As many of you know (and the rest of you can probably guess from the blog name), our family spends a lot of time outdoors – most specifically in or near the Guadalupe River. My husband’s family has owned property on the river for over 50 years. It’s a gorgeous five acres with 300+ feet of riverfront, rapids across from the sprawling yard, a duplex of two cabins and even an old-fashioned molasses press in the front yard.
We spent many a summer there during our college and dating years, as work and school allowed. My first tubing trip down the river was quite the ordeal, especially as I was the only girl on this journey. Without going into too much detail about our misadventures, let me just summarize the lessons we each learned.
1) It is not a good idea to go on a river trip with a group of boys if you are the only girl. Ever. This only ends well in the movies.
2) A strapless bikini is not the best wardrobe choice when tubing down rapids.
1) In a full out, head-over-heels tumble down the rapids, never choose rescuing the tube containing the beer cooler over the tube containing your girlfriend. That, too, only ends well in the movies.
2) Trips with girls are more work. Period.
See? College kids can learn outside of class….
Over the years, the groups that joined us on our river adventures grew and changed. Couples broke up and new couples formed, people moved into or out of our lives, weddings changed the rules for some, graduations happened and grown-up jobs were sometimes less flexible in their understanding of our need for river fun than were our previous positions as wait staff or personal trainers.
The river changed as well. Drought years made it slow and sluggish, making the trip long, hot and (in rare cases) boring. There were years it rained all summer, and we shivered in tubes and rafts, determined to hold fast to tradition and float in spite of the unpleasantness. Some years it flowed faster and fuller than others. I will never forget the summer it overflowed its banks, and after the tragic drownings of some kayaking tourists, was closed for the season. Far be it from us to let a little thing like safety in prevention of serious injury or death stop us from having fun. We spent that trip body surfing the rapids. While it was one of the dumber decisions of our lives, guardian angels worked overtime and in spite of a couple of close calls, we all made it home. It also provided one of my favorite pictures of my husband, so I’ll share it with you.
Those are five foot swells he’s shooting out of….
When I think of Gregg, the boy I fell in love with – who introduced me to the river that was to become our first home together and who opened my eyes to a new and crazy brand of fun, I think of this picture. I see this portrait of the man who would ultimately become my soul mate and partner, the father of my children and head of our household, and it makes my heart smile. What a great definition of freedom and fun and in-the-moment living! It’s a beautiful reminder of a time before parental worry and career stress, the weight of heavy expectations and shouldering the responsibility of providing for a family. Back then, we were invincible, no matter what anyone told us to the contrary.
Lady Antebellum has a song called We Owned the Night. I love these lyrics: “And for a moment, we made the world stand still. Yeah, we owned the night.”
I loved those days. I loved the innocence and freedom we had. I love the stories and relationships that were born from them. I love the growth and changes we experienced through them. I love that we survived them. And, let’s be honest, if I catch our kids pulling even half the stunts we did up and down this river, I will skin them alive. If I’m being totally realistic, knowing my kids (especially the younger two), I should also know they will probably come up with even wilder and crazier stunts to pull. They are made up of half their father’s genes, after all.
And that’s okay. Because my little river rats deserve their day in the sun. They, too, need to create memories that make them alternately cringe in shame or laugh until their sides hurt. They need their time to make the world stand still, to have mental and/or literal snapshots to look back on and cherish with a smile in their hearts. They need to know how it feels to be young and free and invincible, and to find the beauty in the joy that brings. Because there will come a day when remembering how it felt to be that alive, that full of energy and hope, will be all that sustains them. There will be moments in their adult lives when looking back at the shenanigans of their younger, brighter, braver selves is what it will take to shore up their walls and replenish their reserves as the weight of the world crushes and drains them.
This river is in their blood. They need to form their own relationships with the entity that is so much a part of their lives and heritage. They are starting early, beginning a kinship and comfort level from such a young age. They have many years of escapades ahead of them.
And when my daughter goes on tubing trips with her college boyfriend, she’ll be the one rescuing the tube with the cooler as she calmly navigates the rapids. Of this, I have no doubt.
Solidarity, sisters. At one time, we each owned the night.