There are these two, little, cute people in my life. Some days I don’t know my up from my down and I wonder how this all came to be. I’m not a natural mother. I see how some women fall into it easily – like it was their purpose in life. It isn’t clear to me what it means to be a good parent either, especially a divorced parent. I watch what other moms do. The stay at home moms, the soccer moms, the social play-date moms, the extracurricular activities moms, the big-kid moms. None of these are me and I’m not sure I believe these are the things kids need.
I think back to earlier moments that were impactful to me and I see two things: tradition and experience. Traditions are those things you do over and over that may be great in and of themselves or may be ordinary but become great because they are reliable, build upon themselves into something significant and are grounding. And of course experiences are those out of the ordinary events that stay with you forever. In my childhood, a tradition was going to Kentucky lake and waterskiing every summer, and an experience was my dad’s crazy second cousin who had us doing water skiing pyramids because, well, why not? Who needs professional instruction when you can tie ropes to a tree, figure it out and then give it a shot on a lake for kicks? That’s an experience!
I truly feel lost at times, and there is no sense in denying it. But then I realize I know what I need to know to get to wherever ‘there’ is. In this case I am a creative with a wild spirit at heart, and a calling for the outdoors. Why not carry on the torch of my dad’s wonderful second cousin and do what I can to share through tradition and experience?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
Enter serendipity stage left. I have tried for the past few weekends to plan something fun in the outdoors with the kids and each time fell flat. Walking the Tallulah stairs was not quite what I wanted. Public beach areas followed by hail storms didn’t work either. Finally, this past weekend was different. With the Nantahala river release and the GCA school on the Tuckaseegee, there were plenty of paddling friends near by for a camping, rafting and kayaking adventure – just in case I needed a little mommy assistance or ‘alcoholic beverage’ rescue.
Friday came and I picked the kids up after work and started the 2.5 hour drive to the Smokey Mountain Meadows campground. With limited daylight once we arrived, the kiddos scurried to find sticks for the infamous fire as mom put up the tent wearing a business skirt and heels. Still sporting a purple calf and shin from my last heels + camping experiment you would think I’d at least go barefoot, but not so much. Alas no harm no foul and by the time Bryan and Kyle drive up in the site next to ours, the Greenwells are good to go. Next comes the fire with some borrowed matches and purchased firewood from the campground and the boys taking charge. Life is good. Time to take a moment to celebrating the small successes.
Rafting the Pigeon River
As is typical me, planner extraordinaire, I have no idea where the Pigeon river is relative to the campground. Robert asks me, “Why did you want to go rafting all the way over there? It’s 90 minutes away.” Because it said suitable for 5 year olds and older and no other reason. Glad I now know that. It’s all good. We had plenty of time for breakfast, a play in the Nantahala river, a little shopping and then car naptime as mom drove the 90 minutes to the NOC Pigeon Outpost.
The rafting trip was the kids first man-powered boating experience. Both my kids are rather risk adversed so I wanted to start small. They had a blast! The Lower Pigeon had a couple of little splashes along the way that the kids loved but for the most part was easy going. The trip was just over an hour. We put in right at the outpost and then rafted to the take-out where we were shuttled back by bus. Showered and changed at the outpost, the little munchkins took a second nap, exhausted by the day while mom enjoyed the blissful silence during the drive back.
Back at the NOC we had the pleasure of watching a few boaters play in the NOC hole before meeting up with friends to hear about their excitement on the Upper Nantahala today. After my reinforcements informed me that marshmallows were imperative tonight and mom MUST stop at the local gas station to avoid the world completely coming to an end if marshmallows didn’t find their way to the fire, we return to camp to make a burnt marshmallow offering to the ants and fire gods and my stomach before putting the kids to bed. Out comes the kayaking porn of the day’s adventures, adult beverages, camp friends seeking marshmallows and one exhausted mom.
Kayaking Lake Fontana
Stepping up our game on day three of our weekend adventure, the kids and I sign up for some kayaking on Lake Fontana. In my head, it is one thing to be in one boat with everyone but a completely different thing to be in your own boat when you are 5 and 7. My risk-adverse kids couldn’t care less. So off we trot down past Worser Wesser before the water gets going and put in at the lake. The kids are in two giant Jackson sit on top kayaks, and me too. They are also given full size adult paddles. Wow. I’m not sure how this is going to work.
Our instructor was fantastic. It was just the four of us on the lake. As the kids attempted to paddle, they found themselves up against the banks going nowhere in particular almost immediately. I heard my little girl say, “Mom, I can’t make my boat go where I want it to.” Trust me, I feel your pain, girl. Then, our instructor somehow managed to teach them how to paddle their kayak forward and how to steer it within minutes. It was amazing to watch these itty bitty people awkwardly move these enormous paddles and somehow control their boat. I kept thinking how is that even possible??
We were scheduled to be on the water for nearly three hours but it was way too much for the kids. Pretty soon she was towing them to search for nature, having snack breaks, going for a lake swim, and then encouraging them to paddle as much as they could while singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” as she towed them in a bit earlier than planned. Mom on the other hand was happy to have someone take over and was most amused how the sit on top kayak could be paddled in a STRAIGHT LINE. Look at me! I’m not going around in circles! With a new borrowed paddle to play with, I worked on my strokes until my sides started to hurt all the while watching the little kayak ducklings have a great time.
To wrap up the day we played a little more in the water, walked up to the falls and then ate some pizza by the side of the river. Once we got back in the car they were out. A blissful 3 hour trip in silence for mom and the satisfaction that we all had a great time with plenty of potential for new memories and the start of a tradition.
References and Notes:
- Both the Pigeon trip and the Lake Fontana kayaking trip were booked through the NOC (http://www.noc.com)
- Smoky Mountain Meadows Campground (http://www.smokymtnmeadows.com/) is popular with boaters offering plenty of camp sites, nice bathroom facilities and wifi as there is no cell signal (at least from AT&T) in the campground
- We at breakfast and dinner at the River’s End restaurant. (http://noc.com/places/restaurants/rivers-end-restaurant) Great riverside place to eat.