The Yadkin Death-Float of Twenty Nineteen.

They say the best way for your kids to appreciate their upbringing is to spend money on memories, not things.

They won’t remember that $43 remote control car, but my kids will never forget the time they thought they might die on the Yadkin River back in 2019.

Before we get there, let’s rewind back to August of this year, when my middle child turned 9, and Jacq and I decided that (due to his love of all things fishing) we’d purchase the largest boat you can own in the state of North Carolina without having to license it: A nice 12-foot inflatable raft.

We planned a fishing/rafting trip for the weeks following, but the wind and rain turned it into a fishing-only trip.

The trip was a success, but we still needed a chance to test out the new boat.

Enter this past weekend.

The joy of a raft is floating down the river, and not having to propel yourself down the river. In our area of the state, all the rivers have widened out to the point that, while they are moving, they are not moving fast enough to prevent a strong case of arm fatigue. So we, with the help of my brother, planned to head west toward the foothills where the water is still deep enough to not pop the float on the rocks, but moving steadily enough to propel us down the river relatively quickly.

I mean, after all, we don’t want to be stuck in a 12-by-8 space with two kids for 6 hours.

We mapped out a put-in/take-out location with just a few miles or so of water between them, and embarked.

My mom and dad kept the 2-year-old who we briefly entertained the idea of taking with us. If the title of the post and multiple foreshadowing elements were not enough: That would have been a catastrophic mistake.

Here’s how the day went:

10:30 AM: Arrived at put-in point after dropping off our getaway vehicle (with the lunch cooler) just a short 15 minute car ride away. We’ve begun pumping up the boat.

Selfie of Jacqueline with Ben and one child in the background pumping the boat while the other child plays in the water.
Jacq documenting the beginnings of the adventure.

11:30 AM: We’ve put in and anchors away for the short journey back to our car. Much fun is had on the first 3 sets of “rapids” and floating, playing and journeying commences. All is well. The first rounds of snack have been consumed.

Small raft with 2 adults and two kids in it. Oars on one side being handled by dad.
All smiles as we embark on the journey.

12:45 PM: We’ve travelled about three bends in the river, and should see the bridge that indicates the “taking out spot” at any moment. The kids and parents have both had fun, made a memory, and cooled off in the unseasonably hot September weather.

We don’t have any sunscreen (it’s just just going to be a couple of hours!)

The snacks in the boat have been almost completely depleted other than the emergency stash for Jacqueline’s Type 1 diabetes control.

View from the boat with two children and wife floating in the distance.
Enjoying the sun, cool water, and 90-degree temperatures.

1:41 PM: We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve rounded a bend expecting to see a bridge, but feel confident about this next one.

One of the oars snapped off the end on a rock, leaving us using the other oar as a paddle. This has resulted in much spinning of the boat in a circle, as it is a rudderless craft. We are now fully dependent on the current, but have found that with all 4 humans in the vessel, it does not progress at even the speed of the current without assistance.

One of the children has jokingly suggested calling 911 and being rescued. We all laughed at the thought.

3:15 PM: One child who decided to “float alongside the boat” has somehow ended up nearly out of sight behind the boat. Jacqueline has made the “I don’t want to fight about it but you’re going to need to stop and wait on him soon” face, despite the fact that the child was specifically instructed that we would under no circumstances stop and wait on him. Keep in mind we have been travelling for much of the time at a rate slower than the current. He can keep up by committing to just not touch the bottom of the 2-foot-deep water, and allow his Personal Floatation Device to live up to its name.

All he has to do is NOTHING, and he catches up. You see my issue here, reader?

We find a sort-of-shady spot, I grumblingly hop out and use myself to anchor the boat and wait. I turned and used my outside voice (I’ve never been accused of even having an inside voice) to bellow “HURRY UP” to the child. The child made exasperated arm motions and whines something shrilly.

3:20 PM A child just asked “hey dad what would you do if I hopped out right now?” To which I replied “Outwardly, just fuss and make you get in the boat. I’d also glance at my wife, who would make a ‘please don’t kill him he’s just a child’ face back at me because she would know that inwardly, since I’ve not eaten anything since 7 AM other than a diet Cheerwine about 3 hours ago, I’d be considering ways to injure you in a way that is covered by our insurance plan at 100%.”

The child decides not to jump overboard.

3:27 PM The GPS on Jacqueline’s phone refuses to locate us correctly, and says that my phone (in the getaway car) is still a “45 minute walk” away. We are comforted by the fact that it also doesn’t currently have us on a river despite the clear fact that, if we are anywhere, we are on a river.

The river is our only reality now. This river, 4 humans, 1.5 oars, and the distant sounds of what might be a bridge but also might be a tractor in the nearby field.

One child has switched from “call 911 as a joke” to “but seriously, call them and rescue me I’m so bored and hungry.”

The other has formed into a sunburned ball coiled up in the muddy puddle that is the bottom of the boat.

3:42 PM: Somewhere, a distant car horn rouses the youngest from his slumber. He rubs his eyes, unable to make them focus. He’s not sure what day it is, but he’s clutching his trusty half-oar, whose splintered end will serve as a spear to both capture fish to eat and ward off predators.

As his vision clears, he sees his family, baked in the sun and only holding one or two of the emergency carbohydrate bars that will literally save his mother’s life. He must not eat them. He can’t.

Dad appears to be asking him something, but the words rumble against his eardrums like a bumble bee trying to come through a window.

Brrzzz Brmmm bZZZrrr

A leaf floats past the boat’s edge, mocking him with its progress toward THE BRIDGE. The fables of the bridge have passed down from one generation to another. The legend of the bridge has grown over time, and he imagines it to be thousands of feet tall, gleaming in gold against the backdrop of early autumn green leaves.

He resumes his daily task of bailing water from the inside of the boat using an old Diet Cheerwine bottle, a reminder of the good times.

He leans his head on the starboard gunwale, feeling the sting of its sun-scorched heat on his temple.

He fades back off to sleep.

4:19 PM: The GPS has begun defaulting us to the closer of the roads to the getaway car, and we’ve started to travel in a more southward direction. Both of these are good signs.

Thanks to the sacrificial love of my wife (and her 300+ blood glucose level thanks to the early defensive snacking) I’ve eaten the last of the snacks, giving me a second (14th?) wind of emotional energy.

I’ve begun making “on the bright side” comments.

These comments have not been met with joy from my children, who have been emptied of all bright sides by solar radiation and lack of YouTube.

4:30 PM: After fighting through a narrow pass fraught with storm-felled trees ripe for puncturing an Amazon-purchased raft, we rounded a corner to a concrete monument to our liberation.

Its sun-bronzed pillars shot up from the center of the river, holding aloft not only NC Hwy 67 (connecting travelers from East Bend, NC to Tobaccoville NC), but the hopes and dreams of the lunch cooler nestled securely in the back of an Acura SUV.

We had MADE it.

Just a short 45 minutes later (after deflation, consumption of easily the best turkey sandwich ever crafted, and packing of the things into the car) we pulled out onto NC 67, and turned left toward Tobaccoville.

I leaned over to Jacq and smiled, saying “Just imagine if we’d brought the 2-year-old!”

If You’re Not Freaking Out Over This, You’re…

…likely just tired. Or perhaps you are learning to respond in more helpful ways.

I get it: hopping on social media these days, there are tons of things to get fired up about. From “leftist” to “alt-right” to “libtard” to “fascist” and everywhere in between, we all have opinions about what’s going on. And some of us are passionate about it and screaming at others about why they’re not.

Can we pump the brakes on assuming that silence on social media is complicity or ill-intent? Click To Tweet

There are three main reasons why I’m not screaming about the latest thing alongside you on Facebook or Twitter. First, social media is my résumé. Second, I’ve got a real problem with ignorant people speaking out (and I’m ignorant). Finally, I don’t see social media activism bearing as much fruit as I’d hope it would.

Social Media As Résumé

I’m not vocal on social media about really anything other than things related to my job (I see it as a way to advance my career) or (mainly funny) stories from my family life. Even jokes are very intentionally aimed at people who might someday want to give me money.

Every now and again I’ll get fired up enough about something to post on a “serious” topic, but for the most part, my social media feed is very intentionally meant to be a glorified long-running résumé. I show off my least controversial side there.

So the reason I’m not having a meltdown about the latest atrocities in the world is the same reason you don’t answer the first bank teller job interview question with your thoughts on the abortion issue or gun control.

Recognize that in asking me to freak out and/or speak out there, you are asking me to undo the past 10+ years of carefully curating a history for potential employers and/or clients. Just because you use social media for a purpose doesn’t mean I have to.

If I’m not freaking out about your cause on social media, it might mean the downsides far outweigh the upsides. Speaking out passionately on social media about whatever comes into my head is not how I use social media, and if you don’t stop yelling at me about being complicit by being silent, you might miss the real reasons I’m silent.

Ignorant People Should Remain Silent

The core issue in my mind every time I start to post some thought about politics or policy or the latest story everyone is freaking out about is that I don’t know enough of the facts to weigh in.

Let’s take the latest issue (at the time of this initial writing): the separation of immigrant kids from their families at the border.

I’m sure (without even looking) that there is an article at Breitbart or the National Review that is explaining how the liberals are misunderstanding and/or mischaracterizing the story as ICE agents removing screaming children from parents when it’s really about ______.

I also know (without looking) that there are articles at the Huffington Post and Slate that are deep-diving into the topic and showcasing lots of images of kids crying and how Donald Trump could stop it but he’s not.

I’m tired of having to parse an author’s stance and how I should be on my guard against bias as I read “reportage” on the story of the day.

The race to the bottom in journalism has gotten to the point where I don’t trust anything, from either side. News organizations care less about facts and more about clicks, and that makes me have to do the bulk of the intuition work: Which part of this story is selling ads by making me emotional (any emotion will do) and which part of this story is the actual facts of the situation?

Even after reading the deep-dive articles from both sides, my opinion on this particular issue is “it’s really complicated.” But just hop on Twitter and say “This issue is really complicated” and let me know how that works out for you. I predict an even split of “how dare you be ok with kids being separated from their families” (I didn’t say that) and “ha ha libtard not understanding that Obama is the devil/the MSM is corrupt/it’s not actually complicated” (also nearly impossible to respond helpfully to any of that).

It’s easier to check out than to engage when engaging means having to defend that I’m not a monster as points 1-3, and I’m not an idiot as point 4.

I don’t have a solution, nor do I have the time in my life to formulate a solution, so instead I say nothing. My silence is not complicity, it’s avoiding drawing a detailed diagram of a nuanced and complicated issue with my single large crayon.

My silence on social media is not complicity, it's avoiding drawing a detailed diagram of a nuanced and complicated issue with my single large crayon. Click To Tweet

My long-term solution to the problem is for fewer ignorant people like me to muddy the waters surrounding the actual solutions by weighing in with my not-helpful “expertise.”

It’s Not Up to You To Determine My Activism

Related to points one and two: I don’t see social media turning a ton of hearts toward change. People are stockpiling memes that support their side, and the “discourse” has become so obnoxious that men and women I greatly admire on both sides of arguments are starting to look more and more like my 11- and 8-year-old arguing about “who started it.”

By not participating in the screaming and hand-wringing, I’m hoping that my actual activism will stand out. As a white, middle-class, theologically conservative evangelical (in the original “I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God” sort of way), I’m a foster parent working to reunify kids with parents.

I am taking my white kids and their brown foster brother to celebrate Juneteenth to begin to understand the history of our country that I was just not taught growing up.

I am volunteering at my kid’s school, rubbing shoulders with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds and seeking to unlearn many of the things I took for granted as a child.

Perhaps most counter-culturally, I am consciously joining a weekly protest at my Protest-ant church, loudly declaring to the world that my first allegiance is not to a flag, country, or man (with thanks to Derek Webb for the lyric there) but to a gracious King and a kingdom. A kingdom that according to the Bible is chock-full of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. A kingdom where I am learning to put my hand over my mouth more often, and weep with those who weep more often.

Bottom line, if you take my silence on Twitter to be complicity in either side, there’s only one of us who is mistaken.

When the Boy Scouts are not just for Boys, do we also lose the Men?

On the first day of Boy Scouts (circa 1989) for my older brother, my mother—who had been über active in our Cub Scouting career as a den mother—walked into the room intent on sticking around. The Scoutmaster (a friend of the family and genuinely good guy) put his arm around Mom and walked her back out to the sidewalk outside the building. 

He gently but firmly let her know that the 7-8 capable men in that room (one of whom was my dad) would take it from there. When she tells the story today, she smiles at the offense that she took at the time. Why were women not allowed to help shape these boys?

It’s not that I want girls to be excluded from all of the opportunities that scouting afforded me, or that I think women are less than capable of shaping boys into respectable and capable men. It’s that part of the magic of scouting (which made it as valuable as it was for me) was that there were no girls or women there.

The bottom line is that I believe boys and girls are different. I know that’s crazy-edgy to say in 2018, but I still believe it.

Boys and Girls are different. Crazy-edgy, but true. Click To Tweet

Note that I did not say that boys are better than girls, or vice versa. I said we are different.

Note also (again) that I don’t think that women are less capable of teaching boys than men. Many of my most influential teachers were women.

But when there were no women around, something happened to those men who were my scoutmasters and leaders. I don’t mean some toxic locker room talk (though there were far more bodily functions expressed and discussed), I mean those men stepped up in ways that they would not have, had a woman been around and stepping up for them.

When there are no women around, and a little boy cries because he’s terrified of sleeping in a tent by himself, to see a grown man waddle out of his sleeping bag and across the moonlit field to grab him a bottle of water and put an arm around him is something I’ll never forget.

And it wouldn’t have happened had there been a female scoutmaster there. She’d have beat him to the water bottle by 5 minutes. You know it’s true just as much as I do because on the whole women are more readily compassionate than men. I know that’s a generalization, and some of you just queued up a list of 6 guys you know who would have rushed across the field.

And you may be right, maybe my generalizations are unfair, so let’s get specific: I know my mom would’ve beat my dad across the field in a heartbeat. My wife would beat me across the field today, in a heartbeat.

But I needed to see my dad (and other men like him) do it. And that only happened because someone told my mom (and other women like her) she couldn’t come.

I know that opens up all sorts of wounds for some people around toxic masculinity and I (very incompletely) get it.

But what I am saying is that FOR ME, part of the magic of scouting was that there were no girls there, which is not a bad thing. Just like an all-girls school provides an atmosphere where learning can happen differently, scouting provided a space for my teenaged brain to learn things that I am not sure I would have otherwise, including how to value and treat women.

I guess I’m just saying, please don’t put me in some misogynistic box if I think it’s a bad thing to “let girls in” to scouting. I’m just mourning the loss of a part of my childhood that deeply shaped who I am.

If we don’t let boys see men being men, do we risk the men just disappearing?

If we don't let boys see men being men, do we risk the men just disappearing? Click To Tweet

Can We Talk?

If every person in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act is framed as a monster who wants people to die, the conversation is basically over before it even starts.

If every person who votes for a democrat is framed as a baby-killer who cares about ____ more than they care about life, the conversation is basically over before it starts.

It’s the dialogical equivalent of “have you stopped beating your wife?” as an opening line of question.

If you can’t state your opponent’s perspective in words that they would agree with, it is functionally impossible to have a dialogue about it. You can talk around each other, but you can’t have a dialogue. You can probably even sell a lot of books or radio advertisements, but you can’t actually have a conversation until you admit that the other side is full of people. Real human people.

If the other side only hears (shrilly) from you that they are trying to kill a group of people, it’s likely that they’ll stop listening. Nobody wants to enter a conversation where they are the villain.

…and now you know one main reason why I don’t talk politics online.

Several Things I am Doing Instead of Voting for President.

Forefathers. Democracy. Republic. Trump. Clinton. I really don’t want to discuss it online. Here’s what I’m doing instead.

Last night’s debates sealed it for me. I’m (at best) writing in a candidate. In the paraphrased words of Martin Luther, it’s not right or safe to let your conscience down.

Before you try to convince me otherwise: I’d love to get coffee with you and talk about my reasons for abstaining, but that’s not what this post is about.

If you think our culture is spinning out of control, (or about to if X candidate wins in November), there’s functionally very little you can do about it. Here are your options, as I see them:

  1. You can freak out, and head to Facebook with pleas for people to change their minds. (I don’t know anybody who changed their mind after the debate last night. Do you?)
  2. You can hunker down, buy a ton of canned goods, munitions, and water bottles in preparation for armageddon.
  3. You can start today creating culture in your little pocket of this world. Make a list of things that matter, and do one today.

Spoiler alert: I’m doing #3.

Here’s some ways I’m voting with my feet and hands (since I can’t vote with a ballot in good conscience this year):

Public Schools

Both of my children started at Wake County Public School this year (one kindergartener and one 3rd grader who has been homeschooled for the past two years), and I am going to be helping out in their public school.

Every hour that I can donate to helping in a classroom or on a field trip is an hour that the school system doesn’t have to bleed out of our already-underpaid teachers and staff. (As an aside, if you’d care to debate this, I’ll need you to go spend a day doing a 1st grade teacher’s job and then take a peek at their paystub. From there, we can debate.)

In fact, I’m starting this tomorrow: I’m helping out at picture day at the boys’ school. I’ll be wrangling children and buttoning top buttons and helping kids to smile. My children have called me “silly enough” to be helpful in this area.

Other ways you can help at public schools:

  • Give money. The PTA at your kids school (or the one they used to go to) could use your help getting funding to make things happen. Things that have a quantifiable end goal: helping kids succeed in life.
  • Ask the principal how you can help. They will have a list prepared to hand to you, if they are prepared.

If you are trying to change the culture at your child’s school (who knows?) maybe that will trickle up to school boards and other civic institutions, and with any luck, the people in Washington who have forgotten how to represent us will take note.

Local Government

Here’s the thing: am I passionate about the Supreme Court, and issues that affect the country my kids are growing up in? Absolutely. Do I have any real functional power to affect change on the Supreme Court nominees?

Probably not.

You know what I can impact?

  • I can help the Town of Cary be more welcoming to the hundreds (thousands?) of refugees being sent our way.
  • I can lobby town council to put in a crosswalk at my kid’s school. (Reedy Creek Elementary/Middle, if you’re reading this, Town Council)
  • I can be a part of town meetings where plans are discussed, and adopted.
  • I can teach my kids not to litter, and explain to them that the town of Cary pays people to walk the 30 miles of greenways picking up litter. When they throw down a piece of trash, they are costing our city money.
  • I can volunteer at my public library to tutor kids, or teach a class on web development, or WordPress.

Your options, Again

You've really only got two option when it comes to social involvement Click To TweetYou can panic, blame, point fingers, detach from the process, write angry online diatribes, vilify the other team and gloss over the mistakes of your own team (or lack of team), or any other number of things.

If you need me, I’ll be wiping the crumbs off of an elementary school kid’s chin tomorrow morning so that he can look good in a picture.