For a moment, the water is peaceful. I readjust my position on the inflated seat and secure my footing while my dad tries to identify the trees we’re gliding past.
“Those look like Rhododendrons,” he remarks. I glance up and see a tall tree with green leaves accompanied by other varieties of tall trees with similar leaves. I decide to take his word for it. We ease around a bend and I can see more white water crashing against rocks in the distance. The rafters ahead of us are busy at work, paddling through the rushing water.
Float on back, feet first, I review the safety tips to myself in the event I’m tossed overboard. I would have been perfectly content to stay back at the campsite with a good book in hand, but it was our rafting guide (also known as my younger sister) who convinced me to let her take me down the river.
“Alright, let’s go forward,” my sister interrupts my daydream about warmth and books and brings me back to the reality of the ice-cold water surrounding me. I put my paddle in the water as we maneuver around a couple of obstacles in our way. We stroke the water in unison, working together with the same goal in mind: stay in the boat.
“And relax,” she says a moment later. It’s our cue to lift our paddles from the water.
“Ok everyone, get ready,” she continues, “we call the rapids up ahead Lost Guide because it’s where most people fall out.”
“Lovely,” I mumble under my breath. So much for relaxing. My hands have a firm death-grip on the paddle.
The noise of the rapids grows louder and the once peaceful waters are looking very ominous now. Every natural instinct in my body wants to abandon ship. ABORT! ABORT!
Instead, like a mad woman, my sister instructs us to paddle forward. I lift my paddle—mind you, against my will—and push forward. I’m pretty sure forward is the absolute wrong direction to go.
“Forward, forward!” Her voice drowns out as loud rapids crash against our raft. Ice-cold water engulfs my face and splashes over my lap. I gasp for breath.
The blue dot on the map inched closer to our house as I sat on the couch and nursed the baby. My husband had shared his location with me after his plane landed so I could have a better idea of when he’d be home. Behind me, the kids could be heard destroying their bedroom and I couldn’t even will myself to care anymore.
For a week, I solo-parented while my husband went house-hunting in our new city. He was, no doubt, exhausted from a full week of looking at dozens upon dozens of houses and arranging for renovations. I, too, was worn out from attending to all the needs of our four small children, by myself, day after day. We agreed it was no competition. We were equally exhausted for different reasons. But secretly, it was clear I had been keeping score.
His taxi pulled up to the front door and the kids rushed to give him hugs. I lingered behind and waited my turn. Afterwards, he plopped onto the couch and kicked up his feet.
“Why don’t you go out somewhere to relax and have some alone time,” he offered.
Time alone, all by myself. It was the moment I had been waiting for with each passing hour of every passing day. I had fantasized about this dreamy occasion of sitting at a coffee shop with my laptop and a cup of hot coffee, typing big words and getting work done. Yes, this is what lingered in my mind each time I wiped poop off a bare bottom or retrieved the wet panties off the bathroom floor or sucked snot from the baby’s nose with a Nose Frida. Why wasn’t I halfway out the door already? I paced around, trying to gather my things but felt like I still had a million unfinished tasks hanging over me.
“What are you going to work on?” my husband asked, a seemingly innocent question.
Maybe I needed him to be more aware of exactly how exhausted I was before I left the house. Maybe I needed him to know how much I deserved this time away. I mean, what better time to turn into a raging wife than right after your husband returns from a long, tiring trip? (This is not the best time, for the record).
The steam was rising and was just shy of whistling straight out of my ears. Get your stuff and go have your alone time, I thought to myself. This is not the time to vent. I placed my laptop and charger in my bag. From the corner of my eye, I could see the toddler come out of her room, walk right past her father (after all, his feet are propped up and he’s clearly exhausted), and make a beeline straight for me.
“Mommy, I want some milk,” the toddler stared at me.
That was all it took. Something so small as a request for milk was just enough to unravel me. Despite my best efforts to keep calm and carry myself right on out the door, I began to vent about all the things. My husband thought I was making too big of a deal about all the things. I thought he wasn’t making a big enough deal about all the things. The tension built.
“Mommy,” the toddler inserted herself between us, blissfully unaware of any tension, “I still want some milk.”
“Not now,” I glanced her way, “I need to talk to Daddy.”
“But I’m so thirsty,” she whined.
I realized my husband and I were far from a resolution at this point, so there was no need to make the kid wait.
“Hold on,” I told my husband as I made my way into the kitchen to get the toddler a cup of milk. But when I returned a moment later, he was no longer in the living room. I made my way towards the bedroom and peeked through the door to find he had retreated there. I debated whether or not I even wanted to deal with it anymore.
I let out a deep exhale, opened the door, and found a spot on the bed near my husband. I tried to ask some questions while he sat in silence and pieced his thoughts together. Meanwhile, my daughter entered. Like her sister, she was unable to read the room. As far as she was concerned, this was the perfect time to climb up on the bed and sit between us.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” I continued the questions with my husband. He continued to sit in silence.
“Why isn’t Daddy answering you?” my daughter asked.
“OK, let’s find something for you to do.” I realized her observant commentary was not going to help us move forward with any conversation. I moved her into the living room, sat her on the couch, and scrolled through the movie options. I glanced and saw my husband come out of the bedroom. He got a cup of water and changed his location once again.
This whole situation was bigger and more complicated than I realized. What was I still doing here? Why was I not at a coffee shop with my laptop? ABORT! ABORT!
I grabbed a glass of water and joined my husband.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him once more. This time he answered and I felt his words rush toward me. I was overwhelmed and engulfed with conviction. I continued to listen while I gulped down some ice-cold water from my glass.
“And relax,” my sister says as we coast to a calm area in the river. I wipe the water from my face and slick back my hair.
“We call this next one Double Reaction because of its sideways curler wave,” my sister preps us for the next upcoming rapid.
I feel myself tense up as we get closer. At first glance, it looks like a deep pit of water with no escape route. Maybe, I rationalize, this is the right time to jump out and call it quits. But I don’t let the thoughts linger long because what happens then? Also, why am I jumping if we aren’t sinking? There has to be a way through it, I determine. All of these same fears and doubts were in my mind before the last rapid, but we still got through it. This is not the time to abandon ship.
“And forward,” my sister directs.
I twisted my palm around the outside of my glass in a downward motion and let the condensation drip down to the tile floor. I picked up one of my discarded tissues and wiped it away.
“I’m sorry for the way I snapped at you earlier.” My voice was still shaky from the ugly cry. I do that when stress and anger and shame collide. “Will you forgive me?”
He nodded and reached out his hand. I took hold of it as he pulled me in for a hug.
“And relax,” my sister says. Her words let us know we’ve made it through. It’s all behind us now.
We coast into the calm waters once again. I look around and I can tell we all feel a little more capable of tackling the remaining rapids ahead of us than we did when we first got in the raft. Against all our natural instincts to turn around, we moved forward. Against all the desire to find an easier route, we went straight into the rapids. Against all odds, we kept coming out on the other side.
“And forward,” we hear the command again.
Yes, forward. We stay in the boat and move forward.
P.S. Don’t miss our Galentine’s Day gift guide!
Guest post written by Alicia Boyce. Alicia is the wife of one awesome husband and the mom of four well-traveled kids. When she isn’t drinking her thrice reheated cup of coffee while homeschooling, she’s taking photos and writing about her quirky, expat life on Instagram. She’s co-founder of the blog, Taking Route—an online community for expat women “taking root while on route,” as well as the co-host of the Taking Route Podcast.
Alicia’s essay was the second-place winner of our “Love After Babies” essay content in our Exhale creative community. For more information about Exhale, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.
Photo by N’tima Preusser.