They seemed befuddled by my vision for the day: to teach them how to play in a creek. I felt slightly giddy with my brain-storm to introduce my city kids to a rural delight. Memories of splashing, tramping, balancing on rocks and slipping in (accidentally?) lured me to the foot-hill trail, three kids in tow. For just a few hours, we would leave behind neighborhood friends, video games, and trampoline to pursue something simpler, something timeless.
Urban stress slid off my back as sunshine tumbled on the path ahead. We could hear the creek trickling off to our right, hidden behind dappled green guardians. We traipsed along to an opening where the creek sneaks up to the trail. I urged them to slip off their shoes, curl their toes in the sand, and let the water soak away the heat of the day.
Before long they floated sticks, skipped stones, and explored bushes on the other side.
“Let’s build a dam,” I invited.
“Why?” they wanted to know.
“Because we can,” I responded.
They looked bewildered, but followed my lead as I gathered stones and begin to fill in a narrow side stream about 12 inches across. We lost ourselves in the gentle rhythm of gathering and depositing natural materials, steadily slowing the eddy on the other side. Only a slight swirl indicated that any water slid through at all. I decided it was good enough; we could pronounce our first foray into dam-building a success.
“But Mom,” Jedd said, “you always tell me not to give up until it’s finished.” He smiled playfully, but there was a glint of determination in his eyes.
“Ok,” I agreed, reaching way back into my dam-building guidebook of childhood memories. “Maybe if we pile in sand, it will fill the last cracks.” Side-by-side we gathered debris and packed it tight, until the pool on the other side completely stilled. We dried our feet and meandered back down the path, dirty and happy.
When Jedd was younger, he and I diverted a mighty tide. “Never give up,” he heard me say over and over as our heads bobbed in the flood of dyslexia. We tackled oceans of words every evening. Every word had to be articulated, each article clearly enunciated. If he skipped a simple word like “the” or “an,” I traced my finger beneath it, directing him to try again: tears, frustration, digging deep. Again and again I would tell him that this wasn’t even about learning to read. “Adversity is making you work harder, making you persevere. You are getting stronger and stronger on the inside,” I promised him. “Never give up.”
Why is it that I so often hear myself telling my children what I most need to hear myself?
There were times I wanted to raise the white flag of surrender. I fought against the urge to simply snatch the book from his hands and read it to him, alleviate the tears, and just lose ourselves in a good story. But his tutor held me accountable, and she promised that the sweat and toil would eventually pay off. It did. Now when other flash floods threaten to sweep us off our feet, like a current math-torrent, I remind him that he didn’t think he would survive learning to read, but now he reads at grade level. At the same time, I remind myself.
Fast-forward a month: a hot end-of-summer Sunday afternoon and two parents weary of sibling bicker, desperate for a space large enough to overwhelm the angst. The creek hike seemed a perfect remedy. The kids moaned and groaned as they always do before hiking, but their complaints fell away like pebbles beneath their feet as they clamored up a steep slope to look down in triumph on parents below. We took our time, splashed in a waterfall, slipped bare feet in cool eddies, scaled boulders.
We rambled to the creek-side where we’d constructed our dam last time. I suspected the creek re-claimed it long ago; surely a slip of water seeped through a crack and gained momentum. I didn’t have the heart to warn Jedd. He rushed ahead, eager to inspect our handiwork. I trailed in the grass behind. He exclaimed in surprise. I brushed a branch aside and saw the reason why. Behind our creation, the entire side stream had filled in with sand.
Perhaps the dam caught the debris carried by the little tributary, backing it up to fill the area completely. Or perhaps it slowed the flow enough for evaporation to finish the work. The span once islanded by the creek on one side and the stream on the other was now a bone-dry shadowed indentation where water once flowed. Proudly, Jedd showed off the results to his Dad and big brother, who weren’t along for our first expedition.
I announced extravagantly that we had changed the river!
“Not only that!” Jedd and I agreed grandly, “We, in fact, changed the world!”
This time, the kids didn’t need urging to play in the creek. I settled in a peaceful wash of shade with my husband to watch. Inspired, Jedd collected materials to build another dam. He insisted that I help. This time he needed no direction. We wiled away the flowing minutes: piling, packing, diverting the stream. Because side-by-side, we could.
I think today of how often I am tempted to give up. Perhaps you, like me, wonder if the investment you are making changes anything down-stream? Day after day you amass sticks and stones, like a child’s dam, and it seems so easily undone by seeping water. How quickly hope is swept away in the currents of this world.
And then I think of that bank of solid sand behind our helter-skelter little pile. I hear Jedd’s voice repeating what I so need to hear myself, “You told me to never give up.”
I think of our dancing eyes as we splash together in the middle of that sparkling creek, laughing that we changed the river, we changed the world.