Put Margaret Thatcher, the Dalai Lama or Mitt Romney in an unflattering swimsuit and an inner tube, and set them afloat on the “lazy river” that snakes through the nearest water park, and you start to see them a little differently.
Even the most dignified people look and feel ridiculous in this moving river of chlorine, which I discovered when I did it myself a few days ago. It is the sober equivalent of dancing with a lampshade on your head or singing a Taylor Swift song off-key at a karaoke bar.
Looking ridiculous has been a longtime insecurity for me, and being middle aged has made it worse. For this reason I have avoided swinging my arms too much when I am out walking, even though I’ve been told it will turbo-charge my workout. Until about 10 years ago I enjoyed boogie-boarding at the beach with my children, but now I don’t relish being tossed around by the rolling waves, so now I go in up to my knees. I don’t like cold water and what the salt does to my hair and most importantly I worry about looking ridiculous. I have plenty of company…most beach bathers are under 20, except for an occasional hardy septuagenarian swimming against the tide for exercise.
Sometimes I take this too far. Years ago we visited beautiful and historic Cape May, New Jersey, with our kids and we rented one of those 1920s-style surreys powered by bike pedals. I feigned enthusiasm but secretly worried about looking like a tacky tourist. While I did have a great time — and our kids were thrilled — I was happy to take the photos that day, so there are no records of me sitting in one of those things.
But a few days ago I took our teenage son John and two of his friends to Water Wizz, near Cape Cod. It was hot and sticky and we were lucky to get there early enough to snag a spot in the shade, where I thought I’d be content to lounge while the boys tackled the water slides and wave pool.
Soon the humidity began to stick to my face, the heat even in the shade became unbearable, and the river beckoned me. So I worked about a half cup of conditioner into my recently colored hair, tucked it under a baseball cap, waded into the holding area near the river, and placed myself in the long queue of people waiting their turn for an inner tube.
Once I had mine, I awkwardly hoisted myself onto the tube, settling my butt into the hole and dangling my arms and legs over the soft edges. I got settled just in time for the river to put me under a brisk waterfall that quickly penetrated my baseball cap and nearly knocked off the big sunglasses, that I wore to hide my face.
The day was so hot and the river was so crowded that I quickly became part of a mammoth clump of human jetsam, looking like a small version of that colorful wreckage from Japan drifting across the Pacific. We were tube to tube…a middle-aged blogger secretly fretting about her hair, a toddler in a life vest, a heavily tattooed guy, a gaggle of middle school girls in bikinis, a young dad hanging on to his preschooler’s toe, two women in Red Sox caps taking photos of each other with waterproof cameras. We floated under waterfalls together, under bridges where people gawked at us, past water slides where teenagers waited 45 minutes for their turn.
That first loop around the river leached out any decorum I had left, and I was ready for a second loop. Then a third. Then, after a rest on the lounge chair, a fourth, fifth and sixth. At one point my tube caught up with Naquaan, one of my son’s friends, and I grabbed his hand so we could float together.
Refreshed physically and mentally, I thought as we left the park that every adult should do some time in the lazy river at least once a year. It helps you rediscover the thrill you felt when you were young and brash and unafraid of looking silly. So I’m wondering: What’s your favorite way to remind yourself not to take yourself too seriously?