Monday, January 2, 2012

Risk averse: Aug. 31, 2008

This column is from a time when I had to pretend not to freak out -- when I had to encourage my kid to follow his passion even though I really wanted to lock him in the house with a good book. I think this is one of the toughest things about parenting, the need to let go and allow your children to explore the world despite the fact that every molecule in your body is shrieking at you to wrap them in a blanket and spoon-feed them oatmeal.    

Ultimately, though, my oldest son ended up preferring golf to whitewater kayaking. And I will not even pretend that I'm not thrilled by that.

Horses, kayaks, rivers, motorcycles, oh my!
    I was horse-crazy practically from birth. My parents signed me up for riding lessons by the time I was 6 years old, having concluded that I was never going to stop pestering them about horses.

    For years I spent my afternoons at a stable in Charlottesville, Va., mucking stalls, cleaning tack, learning how to post on the correct diagonal and get from a trot to a canter with a nudge of my heel.

    I learned to take horses over fences, out on trails, to haul their water buckets and brush them down. I talked to horses, read books about horses, drew pictures of horses, wrote stories about horses.

    No one else in my family is even remotely interested in horses. My dad used to say that watching his daughter take those big, dumb, smelly animals over jumps during competitions made him think of that scene in “Gone With the Wind,” the one where Rhett and Scarlett’s little daughter is killed when she tumbles off her pony as it hops a fence.

    I always thought my dad was being an overly dramatic worrywart when he made that comparison. Honestly, it was just silly.

    And then, this summer, my 8-year-old discovered whitewater kayaking.

    Anyone with any sense would have seen this coming. I mean, I married a boater who spent years teaching kayaking and selling boats for a living. By the time I met him, my husband had decades of whitewater experience on several continents.

    But I just couldn’t imagine the tiny boy we brought home from Erlanger hospital in May of 2000 turning into a boater. The child didn’t walk until he was nearly 2 years old, and he drove us absolutely crazy with worry about his development — his unwillingness to eat, his sensitivity to loud noises, his fear of other children, of dogs, of the vacuum cleaner.

    His future on whitewater was just never on my mind. Because I was busy trying to convince him that other children might actually be fun to play with if he would just come out from under the furniture.

    He grew up, though, and he grew out of most of his fears. He is blessedly boisterous and boyful, and I had just started to really enjoy having a “typical” 8-year-old around when his dad borrowed a tandem whitewater kayak from a friend. And took my baby down a river.

    “He’ll be scared,” I predicted privately to my husband. “He won’t like it.”

    Yeah, I was wrong. Really wrong. He loved it. And within a few months they had gone from tandem kayak trips on the Hiawassee to tandem kayak trips on the Ocoee, to my baby boy paddling his own tiny red kayak on the “easy stuff” at the bottom of the Ocoee.

    So I stand dutifully on the stoop when they leave and say things like, “Be careful, have fun — in that order.” But I am thinking something like this: “NO-YOU-ARE-NOT-TAKING-MY-BABY-ON-A-RIVER. ARE-YOU-OUT-OF-YOUR-MIND?”

    But I can’t say that. Because no one told me that I, at 6 years old, could not boss around that big, smelly horse. 

    And some of my best, most vivid memories of childhood are wrapped up in the years I spent confidently steering lanky horses over looming fences while my parents held their breaths outside the ring.

    So my boy will be a boater, I guess. And, worrywise, the journey is just beginning. Because my pink-cheeked 3-year-old, strapped snugly into his padded car seat, recently asked me this question:

    “Mommy, when can I ride a motorcycle?”

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