We picked Zu up from Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp yesterday. (I totally love arts camps. I love the uniforms. I love the sweating pine cabins. I love to walk down the dusty paths between tree stands and hear discordant waves snaking through the forest from the cinderblock practice rooms. I love the dance and the talent show and the having to wake up too early. I love the last day of arts camp, when kids are flying from all directions into each others' arms, crying their stupid eyes out.)
I was relieved to have my kid back, to make my kid laugh, to smell my kid's head, to shore up the three-piece. It had been a laborious ten days without my kid. The internal and physical universes seemed to be in cahoots to keep Manfriend and me constantly challenged. Mucky interpersonal conflict, car and house issues, prospects of big changes. None of it is worth rehashing here and most is not my story to tell, but it was complex, to be sure.
Earlier this week we went to The Lake with some friends and their family, visiting from North Dakota. The children had never experienced The Lake before and were ecstatic to spend the week at the beach. We'd heard there was a rip tide warning that day, so all the kids had lifejackets. We were sure that would cut it. We had no idea. That Lake was roiling. I think the only time I've seen anything similar was in the middle of winter. I stood in knee-deep water and it quickly became chest deep. The suction from the rip tide preceded every wave, wrenching us under and outward.
We were fortunate to have a one-to-one ratio of adults to children. We hadn't anticipated the work it would require to stay together and near the shore. I hadn't anticipated how anxious it would make me. Eventually I stopped trying to swim and played look-out. I found a level place and watched. Staying upright took a special combination of of strength and flexibility. Even that was not foolproof as the lakebed drew me downward if I was still for too long. Fighting the competing tides could quickly leave me entrenched.
One of these kids might die today. I flinched when I thought it, as though I'd doomed someone in the recognition. One of these kids might die today. I thought it again as I looked around me to other kids in the water, many without lifejackets or grown-ups within reach. One of these kids might die today. Because kids die at The Lake sometimes. Despite our best intentions, The Lake takes them, and often on days far less treacherous than that one.
Once I acknowledged that we could, in fact, lose a child in those waters, my anxiety inexplicably lessened. I stopped worrying about losing a child and started observing. I came out of my head, where the fear was, and into the physical surroundings. Crests, feet, spray, mouths spitting, hair splayed, bobbing, a scream followed by a laugh (drowning children don't scream and they certainly don't laugh), gulls, gasps. Undaunted, fixating, always forward. The rip tide their siren call.
Later I heard that the Coast Guard had to pluck dozens of folks out of The Lake that day, folks drawn too far who were then too tired to make it ashore. The beach we chose just happened to be one of the few not closed. Had we known that, we wouldn't have been in at all. Maybe.
In 72 hours we'll be on the road. I'm trying to get out of my head and stay in that one of these kids might die today space. However morbid that sounds, I find it comforting to accept that everything could go wrong rather than to vacillate between worrying, staying positive and trying to make this The Very Best Trip That Anyone's Taken in All of History. Fighting the competing tides could quickly leave me entrenched.