Home Life Laurie Nigro Pre-marriage counseling in a canoe

Pre-marriage counseling in a canoe

Last weekend, my husband and I removed our broken garage door and installed a new one. When we placed the original order for the door and I was signing the credit card agreement, I felt sure I was also signing my divorce papers. There was little evidence to support our marriage surviving a complicated, super-heavy garage door installation — we had never done it before and my mechanical skills are, well, very basic.

Nigro_Laurie_badgeHowever, as the sun rose high in the sky on a hot and oppressive Sunday, we claimed victory. Not only did we have a functioning garage door (the broken one had been the bane of my existence for about eight years – we don’t like to rush into things) our marriage came out unscathed. We did not have a single fight. Not a one. We spent two days stuck inside our garage together in 90-degree heat, and we were nice to each other. It was a miracle and it empowered me to feel capable of offering marriage counseling to others. Maybe I should sign up to run a pre-Cana class.

If you are Catholic or plan to get married in a Catholic church, you must go through a series of premarital counseling sessions sanctioned by the church. When Brian and I got married, we were given the option of a weekend retreat or monthly meetings, with a group of other hopeful young couples. Since the idea of sharing a tent with a bunch of women I had never met sounded like the worst idea ever, we opted for the monthly meetings.

Around the same time, on a beautiful Saturday morning, we decided to go for a canoe trip. Not having ever canoed before, we found a local place that rents canoes and prepared for a relaxing afternoon on the Peconic River. Along with a group of other hopeful young couples, we were ushered into the back of a large, open truck, lined on either side with canoes.

We found a spot to sit next to each other and within minutes, were barreling down the highway at a rate of speed which didn’t seem safe. We nervously joked with the others as each bump in the road had us clinging to one another, not quite sure how we had all ended up in this situation.

But before our fear was in full bloom, we had arrived at our destination. As we warily disembarked, feeling a bit like cattle, the driver quickly unloaded the canoes to the grassy area. He deposited the paddles inside and the boats, got back in the truck and drove away. I don’t think he ever spoke.

Some in the group were seasoned canoe captains. They immediately grabbed their boats and disappeared into the brush. I had to assume there was water in there somewhere. The uninitiated among us tried to pretend we knew what we were doing and also picked a boat and followed the masses.

Brian and I were behind a group of two women and one man. We waited patiently as they tentatively got into their canoe and launched. They did not immediately capsize so I felt a little better because honestly, I was just watching to see if they lived. So we settled into our boat and as I touched my oar to the water the people in front of us flipped over.

There was great confusion and scrambling. One of the women emerged, covered in unidentifiable plant matter that made me gag a little. She was shocked and crying, and missing a shoe. We meekly offered to help, but clearly there was nothing we could do for them. I was not hopeful for our future.

Eight hours later, we emerged at the end of our journey. There were forks in the river that challenged our sense of direction. There were areas where the water was so shallow that we had to step out and push the boat. There were underpasses where we were unsure of what we were supposed to do and learned, as I emerged facing backward with one paddle, that pushing the canoe through is NOT the correct answer.

At one point, we passed a motel where an older woman, sporting less than a full set of teeth, was hanging out of an open window laughing at us. It was a very surreal and horrifying Deliverance-type moment.

In those harrowing eight hours, we fought. We screamed and yelled. We mumbled under our breath and harbored resentment. We contemplated our decision to marry one another. Out loud. But in the last minutes, when the end was in sight, when the shore was in front of us and the promise of food was real, we rejoiced. We had made it. We had paddled the Peconic and survived. We were victorious.

Though I attribute those last minutes of joy to a state of shock – like someone stranded on a desert island who has just been rescued, we became canoeing evangelists. We started preaching to all of our engaged friends and suggesting that they skip the pre-Cana process and instead, rent a canoe. Because if you can survive eight hours on the Peconic River without any canoe experience and no map, with your significant other, your marriage can survive anything. Even a new garage door.

Eight hours in a closed garage in August can lead to dehydration. We were diligent about refilling our water bottles but I think a little boost to the water would have been advantageous. Try making your own electrolyte-replacing beverage, like this one from dontmesswithmama.com.


1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups of water (filtered or purified) or raw coconut water
2 tbsp organic raw honey or organic maple syrup
1/8 tsp Himalayan Pink salt or Celtic sea salt (I like Himalayan better – it has 84 trace minerals)

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend well. Enjoy!

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Laurie Nigro, a mother of two, is passionate about her family, her community, and natural living. Laurie resides in downtown Riverhead and is co-founder of the River and Roots Community Garden on West Main Street.


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Laurie Nigro
Laurie is the mother of two biological children and one husband and the caretaker of a menagerie of animals. Laurie is passionate about frugal, natural living. She was recognized by the L.I. Press Club with a “best humor column” award in 2016 and 2017. Email Laurie