At The River

Last Thursday was one of those gorgeous sunny winter days: clear skies, minimal wind, a world bathed in sunshine. The kids and I headed out soon after lunch. Given the number of days lately where we’ve hardly stuck a foot past the door, I was not about to let such a beautiful day go to waste.

We took a short walk and played for a while at the nearby park. The wind wasn’t strong, but it was present, and I was just about to call things off on account of small cold hands when Nathan decided that he wanted to go down the old road to the river.

Well, why not? We headed down and found that the little beach we’d played on last summer had disappeared. The river was now high enough that muddy water was roughly level with the highest chunk of concrete at the end of the road. I knew that this meant the water would be about four feet deep right off the little concrete pad. This visualization on my part was not an idle consideration. I did the calculations very quickly when Ryan, whose experience with muddy water has hitherto been confined to mud puddles, immediately walked up to the edge of the concrete and attempted to step off of it.

I had not, of course, let him get out of my reach. So I pulled him back and we had a long talk about how the water was 1) cold and 2) deep. The first concept I knew he understood. The second? I wasn’t sure. He tried several more times to dip a shoe into the water, probably to test this “deep” concept, but with vigilance and redirection (who doesn’t love throwing rocks into water?) I eventually got him to stop trying.

It felt balmy down there, where we were completely protected from the wind. Despite the unfortunate proximity of the freeway bridge, the gentle motion of the water was soothing. Nathan soon got tired of the rock-throwing game and started climbing up on the surrounding banks, finding various leaves and twigs to see what happened to them when thrown in the river. Ryan stuck with the rocks. It would have been a peaceful and relaxing time except for the little shots of adrenaline that went through me whenever Ryan got close to the edge. I try not to be too protective, and I’d already run through in my mind how I would pull out a kid who fell in. I wasn’t worried about Nathan, who demonstrated both dexterity and caution near the water’s edge. But when Ryan would walk right up to the water and do his little baby wobble as he stopped… well, each instance gave me a moment of minor panic. My hands would shoot out a foot, and then I would reel them back in when I saw he wasn’t falling.

Eventually I couldn’t take it. It was time to go.

Neither kid, of course, wanted to do anything of the sort. I couldn’t blame them. From their perspectives, this was the best thing we’d done all week. And Ryan apparently decided that, if we were really going to leave, he was darn well going to satisfy his curiosity first.

I didn’t actually see him go in. I had turned my head to tell Nathan, higher on the slope, that he could find one more stick and then we were going. I turned my head back in time with Ryan’s terrified — or perhaps indignant — scream to find that he was in the water up to his waist, his upper body lying on the concrete pad. I had him out within two seconds, and he didn’t even cry. He just looked at me with wide eyes, as though to say “That was cold! And deep!”

As Dave pointed out, the good news is that he apparently took my cautions enough to heart to go into the water as though getting off a bed (feet-first and backwards) instead of just stepping blithely in as had been his first intention. And I’m now pretty sure that he has a better understanding of what “deep” means. Overall there was no real harm done, even by the cold. Snuggled up against me in the sling, tucked under my coat, he was warm and cozy very quickly.

Which was good — because Nathan, unfazed by the incident, still didn’t want to leave and used every stalling tactic in his repertoire on the way home.

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