Alex only really scared me once. It was really serious –life or death.
We got life.
Michael, on the other hand, managed to raise the fear factor on a regular basis when he was in high school.
I cared less when it was dad who was blowing things out of proportion and worried that his only male offspring might be dead on a river somewhere. Probably partly because dad’s first over-the-top panic reaction occurred simultaneously during a rare, less-than-a-weekend getaway in which all I wanted was to be family-free.
He called me 28 times. Seriously.
Michael was fine.
He just hadn’t bothered to communicate that fact to his father.
When Michael went on a similar river journey with me sort of at-the-helm, the worry-meter shifted. By nightfall, I was ready to call out the U.S. Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, I may have been mildly complicit at the start of his errant adventure. I might have nodded some tepid assent when he told me that he and his buddy were going canoeing again (this was a regular pastime) and this time they’d make it. By “make it,” I refer to a canoe trek from river to ocean.
Before you think that I’d totally lost my mind with such a blasé response to my teenage son’s planned adventure, you really, really have to understand the river. This is NOT Lewis and Clark exploring uncharted territory along 19th century untamed rivers. The Ipswich River is less than 40 miles long and can run to barely a trickle in some spots. You actually may need to pick up the canoe along a few low water sections. This is hardly a raging river. On the other hand, it does, as rivers must, let out in an ocean. The Atlantic Ocean. In this one area, perhaps I should have taken him a bit more seriously.
But, I wasn’t at the drop off, wasn’t the parent privy to this particular trip’s details—or lack there-of. His friend’s dad had dropped off the boys and wished them well. Whether or not the return time or location was made clear is still up for debate.
My own instructions to Michael were mostly about lunches and lifejackets, both he had. Both he agreed to use. But also included were pretty specific warnings about how and why he needed to communicate. I even handed off a plastic bag to make certain that cellphone-in-the-river wouldn’t be an excuse for losing contact.
Instead, somewhere along his journey, Michael decided that shutting the phone down entirely to preserve its battery was a good idea.
The last I heard was –We made it to the ocean.
Then his phone went dead.
The other boy’s dad said the agreed meet time was 6:00 pm.
It was well after 6:00 when I drove absently to various sections of the river and started shouting his name. Yes, I know how absurd this sounds. How ridiculous it was. But my baby’s last point of contact was somewhere along that little river –which now seemed really, really big.
We didn’t call the Coast Guard. But we did call the cops.
Eventually, sometime just before 10:00, the two explorers were found, alive, on land, walking from the beach. They’d made it to the ocean without killing themselves. Even if they had nearly killed their parents with worry.
My dad’s friend had an oft repeated mantra: If your kids don’t kill you, it’s not because they’re not trying.
I was one of those “kids” at the time so the sentiment was lost on me then. I get it now.
The thing is, I know Michael’s intent wasn’t to actually kill me (that’s just a side perk). His wandering water voyage had absolutely nothing to do with me at all. In the most literal sense, it was about exploring –his world and himself. And all that exploration is a good thing.
Even if the missing-at-sea adventure took a few years off my life, Michael’s interpretation of the event was entirely different from mine. What was a really, really bad day for me, not so much for him. His Facebook post the next day: Best day ever.
He’s had days since that he probably counts as even better. I like that. I like it even more that some of those best days ever now belong to us both.