Keeping up with the Cleavers

Anyone who has lived here for an extended amount of time is probably familiar with the Durango dilemma: choosing among recreational activities. Throw a newborn child into the mix, and the equation becomes infinitely more complex. Not only does a small child create a logistical quandary for the recreation-bound parent, but an emotional one as well.

And while some may see a new child as the death knell for their previously carefree sporting life, I made a vow not to let it stop me. Rather, I looked at it as a new challenge. Things weren't impossible, they just required a little more planning. In the end, it would all pay off with a happy, well-adjusted child and a mother who actually got to see the light of day beyond the glow of a changing table nightlight.

After three weeks of anxiously watching the river levels rise and looking at my neglected new boat, I decided it was time for my first postpartum outing. Nothing strenuous, I told myself, just a little float to clear out the cobwebs and make sure everything was in working order.

However, thanks to last summer's drought coupled with maternal memory malfunctioning, I was a little rustier than anticipated. Not quite up to speed with the gear routine, I forgot a crucial piece of gear: my skull cap.

"I just won't flip," I told myself as I slipped my helmet over my bare head, climbed into my brand new play boat and slid into the icy torrent.

Of course my lack of head coverage put a practice roll out of the question. Which was a good thing since I hadn't given any forethought to outfitting. As I ferried out into the current, I realized I was a little loose. Hell, there was enough room in there to lie down and take a nap. This combined with the fact that I also had no float bags only solidified my resolve to stay upright.

"Just a little down-river run, no playing," I told myself as I smugly snuck the hole at Smelter, oblivious to the spanking the river gods had in store for such callous disregard. As I eddied out in my squirrelly boat, I came face to face with a young boater who was trying to make his way into the hole. I tried backpaddling, but soon found myself doing the tag-team hole ride. Knowing full well I was doomed, I shouted out a profanity, which only served to make the river gods angrier. The young boy's horrified look was the last thing I saw before I went down.

I managed enough of a half-assed roll to catch a breath and see I was headed for trouble. I fumbled underwater with my paddle, trying to free my blade from the clutches of a hellacious eddy line. It must have been oxygen deprivation, but I flashed to my young son, who would be orphaned if I didn't get my act together. I then thought of other mothers of our time June Cleaver, Carol Brady, Mother Theresa (like I say, the brain cells were starving) and was overcome with anxiety and guilt. Where would the Beav not to mention an entire generation of TV viewers be if June had been so foolhardy? Who would have served Tang on the Astro-turf if Carol tried such a stunt? Alice? Would my child be raised by an adrogynous hired hand in a blue maid's outfit who spent her free time pursuing a butcher and the local bowling league trophy?

I pulled my skirt.

As I was whisked down the river, I was secure in knowing that, although my boat was sinking to the bottom of the Animas River, my child wouldn't grow up to own matching his-and-hers bowling shirts.

I pulled myself from the freezing water, and once the oxygen returned to my brain, I realized the folly of my irrational behavior. There was no good reason for it, other than a potent and intoxicating mix of adrenaline and estrogen. Jaded but not defeated, I was determined to reconcile my recreational pursuits with my maternal ones. If tribal women went back to work in the fields the same day they gave birth, I could certainly figure out how to sneak in a little extracurricular fun now and then.

For the next outing, I employed another tactic. Using the "it takes a village" argument, I coaxed some friends into pushing the baby in a stroller down the river path while I floated alongside. This way I could enjoy some play time while being assured that my child was safe and sound. We agreed to take stops along the way to make sure things were going smoothly. We even devised a code of gestures with which to communicate. A tap on the head meant everything was OK; the universal choking symbol meant all hell had broken loose.

The plan worked brilliantly, with me stopping periodically to check for the "all's-well" sign. However, we forgot to address one important sign in our ship-to-shore language: the "looks-like-the-weather's-turning-south-better-make-a-run-for-it" sign. Seeing how I was already wet, by the time I realized it was raining, it was too late. I looked to the shore to see one friend frantically clutching her throat while another beat a hasty retreat with the stroller, rain and wind pelting the cloth canopy.

By the time I pulled my boat from the river, the baby entourage had made it to the car. One friend fumbled with the wet car seat while another stood under a tree holding my screaming, soggy child. From the looks of it, he was not the only one displeased with me. I decided to save the "it takes a village" pep talk for another time.

So it wasn't exactly a scene from Parenting magazine, and I probably wouldn't be winning "mother of the year." But as everyone sought refuge in the car from the pounding rain, and I sat in my wet boating clothes comforting my kid, the smell of musty neoprene permeating the air, I knew no one would ever accuse me of being June Cleaver, either.

-Missy Votel




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