Our oldest daughter and I are on the deck of a rented lake house eyeing kids scattered on the shoreline below. They, in turn, are eyeing three bright red kayaks.
“Not one of them has experience,” she says.
I nod and the trees around us nod, sending a flurry of burnt orange leaves to the ground.
“They do have life jackets,” I say.
Our son appears on the shoreline. His appearance doesn’t exactly trigger a sigh of relief. He’s not known for holding back.
“The water is incredibly cold,” she muses.
“And who knows how deep it is,” I say.
The kids cluster around one of the kayaks below.
“Those things can tip so easily,” she continues.
A cheer rises from below as our son shoves a kayak holding his 9-year-old into the water.
“Has he kayaked before?” I yell down.
There it is again, the balance and counterbalance of safety and risk, moms often tilting toward safety, dads toward risk, differences somehow complementing one another.
The kid in the kayak may only have been out once before, but he has mastered the hang of things. He cuts through the water, paddles dipping in and out in a smooth and graceful rhythm.
A short while later, his 7-year-old brother shoves off, followed by their 11-year-old sister. It is a first for them both. They quickly get the hang of it as well, though a bit later the 11-year-old tips her kayak close to shore. It seemed intentional. Maybe she just wanted a practice run with disaster in shallow water. She laughs all the way up the hill to change into dry clothes.
A 10-year-old, who has been standing on the shore quietly watching, announces she’s ready. She buckles up a life jacket, climbs in and takes off. In and out, in and out, paddle right, turn left, paddle left, turn right. She learns by observing.
Her twin learns by doing. She, too, is soon in a kayak, paddles slapping the water, the water slapping her. She sticks close to the shore and a few minutes later is climbing out of the kayak, trekking up the hill to the house, her entire backside soaked to the skin.
When you lift the paddles too high, water runs down them and into the kayak. Don’t ask how I know this. A number of trips were made up the hill for dry clothes and not all of them were made by kids.
By the next day, nearly everyone has been out on the water, adults and older kids in kayaks, little ones with moms and dads in paddle boats. The one who learns by watching now moves with ease. The one who learns by doing ventures farther from the shore. The one who first rolled her kayak has now tipped three times in shallow water, enjoying each bit of drama more than the one before.
They all leave with damp clothes in backpacks and duffel bags savoring a new layer of confidence known as the reward of risk.