Row, row, row your boat…

…not so gently into the swimming area.

I spent this past weekend at cub scout camp with my youngest son and a handful of other scouts and their parents. The weather was great, our boys had a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed having someone else cook, serve, and clean up after me at every meal. Despite my fear of various living things (snakes, bees, giant hairy spiders, etc), I love being outdoors and feel a renewed energy after spending time in nature.

The weekend was a lot of fun with one minor exception, which from this point forward will be known as the great rowboat debacle of 2017. Let me back up. Last year at camp my husband and oldest son were enjoying a lovely time canoeing when the boy decided to make a quick shift from one side to the other in an attempt to get away from some antagonistic boaters and promptly tipped the boat and its human contents into the lake. Later that day I overheard a bunch of parents laughing about “The dad and his kid who fell into the lake” and I proudly declared them as my family. Because why not. They are the type that can laugh about these sorts of things.

I am not. At least, not right away. In the moment, I panic. And usually cry.

During open boating time, youngest and I decided to take a lovely spin in the paddle boats. He could reach the pedals this year! Success! Then I suggested a different vessel. Canoe perhaps? No way, daddy and brother tipped over last year he announced. As if I had forgotten. Kayak? Yeah, they don’t look quite as steady as our never-before-tipped-over inflatables back home. How about a row boat? Yeah, great idea.

Or not.

During lunch the staff members sit with various packs and visit, and that afternoon we had a silver sunglassed lifeguard at our table. He seemed witty and relatable and laughed at my jokes. So I was pleased to see him at the boat station and felt comfortable announcing that I had no experience on a rowboat and could he please give me some tips? Sure. Don’t let your son make any sudden moves and if he does, make sure you’re sitting in the middle of the boat. Yup, we figured that one out after what happened last year. Anything else? I asked as I clumsily slipped the oar pins into their holes. Nope. Just a shove out into the lake.

Yeah, I’m not very good at rowing. Something about the going backward thing, coupled with the fact that I’m pretty sure our boat or oars or something wasn’t even because it appeared as though my one arm had super human strength and I could not for the life of me get the boat to travel in a straight line and every time the boy tried to help me correct it from his perch at the front of the boat it just made us travel in circles and eventually I heard this: “STAY OUT OF THE SWIMMING AREA.”

And that’s about when the panic set in. Because each time I tried to correct our course I spun the boat in more circles and continued my path toward all the unsuspecting swimmers like that horrible scene in JAWS. The yelling continued, to which I responded “CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME?!?” And a guy on the dock tried to explain that I needed to pull my arms toward me and not away from me like that was my only problem, and some of my friends stood near him laughing at my complete inability to navigate small craft, and all of this just made me panic more and I felt the tears build up, and oh shit.

I cannot panic in front of my child.

Moms are supposed to be strong in the face of adversity, and parenting with anxiety means that not only do I need to figure out how to stay calm for my own well being, but also for my kids’. Thankfully one of the lifeguards guided me toward the swimming pier and then another one swam the boat back. I felt terrible that she had to swim through the tangling seaweed that surrounded the boat dock, but at least it made for an interesting story to tell her friends. The boy and I waited for her to complete the task (she had borrowed my life jacket for the swim over), and I tried to maintain composure and a sense of dignity despite wanting to break down and bawl right there on the beach.

It was a simple mishap, silly really, but sometimes things like that aren’t easy for me to process, and when they are coupled with a lack of sleep and being away from home I have a hard time maintaining a steady emotional state. Later, when my friends returned to the campsite and jokingly told me the video was already posted to YouTube (I was on the phone with my mom who actually tried to find said video… Lord knows what she typed into the search engine: cub scout mom adrift on rowboat?) I told them I had legitimately panicked and had to keep myself from crying (again) while they laughed. Not meanly. Innocently. Like, it’s funny when something stupid happens, don’t take yourself so seriously kind of laughter.

And so I did my best to embrace the incident, to brush off the ripples of panic and fear that try to imprison me on a daily basis. Because what else could I do? And when I told my husband the story, he nodded, and didn’t seem surprised at my reaction. He gets me. Has come to understand what it means to live with someone with anxiety. I can laugh about it now, but in the moment, only dread. But I’ve learned to recognize the triggers and how to get myself out of a situation and find calm. The boy and I left the beach and went to the camp store to buy some gum. He held my hand and we talked about frogs.

Tonight, my friends will come over for drinks on the deck and maybe it will come up, and we’ll laugh about it, and it will all be good. Until next year, when back at camp, we visit the boats again. Perhaps the kayaks? I’ll wear my swimsuit just in case.

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