Many of you know the story of my wife’s cardiac arrest and subsequent coma. If you don’t know the story, go buy several copies of the book (And if you know Oprah or Ellen – Send them a copy for me). If you’ve read the book or know us personally then you know just how grateful I am that she is here to spend the rest of my life with me. I will never cease to be grateful – BUT – There are some aspects of our pre-cardiac arrest life that I miss. The single greatest of these is our once frequent family walks through the neighborhoods of Fullerton.
Just about every weekend, we pulled out the stroller, grabbed some water bottles and headed out for a four or five mile stroll, usually heading to a park about 2 miles from our house.
Our first stop was usually the local Starbuck’s where we grabbed some coffee and maybe some treats for the kids. From there we headed for the park, dreamed our big dreams, gossiped about our friends, neighbors and family and tried to solve our world’s problems.
When we got to the park, our children played on the playground. Mom pushed the little ones on the swings and dad taught them all how to climb whatever ladder or wall or obstacle they were trying to get over. We played pirates and we were Jedi Knights and I’d spin them to the point of puking on the sit-and-spin.
When it was time, we gathered ourselves and made our way back home. We usually followed a different path on the way back, looked at the yards of the homes we passed, gathered ideas for our own yard and admired homes we could see ourselves buying in a few years or so.
Those walks or, more importantly, that time we spent together was precious to me. It was the type of time that great marriages and strong families are built upon. It was our time to masticate the tremendous cud that life can become. It was our time to take it all in, chew it all up so that we could swallow it and move on. I called it my ‘Brynn Time’.
When Brynn came back to me from the hospital, she was able to overcome many of the deficits induced by her hour and a half struggle without oxygen. In time she was able to remember my name and the names of our children. In time she was able to do simple addition and in time she was able to get herself in and out of the shower and get herself dressed and her shoes tied.
She has worked so hard at getting better that if you met my wife today for the very first time you would be hard pressed to tell that she has any deficits at all. Like the Brynn of before, she will happily talk your ear off on any subject you choose (though she leans heavily toward any conversation regarding Robert Pattinson or Channing Tatum). I bet you would not be able to tell there is a thing wrong with her; Right up to the point that she tells you the same story three times within fifteen minutes or she has to get up and walk somewhere.
Unfortunately, one of the lingering effects of Brynn’s anoxic brain injury is ataxia which for the layman means she has a hard time staying upright. Over the years I’ve learned that she’s actually just fine at walking. She’s just really crappy at falling. What I mean by that is Brynn has trouble making those nearly instantaneous corrections that the rest of us take for granted and do hundreds of times each day. When we catch a toe on that crack in the side walk, or the cat gets under our feet or the three year old decides to bear hug our leg you and I will catch ourselves. Brynn, on the other hand, is going to take a tumble. And because her motor control is so impaired she is way more likely to conk her head on something as she goes. Because of this, our five mile walks through the neighborhoods of Fullerton are a thing of the past and likely to remain so well into the foreseeable future.
Needless to say, as a husband and father, finding a surrogate for our long walks has weighed heavily on me for quite some time. Over the past three years we have managed to get by without them by finding alternatives. Long car rides have always been a relatively productive time for us to chew the cud. However, the four kids corralled in the back seats can put a damper on that faster than you can say “Dad, are we there yet?” Beyond that, there are only so many road trips we go on each year.
There are, of course, other times that we, like many married couples, have found are good for talking, but I won’t discuss them on paper as that conversation will definitely make my wife blush. What is important here is that up until now, I have not found anything that approximates our once frequent walks. So, you can imagine how elated I was, this past Fourth of July holiday, when I think I found a decent replacement.
We spent the vacation in a place called Moss Landing, a tiny town North of Monterey located on the coast, smack dab in the middle of the Monterey Bay. It is a charming coastal town of seafood restaurants and small art galleries. We were invited there by my parents to go camping and enjoy a guided wildlife safari through Elkhorn Slough which is one of the best places in the world to view estuary wildlife. Naturally, I brought our kayaks.
I think I need to mention here that kayaking is something I kinda stumbled into not long after Brynn’s incident. Sam’s Club had one for sale all summer long and every time I walked into the store (which is quite frequently with a family of our size) I took an intentional detour past it and fantasized about all the amazing places I could go and all the fish I could catch on it. Rationality always got the better of me and I’d walk on by it, straight to the diapers.
Then, one day I walked into the store and up to the boat and saw that they had marked it down fifty percent – FIFTY PERCENT! Rationality didn’t stand a chance against my overactive imagination AND a fifty percent mark down. I called Brynn and got permission to make the impulse buy, strapped that kayak (rather precariously) to the top of our Honda Odyssey and brought it home.
The kids and I have been kayaking for several years now. We started in the safe confines of Newport harbor where they took turns on the back as I paddled around the back-bay nature preserve. When I finally got tired of making the kids take turns on the back (mostly I got tired of dealing with the inevitable arguments that ensued), I bought the two oldest their own ‘kid’ kayaks. As soon as they proved to me they were proficient swimmers they were allowed to take them out on their own.
From the tops of those boats we have paddled past the million dollar homes of Newport, through the icebergs of an Alaskan glacier and to the distant sand dunes of the Morro Bay Peninsula. We have seen Dall’s Porpoise racing through the water and humpback whales spouting in the distance.
So, I was understandably excited that, just prior to our trip to Elkhorn Slough, Noah (the six-year-old) proved his swimming proficiency. A couple of days before we left, I purchased our third kid-kayak. Our van, now looking like it belongs to some adventure tourism company made its way North to my parent’s house where we met up with them before heading to Moss Landing.
As an added bonus on this trip, both Brynn and my dad were interested in kayaking with us. Brynn had tried my kayak once before, in Alaska, but was uncomfortable on it all by herself. My dad decided to rent a tandem kayak for Brynn and I while he took mine.
It was an awesome trip. Though it was quite cold hovering in the low 60’s with a steady breeze we rented wetsuits for Brynn and the kids and headed into Elkhorn Slough. My dad and Isaiah (the eight-year-old) took off ahead, while Brynn, Grace (the big sister) and I hung back with Noah. He struggled a bit as his hands and muscles weren’t accustomed to the paddling but he did a fantastic job. We saw harbor seals and otters by the dozens. Several otters and seals popped up within feet of our boats either to eat or check us out. Beyond that we saw so many cormorants, snowy egrets, blue herons, brown pelicans and white pelicans that there sheer numbers and accompanying odor kept us at a distance.
There was a small craft advisory for high winds starting at 2 PM that day, so to be safe, at around 12:30 we turned back. My dad and Isaiah again took off ahead of us. Noah was so tired on our way back that the wind and current pushed him a little too close to a floating dock. He was trying to maneuver away from it when a small otter popped his head up right next to his boat and grabbed his paddle (We think that maybe the otter was trying to steal it to use as a tool for cracking open clams but we don’t know for certain what the otter was thinking). When he found he couldn’t wrestle the paddle away from Noah he ducked back into the water then popped back up at the back of Noah’s kayak and, shocking all of us, tried to climb on board! Realizing he was being boarded Noah’s face contorted with fear. “Hey! Get off!” he shouted. “Get off!” Otters, apparently do not speak English.
Brynn and I were only fifteen or twenty feet away but that was still too far away to do anything. I was trying to figure out how to intervene without knocking Noah into the water when a guided kayak tour just happened to be passing by. The tour guide shouted at Noah, “Just splash that naughty otter with water! He’ll go away!”
With all the vigor of a young man who has spent his life turning every stick he finds into a light saber, Padawan Noah hacked at the water with his paddle sending Darth Otter back into the water, only to have him come up to the front of his boat and try to board there. This otter was obviously very strong with the dark side. Now starting to panic, Noah reeled back with his paddle and swung at the water again. But this time he missed the water and caught the otter square on the head. This time Darth Otter did not come back and my guess is he will not attempt to board another kayak in the future.
It took a couple of minutes but eventually the sense of panic evaporated from Noah’s face and he was soon telling everybody that paddled by about the otter that had tried to steal his paddle and jumped up on his boat. It was about that time that Brynn turned to me and said, “This is awesome. We’ve got to do this more often!”
I don’t require much more encouragement than that. Within three days of returning, I found a suitable tandem kayak on craigslist. I threw Noah into the van as my carpool lane buddy and headed down to San Juan Capistrano and bought it.
The damn thing weighs more than 80 lbs. and it is going to be hell getting it on and off the top of our Honda Odyssey. But it is a hell I am more than willing to go through on every possible day that we have a chance to paddle together. I need my ‘Brynn Time’ and if that’s what I have to do to get it, then that’s what I’ll do.