Volume 12, Issue 2 ~ January 8-14, 2004

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Bay Reflections

Zigzagging with Confidence
by Marnie Morris

I made a discovery over the holidays when my sister and three of her children came to stay for a week. It started with my decision to take my nephew canoeing. Just the two of us. It went like this.

It’s early morning, and the 14-year-old nephew is dead asleep.

Aunt opens bedroom door, taps on leg and asks “You want to go canoeing?”

“Yeah, sure,” he sleepily replies. He stumbles out of bed, heads straight for cereal, eats, dresses and appears eager 15 minutes later.

This alone is phenomenal.

If it were your own teenage son or daughter, it would go something like this.

In early morning, teenage son or daughter sleeps.

Mother opens door, sits on edge of bed, nudges body.

No response.

Nudges body again.

No response.

Nudges body much harder while declaring, “If you want to go canoeing with me, you need to get up!”

Child moans or bellows depending on hormone cycle, pulls blankets closer and mutters “Do I have to?”

With Nephew, canoeing was teamwork. Easy.

Aunt places cooler atop breakfast counter, asks eager Nephew, “what would you like to snack on?”

Nephew thinks for a moment, goes to cupboard, pulls out this and that, goes to fridge pulls out two cans, puts all in cooler, seems grateful. Aunt adds a couple more edibles for herself, grabs a few other necessaries to put in plastic baggies (like cell phone, in case they drift into the Atlantic by some unusual force, and money, in case while drifting out to sea they need to call a cab).

Now for outer apparel.

Aunt grabs coat. Nephew pulls sweatshirt over head. Aunt asks “Are you sure you’ll be warm enough?” “Yeah,” answers Nephew. Aunt smiles. Nephew smiles, grabs cooler, follows Auntie out front door.

All within 20 minutes.

You know it would not happen like this if the teenager were your own child. Oh no. Not that easy. A few scenarios:

  1. Child doesn’t get out of bed. Tiring of the nagging sound of your own parental voice, you give up.

  2. Child gets out of bed. Parent attempts to make all dietary decisions while lecturing on the benefits of fructose vs. sucrose. Arguments ensue on whose body is actually going to consume the food and how so and so’s parents don’t have a problem with pop tarts and soda for breakfast.

  3. You make it through the breakfast/lunch routine, but as the parent, you know the teenager is going to freeze in only a sweatshirt so you insist on further bodily coverage. Kid yells “whatever,” puts on coat (does not zip it) and flies out front door. You follow behind (when did this start happening?) carrying cooler and necessities.

But, ah, the lack of direct family lineage.

Nephew and Aunt each grab end of canoe after nephew has listened intently to ground-to-car-top instruction. Together they lift, walk, talk, lift higher, slide along roof top and — voila! They fling moving straps across the canoe to each other, work together on cranking them snug. Within minutes, they’re humming down Rt. 261. Easy.

Arriving at Patuxent River, teamwork gets the canoe in the water. Undo, pull straps, ease canoe off roof … whoops, Nephew getting crushed, knees buckling, face very red. Aunt slide closer, takes weight off Nephew. They manage.

Grateful Nephew, loving Aunt, rippling water, geese overhead, beaver lodges and dams, lots of paddling cooperation. Just lovely.

My discovery?

Nephew’s pride in handling the tail-end of canoe on trip back, steering and veering in zigzag style. With patience of a saint, Aunt allows all almost-marooned-in-marsh situations.

The look on Nephew’s face after putting canoe back on roof and handling the straps. Secretly worries the whole trip home that loud whirring is the beginning of a canoe slide, Aunt says nothing in her I’m-the-greatest-Aunt-there-ever-was sort of way.

It’s not the memory of the canoe trip itself that is going to grow with my nephew. It’ll be the confidence in his ability to do that stays with him.

My new phrase with my own children is going to be it’s the worry that ruins the glory. I’m going to guide more, lecture less and allow for a lot more zigzagging and veering on their paths. As long as they’re wearing their coats.

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Last updated January 8, 2004 @ 1:27am.