A man and a woman face each other while laughing as they stand on a boat on a city canal facing a bridge.

Boats, Bridges, and Bags: The Unexpected Empowerment

Last updated: April 2023

Amsterdam in the summer is an amazing place to be. When the sun is shining, it really is the most beautiful city. With sunlight bouncing off the boats cruising on the still water, the buzzing murmur of conversations floating from the terraces that spread over the streets and sometimes rather precariously right next to the canals.

On the water is where you want to be. And when my mom had recovered enough from her surgeries and treatments to be able to fly, that is what I had planned. An unexpected extra was an empowering moment I could never have imagined, even in my wildest dreams.

When my mom came over after being diagnosed and treated for bladder cancer, she was still weak. Definitely not the fighting fit, energetic, and a little bit crazy mom I knew pre-cancer. But she was still here – after everything – and we would make the most of her trip.

Preparing for a ride around the canals

At that time, she was still undergoing treatment and follow-up appointments. And after all that had happened, who knew what the future held.

So I hired a boat and prepared everything for a brunch boat ride around the canals. The weather was glorious, the wine was chilled, and the food was going to be delicious. It was going to be the perfect, low-energy, yet highly enjoyable activity. As I said, there is no better place to be than on the Amsterdam canals in summer. Especially when armed with tasty French cheese, Italian ham, and Spanish prosecco. So off we sailed on our little electric boat, taking in the city and enjoying the tastes of Europe.

After a couple of hours sailing and sipping on wine, the obvious issue arose: Winnie (mom's bag) needed to be emptied. And after a couple of beers, I also had the urge, and the toilet was calling for me too. But we were on a boat in the middle of the city. We had to find somewhere. So we searched for somewhere to dock next to a restaurant where Mom could empty Winnie.

Urinals in Amsterdam

Now, to set the scene for what happened next, I need to explain something. In Amsterdam, urinals on the street empty into the canals. But when you're a local and sailing on the canals, another option is to sail under a small bridge and relieve yourself from the back of the boat. For a guy, this is a simple process.

So that was my plan: as we sail to find a bathroom for mom, I'll quickly go as we pass under a bridge. As I steadied myself on the back of the boat, I heard my mom laugh and a joyous outcry, "I CAN DO THAT TOO!" That's when I learned it's just as easy for someone with a bag. And that's also when I saw my mom turn her surgery into something strangely positive and comical.

Unexpected empowerment from new capabilities

Peeing from the back of a boat is something I never expected to do with my mother. But as anyone with a bag knows, when you gotta go, you gotta go! So there we were, my mom and I, a little tipsy and laughing at her new capabilities with Winnie. But there was something powerfully positive about this shared experience.

This was the first time I saw 'the old version' of my mom appear after all the surgeries, treatment plans, and medication. She was here; she was living, and she was joyous about being able to pee standing up on the back of a boat.

Though she may not have been able to do as much as before, right there and then, she was alive, and she was empowered.

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