anything and I can’t hear anything and the important things is that I’M STILL IN THE WATER AND NOT THE BOAT AND WHERE IS THE WATERFALL AM I GOING TO DIE” and on and on like that until finally I heard SD’s voice and the guide in his raft pulled me out of the water, and then I wanted to cry but I didn’t because the trip had just started and I had already almost f***ing drowned. If I cried at this point, what would I have left to do the next time I almost drowned? Do not be misled by my reluctance to type the F-word in public; I assure you that my private thoughts contained no asterisks. I’m sorry, I’m going to need a minute here.
It was terrifying. Also, cold, but at the time I didn’t mind the cold so much—frankly, it was rather refreshing—but the terror really put a damper on my mood for the rest of the trip. It turned out that the whole raft tipped over, so all six of us went in the river. Mister Bubby actually swam toward the raft. I learned to swim at an appropriate age, but apparently I can only access the skill if I’m not in a life-or-death situation, which, to me, pretty much misses the point of learning how to swim. But I don’t have time to dwell on that epiphany. All six of us eventually ended up back in our right-side-up raft and continued on our way as if we hadn’t just had a near-death experience.
Seriously, wet suits and itching. What was I thinking?
Actually, one of the previously game-looking teenage daughters now appeared to be even more traumatized than I was. She couldn’t stop crying. I knew how she felt. I would have been crying too, if I hadn’t been determined not to embarrass my son, who had made it clear before we got on the raft that he was not thrilled to be paired with me because I was so potentially embarrassing. So I was being strong, for him (not that he appreciated it), but my sympathy was with this poor girl, who—I believe I mentioned—could not stop crying. We kept paddling, she kept crying. We got to a part of the river where we had to get out and hike what seemed like a mile but probably wasn’t nearly a mile of rugged terrain, and she was crying the whole way. Eventually she and the mother just had to walk out, which left only four of us in our party, but that was okay. At least none of us was crying. Yet.
We got to the point where it was time to get back into the rafts, which were already in the water (having been zip-lined past the stretch that was apparently unnavigable), and our choices were to jump off a cliff into the water (about a 20-foot drop), or hike a more roundabout route to the place where the rafts were waiting. The jump was highly recommended by several, but I knew about this part of the trip from the outset, and I knew from the outset that I would not be jumping off any cliff for any reason, with any inducement. I don’t jump off of cliffs. I don’t jump off of anything. SD jumped off the cliff, but that was no biggy, he’d done it before. Also, he liked jumping off of things. Like diving boards and crap. MB and PZ also jumped off the cliff. I took the long road, along with half a dozen or so of my fellow catapedaphobic rafters. I can’t say the descent down the side of the cliff was a stroll in the park either, but there were ropes. I made it. I watched my children plunge into the river, on purpose. Then we continued on our merry way.
Really, there is not much for me to say about the rest of the trip. As I told MB and SD later, it might have been different had I not fallen into the river very first thing. Perhaps I might have enjoyed some of the gentler rapids. SD pointed out to me that I basically body-surfed a level-4 rapid on my back, which should have been awesome, but I really could have done without the experience. I spent the rest of the time just being afraid that I was going to fall in again. It is hard to forget that you just almost-drowned when your ears and stomach are still full of river water and your mouth is still full of the taste of fear. As we got closer to the end of the trip—the part where we were supposed to go over the waterfallOn the bus ride down to the starting point of the trip, I told MB—who was so bummed that he was with the embarrassing, fun-hating parent—that while I was definitely not jumping off a cliff, I did intend to go off the waterfall (which, like the cliff-jumping, was optional). I mean, why wouldn’t I? It was the climax of the trip, and after all, I’d never done it before, had I? And I couldn’t disappoint my son when I was the only parent he had in the raft with him, could I? So I said I’d go over the waterfall, but that was before I fully grasped the concept of “level 5.” As we got closer and closer to the waterfall, and they went over all the safety procedures for going over the waterfall, and they reiterated the stuff they said earlier in the day about the risk of “recirculating” (which I definitely didn’t want to do), I became increasingly certain that without a frontal lobotomy, I would not be able to enjoy going over a level-5 waterfall. And no matter how much I wanted to do it, i.e. not disappoint my son and miss the climax of the trip, even if I hated it, I could not make myself do it.
It turns out that I am only so much of a good sport about drowning.
It also turned out that of the four of us left in the raft (besides the guide), MB was the only one willing to go over the waterfall. That made me extra upset about not being able to make myself do it, because 12-year-olds shouldn’t have to go over waterfalls without their mothers. Right? I mean, it seemed that way to me. I can’t describe the guilt that went along with this decision, which I absolutely knew was the only decision I could possibly make because the flesh was weak and the spirit was also weak. It made it very difficult to enjoy the relief I felt over not having to go over a waterfall, which I now think was really unfair, but at the time all I felt was regret–and an overwhelming fear of drowning, of course, but that goes without saying.
So I got out of the raft and walked with my fellow waterfall-phobic rafters to the bridge where you watch fun-loving people go over a waterfall in a raft and possibly fall out and get sucked into a whirlpool thingy and “recirculate” and meet their watery demise, and my anxiety level went up again. Here I was, safe on the bridge, and there were my children in the river, about to go over a freaking waterfall. I wasn’t worried about SD—he’d done it before and not died, so I was reasonably confident he could do it again—but neither of my children had ever navigated a waterfall before, successfully or otherwise. PZ was even less good at rafting than I was, and MB was all alone in the raft with a dude who talked like the sea turtle in Finding Nemo (not that he wasn’t a consummate professional). I almost didn’t want to watch, but I did.
They survived. Nobody fell out. And the fun was finally over!
SD said it was very sad to watch me getting knocked around by the rapids, clearly terrified, but I can’t help noticing that while SD always says it’s sad for him to see me scared, he also can’t seem to keep from laughing about it. Perhaps it’s a nervous reaction and he doesn’t actually enjoy my fear, but it’s just that he keeps pulling me into situations where I will be very afraid. Situations like roller coasters and haunted houses and big water slides and white water rapids. And he seems to enjoy reminiscing about those experiences. I don’t mean to invite you to judge him too harshly, gentle readers. I’m sure he’s only able to laugh because he (unlike I) knew all along that I wasn’t going to die. I’m sure he wouldn’t laugh at my fear if he ever thought I was in actual danger. I think.
MB: You didn’t enjoy the rest of the trip because you almost fell in the river.
Mad: There was no almost about it! I did fall in!
MB: I mean you almost fell in again. You only stayed in the raft the second time because you grabbed onto that 12-year-old girl.
Mad: Yes. And thank God she was there.
That’s all I have to say about white water rafting. Except that wet suits smell like feet. But that’s another post for another day.