One of the reasons I was looking forward to becoming a stay-at-home mom was the freedom I would have to do things like chaperone school field trips. Tuesday was one of those opportunities. It was an added bonus that we were going to one of my favorite nature preserves to go canoeing.
Or, at least that's what I thought.
Weeks ago I signed the waiver warning participants that they would be exposed to areas containing alligators, poisonous snakes and plants, as well as other dangers. Then I excitedly awaited for the day to arrive!
Now, before I continue, let me first explain I have an intense fear of the water. To clarify, it's not the water, it's what lurks in the water. ANY water. My rule of thumb is if I cannot see the bottom, I don't venture into it. Period, end of discussion. Consider it an aversion to the unknown - perhaps even a control thing. But, from the safety of a canoe, I could do it!
The guide informed us that the first order of business was dip netting. Okay, that's fine. The kids will get a bit wet perhaps, but I can stay on shore and watch.
The guide proceeded to explain that we will have to trek through the swamp waters to get to the area where we would be collecting our samples.
Yeah, that's not happening. I signed up for a canoe ride, not to be a contestant on Survivor. With plenty of guides and chaperones, I turned to the teacher and said, "I'm not going in there. If I do, I'll be in therapy for years!"
Phew, disaster averted. Just before heading in, one of the students asked the guide, "Are there leeches in there?" No, no leeches we were assured. So off the group went armed with nets. The water was up to their mid-thighs, higher on the shorter students, a category I would have fallen into..
When they returned, the first words spoken to me were, "Would you believe one of the kids was bitten by a leech?" WHAAAAAT? "Yes, it's very rare," the guide said.
I wanted to slap her.
We moved over to the covered hut where we looked at our findings that were carefully placed into little plastic viewing containers: water spiders, plankton, water scorpions, water beetles and a whole slew of other bugs, dragonfly nymphs, apple snails, tadpoles, crawfish, and......yep, the now infamous leech, which, by the way, the guide was way too excited about.
Finally, we were in my element - THIS is what I loved, seeing these little guys from the comfort of land.
As we passed the containers around for a closer look, I turned to the teacher and said, "No wonder they show us what's in the water only after we get out! So, are we going canoeing next?"
"No, we're not going canoeing, we're going on a swamp walk." She said that too calmly, so clearly she means along the boardwalk. Right? RIGHT!?
We split into two groups, changed guides, and the next thing I knew my group was following the boardwalk deeper into the preserve. We arrived at an area along the wooden trail where there was a ladder leading down into the swampy waters. He said this is where we will descend into the swamp to begin our walk.
I looked around. Besides the two guides, I was the only school chaperone in this group which meant one thing. My luck had run out. I was definitely going in. The guides handed each of us a large walking stick and went over the rules, none of which I heard because - well, my God, I was about to do something I successfully avoided my entire life.
Here's where two things could have happened.
1) I could have outright refused to go into this swamp, throw a tantrum and start to cry.
2) I could have sucked it up, focus on the lecture and ignore the panic that was creeping into my mind.
For my son's sake, I chose option number two. Aren't you proud of me?
So what is it like to step into a swamp?
The water was cool but completely black from the disturbed mud, your feet sink with every step, and an array of grasses, twigs, and leaves wrap around your body like water moccasins going in for the kill. If you can ignore ALL these sensations, you'll do fine.
We trudged and we trudged. We stopped to observe specific vegetation and learn the difference between the swamp land and the marshland twenty feet away where the gators live.
And, then, finally I saw it - the ladder that will take us out of this swamp and back onto the boardwalk.
When we got out the lead guide looked at me and asked, "Now, was that so bad?" I smiled and answered truthfully, "No, it really wasn't." I was honestly so happy I had done this and experienced it with my son who was in his glory.
We never did get to canoe - something about the gators being too agitated due to mating season.
It's pretty awesome when our children can push us beyond our safety-nets. I am not one who normally steps out of my comfort-zone, but man do I feel great when I do - especially when I live to tell about it.
As we left the preserve, my son asked if we could come back and do it again sometime. I replied, "Ask your father."