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This week, I’m choosing Prompt 4: The craziest reason I ever got in trouble as a child.
Although 15 is probably stretching the definition of “child,” this prompt immediately made me think of one of the craziest reasons I ever got in trouble so I think it counts.
The Scene: A family camping trip at Waterton Lakes National Park (a gorgeous park in Canada that borders the U.S.—a fact that is important to my story)
The Players: 15-year-old me and my best friend (who I’ll call Catherine because that was her name), who was visiting me for the summer
The Stunt: Absconding with the family canoe (which my dad got for a penny with our pop-up camper—the scene of more miserable camping experiences than I could ever tell you about)
The Details: The previous day, we’d all gone on a hike that took us from Canada to the U.S. border. It didn’t seem all that long, so the next day, my friend Catherine and I decided to take the canoe and replicate this trip but on the water. We neglected to mention this little plan to my parents and just took off paddling.
Well, we paddled and paddled and paddled and eventually we reached the U.S. border. Did I mention that it was a hot day and I kept splashing myself with water as I paddled to cool down? And did I mention that the canoe was metal? And acted as a reflector of some kind? (This is a literary device known as foreshadowing.) So we reached the border and turned around to go back, but suddenly the water seemed a little choppy and rough. Not being complete idiots, we realized that paddling straight back across the water might not be the wisest idea. So we decided to stay close to the shore. This slowed our progress significantly, but at least we were safe.
Minutes ticked by and became an hour. An hour went by and become 90 minutes. I kept splashing myself with water to cool my aching arms and hot skin. Finally, we saw the shore that we had come from and started paddling across the water to the beach. As we got closer, I noticed a boat coming toward us. A ranger boat. A ranger boat with a figure standing at the front of it. A figure whose arms were crossed. A figure that, as it got closer, looked an awful lot like my father. The ranger boat got closer to us as we waved and called “Hello! Hello!” The boat pulled up next to us, and my dad snarled “Get back to shore NOW.” He was pissed. Really pissed. More pissed than I’d ever seen him.
Then I saw another figure standing on the beach. With her arms crossed. My mother. She looked pissed too. “Uh-oh,” I murmured. “I think we’re in trouble.” We paddled slower and slower and slower but eventually reached the shore where my parents stood waiting. (I suspect that the worry and concern they had felt had now been channeled into fury as it tends to do once you realize your loved one is safe but had done something incredibly foolhardy.) I could feel the anger radiating off them. My dad started yelling about how stupid we had been to disappear like that, that they had been terrified of what had happened to us, how they’d involved the park ranger to look for us. He yelled at me … and, in a sign of how mad he was, he also yelled at Catherine (thereby breaking the cardinal rule that you yell at your own kid but your kid’s friend gets off scott-free). My mother said nothing, but she was much scarier than my dad.
We explained how we had decided to canoe to the U.S. border and how we were gone so long because we were concerned about the choppy waters and had stuck close to the shoreline. I attempted to make them see that we had, indeed, made a good decision and acted appropriately. My parents didn’t see it that way.
My dad finished his tirade and left us to my mother. In a low even voice, she said to me, “You just lost your learner’s permit and are grounded for the rest of the summer.” To Catherine, she said, “I will be calling your mother to tell her what you two did, but while you are in my house for the remainder of this trip, you will not be leaving my sight.” We followed her sheepishly to the camp site where my brothers had a lot of fun at our expense.
Later that evening, I began to feel pain all over my body. It was sunburn. Bad sunburn. All exposed areas of my body—which I’d been splashing with water all day while sitting in a metal canoe—was red all over. It was starting to hurt really bad. My mother refused to give me anything to soothe the pain as part of my punishment. It was a miserable night, and frankly I barely remember the rest of the trip or visit with Catherine. (Though I know her mom punished her severely.)
The Epilogue: For years later, I never heard the end of this. Whenever I ask to borrow a car on visits home (even up to the age of 40), everyone in my family says “Are you going to disappear for hours and try to drive to Canada?” Yeah, guys. HAHA. Really funny. This happened more than 20 years ago. GET OVER IT!
My dad later admitted that, although worried, he was more pissed off because I took the canoe and he couldn’t use it.
My mom (who did treat my sunburn the next day) was hesitant to trust me afterwards … despite previous years of unrelenting Ms. Goodie Two Shoes behavior. Jeez … you paddle away without an itinerary just one time and suddenly you’re “irresponsible?”
Catherine and I would make additional ill-advised trips together … though never when under the direct supervision of my parents. We later dubbed them Goof Trips. Looking back now, it is a miracle that we survived our time together.
I never canoed again.
Still feeling my skin start to burn just thinking about a canoe,