My children are lucky to have such a wonderful man for their daddy. He loves them immensely, is involved in their activities, and will put a boot in an ass, if and when any of them need it (only one of our children has actually required a boot in the ass on a regular basis, but I will not disclose which one). The girls describe their dad as ‘magnificent’ (gag). When I asked the girls how they would describe me, they unanimously agreed on ‘crazy’. Note: I wonder when the last time Mr. Magnificent did their laundry or ran forgotten homework to school? When Evan was little, he and Kevin had a special club called the “Cool Cat Club” and no girls were allowed, not even a mom who happened to be a girl.
During the summer of 2007 we had planned a trip to Bull Shoals Lake with my sister and her family. Due to my sister working weekend option at the hospital, we decided to let the men (the men being my husband, Kevin, and her hubby, Danny) take the boat and the some of the kiddos down on Saturday and we would drive the 4 and half hours after my sister got off work Sunday evening. The guys took my niece, Lilly, who was 5, our son, Evan, who was 11 and our youngest daughter, Sophi, who was 8 years old. My sister, Kim, and I would bring our oldest daughter, Riley and her BFF, Jackie and my two-year old niece, Olivia.
A day and a half after the men and their share of the kids ventured out, Kim and our charges took off for the lake. There is no easy way to get to Bull Shoals, Arkansas. The roads for the most part are two-lane highways that snake through the Ozark Mountains. Because of its proximity to absolutely nothing, there is limited cellular service at, on, or around the lake and five years ago, there were even less spots with reception. Because we couldn’t reach them by phone, we were operating under the assumption that our husbands were slowly puttering slowly around the lake with our precious cargo, obeying every safety precaution and avoiding any perceivable danger. It was after midnight when we arrived at the condo and it appeared that the guys had, in fact, taken excellent care of the kids. They were all sleeping soundly and aside from red faces and shoulders from lack of diligent sunscreen applications, everyone was in one piece.
The next day we all loaded up and launched the boat for a day of fun on the lake. The day was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was hot and bright and the lake was buzzing with boats and jet skis and the kids were anxious to start tubing. They loved the giant inner tube that is towed behind the boat making for an exciting ride. I was surprised when Sophi wanted to postpone the tubing and says, “Daddy, first let’s show Mom the rocks we jumped off yesterday!” I think Kevin may have pretended that the wind noise from the boat was drowning out her request, but she persisted, “Daddy, please? She will like it.”
Kevin said, “Mom doesn’t want to see the rocks. Let’s ride the tube!”
Evan chimes in, “Mom, these rocks are huge. You have to seem them. You won’t believe it. Come on, Dad, let’s show them!”
In my sweet little mom brain, I am picturing a small boulder sticking out of the water near the edge of one of the coves with my sweet little dumplings climbing up and jumping safely into the arms of my husband into about five feet of water. As my children continued to describe the events that transpired the previous day, the picture in my mind began to shift.
Evan: “It is sooooo high to makes you feel like you are falling forever.”
What?? Okay, now I want to see the “rocks”. I was very curious about their adventure. “Did Daddy catch you when you jumped off the rocks?” I asked, still clinging to the safe image I had conjured up earlier.
“No way! Even Dad can’t touch there! It is sooooo deep!” Sophi answered accurately.
“Uncle Danny and Dad stayed in the boat with Lilly and watched us,” Evan added.
After exploring a few coves that didn’t have the infamous ‘rocks’ Evan points out a landmark he remembered and we made our way toward the back of the cove. “There they are, Mom! Look! People are jumping off of them!” I follow my son’s finger pointed across the cove and my heart dropped into my stomach. The ‘rocks’ were not rocks at all, they were CLIFFS! Natural stone platforms carved out of the bluffs positioned 15 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet over the water!!! My babies did NOT jump off those!!!! . HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD, MY KIDS WENT CLIFF JUMPING!!!!!
As soon as Danny killed the engine, Evan and Sophi bailed over the side of the boat and started swimming toward the rock bluffs. I looked at Kevin and gave him the “how could you let our children jump off a 30 foot cliff into 75 feet of water” look, for which he mistook for my, “aren’t our kids total bad-asses” look!!! I watched in nervous disbelief as they scrambled up the steep slope and stood staring down at the water below. With just a moment of hesitation Evan leaped off the edge of the cliff and disappeared into the aquatic darkness, his life jacket bringing him swiftly to the surface. We all cheered and he lifted his hands in celebration as he bobbed in the water like a cork. “Go Sophi,” he shouted to his sister as she was still peering over the edge. She looked so tiny standing there. I wanted to shout for her to go back down the side of the bluff that she didn’t have to jump if she was scared. Just as I was about to verbally rescue her, she plunged off her perch squealing through her rapid descent. Riley and Jackie soon joined in the escapades and everyone escaped without any major injuries. (Jackie had a little mishap on one of her landings, but we have agreed never to speak of it, so I won’t).
Watching my young children leap off the cliffs into the deep unknown waters below was a mixed bag of emotions for me. As a mother, I often resist the urge to attempt to put my kids in a bubble and protect them from the world. It’s a feeling I have experienced often: Riley’s first day of kindergarten, the first time Evan dug in at the plate to bat in little league, the first time Sophi climbed on the block at her first swim meet. There are times the feeling just stirs in my stomach and whispers in the recesses of my mind. Other times it punches me in the gut and screams bloody murder. One of the hardest things a mother has to learn to do is let go; finding the balance between keeping them safe and letting them live. For me, being a parent isn’t usually black and white; there is that infinite grey area where my kids have to explore and as they grow older that area seems to keep expanding. The area where they can feel the wind in their face, taste the salt of the oceans, and open doors to their own tomorrows. I won’t always be here to make sure their life jackets bring them safely back to the surface, but my hope is they each know the depth of my love is infinite, definite and forever after.