The Lilies, the Snakes, and the Misplaced Boob.

It was time for a new adventure. And I wanted to see firsthand, for the first time in my life, The Cahaba Lily.

It’s a famed flower in our area, being very rare, quite endangered, and living in sparse, hard-to-access clumps along the Cahaba River, which is a relatively tiny waterway that winds itself through nearly every suburb of south Birmingham.

So I needed to experience the Lilies for myself. And with my camera. And why not – with my children. So I asked my group of adventurous friends if anyone would like to join us, warning them that this adventure would be in completely uncharted territory and so it was not for the faint of heart or diaper.

The only takers, out of the 20 or so in the group, were my sister-in-law Lindsay with her three kids and Not-Crazy-Renee – but only with her oldest kid this time.

I had a friend, Leigh, who regularly visited these elusive Lilies, who gave me directions on how to get there, including such fantastic advice like “Wear good shoes and watch for snakes…you’ll have to jump over a creek bed…go UNDER the train trestle.”

Sound words.

So we parked in the lot behind the Bar-B-Q place, as prescribed, and set off for adventure.

The first challenge was the “jump over the creek bed.” Either Leigh has Amazonian legs or the last time she went out there it had been during a drought. There was no way us adult ladies were jumping over, let alone our six small companions.

So most of us decided to de-shoe to cross, with a couple others opted for the risk of wet shoes. We got over, re-shoed, and continued our journey. Up the hill,

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under the trestle,

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up a little further,

Hiking-to-Lilies2and there they were.

The magnificent Cahaba Lilies.

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They were bigger than I expected and there were more of them than my companions expected. We were all breathless in wonder of their bright, shining beauty.

It took no time for us to find a way down to the creek, and the kids began re-de-shoeing (in order of bravery) and wading into the creek rapids while I took pictures.

And while Renee found another rock to sit on and said,

“Um. Hey Rachel? There’s a BOOB on my rock.”

I looked over. She was messing with something.

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She moved out of the way and I grabbed my zoom lens and focused on the…boob?

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HOLY CRAP IT WAS A BOOB.

The kids noticed the commotion.

Ali asked, “What’s that?”

I asked, “Is it hollow or solid?”

Noah asked, “Hey miss Renee will you go get me that big shell on that rock? IT’S GIGANTIC!!”

Renee said, “Ummmm Rachel? What do you want me to do here?”

I didn’t know what the right thing to be done was but I had to examine the misplaced prosthetic. Lindsay and I scrambled over.

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“How did it get lost?”

“My guess is a capsized kayak incident. The cutlet just slipped out.”

“That poor lady!”

“I wonder why it’s so wrinkly…”

“I think it’s just because it’s laying down. I bet if we pick it up…”

Lindsay and Renee both grabbed that breast at once. I grabbed my camera.

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This was a bonding moment between the two of them that could never be forgotten. But the hypothesis was right. What a perfect (albeit a bit muddy) boob, when held aright.

So we let the boob live its life and sat around it to take pictures of our children.

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And they were fully photogenic, exploring the waters, looking at the flowers but NEVER touching (thank goodness for Wild Kratts drilling into their heads the severity of “endangered”), smelling the flowers, looking for real shells, and in general living The Good Life.

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A  train even went by, loudly making the day even grander.

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I took plenty of pictures of the Lilies from a distance, but I was aching to get out there. I spent half an hour weighing the risk of tip-toeing out with my massively pricy camera, and finally decided that with Eli’s agility on my team, I could do it. So I called in our most in-tune-with-nature cousin and asked him to hold my hand out to the lilies.

Every rock was covered with tiny shell creatures that felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. And I have terrible balance. But I made it out to the stream to get the pictures I’d craved.

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While I was shooting, Lindsay took a picture of me and sent it to my husband. It took his second look to notice the artistically endowed foreground.

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Meanwhile, some of our children had ventured fairly far upstream and out of earshot. Renee was worried about them, so she’d gone back up trail to check. After I managed to wade back to shore, I joined her.

Four kids were out on a rock in the stream, and Renee and our youngest cousin, Andi, were on the shore.

Andi had just quite nonchalantly said to the other kids, “We found a snake, guys.”

Renee assumed she was trying to freak the other kids out because she was standing next to Andi and had certainly not found a snake. “Andi, we didn’t find a snake!”

“Well. We found a snake BODY, anyway!” She pointed right where Renee was standing.

There was a fairly large adult snake wrapped in piles over a patch of brush.

Renee came and got me. “Hey Rachel? Andi just found a snake down here. I think it’s a Copperhead. Can you come see?”

“Sure! I follow a snake guy on Twitter. I should be able to tell!”

I went down and examined. “Oh. I think that’s a banded watersnake. Definitely not a copperhead. Harmless! But I’ll take a picture and ask my snake guy.”

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I was feeling just swell about myself, diffusing danger and fear like that, and I began taking pictures of the two kids remaining on the rock, Tessa and Loulie. (Ali and Eli had wandered in the water in front of it looking for neon crawfish.)

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They were staring at the clear waters, when one of them yelled, “A snake!!!”

Renee, clearly tired of snake calls, said, “Where? Are you SURE?”

I lowered my camera and looked out in the water. There was a tiny bright orange snake swiftly swimming toward Ali and Eli – with its back arched and its head out of the water and its mouth wide open, angrily showing the white insides of its mouth.

“Oh now THAT is a cottonmouth. Ali and Eli!! GET OUT OF THE WATER!!”

The girls on the rock began freaking the freak out, and Ali and Eli began trying to run on the shelly bottom. Chaos ensued. As Ali scrambled out first, Eli yelled, “We’re supposed to stay together!!!”, and the girls on the rock were LOSING THEIR MINDS.

At one point in our attempt to calm them, I remember yelling over at Loulie, “YOU HAVE A PET SNAKE! Why are YOU freaking out?!” Because I believe in child-shaming, apparently.

The two in-the-water kids were safe, and now it was time to address the two marooned children. Or we could leave them. I mean, they were relatively safe up on the ROCK THE VENOMOUS SNAKE CAME OUT FROM UNDER, as I discovered later when I was editing photos.

SnakeRockLook below the rock right between the two girls.

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This is when it’s good to have a Not-Crazy-Renee in your life.

She looked at me with a determined expression and said, “I’m going to get Loulie. You watch my path and let me know if you see the snake again.”

“So you’re just gonna LEAVE Tessa?” (I’m such an encouraging friend.)

“No. But I can only get one girl at a time. I’ll go back for her.”

(Meanwhile, Lindsay was staying very quiet on the trail with the four children we had left. She would be happy to pray for Renee while she rescued their children. Prayer is powerful, y’all.)

Renee got in the water.

Eli yelled from the trail, “A SNAAAAAAKE!”

Renee yelled up at him, “NOBODY say ANYTHING about a SNAKE unless you SEE one at my FEET!!!!

She was in full yoga pants and tennishoes. Surely that would help her rescue the children. Yoga pants are powerful, y’all.

Right as she stepped on a large, flat rock, I remembered that was the very rock I’d see the cottonmouth swim under when it disappeared from view.

I felt this wasn’t the best time to tell her that, and just watched her feet even harder.

She got to Loulie and commanded, “Okay. I am going to GET YOU OFF of this ROCK, and then I am going to PUT YOU IN THE WATER, and we are going to WALK BACK and you are NOT GOING TO FREAK OUT. GOT IT?!!?”

Her voice was impressive – she could lead infantries with it. Loulie obeyed perfectly. They scampered back to shore.

Then she went back for Tessa.

This time I had the forethought to warn her before she stepped on the snake rock.

She looked at me icily. “You let me step on that rock the first time!”

“It was too late. I didn’t want to tell you while you were already there.”

“Good choice.”

She grabbed Tessa and hurried back to shore.

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I said goodbye to my beautiful banded watersnake with one last close-up picture, then I scampered up to the trail.

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Oh – and later when I checked Twitter…I found out that sleepy, docile, large banded watersnake I’d gotten so up close and personal with? Was also a cottonmouth.

Thankfully, my snake expert @AlongsideWild also sent me a blog post he’d written discounting everything else we read on the internet that day about the extreme aggressiveness of Cottonmouths. They act aggressive, but they really don’t want to bite us.

They’re just a sorely misunderstood snake with anger issues. That’s all.

We emerged from our adventure, amazed that we’d only traversed a third of a mile from civilization – we were sure we’d slipped through a wormhole or out the back of a wardrobe or into a tardis.

As we sat at the playground reminiscing about our day while listening to our children speaking in excited tones to every other kid they could find, we marveled at how the books were actually right. Having an actual adventure is FANTASTIC. And exhilarating and every bit as good as reading a well-written piece of literature. Even with the peril that must also be present to make it an adventure.

We, as well as our children, were over the moon about our travels.

But this post isn’t about snakes. Or lilies or children or even grand adventure.

This post is about The Boob.

And there is nothing more that I want right now in the whole entire world than to see that lonely boob reunited with its rightful chest.

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So please, spread the word. Spread it far and wide. Spread it until we find the prosthetic totin’ kayak rowin’ adventurous women that just happened to capsize somewhere near the Cahaba Lilies on Buck Creek so that we can let her know that her boob is there waiting on her. And that it is enjoying the flowers until they return.


Editor’s Bonus: A research collaboration piece from later that afternoon:

Cottonmouth breast

How Mommy Nobel Peace Prizes are Won.

“I’m having a bad day.”

“I’m having a bad day too.”

“Wanna join forces and do something really difficult together?”

“Sure! Let’s be sure to take on something so challenging that it will surely be physically impossible for us to accomplish it with the quantity and ages of children that will be accompanying us.”

“Perfect! I’ll pick you up at noon.”

We didn’t actually say that, but we should’ve.

Not-Crazy-Renee and I were happily (sadly) each at our own home with our own children, brooding about different things. It was Friday, and somehow we decided that five kids and two mommies in the middle of the woods was better than going it alone at our separate houses.

So I took Renee to a hiking location that she’d never been to before, whose particular parking place in question was in a quite sketch location (across the street from what is nearly certainly a chop shop – I promised her van would be there when we returned – and crossed my fingers just in case), and we set off on a 2 1/3 mile hike with a 9 year old, two 5 year olds, a 2 year old, and a 6 month old – and a couple nets and jars for tadpole catching.

This doesn’t seem like a fantastic idea.

And let me assure you. It’s not a fantastic idea.

There were moments. Oh, were there moments.

There were bugs in the eyeballs…poison ivy everywhere…

“The pond smells bad! I wanna go!”

“I’m so tiiiiired. I just CAN’T keep up.”

“I can’t walk any further!!”

“DO NOT WALK RIGHT THROUGH THE POISON IVY SON HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?!”

<wails>

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<muddy hands / knees / hair>

“YOUR HAIR IS HANGING IN THE MUDDY NET!”

“I NEEEEEEEEED A WET WIPE I CAN’T BE MUDDY ANY LONGER!!!”

<screaming sleepy baby>

“Okay it’s time to put down the frog. Put him down. Push him out of your hand. Put down the frog. NO DON’T PUT YOUR ARM IN THE POISON IVY TO PUT THE FROG DOWN —- DROP THE FROG!!!

“DO. NOT. DRAG. YOUR. BROTHER!”

There was a moment, one mile from the van that was hopefully not chopped, where we both looked at each other with that look that we were certain there was no probable way that we would make it out of this hike with all five children and two mothers still in good working order. She had a baby on her front and a tadpole catching kit on her back, I had a toddler on my shoulders, and there were STILL three whiny children completely surrounding us on the ground.

We needed a white flag.

We. Were. Done.

But we did make it out. Amazingly, that last mile went shockingly well. And so, we rewarded ourselves RICHLY.

As we collected our reward, the backseat piped up, of course. “Can we have a cake pop??”

“No. This is a Mommy-Reward-Only trip to Starbucks.”

“Reward for what?!”

“For taking you children into the woods and not losing our MINDS. (Or at least if we did, finding them again before we left.)

We all went back to my house and had a grand poison ivy wash party in the bathtub.

And then I shooed my neighbors away, told my kids to knock themselves out playing iPad (literally if they wanted to I really didn’t care), and I took a shower and edited the photos from our epically disastrous hike.

Except I quickly discovered that I didn’t take any photos of the screaming, hopeless, Oh Dear God how are we going to get out of here moments. And also that children are never more beautiful than when they’re physically nowhere around but you’re quietly enjoying editing photos of their pretty faces.

Like for instance, this photo. I was helping some child with some emergency and Renee needed to put a fussy baby back into the Ergo. So what did she do? She handed fussy baby to my kid for a minute so she could reposition the baby carrier. And somehow, magically, it worked for a hot minute.

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They’re so quiet and it’s so adorable and still. You’d never know that Noah just screamed “OWWWW!! He’s sitting on my firehose!!”

Or, that just a minute after taking this picture,

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Noah saw a pack of gummies, forgot he was holding a baby, grabbed the gummies with one hand and started opening them with the other hand, thereby leaving no hands and arms around the baby in his lap, letting the baby flay out onto the dock.

“Hold the baby Hold the baby HOLD THE BABBBBY!!!”

<wails from baby>

But you’d never know it from the pictures.

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(With regards to this event, Ali had the following conversation later that night with Chris…

Ali: “Noah was holding Joshua but then he forgot to hold him because he decided to eat some gummies and Joshua fell and almost hit his head.”

Chris: “That’s okay. Noah doesn’t have a lot of experience holding babies yet.”

Ali: “Yeah and when he has held babies before, it was on the soft couch. And there weren’t snacks around.”)

(Moral of the story: It is child endangerment to let five year olds hold babies when snacks could become visible.)

Also. Child quarrels are so much more adorable when had in the woods…and also when photographed with NO SOUND.

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And little explorers look much more Indiana Jonesish when you can’t hear the Mothers yelling, “Come back! It’s time to come out of the cave!!!” Because we really didn’t want to crawl in after him.

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(And, if photographed just so (aka accidentally out of focus), children can even look like ghosts of children past. How much would you freak out if you looked in a small railbed tunnel in the middle of nowhere and saw this.)

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When reviewing photographs, you just remember the thrill of exploring new worlds and old civilizations – not the overwhelming feeling of HOLY-CRAP-PLEASE-DON’T-LET-THOSE-GIANT-CAMEL-CRICKETS-JUMP-INTO-HER-HAIR.

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And then sometimes you’re distracting all the kids so that your friend can attempt to catch a frog…or tadpoles…or just rinse out the giant clumps of mud the children collected in the tadpole-catching-nets. And somehow, the lighting is just perfect and the children are all smiling and…

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…and then you realize that your friend is actually doing some sort of AMAZING dance behind your head to get those children to smile. But whatev. Nothing matters but this tiny perfect second in the middle of miserable chaos.

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But the best picture I captured on that unforgettable, delightful, fantastic, can’t-wait-to-do-it-again hike was a particularly beautiful bonding moment (and might I say, at an exceptionally nice angle) between Not-Crazy-Renee and Noah, while they both desperately searched for tadpoles.

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Yes. The pictures always make the trauma worth it.

Marketing 101: A Crucial Skill For Parents.

Last Wednesday night, Ali had her Awanas awards ceremony. Noah had his Cubbies banquet the week before, and I remembered the agony of trying to get him to sit still through Ali’s ceremony last year. It negated any ability I had to celebrate my oldest child, and I had no desire for a repeat.

So Chris and I decided, with no input from any children, that we would split ‘em up – Chris would go with Ali to her ceremony, and Noah and I would go elsewhere. Anywhere, as long as it didn’t require him to sit still and quietly for over half an hour.

We thought we had this handled. It made sense. It was a good solution. Who could complain?

Well.

Kids talk.

Ali assumed that Noah was coming to her ceremony, so she decided to help us out and excite him about the prospect.

“They have ICE CREAM on the PLAYGROUND afterwards!!!”

Noah doesn’t like ice cream. When we go get FroYo, he gets a cup full of toppings. But her excitement had won him over. He could not wait to go to Ali’s ceremony to get ice cream which he would most definitely not eat and hand to me to hold while it melted down my arm.

So Chris informed him. “You’re not going to Ali’s ceremony. You’re going with Mommy.”

BUT I WAAAAANNNA!! THEY HAVE ICE CREAM!!!”

Why God made children’s brains to not grow logic and reasoning until they’re 25 I will never understand. I guess so we could commiserate with His constant eye rolls at us.

So I decided to spin it. Because that’s what parenting is. And I’m pretty sure that’s what the Spin Doctors were referring to with their name – what amazing parents they were.

(Also now we know who they were really referring to as “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.”)

(By the way I’m totally making this up and am certain to be contacted by The Spin Doctor’s senior care nurses for my libelous statements about their music. And now about their age as well.)

(Holy Crap I just googled them and did you know they released an album last year?! Pardon me while I take a break and listen.)

(Okay I’m back. They definitely sound tired from all that spinning.)

So anyway. I pulled Noah’s sad, despondent face up in the palm of my hand and said, “Actually, buddy, you and I are going to go on a date.”

 He immediately stopped his moping and his eyes grew seven sizes.

“A DATE?????”

He’d never heard the term used before except with regards to the magical place that Chris and I leave for when they’re with a babysitter. He knows we get dressed up and depart with giant smiles on our faces and come home late. This date stuff has to be fantastic. OBVIOUSLY.

He was insatiably impatient for the rest of the day. At one point, he yelled upstairs to me. “HEY MOMMY! What are you DOING up there? I’m ready to go on our date!!!!”

We met up with Chris, dropped Ali off with him, and set off on our special night.

Noah picked Firehouse Subs for dinner, because the kid loves himself the meatballs out of a meatball sub, and he knew he didn’t have a chance at convincing me to take him to McDonald’s, date or no.

Then we went to Sybil Temple, because I needed a picture of it for Picture Birmingham. While we were there, he found a “secret passageway” leading out of it. He was most certainly the first to discover that back stairway.

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At first I had him convinced to go to the Sunset Playground so I could take pictures and he could play, but then he spotted the Little Mall and wanted to go there. So we compromised – we’d do both.

I took a few sunset photos,

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he even allowed me to take one of him,

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And then we went to the Little Mall, where he played happily at the train table in the toy store, because as all parents know, the train table at the toy store is infinitely more fun than one’s own train table. Because 1,001 other kid’s germs make those trains SO much more delightful.

As we were leaving the Little Mall, he spotted a kiosk selling Starburst. Because it was a date, and I was paying, I bought them for him – under one condition: That he would let me get a picture of us arm-in-arm.

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And then we went home.

We did nothing out of the ordinary – nothing special that we wouldn’t have done as a family on a random night out. I did absolute zero to deserve any accolades or extra appreciation.

But Noah didn’t see it that way.

He thought it was pretty much the most special night of his life. And I had no idea the word “date” would carry so much weight. If I’d known, I would’ve used it to exhaustion years ago.

That night, after he had to get out of bed for that last bathroom visit, he peeked his head into my bedroom door, smiling adoringly.

“I really enjoyed our date tonight, Noah.”

He skipped back off to his room, yelling as he did, “Loved it!!”

Chris and Ali got home a few minutes later, but Noah was already asleep. Chris went to check in on him, and without opening his eyes or moving from his deep-sleep position, Noah said,

“On our date we went to Firehouse and then to Sybil Temple and then the sunset playground and then the little mall and then a tiny store where Mommy bought me Starburst. It was so much fun.”

The next morning, I fixed breakfast (i.e. poured the cereal.) Ali sat down at the kitchen table to eat hers, and Noah said, “Hey Mommy. I want you to come out on the porch with me for breakfast.”

I carried our cereal bowls out, and saw that he had already been out there. He’d set up a breakfast nook for two, moving the table and a chair over to my favorite spot, the porch swing. On the table were a pile of five Starbursts for each of us.

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Then he said, “Oh wait. I need to make them fancy.” and rearranged them.

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Several times that day, he told me that we needed to date again soon. And I got more unprovoked hugs than I’ve ever gotten in my life.

A few days went by, and we were all driving by Sybil Temple. It made Noah realize that we’d gone a whole 96 hours without a second date. He grabbed my arm and said,

“Hey Mommy. Tomorrow night. You. Me. DATE.”

So, fellow parents fighting the daily battle of illogical offspring: Spin. Spin your parenting well. Use their inability to properly apply deductive reasoning to your full advantage. Turn the mundane into the extraordinary by just a tiny bit of marketing. You’ll get a few more hugs for it, and maybe a lot less whines.