Sunday, February 7, 2016

Adventurer + parent: making the combination happen

...on sailing and fear and parental responsibility

One of my favorite things about sailing is the space it gives me to think, or not think. I find it so meditative to be out on the water with only the sound of wind and water lapping against the hull. Yes, sailing is romantic. It can also be meditative when the wind is up and we're heeled over, sometimes burying the rain, scrambling to shorten sail - that's the time when 100% of my attention is on the action at hand. My mind is certainly not drifting to my daily stressors. There's no room for them on board. That's a different kind of meditation.

I've always done some of my best thinking and dreaming out on the water. It's one of the only places that I can let go of the daily grind and just be. The kids feel it too. I'll often hear them singing or humming when they're on deck - caught up in the moment.

Last week I went sailing with a friend who is a newbie and she started asking questions about making long passages. She wanted to know if I was scared when we were out on the ocean, out of sight of land, back in the days when we were cruising in the Caribbean. My answer: no, not really, and for a few reasons: 1) I was 100% confident in our boat and I have enough boat and sailing knowledge that I knew how the boat would react to big waves or big winds, 2) we were prepared for worst-case scenarios, we knew what would happen and how we would deal with man overboard or sinking, 3) we only made short passages so, with the exception of squalls, we were never surprised by the weather, and 4) I was in my 20s, pre-kids. What, exactly, are single, 20-year-old kids scared of?

So now, ten years later with two kids and a little sailboat, I admitted that I do get nervous when it gets windy on the river, or when the boat heels (tips) uncomfortably, or when a gust of wind pushes us. I haven't felt that kind of trepidation since we first started sailing, when I didn't really know what I was doing, and even then it wasn't the kind of "oh shit gut-wrenching fear" that I get sometimes when the kids are aboard.

We have dreams of taking our kids on long sailing trips. I dream of showing them places in the world that are only accessible by boat. I dream of long passages. My friend, similarly, dreams of going on adventures with her family - living in different places, exploring the world, not falling into the easy trap of suburbia. How, then, can these dreams become reality if, as a mother, I now feel a type of protective mama bear fear that I've never felt before? The stakes are infinitely higher when you are responsible for little people. Their lives, literally, are in my hands. (I can see why people choose to stay snugly in suburbia.) The stakes are a little higher, to say the least. With these high stakes and with the fear and with the socially-accepted, easy option of suburbia, how can I be both an adventurer and a parent?

We bought a little sailboat last summer because we like sailing. I missed sailing and needed to be out on the water (in an active sense, not sitting on a boat at the dock like I do with 80% of my time). By taking the kids sailing on a regular basis, we're teaching them how to sail and, hopefully, instilling a love of sailing at a young age. (At least we're teaching them that we love sailing and they just have to grin and bear it.) Generally speaking, kids don't like change. By incorporating sailing into their lives at a young age, hopefully it won't be too shocking when we move onto a sailboat, cut the docklines, and sail to the horizon. Here's hoping, at least.

Get the right gear that will keep you and your kids safe. This is a big deal. I'd be scared shitless if I were driving down the highway and the kids weren't strapped in carseats. Likewise, I want a boat (my chosen method of adventuring) that has tough enough rigging for strong winds, that has heavy ballast to right itself, and has a sturdy rudder that will stay firmly attached to the boat. I want appropriately-sized ground tackle (anchor and chain) to keep us in one place all night. Hans recently rebuilt the v-berth on our current sailboat so the girls will be more secure when we're underway. Sailing with kids is more relaxing now b/c I don't have to worry about them falling through the gap between the cushions.

Having a strong base of knowledge to fall back on can keep you confident and rational. Knowledge has always been a big thing for me. Before I actually stepped on a boat, I read about sailing. A lot. I practiced knots in the living room. I learned the vocabulary. When, at long last, I finally did start sailing, I wasn't (too) scared of capsizing, I knew how to cleat off the line, and I knew that ropes are called lines. I wasn't always comfortable and I was certainly scared at times, but I knew the reason for everything and I could logically talk myself out of fear.

Have a good plan in place for the trip or adventure - a plan that considers the basics of sleep and food to more abstract preferences such as personal interests of each person on the trip. Basically, don't get hungry, don't get cold, don't get tired, and make sure everyone is having a good time. Scale back. When we go sailing now with the kids, we go for an hour or two. Enough time to get the wind in the sails, but not really enough time for the kids to get bored and whiney. Change the adventure to accommodate shorter attention spans, hungry bellies, and the need to be with other kids and running around doing kid things.

Find your community of adventurers and embrace it. Make friends - local and long-distance - and get support and encouragement from like-minded people. Choosing adventure over a more traditional lifestyle of house-school-job is challenging. It's hard to go off the beaten track, but having a group of people to bounce ideas off of and get inspiration from is invaluable. Likewise, involve and educate your everyday community (your friends and family) so you can get support and encouragement from those that already love you and your kids.

Go with the idea that plans can and will change, but choosing adventure means being open to the adventure, no matter how that adventure may evolve.

Be confident and clear in your dreams and aspirations. Naysayers abound and successful adventuring depends in a large part on remaining steadfast to your own personal commitment. Know why you want to do something different - the short-term benefits and the long-term benefits. There are so many reasons that I want to take my kids on an extended sailing trip (aka cruising), but many of them revolve around the reasons why I feel it is important to travel with kids. I'd like to take them out of their comfort zone to know that with risk comes reward. Sure, traveling by sailboat is often akin to camping, but then you get to an island unpopulated by humans. You see a night sky untouched by light pollution. You hear the earth uninterrupted by human noise. You can sail to an iceberg.

We're still a number of years away from going on a big adventure with our kids, but I'm determined that the adventure will happen. I'm working on making it happen now. We go on small adventures - we go sailing, we go camping, we go on road trips and the kids can easily handle a six hour car ride (thank you DVD player). A stationary life has never been the life for me. I love my community and I love making local connections, but I yearn to see what's around the next corner and what people a few hundred miles away are eating for dinner. With some planning, knowledge, and preparation, I'm confident that I won't let fear or the ease of a more traditional life get in the way of taking off. The promise of adventure is just too great for that.

our monkeys aren't afraid of much
I think they have the adventurer spirit built in to their DNA.

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