Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rounding Up This Round of Safety Talks

Pulling the Children Along
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“The most dangerous thing aboard this boat is your mother,” Dr C informs our children after one particularly trying evening. We had been cruising in the South Puget Sound for nearly ten days without stop. This was early in our cruising life so ten days was an interminable amount of time filled with disastrous mishaps, poor hygiene and uncomfortable beds.

However, in spite of a great deal more sailing experience, I am not sure anything has really changed. For all the dangers presented on your average sailing vessel in the form of things that go boom, endless volumes of water to drown in, and exotic tropical diseases, it still strikes me that parents are the most dangerous part of the cruising experience.

First, remember that a parent on a cruiser is forced to take on so many more roles than the parent of a land-based household. Parents are also teacher, principal and gym coach. We are lifeguard, librarian, and fireman. Cop, mechanic, bus driver, and troop leader. We collaborate on projects, participate in drama, music, and art activities, and go on all the field trips. We are the 4th in Monopoly and the opposition in chess. We are the friend you go to when all your other friends won’t play with you, and we are the enemy you try to avoid when all your friends are firmly in your camp.

And the closeness is wonderful, the one thing I absolutely cannot conceive is how I will relinquish this with our return to land-based lives. Yet there is no question that all that closeness can be too much of a good thing. We all need a little privacy, a little variety in our relationships, and more physical SPACE to simply move around in.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law gave me permission that I desperately needed. It was during potty training for my eldest daughter. We were on vacation in Bend, Oregon, staying at a cabin in a large family group. My eldest daughter, Jaime, was at the stage of using a mini-potty, but she did not want to use it in this strange vacation place. I, on the other hand, was not about to spend my vacation wiping shit off her ass and insisted that she use it. In retaliation for my obduracy, my daughter braced her hands on the back of the seat and -- lifting and rotating her pelvis -- proceeded to spray urine over every square inch of the bathroom floor. I completely lost it. I slapped her, yelled something to this day I cannot -- nor do I wish to -- remember, and stomped down the stairs.

At which point, I broke into hysterical tears. I’d never hit my child before and to do so now, in front of family, seemed like a catastrophic failure. Yet my mother-in-law just looked at me mildly and informed me that, “Your children need to know there is a point beyond which you are dangerous.”

And we are, we parents of boat kids. We are bigger and we control everything. We have so much more power than parents on land. We control the means of transportation, production, and communication. At times we are the only other living souls around. Even our stupidity is more dangerous to their health, welfare, and mental wellbeing. The responsibility is enormous.

Multitasking on Don Quixote
Multitasking on Don Quixote
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
On the other hand, we give our children so much more power than we do on land. Our older children literally hold our lives in their hands, taking watch on long passages, managing communications with other boats, and helping maintain boat systems. The kids gather food and set up social events with other families on boats or on land. The companionship cuts both ways, so if we want to play bridge, the kids are the 3rd and 4th hands. If we want to play a piece of chamber music, the girls take half the parts.

Jaime and I survived potty training. We also survived learning how to read, her first attempt to cut her own hair, and our early discussions about the birds and the bees. She tells me that the most important quote on this subject is from the uncle of good old Spider Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” To be a boating family, we must learn to moderate our anger, our passion, and our temper. We must walk away even when there is nowhere to walk and take many deep breaths before taking precipitous action.

You get only this one family and this one chance to do it right. Dying in battles on hills that don’t matter can cause you to lose the entire campaign.

1 comment:

Jody said...

Yes, mom is the most dangerous thing on our boat as well!

The safety issue keeps me up at night, as we are thinking of heading to Veracruz Mexico from the Texas coast in our 31ft monohull. We have 4 kids, ages 13, 10, 7 and 3. Our oldest has taken the job as our navigator and has the Garmin wired now.

We bought our boat in July, and have been sailing in the bay and the ICW of Texas, and I am finally able to chill a bit when all 4 kids are on deck. The first few months felt very out of hand.

Cruising as a couple was so much different. All we needed were our own 2 hands and to watch out for each other.....with many small children on the boat a mom must learn to be an octopus and a j.Jack of all trades!