My 12-year-old son is on a rafting trip with his middle school classmates and teachers. They all drove up yesterday to the South Fork of the American River and today will raft 10 miles of rapids above Folsom Dam Reservoir. It’s a team-building thing.
Every cell in my being is programmed to protect this child. I mean, I made the kid, after all, so I suppose it’s understandable that my instinct to keep him safe is fairly compelling. I’ve vetted babysitters, coaches, teachers (“So, uh, do the leaders get fingerprinted?”); I’ve taught him city-smarts (“You’ve got to keep scanning around you when you’re out on the street”); I’ve coached him on reading social cues so that he can start learning which interactions are okay and which are just not (“Yeah, that guy in the hardware store, wanting to get you to tell him all about where you live and stuff? Not good”). Only just this year did he start going by himself to a local park with his brother and a buddy to play soccer — of course, with a plan for dealing with creeps or earthquakes drilled into his head. Jeez, I still can’t decide if it’s appropriate to let him come home from school on public transportation every once in a while.
Nevertheless, three days into the school year I’m supposed to sign a paper that not only gives him permission to raft Class III rapids (“No previous rafting experience required!”) but also waives my right to take legal action if he is injured. Which means that there’s the possibility that he could get injured.
Here’s the cheery itinerary the science teacher sent out:
Friday, September 14
Breakfast, then prepare bag lunches to eat on river. Clean up camp and pack cars in order to leave after we get off the river today. We’ll probably put in at Camp Lotus and raft down to just before Folsom Reservoir. Big rapids (Class III+) for the day are “Satan’s Cesspool” and “Hospital Bar.” Pack rafts onto bus and drive back to camp.
Gotta love that Satan’s Cesspool.
It would have been overprotective not to let him go. After all, the school has led this trip for the seventh and eighth graders many times, the rafting outfit is legit, and each boat is manned with a river guide, four kids and a parent or teacher. Due diligence has been done. Besides, more than anything I want my boy to be strong and confident, open to adventure.
But the fact is that to get to that confidence he has to experience the world, which means he’s exposed to risk. Okay, fine. It’s just that this thing, this constant challenge to figure out what the kid’s ready to do, what I’m ready for him to do, what’s a safe risk and what isn’t — it’s so damn hard. Add in the fact that I can’t control or even prevent violence, natural disasters, accidents — not to mention life’s everyday disappointments and betrayals — and at times I’m reduced to a quivering mass of nerves.
The middle school staff expects “that the trip will be an educational as well as a unifying experience and that the spirit of adventure will launch us into a great school year.” Sounds good, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be glad once my son is back home tonight, safe and sound from his adventure at Satan’s Cesspool.