Firing Bill O’Reilly: a few thoughts from a broken feminist

rts12tlpI felt a sense of righteous vindication upon reading that Fox has let Bill O’Reilly go. I was one of the many women writing letters  by email and on Facebook to companies that advertised on his show. Thanks to the work of women’s rights organizations like ultraviolet and NOWI knew who to write to and what to say. I explained to my children that every small action the resistance takes is making a difference. The pawns are falling: the resignations of Milo Yiannopolous, Roger Ailes, Michael Flynn, the recusements of David Nunes and Jeff Sessions, and Jason Chaffetz deciding not to run in 2018, are all precursors to the eventual, inevitable, downfall of DJT.

We deserve a moment to relish the sense of accomplishment we feel after taking out the trash.

But this morning my daughter and I had a conversation about music. At the moment, she’s into music that denigrates women: “b**tches and h*s” lyrics by men who slap their girlfriends around. I tried to explain to her that she’s internalizing those bad messages, and that it wasn’t healthy.

She wasn’t buying it.

After all, why should she listen to me? I’m a broken feminist. I talk the talk, I even try to walk the walk, but there’s a part of me that’s so deeply damaged, I continue to accept unacceptable behavior from men ALL THE TIME. I still make myself nice, and small, and agreeable, just to fly low under the radar. I have not realized my potential, and it’s likely I never will. I’m like many American women: I’ve been a victim of sexual violence, both attempted and completed. The attempted left a 21-stitch long scar on my right hand; I sliced it open scaling a chainlink fence in a burst of adrenaline to get away from two attackers after my car broke down on the side of the road in Brooklyn. The completed acts left internal scars that despite years of therapy, have not healed. These scars affect my ability to have healthy adult relationships with men, both in work environments and social environments. My workaround is that I limit myself by sticking to female dominant work settings, and I work primarily alone. I don’t ask for promotions or raises because the bosses are male. I’ve tried a few times, but after being shut down I’ve given up.

The resistance is female for a reason. DJT’s voice turns our stomachs. He has the cadence of our predators. He has the same cold, dead eyes. He has their sensibility. That the predator-in-chief is still in his position, despite what he’s admitted to, and what he’s suspected of doing, wounds us and our daughters daily.

I am so proud of our every accomplishment in resisting this juggernaut of sexual predation. And I am so grateful when men, like the Patriots, join us. But I am afraid for my daughter. The end of allowing predatory men in positions of power can’t come soon enough for her or millions of girls like her.

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Always Stand Up to Racism

So I love my job taking care of medically fragile children in schools. I love the hours, the vacations, the fact that I get the same days off as my own kids, and I love the children I take care of. I love the problem solving and the physicality and independence. I feel like I’m doing something positive and worthwhile.

But I have one complaint: one of the schools in which I work is located in a town that has been tried and found guilty of systematically denying housing to people of color.

Needless to say, this town went heavily for the Prez-elect.

In the classroom where I work, most of the kids are being raised in pro-Trump households. These kids are given to saying things like, (and I heard this just last week): “Over the Christmas break I played a blah, blah video game and my team’s name was Trump’s Wall. We were awesome.”

At this point, one aide who knows my family whispered to me, “Did I hear that right?” and I said, “Yes you did.”

But other than that, I kept my mouth shut.

I did not take this child aside and tell him that my own son was taunted at a recent wrestling match with “Build the wall” chants. I did not explain that Trump’s Wall is not something everyone feels equally enthused about. That “the wall” is used to tease brown kids regardless of their citizenship status, and therefore has become a racist meme.

I didn’t speak up because I know I am behind enemy lines, and I need this job, and I like this job and I want to keep this job.

And that, rich white folks, is the reason poorer people of racial and ethnic minorities don’t always correct you when you say something offensive. It’s not because what you said is okay, or because they were okay with it. It’s because they don’t live in the same bubble of safety. So the next time you hear someone getting away with something offensive, or the next time you feel you can’t possibly be racist because no one has ever called you on it, not even your co-workers of color, think again. Maybe no one has called you on it because, like me, they value their paycheck.

And guys, it goes the same for women. Just because they didn’t call you out on your comment, it doesn’t mean they were good with it. It just means they need the job. So stop using other peoples’ silence as an excuse for continued bad behavior.

You all know the difference between right and wrong. Stop pretending you don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Re-reading and Re-thinking Post Election

I went back and re-read some of my blog posts from not very long ago, and I’m feeling enough of a cringe that I considered removing some. But I’ve decided not to, because first of all, almost no one reads my blog. But second of all, the posts show me something about myself at specific points in a pre-Trump year.

Now everything’s changed.

Prior to the election, I actually hoped and nearly believed that despite continued violence and aggressions constantly in the news and in our lives, that we as a nation were on an continuous upward trend. I really love the idea that the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. So I didn’t want my kids to constantly be thinking about race and racism. I wanted them to have an innocent bubble of a childhood–I wanted them to have what white kids have–the privilege to just be kids.

So yeah, we had conversations about racism, colonialism, white privilege, micro-aggressions etc. But I hoped it would all remain largely theoretical. I hoped it didn’t really touch them. I hoped that at least in the NY area, we’d moved past that.

I had purposely moved us to a neighborhood where my kids look like a lot of other kids so they could just be themselves, not the representative of a culture, not a token, and not a victim of racism. I hated that about my childhood, being the only Arabs in town. When they needed someone to play Yasser Arafat in the school UN, it had to be me. When I did a cooking demo, it had to be tabbouli. And I would never say anything when kids sang “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”. No teachers told them to stop, that it was racist. Because we were at war. And it was okay back then to say, “Bomb them all, let God sort it out.” Even the teachers said things like that.

But my parents had moved us to that town instead of settling on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn because they didn’t want us to be stuck in a Middle Eastern enclave–they wanted us to assimilate because being “American” was the goal.

Everyone does the best they can with their limited knowledge and experience.

And there I go again, being the apologist. It’s my tendency–to try to smooth things over, to try to understand the mistakes of others and forgive them. And as a result I haven’t done  a very good job listening to my kids, because I so, so, so wanted their childhoods to be pain free. I wanted to tell them, “No, the world isn’t that horrible, that racist, that mean-spirited.” I wanted to excuse the racist things they heard as ignorance, or the result of a poor education. I guess I didn’t want to believe that so many people were still really like that.

But now there is hard proof. Yes, so many people are still really like that.

So now I am sorry for the wimpy way I tried to play both sides, tried to keep the peace, tried to wish it all away, tried to believe that the bad things they heard were just small anomalies and weird left-overs and definitely on the way out.

Next time my kids say they think someone or something is racist, I hope I will just listen. I  hope I will ask them how they feel,  hug them, and  listen. I hope I won’t try to smooth the bad feelings away with an apology for the ignorance of the world. But I might make that mistake again and again and again. Because I am a product of this country and I still want to  buy the lie that America is the land of equal opportunity, and our history is a steady upwards march towards justice. I still keep hoping some miracle will happen and this situation will be corrected, that’s how thick my denial is.

And I just want my kids to be happy. The mom in me wants them to believe that hard work and fair play gets the prize, regardless of everything else.

I would really love to hear from some other moms on this.

 

 

 

Caring for Children Post Election

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It’s awful when the bullies win, but sometimes they do. A child I love dearly has been dealing with this: the bullies get to do what they do, and it’s up to her to figure out how to take care of herself in spite of it, because there really are no repercussions to their actions, despite the concern and apologetic handwringing of school administrators. (See: When “Victim” Looks Like “Crazy” ).The bullies haven’t done enough to get expelled or suspended. And they laugh at being verbally chastised.

Laws are laws, after all.

It’s awful when the bullies win on a larger  stage, too. Because despite how you feel about the US election, if you are a thinking adult who cares for children, you must recognize in your heart that the language he used was the language of bullies. Calling people “loser” and “pig”, denigrating their differences, interrupting with “Wrong!”, physically menacing, verbally threatening, and a myriad of his other tactics are the tactics of bullies, and we do right to teach our children to avoid behaving that way, because of course we don’t want our children to behave like that, do we?

Or do we?

My children are understandably upset. They’ve only known the Obamas, who, whatever you may say about their policies, have been a scandal-free, positively classy example of good behavior. Also, my son has been taunted at school that he is going to get deported. I have reassured him that his citizenship is full and final and irrevocable.

But  is it? Look what happened to the Jews in WWII, or the Japanese on our own soil.

This is all I want to say about this.

What I really want to do, post election, is take care. Of myself, my children, my clients, my mother, and my community.

Self care so far means sleep, healthy food, a media blackout, classical music in lieu of NPR, and reaching out to friends and family. Stepping up the yoga, meditation, and prayer. Shutting down conversations that make me feel violated. Donating money to causes I care about.

Care for my children looks much the same. I advise them to focus on what they can do to make their lives and futures better. I advise my son, a news junkie, to take a break from it.

I welcome anyone’s thoughts about positive self care after this wounding, ugly election. As a nurse and mom, I want to focus on healing–not finger-pointing, blame, or handwringing angst.

How do you take care of yourself and your own?

 

 

Some thoughts on Columbus Day

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This morning we got up early because my son was marching in the Columbus Day parade in NYC with his high school band. The band is a source of great pride in our community, and it has won prizes in years past for performances in the parade.

My son, however, had mixed feelings. He loves playing in the band and a trip into the city with his friends is always exciting, but he doesn’t value the holiday. He identifies not only as Latino and Guatemalan, but also as an Indigenous person. His story is his to tell, so I won’t tell it all here, but I will say that the one picture we have of his birth mother shows her wearing the traditional traje of an indigenous group.

Yesterday he asked me what I thought the world would be like if Native People had colonized Europe instead of the other way around. We talked about the possibilities, alternate realities, and the “guns, germs, and steel” reasons for Europe overwhelming the indigenous Americans.

This morning he put on a tee-shirt with Mayan iconography under his band jacket, a necklace with his name in Mayan, and a bracelet he’d gotten at a powwow hosted by the Wampanoag People on Martha’s Vineyard. He loaded his phone with Native American music and dug through the laundry to find his earbuds (he always forgets them in some pants pocket). He chose to wear his nearly waist length hair down. Some of this may have been adolescent posing, but some of it may be personal armor. I handed him a Cliff Bar and made sure he’d brushed his teeth and hair and dropped him off at the high school where the parking lot was rapidly filling up with other teens who look a lot like him.

We ran into a neighbor on the train, and a few other parents from our town on the parade route and settled in to watch. Finally our kids came through, and they were awesome, and we were proud, and then after a quick trip to the Museum of Natural History we sat on the train forever, stalled because of track work after a derailment.

Back home I checked in with my son (who’d traveled back separately with the band on the bus). He was impressed by the protesters—we’d seem them too: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump outside of Trump tower, a group dogging Governor Cuomo about Indian Point nuclear power plant, and a batch of college students chanting and holding signs that said, “Stop Celebrating Genocide.” My daughter asked what genocide was, and I said something like killing a whole group of people, ethnic, racial, or religious, or killing enough of them to damage their culture, and she said, “Yeah, I see their point.” My son said he thought all the protesters were interesting, but he noticed that most of the parade watchers weren’t really celebrating Columbus, or his “discovery” at all—it was more of a celebration of being Italian.

It was a tiring day, but all in all I felt lucky. Lucky we lived near enough to NYC that my son could participate in a parade that provided so much thought provoking conversation, and lucky that my kids were so perceptive, so smart, and so interested in the world around them.

Daily Prompt: Careful (talking to my kids about racism)

snowboard-663304_1280via Daily Prompt: Careful

I don’t usually use the daily prompts, in part because I don’t get the chance to visit my blog daily. When I have a few moments to write, I’m often working on my next book. But this prompt jibes with what’s on my mind right now.

Lately I’ve found myself advising my children to be careful when they make an assumption about someone else’s racism.

My son, who loves snowboarding, has been looking forward to joining the high school ski club since 6th grade. Finally, he’s old enough. At the first meeting, he noticed that most of the kids were white. He has radar for this: he’s always noticing the ratio of white to brown and whether it reflects the general population of the town, or school, or whatever. He came home pretty keyed up. According to him, a white girl had looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?”

I’ve gotten careful to not jump in with my take. Instead I said, “How did that make you feel?”

“Angry! I was so angry!” He talked about how he was gonna school her–she was gonna feel like a fool when she saw how awesome he was in the terrain park. (He’s been snowboarding since he was 5, and he is awesome.)

“That was so racist!” my son said.

I admitted it was pretty ignorant, and that it might have been racist. Or it might have been classist. Or maybe she assumed he wasn’t into snowboard or skiing because he wasn’t one of the preppy, jock kids. Maybe she just didn’t like him. We talked about how it is true that we don’t see a lot of Latinos on the mountains we go to, in part because there just isn’t a tradition of snow sports in Central and South America, so when people move north, skiing and snowboarding just isn’t on their radar. Maybe that was the reason that girl had made that ignorant comment.

I said I hoped comments like that didn’t keep kids out of the club who could otherwise enjoy doing something their family didn’t traditionally do.

I do wish people were more careful with their casual comments.

Yesterday, I took my daughter shopping for a new mattress at BJs. As we were leaving the store with it, a child asked her mom, “Where did she get the money for a new mattress?”

“That’s so racist!” my daughter said.

“Maybe not. Maybe that kid wants a mattress herself, and her mom just finished saying they couldn’t afford one. So maybe it was more about jealousy, or curiosity.”

I don’t want my kids to always be on the lookout for the racist comment. There are plenty, and they come all the time, in the weirdest places, in the weirdest ways. But I’ve learned it’s nicer to get through your day mostly ignoring the non-threatening ignorance. I could be cut by every stupid comment, or I can let it roll off, and think that it has more to do with that other person’s shortcomings than anything about me, and just get on with my day.

We were watching Zootopia on Netflix, and my kids were pointing out every moment that was about racism, or profiling, or awkward inter-racial relations. A sweet, fat, and probably gay tiger called a bunny “cute”, and she, rather uncomfortably, explained only a bunny can call another bunny “cute”, but other species should avoid that word.

The tiger was mortified and apologetic.

Maybe I am too much of an apologist for the people who say such stupid things, but really, I bet a lot of people, especially kids who haven’t learned any better yet, are like that tiger.

 

 

 

 

A Few Weird Things

green-pink-2toneIt’s hard to get to the computer these days, and when I do, I want to write my next book. So I don’t blog as much as I’d like, and stuff happens, and I don’t comment on it, and it piles up. So here’s three things I felt like addressing, but didn’t get around to:

  1.  I got that alert on my phone for Ahmad Khan Rahami (the terrorist who planted bombs in NY and NJ) while I was at work. (For those who don’t know, I am a pediatric nurse who accompanies medicalized children to school). None of the other adults around me got it. That night at dinner, I asked my husband if he’d gotten the alert. Nope. Neither had my son. He says to me, “Of course you got it, mom. You’re the Arab in the family. They probably sent it to all the Arabs, because you all know each other.” He meant it as a joke. (He’s 100% Latino). It’s kind of a running gag about the Arabs in our family. There’s a funny story about a friend who I hadn’t seen in decades, walking into a Lebanese restaurant in another state and saying to the owner, “Hey, my best friend’s father was Lebanese.” “Oh really,” says the owner, “What was his name?”  “Salim Chalfoun.” The owner says, “That’s my uncle.” And here’s the kicker–my dad was his uncle.  So that’s the joke–all Arabs are cousins or uncles or whatever, as far as non-Arabs are concerned. But of course we aren’t. And I know the alert got sent to lots of non-Arabs. So why do I always have that weird, sinking feeling every time a terrorist has an Arabic name, as if it has something to do with me? Why do I take that on? I bet white people don’t cringe when a white guy makes the news.
  2. We were eating our typical weekend pancake breakfast, listening to NPR,  when the recording of the wife of Keith Scott pleading with the police to not shoot him came on. I turned the radio off. My son asked why, and I explained that I had heard it yesterday, and it was very upsetting. My son said, “I know what to do if I get stopped by the police.” He stood and showed me how he would place his hands behind his back. I said, “Don’t do that–they might think you’re pulling a gun from your waistband.” He said, “I could do this.” And he demonstrated putting his hands on top of his head. He explained that’s what the kids in school say to do.  I said, “No, also problematic. Put your hands like this.” And I showed him how to hold his hands in the air, fingers spread, so anyone could see he didn’t have a gun.
  3. A few days later I worked a dance with my client who goes to their district school.  The district is 93% white, and one of the wealthiest in our county. The boys wore button down shirts, and Vineyard Vine web belts,  chino shorts, and boat shoes, the girls wore pink and green Lily Pulitzer dresses. They looked like they were ready to go out to dinner in Edgartown. So preppy and clean cut. And they were so well behaved, I thought. Yet they got yelled at by the chaperones, and the lights were turned on so they couldn’t get into any more trouble. My son was fascinated by this. He wanted to know what those preppy kids had done that was so bad. “They were using their phones,” I told him. “They aren’t allowed to have phones at school or at any school functions.” He was incredulous.”Wow. A phone is bad?” “In their school it is,” I said. I didn’t have to point out the difference between their world and ours. My son totally got it.

 

 

When You Send Your Children To The Moon

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Dar Williams’s song “End of the Summer” has been running through my head this last week. My son is off to high school, and my daughter has entered middle school. And it does feel like I’ve sent my children to the moon.

As some of you know, I work with children whose medical needs require a nurse at all times. One of my clients is doing so well, they now attend their district school instead of a “special” school.  (I use “they” as the pronoun, even though it is not grammatically correct, so as to not give away my client’s gender–I don’t want any identifying characteristics in this essay to violate their privacy.)

So this past week I took my client to their district school, and I got to experience all the anxiety and fear of entering an alien world when my client entered the middle school cafeteria.

My client sat at empty table. All the other kids filed in and filled all the other tables, and the child I was with continued to sit alone. I stood a little way off–I didn’t want an adult presence to be the reason they were being ignored. Eventually an aide to one of the other special needs kids came over and invited my client to that child’s table. That child was sitting near another special needs kid, and a cluster of physically and neurologically typical kids also sat at that table, albeit crowded down at the opposite end. So at one end: my client, an autistic child, and a child with Down’s Syndrome. At the other end, everyone else. But at least our little group of three wasn’t isolated completely, right?

Well, the following day we headed straight over to our new table. I stood with the two aides and we watched the social scene unfold. No one sat with our kids. Eventually, a lunchroom aid  approached some typical kids and guilted them into joining our gang of three. The same thing again the next day–our three started alone, then a few typicals got guilted into joining the “special” table.

Unfortunately, on that third day, a teacher announced that by the end of the week the tables would be “set”. Where you were sitting Friday determined where you would sit the rest of the year. We’d had a week to do our social maneuvering and the window of opportunity was closing.

So of course, Friday found our group of three sitting alone at a table for sixteen. No one was going to sit at that table and be told they must sit there all year. A day or two, sure fine, they can be nice to the special kids–but all year? Social suicide.

I get it; I really do. When I was in middle school, I would have  behaved the same way. I had so little social capital, I couldn’t spend it on compassion for someone lower on the social ladder. And I was freaked out by kids who were different from me. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to be okay with all kinds of people. Now I have no problem with someone who looks, thinks, or speaks differently. But it took exposure to get there. Most people have to get used to differences before they can embrace them. So young people, with their limited experiences, are really bad at being inclusive. That’s one of the reasons that integration and mainstreaming are valuable. People need to be near each other to get used to each other and eventually accept each other.

But it is hard on these intrepid kids who journey to the moon. All you moon dwellers look at them, see their differences, and shy away. Our little gang of three will most likely sit alone for the rest of the year. They will survive. They’ve survived worse. Still, I want everyone to take a moment to understand just how much courage it takes to boldly go where no one like you has gone before. How amazing you would be if you could look past their differences and your own fears, and really welcome these astronauts.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Lebanese?

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I just finished up a couple of author appearances for my new kids’ book, The Treasure of Maria Mamoun, and a question that came up at both readings was, “Why did you chose to make your main character Lebanese-American?”

The glib answer would be because I am Lebanese-American, and in all writing workshops you’re taught to “write what you know”. But honestly, in earlier drafts of the book, Maria wasn’t obviously Lebanese-American, and her mother Celeste wasn’t obviously a Lebanese immigrant. I was advised, after the first go-round with my agent, to go ahead and make it obvious.

This advice surprised me, and it went against the grain of my upbringing. As I have shared in another blog Coming out as an Arab American, I was raised to hide my identity. In fact, I had mistakenly thought that it was “better” if my main character wasn’t identifiably anything—so she could be read however the reader wanted to read her.

But at some point between the many drafts, something happened in the writing world, and there began to be an outcry against all-white, all-male author panels. Publishers Weekly has written a number of articles about the monoculture of the publishing world, all across the industry. In their article, Why is Publishing So White (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/69653-why-publishing-is-so-white.html), a pie chart shows that only 1% of the overall industry identifies as Middle Eastern.

Luckily, it seems the industry wants to change this situation.

Suddenly it was not such a bad thing to be me, or to let my main character be like me.

So now Maria, like me, was born in the Bronx, baptized at Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn Heights, and then never set foot in another Maronite church again. Her mother makes the same English mistakes my dad made. She eats hummus, and loves pistachio nougat candies, and has a Tante Farida. She speaks more French than Arabic, and more English than both. Like me, she knows how to ululate, but rarely does it, because of its association with terrorism. And she has all the “first generation in the US” values: education is important, you must always work hard, and it is better to own your home than to rent.

Recently my daughter asked me why in so many of the books she loves, the main characters are always white? She specifically mentioned the Harry Potter and Hunger Game series. I said that white people wrote those books, and people tend to write characters like themselves.

So then she asked why, if the main character is a POC (person of color), is that often made into the whole point of the book? As if a POC can only have adventures related to their status—such as a story with a Mexican protagonist is all about crossing the border or all about fitting in with mainstream white America. Why can’t a POC character just be whoever they are and have “regular” adventures, like magic or treasure hunts or solving mysteries?

That was a good question. I struggled to explain without excusing, and then I realized I needed to get more involved in that question myself. Because here I am, a writer, a daughter of a Lebanese immigrant, with Latinx children. There are some really good conversations going on all over the web, social media, and within the industry. I’ve been struggling to catch up, but as a mother and writer, I realize I need to.

 

 

Wisdom from Whitewater

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Last week I met up with my family in Maine. The kids had been at a sailing camp. Now camp was over, my work was over, and we could all have some fun. Dad made plans for the whole family to go whitewater rafting on the Kennebunk River, so on Monday morning we got up before 5 and drove to the base lodge of the North Country Rivers rafting company.

Whitewater rafting requires a great deal of preparatory effort. You get loaded up with uncomfortable gear (a helmet, a lifejacket, a paddle, and if you’re wise, extra clothes so you don’t go hypothermic in that chilly Maine river). Then you take a long, bumpy bus ride sweating in all that extra clothes, wondering if this is really going to be fun enough to be worth all the trouble. If you’ve gone whitewater rafting before (I have, in Costa Rica), and you are the adventuresome sort, then you know that it is. But, if you are a first-timer, you may have your doubts. My kids had their doubts, and I got some pushback. After all, they had no idea what they were in for, and it was 70 degrees out—they thought I was insane for advising wet suits. So they bargained me down to windbreakers and booties provided by the company and grumbled about the early hour, long car ride, long bus ride, uncomfortable clothes, and a few other things I’ve decided to forget about.

One of the guides gave us a preparatory talk on the bus ride up. He was an excellent orator—turns out he’s a Maine State Senator and whitewater rafting is his weekend gig. (I was impressed. Not all senators pad their meager salaries with graft! Some actually work for extra cash!) But what was really impressive was the glib way he tossed off major life lessons under the guise of whitewater raft safety.

I had just wrestled my kids into windbreakers they were sure they didn’t need. (Later, they admitted they were glad for them, and probably should have taken me up on the wet suits too!) But at the moment they were still grumbling, so I resisted pointing out that everything the senator/guide said could apply to far more than whitewater rafting and they should really pay attention to this font of wisdom.

But since this is my blog, I totally get to point that all out right here, right now. And so I give you the Maine State Senator/Whitewater Rafting Guide’s Rules for Safety (and Wisdom).

The senator/guide introduced his safety talk by explaining that at least a few of us would get tossed from the raft. When this happened, it was our job was to get back to the raft. Because when you are riding rapids, the safest place is in the raft.

First Rule: If you fall out, don’t freak out.

Freaking out doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help the people trying to help you. As long as you are conscious, you need to remain calm, find the raft, and point yourself in the right direction. If you possibly can, start swimming towards the raft.

This is not the moment to take things personally. It is not the moment to beat yourself up, start crying, consider the unfairness of it all, or review your life choices. The river did not have it out for you. It did not single you out for this soaking because you deserved it, or are in some way special, or are a particular brand of loser—this is just what happens when you go rafting. Now deal with it without all the drama. If you start screaming, you will definitely get a mouth full of water.

 

Rule #2: Don’t be fussy. Don’t be proud. Accept any hand being offered.

You cannot get back in the raft on your own. It is moving, you are moving, the water is moving, and there are lots of rocks. You need help and things are about to get intimate. Whomever is on the boat, whether you know them or not, is exactly the person you need right now. They are going to reach down, grab your lifejacket and haul for all they are worth, and you will land right on top of them, your full body pressed on top of their body. You will be close enough to kiss each other. Probably best if you don’t, but as the senator/guide said, “You will be staring each other in the face. It’s okay to give each other a little pat on the shoulder—you just had a moment.”

 

Rule #3: If lots of people go over, as soon as you are hauled back in the boat, immediately reach down and start helping the people still in the water. If you are not helpful, the guide may throw you back in, because he doesn’t need unhelpful people in his raft.

I’m pretty sure the part about being thrown back in was a joke, but the point was that if you are in a position to rescue, even if you just got rescued yourself, stick out your hand immediately and start helping.

Our raft was heavy on children. We had four (our two kids and two others who were with their dad) and four adults: our guide Dana, my husband, the other dad, and me. Dana was one of the most experienced guides, and so no one went swimming unintentionally. However, when we got to a section that was “just” Class 2 rapids, he suggested that we all go overboard (he would, of course, remain with the raft), and drift down-river buoyed by our lifejackets. This way we would know what to do if someone fell out in an uncontrolled situation. Everyone took him up on that suggestion, and we all bailed overboard.

After Class 4 rapids, Class 2 looked easy peasy lemon-squeezey from the boat. But when you’re in them, bobbing along like a cork, you suddenly realize those waves are pretty big, and you have less than a second between them to catch your breath. Plus, you have to be watching for rocks, maintaining your position (nose and toes skyward—as if you are sitting in a La-Z-Boy chair), which gets kind of hard on your abs. So when Dana, our guide, called us back to the raft, I was happy to be the first to swim over.

The next person to arrive was one of the children. Not one of mine. The boy looked trepidatious—his dad wasn’t in the boat yet, the guide was busy steering, and this crazy-looking lady he didn’t know was reaching over the side for him. Mom that I am, I had no trouble grabbing that kid by the lapels and hucking him in on top of me. Then I grabbed some more kids and somehow everyone ended up back in and we went on our way. It was only later, when my daughter said, “Mommy, what happened to your leg?” that I realized I had scraped up my knee and shin pretty badly doing the planned “rescues”.

At this point the metaphors are obvious—you don’t need me to spell out that the river equals life, and the various bumps are illness, addiction, pick your life-challenge. So I’m not going to go into all that.

But there was one other life lesson that our senator/guide told us on the bus ride, not directly related to whitewater rafting safety. And this one was so good that I just couldn’t help discussing it my daughter.

Actually, it was a “love story” according to the senator/guide. It was exactly the sort of thing I’ve lately wanted to tell my pre-teen beauty-queen daughter, and perhaps, dear reader, it is the sort of thing you’d want your daughter to hear, too. So, I will paraphrase his love story here, (though probably with less charm and wit).

This story happened back before the senator/guide was a senator. He was a young man, rafting the river with his buddies, starting a river-rafting business, and looking for love in all the wrong places. He managed to get a woman to come out on the river with him. It was April, and as a result the water was still quite cold. She made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she did NOT want to end up in that cold water. So, of course, the Universe being what it is, she did end up in that cold water. And on the bus ride back to base, she also made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that the senator/guide was NOT allowed to sit next to her anymore.

Back at the base, they dealt with the gear, and then started up a volleyball game. At some point the senator/guide heard the smack of two women running straight into each other. “You could not mistake that sound,” he said. The women fell, landing in mud, and while the one he’d started the day with got up and angrily stormed off, the other (who was not the woman he’d started the day with) smeared the mud across her face like war paint and kept playing. At that moment he realized she was the woman he would marry. And he did, and they now have two kids and live happily ever after.

Lesson obvious, right?