Sep 23, 2009

River Wild

I have been canoeing twice and rafting twice. If you ask me to do either of those things, though, I will look at you like you obviously don't know me at all. The two canoeing trips were nice and enjoyable. And the first rafting trip was fun and exciting. In fact, after the first trip, I had so much fun that I couldn't wait to go again. The college group I was running went on an annual Memorial Day rafting trip. My first experience was on that trip. We went on the Big Pigeon River - which I found out later was a "wuss river." It also was a "dam river," which was a source of humor for everyone on the trip. That meant that they would release the dam upriver and the runs would start as that huge wall of water raced down the river. The trips were fast, and the second run down had several Class 4 rapids, due to the huge volume of water. But, to these rafting experts in our group, it was a river for sissies. Everyone wanted to go back to either the Ocoee or Nolichucky River.

The next year we ended up at the Nolichucky River. It was a big group that went. I had pushed the event big time, and we had two vans of students make the trip. As I planned the trip, I had visions of future years' trips. I thought maybe we could hit the Ocoee the next year. And then, maybe, we would go to Costa Rica for a mixed rafting/mission trip. It would be awesome. The day for the rafting began and we all got up, ate at Bojangles, and then drove to the meeting point in Erwin, Tennessee. We parked our vans at this abandoned looking warehouse where the rafting company would store their stuff. They picked us up there in really lousy buses and drove to the launching point - like 30 minutes away. Actually, "drove" is a kind word for what the guys driving did. They raced like maniacs around the winding mountain roads. Jerks.

Anyway, we got to the river. And naturally, things did not go the way we planned. It had been a dry summer, so the river was low. The guides didn't want a lot of rafts going down the river, because they would get stuck. So they encouraged all the experienced guys to take funyaks down the river. Funyaks are like kayaks, but more fun, apparently. So we had all the guys in funyaks and the ladies and guides, and one or two guys in rafts. I felt some responsibility to all these ladies I had convinced to come. So I opted for a raft. It was me, a guide, and several ladies. [At this point, I need to explain something about rafting. You are going to get wet. That is what happens when you ride a glorified inner tube down a raging river full of W-A-T-E-R. You just should expect these things. Back to the tale.]

We started off and went through a couple of smaller rapids. This was fun, but I knew what was coming. And I noticed, with some concern, that the ladies in the raft with me were very concerned about getting wet. So at each rapid, they would squeal and pull their paddles up to crunch themselves into a ball. This is, to be kind, a very stupid thing to do. So our initial rapids were mainly me and the guide doing everything. He had put me right in the front and he was in the back. This was his game plan to make it down the river in one piece, since the girls were of little use.

We got past the first section, and the guide somberly warned us that we were about to hit some nasty stuff - some Class 4 rapids in succession. And we ALL had to work together and paddle. Everyone nodded. We approached the first big one, and the guide was yelling out commands. When we hit the rapid, the raft didn't do what we expected. See, the girls got worried about being wet. They yanked their paddles up into the boat and the raft slammed right into the rocks and started to flip a little. I, being the one in the front, couldn't hold myself in and I flew out. I had gotten tossed out of the raft the year before, and was able to get back in pretty easily. But that was because that was a "wuss river."

Instead of being able to get in, I got swept away down the river. I found myself completely out of control. Soon, I banged up against another raft. They reached down to grab me and pull me in, but the life vest didn't fit me well. Since life vests are made for people who do activities outside, and most heavy guys only go outside to pick up subs, the vest kept sliding up around my neck. The more they pulled, the more it choked me. Finally, I got torn away from them and I just went flying down the river. The river narrowed to where only one raft would go through at a time. In the middle of that narrow spot was the biggest rapid I had ever seen. I got closer to the churning water as the rock walls raced by.

There are few things more terrifying than being dragged along on a white water river. At least that is what I assume. I have never been held by terrorists or been caught in a tornado. I have not been stranded in space or been abandoned in a desert tied to my horse with a bag of rattlesnakes on the ground. In my pathetic world, being helpless in a river is about the worst I can imagine. I just screamed as I went flying down.

Rafting rivers are not like some of those peaceful streams with the tiny round rocks, either. They have big ole boulders under the water. That is what causes the rapids, after all. I think I managed to bounce off all of them. Finally I went right through that big Class 4 rapid. I got tumbled and tossed, banging against rocks. I imagined my appendages snapping, or my foot getting caught in a crevice. Finally, I popped out and raced along about a half mile more, until somehow I ended up washing up on a little calm spot just past the narrows.

The rest of our crew emerged from the rapids in one piece. Apparently my ejection caused the girls to pay attention a little better. [It could be my life is just to serve as a warning sign to others, after all.] They all stopped as they neared the calmer section, with my students all looking shocked at what had just happened. I was alive and mostly unbroken - but my back was killing me. We found out once I got home that I had bruised my spine on the rocks. The rest of the trip was horrible. I was in too much pain to do much of anything. I even had to lay on my back in the van on the way home. And I made myself sick from taking Advil and Aleve too close together.

But the worst part of the whole thing was in between the river and the trip home. As I sat there by the river, I did what any rational person would do and refused to get back in the raft. So the only option I had was to climb up the rock walls - not sheer rock faces, of course - walk along the railroad tracks back to the launch point and wait there. So I did that. But when I got to the launch point, some guy from the rafting company told me that I was supposed to catch a ride back to the Erwin location. So I rode with him back there. And I sat there for six hours.

See, I wasn't supposed to go back to Erwin. They just wanted me to wait at the place where they would come back after the rapids run. They were going to have lunch and hike around. Everything was there at the launch point - the van keys, our food, everything. So I sat by myself with no money, no phone, no food for six hours. It took longer because no one knew where I had gone and they looked around and waited for me. It was the perfect picture of adding insult to injury. It was a Saturday, so there was no one around in the deserted part of town. And I had no idea where to go. I couldn't do anything once I got there anyway. So I sat and laid down on an old picnic table. I have never gotten in a raft again, nor will I. The annual Memorial Day rafting trip became a "hey remember when we used to..." event. I haven't canoed or anything since then. I even got nervous when I tried to ride the Congo River Rapids at Busch Gardens until my wife made me get on.

Why did I think about all of that? Well, I was homeschooling today. I know - that sounds like a stretch. Things weren't going well, which has kind of been the norm of late. I was stressing out big time and I went to take a break. As I thought about what was going on, I thought about canoeing and rafting. When you are canoeing or rafting there are the dangers/problems that you are aware of. You know where the rapids are. You know where there are drops and sharp curves. You know that there are tough stretches. And when you know about the challenges, you can handle them.

The first canoeing trip I went on had similar problems as the horrible second rafting trip. It had been a dry summer. The water wasn't as high as it should be, so there were places where we had to get out and lift the canoe. There were a couple of places where we had to push ourselves off of tree roots. You knew that was going to happen, so you did it. And it was fun. The group I was with would ambush each other and pelt each other with stuff. The trip was great. The first rafting trip was fun. We knew where the rapids were. We knew they would be tough. But we just dealt with it and it was exhilarating to get through.

In our current situation in Tallahassee, there are the known problems. We know that there are going to be weeks where Heather has huge tests. We know there are going to be times when people get sick, or when we don't want to do school. We know there are days when we will be exhausted. You just deal with it. And then once you are through, you take a break and regroup. That was one of the things that made rafting so cool. You went through a series of rapids and then had a few minutes to paddle and regroup. And usually that happens here. We have a rough week (test, guest coming, two birthdays within 14 days), but then there is a lull for a few days.

The problems come when the unexpected blindside you. Like the refusal to paddle tossing me into the river. That would be an unexpected blindside attack. Or, when during your lull you get hit with something worse. This would be like when I had to climb the rock wall, walk down a train track, get abandoned in some horrible waste of a city when I should have been able to regroup. Or if you stop on a rafting trip to eat some lunch and get attacked by a clan of ninja bears. Instead of getting the rest and recharge you need, there is no break. That is what it has felt like lately.

I knew there would be challenges in homeschooling. I knew Gabe wouldn't cooperate and would need attention when I was trying to teach. I knew that there would be days where the kids were wired or out to lunch. I saw that as a teacher. I shouldn't expect things to be different just because we are home. I guess what I didn't see coming is what is throwing me for a loop. I didn't see the loneliness. I thought the kids would be able to connect with others at something. They just now are starting to be at a church and gymnastics regularly to meet people. And I hope that they will be able to make some new friends soon there. I haven't really met anyone here. I have Greg, and that is pretty much it.

I also didn't see the depression. I had always had a unclear understanding of depression. I thought it was just a person being sad that day. It wasn't until I heard Tommy Nelson from Denton Bible Church in Texas talk about his struggle with clinical depression that I realized it was something more than being blue. Now I find myself inexplicably drifting towards that place so often. There are days I just can't shake it. I have talked to a counselor, who doesn't feel it needs medication - yet. But he is concerned that I may end up there if something doesn't change soon.

I also didn't see that maybe, even though I am a good teacher, I am not a good elementary teacher. I can teach dozens of subjects to teens, college students, adults, senior adults. But it seems like I have trouble teaching my children. I don't know what a Kindergartner is supposed to already be able to do. Should they know the days of the week? The months of the year? Some of the books makes it seem like that. Should my second grader already know how many days hath September, April, June, and November? Is it normal for an eight year old to suffer from amnesia when it comes to math facts? And what about the acting up? See, when you are teaching a class of teens, when you hit that day when everything goes wrong, you go home. They tell their parents you were mean. You tell your wife they were uncooperative. And then the next day things are different. Homeschooling doesn't work that way. You leave the school table and those discipline issues leak into lunch time and free time and dinner time. You can't completely disconnect the school from the home.

So, like on the river, I am at a place where I have to decide what to do. Do I jump out of the river and climb up the rock wall? Do I toss the homeschooling aside and enroll them in a "regular school?" Is that the only hope to save my sanity and theirs? Will that make things better, or open up a whole new can of problems? Or do I just grit my teeth, climb back in the raft, and keep paddling. I can't base my decision on what happened in the river that day. I really believe I should have just gotten back in the raft. But this isn't a river. These aren't rafts. They are the most precious things I have. They are my kids - and I have to do what is best for them in any case. I know that each one of you has different opinions on what the right thing is do with kids. But, honesty, it doesn't matter what YOU think either. It comes down to us making the right call on how to navigate these rapids while Heather is in Med School. What is going to help these kids and this family to be the best it can be so we can change our world? I just hope when I figure that out I'm not too scared to get into the boat again. Or out of it.


Greg (the other one) said...

Dude, hilarious freaking that you're in a lonely place right now, will be praying for decisions for school and some depth of community up there, man.

Anonymous said...

Pray, pray, pray.

I hear you on this one! Been there.

I will pray for you!