“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” Psalm 127:3-5
I have so often admired those families in our lives that truly enjoy being together. They exhibit a kind of family togetherness that is infectious to all members of the family, young and old. Dave and I desperately want this for our growing family, and a few years ago, we decided that we could cultivate this not only through prayer and daily interaction but also through taking on certain “adventures” as a family.
Most of our adventures have been centered around travel. We have become road warriors together, and sometimes this felt like cruel and unusal punishment for all of us. After hours of driving, a few sweet moments of family singing, fights over gaming equipment, some impromptu games of “name that smell”, and Dave and I saying “if I have to stop this car…” like a broken record, we would arrive at our destination exhausted. No matter how stressful the trip had been, which is now the expectation, we always seemed to be glad we made the effort and the memories did seem to bring us closer together as a family.
A few years ago, we decided to try a new kind of adventure. We have an absolutely beautiful canal in Augusta, and Dave and I often go for long walks along the trail beside it on date nights. For years, I have told Dave how much I would love to take a kayak down the canal as a family. He has always looked at me like I had a hole in the head when I would mention it, or at least he did until this past weekend.
We were all dressed for dinner, but we decided it was too gorgeous of a day to waste it indoors. So, we took our boys to the canal to see the rapids and small waterfall. It was a perfect day for this: a soft breeze, around 70 degrees, and just enough crispness in the air to feel like fall when you stepped out of the sunlight. The boys loved seeing the rapids and were in great spirits, so Dave and I, intoxicated by the breath-taking sights and weather, decided to take the plunge. We rented two tandem kayaks, put on our life jackets, and off we went on the four and a half mile, two and a half hour trek down the canal. No, I am not exaggerating those numbers, and yes, they were and are as daunting as they appear.
Without thinking of my growing pregnant belly, I decided it made the most sense for me to hold Chandler, our squirmy three year-old, in my lap while trying to paddle in the back of one kayak. Meanwhile, we placed, Connor, our quintessential, free-spirited, middle-son who refused to bring a paddle, at the front. Dave and our oldest, Cooper, each having their own paddle, were in the other kayak together. Right before we left the shore, our friendly rental agent told us that we better try and paddle the whole way down the canal or we would miss our shuttle back to our car unlesss we wanted to paddle upstream in the dark. Sure, I thought. What could possibly go wrong?
We started out pretty good. Like I mentioned before, the weather was amazing and our kids seemed pretty excited to experience something new. About ten minutes into the adventure, Chandler, the youngest, decided he wanted to move around the kayak at his leisure. For any of you who have ever kayaked, you know that this is impossible unless you want to tip over. So, I tried to calmly tell him to sit down and I even tried distracting him by pointing out this interesting bird on the water in front of us. He loved watching the bird, but he refused to sit down. I started sharpening my tone a bit because the kayak began to shift with his movement, which Connor, the middle-son at the front, thought was hilarious. So, he to began to move his hips back and forth to get the kayak rocking some more. Okay, so the “what could possibly go wrong” attitude was a bit presumptuous.
Meanwhile, Dave and Cooper were oblivious to the catastophe that was occurring in my kayak, and they were paddling, without a care in the world, pretty far ahead of us. At that point, I felt pretty desperate and could feel my blood boiling. Being limited to a shifting boat that was near tipping over with two of my kiddos and my pregnant self, with crumbled composure, I loudly and obnoxiously said “I. Said. Stop. Moving. And. Sit. Down. NOW!”. I might as well have said “or, I am gonna get the hose” or “I’ll beat you silly”; yes, that’s how classy this whole thing went down. Chandler started crying uncontrollably, while Connor, feeling the awkwardness of the moment, started laughing like a hyena. Over by the trail, I could see a sweet, young couple strolling along and then stopping to gape at the crazy, tacky mother loudly reprimanding her kiddos in the middle of the canal that just happened to be me that day. We were all feeling awesome (insert high doses of sarcasm). On a side note, I realize that I quite possibly might have made that sweet, young couple never want to have children. Lord, please erase that scaring memory of a crazy mom from their minds. Have mercy!
Okay, back to the story. Finally, Dave and Cooper heard our clamour and began to paddle, upstream mind you, to meet us. Dave could tell that I was spent and offered to turn us all around and head back. I, in my frustration and stubbornness, said “No, we can’t. We have been through too much and come too far to turn back now. We have to press on.” So, Dave, knowing that I was on the verge of tears with my raging pregancy hormones and having only one paddle for our kayak, suggested that he tether our kayaks together. After all, we were cutting it really close to making it in time for our shuttle, and we certainly didn’t want to paddle upstream in the dark. Dave found his inner MacGyver and creatively fastened the two kayaks together, and then he began paddling as fast as he could.
Knowing that he couldn’t single-handedly get us there, even though he is some kind of Hercules in all of our eyes, he enthusiastically said “Team Willis, I need all of you to help. Cooper you’ve got to paddle, and Connor you and Mommy can take turns with the paddle in your boat”. So, that’s exactly what we did. It was hard work, but we found a way to make it to the end and even managed to take in the beautiful scenery around us.
When we reached the finish line, we were all drenched and exhausted, but there was such a feeling of accomplishment. We knew we could’ve given up, but we chose to press on. We knew we could’ve continued fighting, but we chose to get along. We knew we could’ve let our anger and frustration ruin our adventure, but we chose to change our attitudes and enjoy this special experience together. I think that is what family team-building is all about. We start together and finish together. We don’t let anyone fall overboard or leave anyone behind. We are family and we are on the same team; win or lose.
Although the kayak adventure was extremely difficult at times, and Dave now has tendonitis in his wrists to prove it, I would do it all again. I can now laugh at my ridiculous frustration and appreciate the sweet memories we made that day. It is all part of the adventures and sometimes misadventures of building our family togetherness.
I challenge all of you to find ways to build your own family togetherness daily and through various adventures. Find something you all enjoy doing together and do it regularly. Ask your kids what they would like to experience as a family and try to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but even if expense is involved, encourage your kiddos to help earn money towards the experience.
I can’t promise that it will be easy, but I promise you that is will be absolutely worth every bit of time and effort you put into it. And, you will certainly have priceless stories and memories that will last a lifetime.
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