Still Waters Run Rough


    My son wants to borrow the canoe.                    

    I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal. Not really.

    He’s almost 17, knows how to swim, would actually don the lifejacket at the first sign of turbulent water in the passive Ipswich River. And, even though he might disagree, he’s not that much of a risk taker.

    All good.


    A few buts, actually. Big buts.

    First of all, the canoe caretaker is daddy. And it’s pretty unlikely that dad is going to willingly hand over the oars anytime soon.

    See, Michael’s track record with daddy and canoes –Not so good.

    Two episodes stand out, neither of which involved our canoe, but in both cases daddy swears Michael shaved a decade off dad’s life span. 

    In Michael’s first canoe adventure, I was away for a girls’ weekend. Dad was in charge.

    For most of you, this sounds like a benign lead-in. For those of you who know the dad-in-question, there’s likely an “uh-oh,” sputtering through your brain.

    As it turns out, “uh-oh” is the accurate response.

    In my defense, though, my weekend escape was neither. It was less than 48 hours, did not occur over a weekend and I was only 120 miles away from home. This was not me selfishly jetting away from it all. And Michael was supposed to be in school for most of the daylight hours. Dad’s on-call duty should have been minimal.


    New England’s weather is fickle. Okay, that’s an understatement -particularly with regard to this specific March Monday/Tuesday weather event .

    I really don’t understand why the kids got out early on the Monday, but clearly with the school underwater, classes were canceled on Tuesday.

    Underwater, no school, canoe. You get where this might be going?

    In dad’s defense, I may have made onnnnnne tiny error before I went AWOL.

    I turned off Michael’s phone. Don’t ask why. That’s a whole other story.

    But , and I don’t want to make myself sound ancient with this statement: people actually did manage to communicate with one another before cell phones. Honest. Children would leave their homes, go out for the day, and –believe it or not- return. It happened all the time when I was a kid hanging around with the dinosaurs. And we didn’t use smoke signals or flares. We just went out and came back. Okay, in the case of my brothers and me, we often returned at the piercing call of my father’s whistle echoing through the neighborhood. Or we simply adhered to the streetlight dictate –they came on, we went in. By the time I was 17, though, I was on my own.

    And on this particular day, so was Michael.

    Well, not entirely on his own. It was Michael, Sunshine (a boy, not the star)a canoe and a town flooded with water. Lots of water. 

    They literally did laps around the high school track –in the canoe.

    How cool.   

    And maybe that should have been the parental reaction. One hundred year history was being made and Michael was able to grab himself a front row perch, albeit from the seat of a canoe. He spent the day communing with nature and creating memories that will no doubt last his lifetime and beyond.

    Harmless fun.

    Save for one little issue.

    Dad didn’t know where he was.  

    This is where their version of events differs. Michael swears he informed dad when he was leaving; dad says no such communication occurred.

    And oh yeah, did I mention Michael had no phone?

    Or that his dad invariably jets to worst-case-scenario where his kids are concerned?

    On the ride home from New Hampshire I noticed that my own cell phone was on vibrate. I hadn’t heard it for awhile. And by awhile, I mean to the tune of 26 missed calls. Seriously.

    Dad was freaking out and apparently didn’t appreciate doing it alone. When I got on scene, I was able to talk him out of calling the police and summoning the scuba teams.

    Long story short: Michael survived.

    So did dad -barely.

    In the second episode, I have to admit that even I was edging around the panic position. To the extent that  I said yes when the parents of the other boy asked if it might be time to call the authorities. But by that hour, Michael had been gone for nearly twelve, had been radio silent for six and was almost three hours overdue on his dock time.

    We were burning daylight, as his dad kept reminding me. And we knew Michael was in the water –somewhere. We just didn’t know where. The last news update was that he had successfully canoed to the ocean. Hardly info that would quell rising nerves.

    Again, he survived. In fact, his next morning Facebook post referred to the best day ever, and boasted of his river run to Crane Beach.


    And my friends wonder why I often say my son is trying to kill me? Actually, my friends don’t ask any more –most of them have teenagers of their own. They merely agree: they’re all trying to kill us.

    So while I fully support Michael’s notion of a leisurely run on our local river, I can’t really blame dad’s reluctance at bringing the canoe home from the office. With the 20 years Michael’s already trimmed off dad’s life clock, time is ticking pretty furiously. And while Michael may have some motivation to get dad further out of his life, dad has no real desire to hasten his own demise. Because even dad agrees now, Michael is trying to kill us.

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