July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I recently stood in as a chaperone for my son’s day camp rafting trip, and I’ll tell you—rafting is a great activity for building teamwork, because you realize that when all is said and done, you’re all in the same boat. On the other hand, when you go with kids, they realize that since you’re all in the same boat, you’re all getting to the end whether or not they help you paddle. In fact, at some point it was just me and the JC paddling, with most of the kids hanging off the back of the boat for maximum water resistance. So I’d consider myself somewhat of an expert.

THE MORDECHAI SCHMUTTER SCHOOL OF LARGE-GROUP RAFTING:

#1. Bring chaperones. As a chaperone, I had two main concerns: 1. The kids’ safety, and 2. My car keys. Those were all the concerns I could handle, because I hadn’t slept the night before.

It turns out that the trip was actually an “overnight.” I didn’t agree to come because I wanted to be part of the overnight; I came because of the rafting. But then the camp administrators were like, “Let’s have them do it on no sleep! Let’s throw that added challenge in there!” Because that’s what you want when you’re in a boat with six kids and you don’t know who may or may not be able to swim: an added challenge. And the pre-existing aches and pains of sleeping on a floor.

#2: Get zero sleep the night before. The camp arranged for us to “sleep” in a nearby shul, like they did in old Europe, except that in old Europe, I don’t know that they slept on the carpet of the shul’s multi-function room. Also, in Europe they actually slept.

It turns out that adults don’t sleep on a floor. Also, it turns out that kids don’t really sleep on a floor either. At least these kids didn’t. They were so excited to have a sleepover that they forgot to sleep.

#3: Take a lot of kids with you. All together, we set out in four boats. Mine was the group with the kid who kept asking if we’d have to row back upstream at the end, the kid who was determined to catch a fish in a zip-lock bag, the kid who caught a frog in his water bottle, the kid who brought a water gun and the one kid in the entire camp who, when they said, “Who doesn’t have a paddle?” didn’t respond because he doesn’t want to make waves. Our group also included about 600 dragonflies, which the kids kept trying to swat with the paddles, and more water in our boat than there was in the river.

#4: Bring food and water. You want to have sandwiches floating around at the bottom of the boat, in the same water as everyone’s wet sneakers. You also want to have water bottles floating around down there, or else you’ll dehydrate out on the water, which is hands down the most ironic way to dehydrate. Or you can lean out of the boat and drink muddy river water, right behind the guy trying to catch fish in a baggie.

#5: The slower you go, the more fun you have. You’re not there to get back to the van. There’s no other ride after this. This is the ride.

I learned this on my eighth-grade graduation trip, when the boat I was in finished our entire journey in record time and then waited on the side of the river for an hour until the last boat showed up. Finally the last group pulled up, they somehow had no chaperone (or else they lost him) and they came back with stories. Kids fell off the boat, one got stung by a bee, and the boat had somehow gotten stuck in a tree. Whereas our entire story was adults yelling, “Row!” I think our boat had all the chaperones.

So I told the kids this up front.

#6: Don’t tell the kids this up front. That was a mistake. If you tell an adult, “Let’s go slow,” he paces himself and tries not to lose sight of the other boats. If you tell kids, “Let’s go slow,” they hear, “Let’s live on the river from now on.”

So as soon as I said that, everyone jumped into the water.

#7: You want to all row at the same time. The guides had told us that we should get a chant going—“Row! Row! Row!”—which is a fun way to spend three hours. You get pretty sick of yelling “Row! Row! Row!” after about a minute, especially if you’re out of breath from rowing. I feel like they were thinking of all those pictures of slave boats. But in all those pictures, the guy yelling, “Row!” is never rowing. He doesn’t even have a paddle. Probably he forgot to say something when they asked, “Who doesn’t have a paddle?” and he has nothing else to do all the way to America.

Nevertheless, everyone—including the people on the first boat—agreed that we had a great time. We felt like George Washington in that famous painting, although he doesn’t seem to be doing any actual paddling either. Also, Washington crossed the Delaware, so he only went about a hundred feet. If my boat would just have had to cross the Delaware, it would have taken us only an hour and a half, tops.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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