Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Childhood aboard


I am convinced I’d never have the patience or inclination to endure home schooling. Even more so in a confined space, rolling on waves, with the sea and surf calling out through the windows.
But since we’ve arrived on the boat-life scene in the Caribbean, we’ve met many families, many mothers who do just that. They follow various curriculums and try as best they can to fit in all the lessons, tests and essays, amidst squalls, grocery and laundry trips ashore or washing by hand, cooking, cleaning and polishing their stainless steel or teak wood on board.
I admire all of them for their courage and saintly patience. The kids as well. Must be near impossible to maintain a routine and the concentration needed for school work in an atmosphere like a Caribbean anchorage.
We never considered taking off to cruise with the kids, and I believe it was mostly due to the fact that neither of us could imagine the day to day of it all.
But since we’ve arrived and I witness the lives of families aboard, especially the kids, I’ve realised that it is well worth the sacrifice. And more than that, it’s an amazing life for a kid.
This afternoon I was sitting at Secret Harbour marina and one of the yachtee kids arrived. She’s 8 years old. I asked her who she came with. Where is mum etc.
“I came alone, in my dinghy. Mom is coming along.”
I smiled. Inside was in awe. I only commandeered my first solo dinghy ride last week.  I found the little outboard motor heavy and awkward, and the motion of revving and steering with opposite motions of that stick makes my brain hurt.
Meanwhile my little friend has her own dinghy. This implies that she is an excellent swimmer, and at ease in the water. Her confidence radiates as she operates the small motor alone and arrives at her destination, ties up and comes up to the restaurant alone. And she talks to me like an adult. She looks me in the eye and she’s got a lot of interesting stuff to say. She’s even written an article in a Caribbean wide magazine publication.
Wow.
 And what is even more amazing is that suburban parents will judge her parents. Will assume this is no lifestyle to take your children along on. They will cry danger and selfish parental desires.
But on the other hand, we on land complain about this generation of landlubbing kids. They never really PLAY anymore. They sit behind computer and game console screens and they are losing the ability to socialize. They don’t know how to amuse themselves outside movies and games. They are spoiled. Lazy. Disinterested.
And the children I’ve met here are exactly the opposite. They have no TV’s and most have no video games. They play for hours on end on the beach. They have avid imaginations and can busy themselves on long passages, while their parents do the laundry ashore, or work on urgent engine issues.
They have no fears, as they have seen their parents venture out into the world, far from the comforts of home, learning new cultures, skills, languages every day. They play with dolphins and swim with stingrays. They dive metres down on anchor chains. They kayak over to visit a friend.
They can handle real tools and read charts.
The first weekend we arrived at Hog island I watched two raggamuffin boys, enjoying boyhood to the fullest. They ducked and dived behind the adults, putting together a fire. One held a machete that was near close to his height. They were wild yet controlled. No one got hurt and if they did, they brushed it off and got on with it.
Then one of them, all smudged with dirt came running up and cuddled under his mom’s arm. He looked up with glassy blue eyes and a little blond cowlick. And then he spoke. He was articulate, not shy. He spoke with the adults, answered our questions and asked a few of his own. And then he was off again, back to the world of pirates and desert islands and heroes and hooligans. And there was no Gameboy in sight.
Then his mom turned to me and said,
“We had to send him to ‘real school’ recently. We realised he could tie every nautical knot but he couldn’t tie a shoelace. He’s never worn lace up shoes”.
I loved it. I think I will always remember that.
I wondered what a childhood like that would be like. What people it will create. And I am sure it will be a rare breed - kids who are well rounded and well travelled. Kids who play hard and equally, who learn real life lessons that can’t be trapped in the pages of a book.

15 comments:

  1. What a wonderful childhood that must be, how I envy those children...I wonder if it's too late to relive my own?

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    1. Never too late to relive your childhood Leish!!!

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  2. Love this post! Thank you for giving me an easy place to point all the naysayers who say we are going to damage our children by choosing a different path.

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    1. Are you about to start a life of cruising with kids? You will be pleasantly surprised by the supportive and amazing community out here! And yes, there will be more negative comments than support from landlubbers. Ignore them. You will never look back.

      Good luck! Let me know if you start a blog! Would love to follow your story :)

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    2. We are leaving in 17 months. Should have left last fall but between a major refit, a new baby and the husband's job continuing longer than expected we are still tied to the dock. The boat should be ready by late spring but we want to wait out hurricane season before heading out. our blog is at www.theceolmors.blogspot.com . :)

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  3. It is not specific to kids living on boats but you might be interested in this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid and the references at the bottom.

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    1. Thanks Td - I believe this term was applied to our kids who lived as expats for 10 years in Europe and Africa. I believe the life aboard a boat takes it another step outside the comfort zone and the rewards are immeasurable.

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    2. I'm one of those as well in my 30s now. I'm wondering though if you get a better sense of what "home" is on a boat. Because you move around, but at least the boat seems to be an "anchor" on so many levels. At times I struggle with my sense of identity/belonging, and some unspoken losses (that my parents didn't recognize because they started moving around as adults, it is not the same perspective). I would not trade my childhood for anything though.

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  4. Thank you for this perspective. As a cruiser with three kids on board, it's a beautiful and gratifying read. From my point of view you've perfectly captured so many of the reasons we chose this life WITH our children instead of after they left the next. And oh, the judgement. I'll never forget our shocked neighbor who thought wondered what we would do if your children didn't stay "home" in school so they could take the state mandated standardized test. She was genuinely horrified. I didn't have the heart to tell her what I really thought!

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    1. I had a friend visit Shiloh who has a child and she was initially not impressed with the lifestyle for a child. But I think by the end of her visit, she admired the parents and saw some of the benefits. I truly believe it produces amazing people.

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  5. Nicely written. As landlubbers and adults we have so much fear. Now that you are gaining your sea legs, your fears will wash away. So just imagine these kids. I wonder what they fear because they seem so confident and able. I just hope that their landlubber peers don't take away from them what they have learned from a life at sea

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    1. I don't think that life on land after a life at sea could take away the experiences that have molded the child. They will face life's problems with a unique strong perspective.

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  6. Thank you for this wonderful post. We live aboard and are raising our 22 month old daughter on board too. We're taking off to cruise in a few months. Just sent this to all our friends and family :)

    Charlotte www.therebelheart.com

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  7. Excellent post... you just gained a new reader!

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  8. I grew up aboard between the ages of 8 and 14. I'm 30 now and dream daily of how I can return to the lifestyle with my own children. I also just forwarded this to my wife who is not exactly a sailor, yet. (I'm working in it.) The anecdote of the 8 year old in her own dinghy could be from my own past. Home school on board was a chore of course, but much shorter than a day in public school stateside. We would typically double or triple up our lessons in one day if needed. When we returned to the States, my brother and I were very far ahead of our peers. Enjoy the life, fair winds.

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