Day #319 – Tippy Canoe

Some of my family members will laugh at the title of this blog – for reasons I won’t disclose right now.

THIS tippy canoe has much more to do with yesterday’s post (Day #318 – Sad), an experience I had today, and my vestibular system.

Yesterday, you learned that Estelle received a kayak for her birthday (which is today – she’s  11 – I’m still wondering how that happened).  She received a good amount of ‘training’ in the pool and decided that for her birthday she wanted a shot at the river.

Yesterday, you also learned that Tucker hates the river.  I hate leaving Tucker behind for family events – but also knew that the chance of seeing her tip?  That would ‘do him’ in for his lifetime – I would never get him back on the river.

So, we made a deal – he would come on the river after he has cavities filled next week.  His logic?  “Mom, I really can only stand thinking about one stressful event at a time.  Let me get through the cavities.”

Just so we’re all clear here – that’s a horrible argument…but I let it go.

So, out to the river we headed.

Before we get too much further I need to tell a bit of my history.  When I was in 7th grade our school sent ALL students in 7th grade on a canoe trip.  It was 1989, you know – schools weren’t as concerned with only teaching things that mattered for a test and parents weren’t as concerned about litigation.  The idea was that this river ran through our school district and school folks knew we would be on it.  Why not teach students ‘proper’ safety techniques when on the river?  I know, genius.  1989…full of genius.

Part of this ‘training’ was that there were two partners in each canoe (also keep in mind that I graduated with around 60 students…so this was a very small school).  Each partner took their turn in the front and the back of the canoe.

I haven’t been in the front of a canoe since then.  Why?  Because I learned to steer and am darn good at it.

My husband and I were going to be in the canoe with Estelle near us in her kayak.  He, of course, took the back seat (aka stern)- because he is also always the ‘driver.’  That left me in the front (aka bow).

Within 20 seconds we flipped the canoe.



How?  The canoe began to lean and the person in the stern seat is usually the one to correct the lean.  I have always been that person and so has he – two people leaning the same way is a VERY bad deal in a canoe.

There went my iPhone.

We got back into the canoe and started down the river.  Here is where I began to REALLY learn.   I finally felt what Tucker feels.

I’ve written about the vestibular and proprioceptive systems before – but today was the VERY first time I felt it.  Let me tell you…I cannot imagine how Tucker lives his life like he does.

Basically  –

  • The vestibular system coordinates movement and the  sense of balance.
  • The proprioception system coordinates the body in strength and effort when moving.
  • The brain uses information from the vestibular and proprioceptive systems to understand body position in any given moment.

I COULD NOT get my body to settle down.  It was involuntary.  I ‘normally’ sit in back – my body is USED TO shifting weight and position while canoeing.  The first 30 minutes of the ride were excruciating.  I tried closing my eyes.  I tried leaning back.  I tried putting my legs out front.  I tried crossing my legs.  I tried taking deep breaths.  I could not get my body to calm down.  I was literally shaking.  I stopped paddling to concentrate.

I am BEYOND blessed to have a husband that is so patient and understanding of what was happening.

He finally said, “Nik…you need to find a way to ground yourself.  Just like Tuck.  Find something to give your body a different focus.  Stop thinking about it.  Your system is overwhelmed.”

Just like that I knew.  I knew how he feels nearly all the time.  It lasted 45 minutes for me and I was nearly in tears.  I just wanted to get out and float down the river on my life jacket.  The involuntary movement was caused because of a mismatch in my vestibular and proprioceptive systems.  Period.  No question.

I started paddling – but not paddling to move.  Paddling to simply exert energy. That’s when it got better.  I had a different focus and the energy was being released.

I have no idea how Tucker lives this way.  NO. IDEA.  My body is exhausted from trying to manage, cope, and renegotiate.  Better yet- I have NO IDEA how he lives like this and tries to learn or have conversations or anything else.

I couldn’t talk.
I couldn’t shift how I was sitting.
I couldn’t change my eye contact from downstream.

I. COULD. NOT. DO. IT….and yet we expect him to do it all the time.

Lesson learned.  Lesson learned.

For more on the vestibular sense visit:

For more on the proprioceptive sense visit:

One thought on “Day #319 – Tippy Canoe

  1. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

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