I took Emma whitewater rafting today, while Ariane attended a seminar. Emma asked me to go rafting a few days ago, so I booked it for today and we slathered on the sunscreen. We went rafting last summer, all four of us, with Nic and Emma riding in the front of the raft, getting soaked and laughing like crazy. Nic was attending day camp today, so he didn’t join us. Just me and Em.
I assumed that Emma would want to ride in the front again and asked the guide to accommodate us (and perhaps prevent a meltdown if she was denied her preferred seat selection). The guide said sure, but when we climbed in the raft Emma wanted to ride in the middle instead. I was surprised and a little disheartened to be honest, thinking she had lost her gung-ho enthusiasm.
It was a gorgeous, crystal clear, blue-sky day. The river was running fast with lots of great rapids. Emma sat in the middle of the seat in the middle row. I was behind her to the left, the guide in the stern to her right. In the formerly coveted front row was a mother and father and their daughter Sydney, who looked about three years younger than Emma, but who of course, was talking like she was three years older. They were all laughing and screaming and squealing as they got soaked to the bone in the 40˚ mountain-fed water — acting pretty much like Emma and Nic and Ariane and I did when we rode together last summer.
Emma sat silently for most of the hour long ride, looking around, or maybe not looking around at all. Maybe just staring off in space. It’s hard to tell. I tried to get her more engaged and excited by alerting her to upcoming waves and waterfalls, whooping it up. She seemed to get slightly more jazzed, but not enough to laugh or scream like she would on a carnival ride, or like she did in our last raft ride. I got a little bummed but then I thought about how much Nic’s and Ariane’s company means to her — how much she laughs when we all play together.
“She misses Nic,” I thought. “Misses mommy too.”
It made enough sense that I stopped worrying about her autistic detachment and just enjoyed the ride, which was about as perfect as a raft ride could be. When we hit a calmer stretch, Emma started singing and grabbed the strap they gave her to hold, leaning way back until her head was resting on the seat next to me, whereupon I tickled her chin and elicited those squeals I wanted to hear. This was repeated many more times between the rapids.
I asked, “Are you having a good time Em?”
She replied, “Yeah,” with a smile as convincing as the eager tone of her voice.
“Me too Em,” I said, smiling back at her.
I noticed how much I’d been calling her ‘Em’ lately, instead of Emma. For some reason, the thought popped into my head that Em should be her stage name when she becomes a huge rock star a few miles further downstream. Then I thought ‘M’ would be even better, out-abbreviating Madonna and Cher and other one-named divas — assuring her charismatic status with a single letter. I pictured what the T-shirt ‘M’ logo would look like – maybe a graceful art nouveau scroll – then I got concerned that Bette Midler, ‘The Divine Miss M’ might claim trademark infringement.
SPLASH! My daydreaming came to an abrupt end as I got soaked head-to-toe by a big wave that blasted over the side. Emma sat upright, placid and unconcerned in her self-selected (and very dry) seat in the middle of the boat. “Em, you’re not even wet!” I laughed and the guide laughed too.
“Yeah, looks like she picked the right seat after all,” he added.
Mmm hmm. I guess she did.