I spent a morning kayaking in Sebastian Inlet Florida State Park, and it taught me a bit about motherhood, about being a caregiver, and about surviving my “sandwich generation” moments.
Stick with me here guys.
Life happens. It just keeps on happening. Kids. Aging parents. Health issues. STRESS. Non-stop worry and stress.
I feel like my life has devolved into some sort of gauntlet.
I know I’m not alone here. I’m pretty sure there are plenty other folks out there who feel like they are managing to just get through this one day, and then onto the next, and the next.
Last week I did something a little crazy – I jumped on a plane and went to Melbourne, Orlando (you can fly direct with Porter from Windsor, Toronto or Ottawa starting Dec. 16th. Woot.) for a whirlwind 26-hour press trip.
And then I did something a little crazier still. Something which for me was totally outside of my comfort zone — I went kayaking.
It was my first time in a kayak. I was a total newb. A little awkward. A little scared. A little in awe of the wildlife and the tide.
And something magical happened, while I was out there in the salt water and the sun, paddling along the secluded mangrove-fringed shoreline of Sebastian Inlet’s Indian River Lagoon, I was so focused in the moment that I forgot about ALL OF THE THINGS.
Later, on the plane ride home, thinking back on the experience it occurred to me that there are actually quite a few parallels between being a caregiver and paddling a kayak.
Know your limits.
I am an out of shape, overweight, forty-something-year-old who’s never been kayaking before. About halfway through our trip around the lagoon, I started to feel pretty spent. I probably should have turned around at that point. I considered it. But instead, I stubbornly kept going and bit off a bit more than I could chew.
At home I find myself doing this too. Taking on too much. Trying to do ALL THE THINGS. Saying yes when I probably should say no. Saying, “I can do that.” when I probably should be asking for help.
You have a finite amount of energy and time. Know your limits. Stop and consider; How long will this take me? Can I really fit it into our schedule? Is this something I can delegate to someone else? Will I be able to make it all the way out to the edge of the lagoon, or should I save my energy for the return trip?
And that brings me to my next insight —
If you feel like you are being blown away, ask for help.
That morning, out there kayaking in Sebastian Inlet Florida State Park, I was feeling a bit sore and worn out by the time I started to make the return trip. I veered off a bit to the right. There was a good bit of space between me and the rest of the group — no big deal right? But then the wind picked up just as I slipped into a strong current, and it took me paddling as hard as I could to just one side of the boat merely to stay in place. I was barely moving. I was creeping forward half an inch at a time. I couldn’t stop paddling for even a second, or I would be pushed off further away from the group.
It was four minutes that felt like forty. Did anyone notice I was struggling out here? I was scared of flipping over. I was scared of being blown off towards the wrong bit of shore.
I blew my whistle.
One of the guides made a quick beeline for me. My friend Aeryn (the brilliant brain behind Geek With Style) was close behind. I made it across the open windy space and to the edge of the mangroves just as they arrived. I had made it across on my own.
Still, just knowing that someone was heading towards me, just knowing that they saw that I was struggling, it was an immense relief. Part of me was embarrassed to have blown the whistle, but I was far more relieved than embarrassed.
I don’t know about you, but I think I need to blow the whistle a little more often in my everyday life.
When you are struggling, when you feel like you are being blown off course, ASK FOR HELP.
Caregiver burnout is a thing. Look for resources within your family or within your larger community and ask for help.
Sometimes you just need to travel alongside someone who is on the same journey as you.
One of the kayak instructors came up and paddled along near me. My friend Aeryn came up along the other side. We chatted as we paddled our way back to the dock. Having someone else close by, taking the same path, was comforting and inspiring. It gave me the confidence I needed to get safely back to shore.
Connecting with other people, virtually or in real life, can be a lifesaver. Talk to other moms or other caregivers. Network with people who are on the same journey as you are.
Paddle with the rhythm, not against it.
I really had to push myself to make it back to shore. Aeryn gave me some tips, “Don’t fight the current. You’ll just tire yourself out needlessly. Find the rhythm and paddle WITH it.”
And isn’t that some darn good advice for the day to day?
My life has changed so much over the past few years, and sometimes I find myself fighting against the current. Trying to act like things are the way they once were, when they most emphatically are not.
My advice to you (and myself!) — Embrace change. This is life now. Go with it. Look around, at your environment, your family, find the rhythm and work with it, instead of fighting against it.
While I freely admit that I probably took on a bit more than I should have during my kayak adventure, I was happy to make it back to the docks on my own — without even flipping over. I was exhausted and proud. Woot. Fist bump. If I hadn’t tried I would have lost out on giving myself the chance to discover that I could do it.
Sometimes you simply don’t know what you can do until you try.
Sit at the hospital all day watching over a loved one? Wake up early to get the kids out the door? Stay up late to get things done? Move heavy furniture? Clear out a dusty attic? Deal with cancer? Take care of your ageing mum? Tackle life with Alzheimer’s? Advocate for your special needs kid? Advocate for your sick mother-in-law?
You speak up. You champion for them. You do it. You get it done. You do whatever needs to be done, right?
Sometimes we have a choice and we take a chance. Sometimes we’re just dumped into the ocean and we have to swim. Either way, a life jacket is never a bad idea.
What is your life jacket? What keeps you afloat?
Try new things. Push your limits.
Do something difficult, something that forces you to focus in the now.
For me kayaking was difficult and new, challenging and just a tiny bit scary — and it took me outside of myself, snapped me right out of my brooding, and forced me into the moment, into the now. For one glorious morning, I forgot all of my stress and worries. All that day to day garbage was completely dumped from my mind, as if it never happened.
There were dolphins playing in the water a stone’s throw away from me, pelicans and heron perched along the shoreline, fish jumping up into the sunshine and splashing back into the water just ahead of my prow.
I’m usually all about appreciating nature, but in this case, the truth is I was too busy making sure I wasn’t banging into or capsizing anyone else to appreciate the wildlife around me.
But there were small zen moments. Let the paddle rest across my lap, take a few deep breathes before the wind or the current started to push me this way or that.
Find the calm centre in the chaos.
I see you. I know how you want to laugh bitterly when I tell you that you have to “make time for yourself”. But seriously. It’s important.
Feel it. Take a deep breath. Ocean air. Tangy mangroves. Or peanut butter and sticky toddler kisses. Whatever your moment is, embrace it, and find the beauty in it.
Connect with nature. Read a book. Take a nap. Play a board game. Make it a priority. Find the tiny bits of space that allow you to do the things that recharge you. Do whatever you need to do to put aside ALL OF THE THINGS, even just for one small moment.
And if you are ever offered the chance to go kayaking with the dolphins and the manatees, take it.
Disclosure: Thank you to Porter Airlines and Melbourne International Airport for the chance to travel to Melbourne Florida and experience, among other things, kayaking at Sebastian Inlet State Park. As always my words and opinions are my own.