Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Aren't You Worried about Them Falling Overboard?" Real and Imagined Fears of Living Aboard with Three Toddlers

We live on a 44 foot sail boat with our three toddlers age four and under. Considering this living arrangement falls well outside the range of "normal" for most land-dwelling folks, we get a lot of questions. But no question do we field so much as: "Aren't you afraid of them falling overboard?!" While, yes, the fact that we are surrounded by water combined with the reality that not one of our three children can swim unaided yet falls in the "Big F***ing Deal" category, you might be surprised to learn that, no, we almost never worry about them falling off the boat.

(insert sound of record scratching)

Don't get me wrong, our kids going overboard is our greatest concern and, potentially, our worst nightmare. But "worry" about it? No. So...why? A few reasons, really: 1) They are constantly supervised by an adult when they are on deck, not to mention well contained by protective netting around our boat's perimeter and 2) the water is warm and clear here so if they did happen to fall in, particularly because they are always under close watch, one of us would be able to retrieve them in a matter of seconds. Would we worry about this more if we were living in the Arctic where you have only moments in the water before hypothermia sets in, or if we lived somewhere where water was brackish and murky? Probably. But here? Not so much. And finally, 3) our girls have grown up on and around boats. It's natural and normal to them. They know how to move and maneuver like little pros, and furthermore know the "rules" and don't climb the lifelines or venture to the 'off limits' area of our boat. We are very frank with our daughters and mince no words when it comes to their understanding of safety. We tell it like it is: "If you fall in the water, you will sink like a stone to the bottom of the ocean." Sure, that might sound a little harsh, but a healthy dose of fear has a very real place in this particular scenario. We don't worry about them falling overboard at anchor any more than we would worry about our boat suddenly springing a leak. Sure, it's possible. But it certainly doesn't keep us up at night.

Underway it's similar. Our girls are never more than four feet from a parent, usually in the cockpit with Scott and I, and always in their lifejackets. We are lucky to live in a cruising area where we don't see big seas or rough weather, and if weather is inclement you won't find us sailing. On nice days, I often venture on deck with the girls to have dance parties during a smooth passage and they love to be on in the open air, watching the water for dolphins and turtles and waving hello at other boats. While we still allow them a little freedom to explore, the rules are a more stringent underway because man overboard drills in even the most pleasant conditions can be challenging, particularly if you're retrieving a small child (if a child were to go in, I'd immediately jump in after her and Scott would bring the boat back, fyi). I have zero interest in ever experiencing this horror, so our #1 rule is to stay on the boat. Period. We don't climb the rigging. We don't run. If it's rough we do not leave the cockpit and no one is allowed on deck without a parent present. Our girls understand that they must maneuver carefully and use one hand for the boat and one hand for themselves while the boat is underway. If we move between the bow of the boat and the cockpit I usually walk with them while the other two are seated securely on deck holding on to hand rails. "Always hold on," I remind them sternly. "You must always be holding on to the boat when we are moving." And they do. We are cautious, calculated and careful, but worried about them going overboard? Not really.

So where do we get a little fearful? Where does worry come into play?

Three words: At the dock.

A dock gives off false security and makes many of us feel okay because - hey, it's a dock! It's stable and safe and people and boats are around! But, no. All it would take is for one child to get out of my view and run off (it doesn't take long, believe me) and the repercussions could be disastrous. Keeping tabs on three (very active and curious) children is not always easy. While the marina does provide some security in that we have a whole community of people who watch after our girls from afar and more than once I have had a friend help me capture a runaway child, it's more of a perk and not something I count on. I am cautious and constantly doing the 'head count' if they are walking free (I am not to the point of leashes yet, but holy crap I'm close!) There are serious hazards on docks; a child might trip over a hose, a cleat or a line and fall in unnoticed, might try to balance or climb up a piling and slip over. She might see something in the water and try to reach it and topple in. Or maybe try to board a boat and misjudge the step. Any of these situations could be compounded by a good knock on the head during a tumble, rendering her unconscious and in the water... I could go on and on with scenarios but the bottom line is: these are potentially life and death situations. These are things we don't mess around with. These are the thoughts that, if I let them, keep me awake at night.

Because of these very real dangers, we have a strict lifejacket rule when on the dock and unless our girls are attached to our person or in their stroller , they are (almost always) in life jackets when walking around. Because they are so used to the rule, they often put them on themselves and with little protest. It's normal and understood. Other marina rules? They are never allowed to get on or off a boat without adult help or supervision. If we want to look at something in the water, we lie on our bellies to do so (it's much harder to fall head first into the water from a laying position than from a kneeling one). When running we keep a healthy distance from the edge so a normal trip doesn't turn into a swim. These rules were drilled into my head like "please" and "thank you" when I was a cruising kid and I've passed them onto our children. With these few safety measures in place, we certainly feel better, but I'd be lying if I said there was zero worry. It's amplified because I am chasing around three kids, usually by myself, two of whom are twins with a penchant for running in opposite directions just to mess with me - so I am always on high alert. When they run around with their lifejackets on? I worry less. WAY less. In fact, I'm pretty laid back about their wanderings as long as I can see them and know they will float. "Oh, they're so close to the water!" someone will tell me with concern in their voice, "Aren't you afraid they'll fall in?" they ask. "If they do," I start, "They will float and they certainly won't do it again!" The onlookers don't typically share my cavalier attitude and laugh nervously as they pass. But my thinking is this: worst case scenario, one of my girls falls in and gets a good scare. I fish them out (no doubt in front of a large gasping audience whispering #momoftheyear), give them a cuddle and we carry on with our day after a good rinse and change of clothes. Of course I don't want this to happen, but I'm all about kids exploring and learning natural consequences as long as the consequences aren't dire. If my girls are wearing life jackets, my worry is almost nil. Almost.

***

We take the safety of our children very, very seriously and I'm doing risk analysis while watching my kids play a hundred times a day. Bad things can happen. Accidents happen. We know that. Risks are everywhere on both land and sea. We do not, however, let a fear of "what if" rule our life. If that was the attitude we maintained, we'd never have left on a sailboat in the first place. For the most part, we let our kids be kids and give them a long leash to explore their capabilities and the world around them. Our girls climb up our mast and hang out on the boom. They swing from trees with ropes. They scale walls, climb like monkeys and run with hopeless abandon. Sure, they have the bumps, scrapes and bruises to prove it, but it's pure fact that humans learn by doing and so - with some simple rules in place and supervision from afar - we let them do. Our parenting style is to teach rather than dissuade, to empower rather than frighten. We do this, in part, by managing our own worry. Our goal - like most parents - is to raise happy, independent, confident children who trust the power of their bodies and minds, and who have a healthy respect for - but are not afraid of - the world around them. So, sure, like every parent - we worry. We worry about a million things like their happiness, health and success in life...But we don't really worry about them falling off the boat.

Sailing; in lifejackets (always) and one hand for the boat, one hand for themselves.
Always on our bellies to look at the water (Thank you Cindy W. for this tip!!)
When we're dock walkin', we are wearing life jackets. (and going opposite ways)

Practicing climbing, problem-solving, and balance. 
Looking out over the water, our fender was on the deck but usually they are never leaning over life lines.
I rigged up a line from the mast to the bow and it provided a TON of entertainment.  
When sailing on a nice day, this is how you will usually find the girls and I. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Writing, Time and What's Up: A Rambling Recap of the Last Few Weeks

So much to say, but the wind won't write my words!
It's hard to find time to blog these days. Which is frustrating to me since writing is something I need to do. Just as some people need to run or make music or sing, so must I write. Scott will vouch for the fact that if I've gone too long without it, I get all wonky and - in general - pretty unpleasant. "Go write," he'll say in exasperation. "I'll take the kids. But for God's sake, just write something." It is my life's greatest passion; the hobby that keeps my brain sharp, my thoughts clear and yields the most fulfillment. I love it. My mind is a dizzy flurry of thoughts, stories and ideas I want to flush out and I often have the urge to break open my computer in the wee hours of night (or morning, rather) to jot down a reflection so I can bring it to life later. What can I say? Like many writers, I have the compulsion to share...what I lack, however, is time.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

I haven't been able to share much on the blog these days, or at least not as much as I would like. Luckily, our social media accounts - like Instagram and Facebook - make sharing in snippets pretty effortless. I post very regularly over there because it's simple, quick and easy. As much as I enjoy chronicling our life in images and short captions (because I really look at it all as a chronicle), it doesn't quite scratch the creative itch for me and it certainly only shows 1/100th of the picture. It offers a precisely filtered highlight reel and doesn't cut to the nitty gritty like I sometimes like to do. But it'll do for now. High season is behind us (maybe?) and Scott should (in theory) be able to help out with the girls a little bit more, affording me a few hours here and there to work and write. So more to come, I promise.

***

So, what's been going on the past few weeks?

Well, a lot. My parents and my amazing sister came to visit (separately), and spending time with them and showing them our new "island expat" lifestyle was so much fun. Our business continues to flourish which is wonderful but means that Scott is burning the midnight oil every. single. night. If you think running a day charter business in the tropics is all fun in the sun, you'd be wrong. It's a hell of a lot of work, and because I am on mommy duty all day, every day...the business end of things falls on Scott's shoulders.  I must say he is doing an incredible job, and seeing him take the bull by the horns and assume the roll of business owner with such ability and ease is impressive. It's a pretty insane work load though, and while we are taking steps to streamline certain procedures so that the work/life balance is better for him - these things take time. Not the worst problem to have but no one can work 12-18 hour days forever. That's a one way ticket to crazy town right there.

Other news? Oh! We got a second car (a white Hyundai Veracruz, baby!) The girls and I are now mobile and while we absolutely love Nanny Cay and our extended family of workers, neighbors and friends that are here with us - it's been nice to change things up a little with the freedom to go to other places, parks and beaches without paying an arm and a leg in taxi fare (there is no public transportation here). The girls are ob-sessed with the car and car rides. Obsessed. Every night after I tuck the twins in (and after I do the little routine they've developed of doing kisses, hugs and - get this - fist and elbow bumps) they say, "Car?" and I say, "Yes. We will go in the car tomorrow" to which they reply, "Okay!" So, yeah. The car is a big hit all around. Granted, finding car seats was a treat. Tracking down one on this island is like finding a needle in a haystack, locating three proved pretty much impossible. So we drove around (very carefully) without them for a while which was utterly TERRIFYING. The twins figured out how to unbuckle the seat belts approximately .02 seconds after I secured them the first time which meant driving around, for them, was like being in some sort of moving jungle gym and for me was...it was...let's just say I could've used a Xanax. We eventually found one booster style seat and rotated the kids around in that for a week or so, but one carseat for three kids is no good not to mention it created an existential dilemma a la "Sophie's Choice" every time I got them in the car. Who gets to ride in the car seat today? After realizing decent carseats weren't going to magically appear in my car or on this island for that matter, I ordered some on Amazon (this car seat can fit three in one row! Take note moms of multiples!) and my dad shipped them down to us. Now we are safe and my kids aren't hanging out the windows like dogs anymore. Whoo hoo!

We've also decided that we'll soon be putting the girls in a pre-school/play group here two days a week for a half-day to give me a little break and allow me to stay on top of things like a) my business responsibilities (I am technically the marketing manager of Aristocat Charters), b) "house" chores (like organizing cupboards, tidying lockers, purging excess and cleaning the fridge; things that need to happen regularly around here but don't) c) my personal hygiene (there are really nice *warm* shower facilities here. I use them maybe twice a week and cold-water bathe on the aft deck with the girls 90% of the time) and d) my writing (see first paragraph.) This change, I think, will also be great for them socially as they love other kids and while we play with other children on a daily basis, I think a little regular playtime with kids their own ages will be helpful. Did I mention that I think this will be great for my sanity? Because...that too.

***

Despite the fact that I haven't been writing much, we've had several things written about us and a couple new interviews went "live" recently, so if you'd like to read those they are here:

  • This Adventurous Couple are Raising Three Kids on a Boat in the Caribbean - an article that got compiled on the world wide web and has been shared a bunch. It's pretty accurate and uses a bunch of our pictures except we left in 2010, not 2012. We had nothing to do with this piece, and were not contacted for it. But I'm grateful for the publicity and the shares that have come from it.
  • Goodie Goodie Gumdrops: Inside a Traveler's Walls - A great interview series about people who live and travel in unique situations. Jessica's blog is pretty awesome too! This piece is specifically about our boat, what we love about it, what we don't, how we have altered it to make it work for us, and why we chose it for our home.
  • Women and Cruising: 12 Questions for the Asante Family - Part of a great series of interviews with families who sail with children. I answer twelve questions about life aboard with kids, the good, bad and poopy.

In related news, I have also been updating the pages of this blog, the "ABOUT" page got a refresher as did our "PRESS" page. Feel free to poke around there, and people interested in boating with babies, please check out our Baby on Board page where I've consolidated most of our posts on sailing, traveling and living tiny with tots.

What else? (Yes, I realize I am rambling)...That's about it. We have our good days and bad. The girls are growing in leaps and bounds and with that come new revelations, freedoms and challenges. Spending so much time with them and watching them grow, learn, and become who they are is pure magic, it really is. But with yin, there comes yang and darkness follows light. There have been some pretty significant and very personal extended family struggles that I have kept to myself which have been devastating and life-altering. We ride up and down the unpredictable wave of life just like anyone else and sometimes we are at the crest and can see what's coming our way, sometimes we are in the trough and have no idea what hit us. That's how it goes, we have all been there. But despite that, I call myself lucky and I am thankful beyond words. It's a wonderful, beautiful life and there is no place - literally no place - I would rather be than right here, right now. My heart is so full of love, gratitude and happiness for the life we have created, for our children and what we are accomplishing.

My time, whether or not I am writing, is well spent.

And that is (the very cliff-noted version of) where we are at right now...

Thanks, as always, for reading and following along on our journey. It's truly an honor.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Isla Turns Four: An Island Party fit for a Princess

Isla turned four on the last day of March. She reminds me daily of this fact and believes wholeheartedly that this magical number makes her a "big girl." I appease her, of course, because being proud of growing up is something I wish for her, but I silently cling to the toddler traits that linger; the dimply hands, the perfectly round tush, her sing-song bell of a voice, her chubby (but thinning) cheeks...so while she fancies herself something of a "big girl", I still look at her beautiful, brown, soulful eyes and see my little baby.

What can I say about our Isla? She is strong, smart, loving, kind, cautious, wise and brave. Her sense of humor is awesome and she lives to make people laugh. Her smile lights up a room. Her mind is a veritable sponge of wonder, curiosity and intrigue. She is absolutely brilliant, a total goof ball and full of personality. She shines bright with her giggles and makes friends wherever she goes. She is an amazing big sister to the twins (well, most of the time!) and makes our lives better in every conceivable way. She is full of joy and so. much. fun. Of course she can be stubborn, willful and possesses the persistence of a hungry used car salesman...after all, she is four. But these things go with the territory of raising a fiercely independent, strong female so I will take it. There are no words that can adequately relay the adoration we have for this little ray of sunshine, but we love her to the moon and back (a million times) and watching her grow is nothing short of a pleasure. Every single day I learn from this child, she has been my greatest teacher.

***

I put slightly more effort into her birthday party than I did for the twins. She is now at an age where a birthday matters, at least a little. And I wanted her to feel very special on her day. Of course a beach party was in order...while I did start 'planning' earlier, I stuck with my method of keeping it simple. We invited all her "neighborhood" friends, pre-ordered a couple extra-large trays of pizza, Scott arranged for a special "Elsa" princess cake and we staked out a picnic table on the beach. Of course the beach bar was slinging beers for the adults. What's a party without beverages for the adults, right?

Our very good friends from s/v Necesse made the trip over from St. Thomas to spend four days with us which was definitely a birthday highlight for both Isla and I. Not only is Genevieve one of my very best friends, but her youngest, Ellia, and Isla are only a week apart in age and shared their first birthday's together in the Bahamas. We've been crossing paths with them ever since and every time it is a pleasure to get our kids together (more so now because they fight so much less!) and continue making memories. We adore the Stolz's, and it was very special that they made the effort to come in to spend time with us. Thank you guys!

***

As it turns out, her birthday also coincided with the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival which is a week of partying and racing that happens each year here at Nanny Cay. I wasn't so sure how it was going to work out with our party merging on the beach with the after party, but as luck would have it - Isla's birthday celebration happened just before the race festivities started, and as we began to wrap up our party, the racer's bash commenced. This conveniently into our "after-party" as well. The "big kids" of the group lingered with the mamas, dancing wildly to the live band and enjoying the festive atmosphere into the night. It was an amazing day for an amazing little girl who is loved fiercely and completely.

But enough of that, I will let our party pictures tell the story...

Thank you to everyone who came out to make Isla's day special, you all know who you are and we are SO grateful. Here's to being FOUR!

The neighborhood kids gathered to decorate for her. Note: Horns and balloons will never cease to please kids, apparently.

One of her favorite "big boys"
Working our the finer points of birthday horn blowing.
So simple, yet so entertaining.
Our awesome friend Keanna brought markers and coloring books for Isla, which - in turn - became the hit of the party!!
Isla and two of her best pals. She refers to them as "her buddies" it's pretty adorable!
Keanna, coloring. Because adults coloring is all the rage these days!
Don't let the presence of beer in every single photo frighten you. It was for the adults, I swear.
Daddy arriving with her balloons (one of her birthday present wishes) and cake!
Isla opening a very special gift from her buddy, Stormer. Her very own jewelry box. She LOVES it. 
2 x 4 beach jenga blocks also double as construction blocks for beach kids! 
No beach party is complete without sand toys. Darcy and sweet baby Rio playing with Haven.
Making castles. 
Follow the yellow brick road, Haven!
V and A, two of our very awesome boat neighbor kids! Love them.
Haven enjoying her pizza. Side note: this is also usually the only time you don't hear her!  
These three dancing was absolutely adorable!
Isla and the beautiful hand-made wind chime made for her by her pal, Nico. She loves it and it hangs right by her bed.
The Elsa cake was a HUGE hit!
The party in full swing with all her pals around.
Isla and Ellia looking adorable, eating cake. "Shut your mouth, dear" ;)
Give this little sweet pea some balloons and she is good to go. Take them away and LOOK OUT!

Beautiful, goofy Arias!! I think she liked the cake! 
Haven, yelling as usual (she has almost no volume control!), and holding up FOUR for her sister.
This was the OTHER gift Isla asked mommy and daddy for, an Ariel dress. She was, obviously, pleased.  
"Mommy, don't I look beautiful!" You ALWAYS look beautiful honey, because your heart is beautiful!

This picture, though not the best in quality, sums up this wonderful, joyful child. Happy birthday Isla.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hiking with Tots: A Trip to Tortola's Sage Mountain

I'm of the belief that the natural world is a child's greatest playground, which is why you will find me outside with our kids as much as possible. Maria Montessori - founder of the renowned Montessori method of education - once said, "A child, more than anyone else, is a spontaneous observer of nature" and watching the wheels start turning when a little kid discovers a mud puddle or a giant leaf or a lizard on a branch is proof positive of this fact. There simply is no replacement for the natural world and the benefits of simply being in nature are vast. We are fortunate to live in an environment and community very conducive to outdoor play, and it just so happens that we also have a pretty beautiful National Park, Sage Mountain, just up the road. 

Scott, always more ambitious in his outings with our daughters, took all three for their first hiking experience at Sage Mountain a few weeks ago. On their own tiny legs, our trio hiked all the way to the top, and despite the fact that the hike is by no means 'difficult', we still found this impressive for an almost four year old and a pair of two year olds to accomplish with little protest. After that successful excursion, we have returned as a family two more times in the last two weeks, it's an easy way to kill a couple of hours where the kids are using their bodies and exploring in nature. Win/win all around.

Arriving at the gate of the park you are struck with two interesting sensations that are distinct deviations from those which we experience at sea level; the first is the smell. The magnificent perfume of damp earth, fallen leaves and wet moss fills the air. "Mmm....it smells so good mommy" exclaimed Isla when we stepped out of the car. It's distinct earthiness is both refreshing and energizing. The second sensation, is the temperature. The canopy of trees and foliage envelops you in it's mottled cocoon, taking you in completely. The almost impenetrable shade creates a damp coolness which is a welcome change from the wonderful, but unforgiving, tropical sun.

There are several trails you can take around the park, we opt to drive to the base and follow the well marked trails to the "highest point in the BVI". The hike can be a meandering stroll or a vigorous walk, it's up to you. There is a little restaurant at the base and the proprietor will give you a (rudimentary) map and help point you in the right direction. The paths are obvious, and while the girls and I - along with my sister - did manage to get a bit lost on our most recent excursion (were we supposed to go left or right at the fork?), it's a small enough hill that retracing your steps back to square one isn't too hard. It's all part of the adventure, and it's always an adventure with little tykes in tow.

The panoramas from the top are, of course, incredible. Vast azure water with islands dotting the horizon everywhere you look. It's peaceful and serene at the top, and with the cool forest air kissing your shoulders it's impossible not to have a feeling of calm as you take it all in. All is right in the world. Quintessential paradise. The place where the sea meets the sky. Where the forest greets the shore. Where the shade gives way to the sun. Nature at it's absolute finest. 
Mira and my mom learning about Sage at the base of the main trail.
Isla is our family "champion" hiker. Never complains, never falters. Just keeps putting one foot in front of the other.
Puddles are Mira's absolute FAVORITE. What kid doesn't love a good mud puddle? And who are we to deny them?
Checking out the unique "skeleton" of a giant leaf in the final stage of decomposition.
Grandpa and Mira
Beautiful. The light, the lush foliage, the circle of life.
Isla found this little fruit/flower. She's got the eyes of a Serengeti tracker.
Isla leading the way, and Haven found a friend to walk with for a moment.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep" -Frost
The beauty is in the details.
This child will climb anything and everything. The world is her playground!
Grandpa and Haven. 

We bring along snacks, in this case dried mango, to munch along the way. Snacks are key when hiking with tots!
My flaxen haired wild child.
Anyone else a fan of "The Lorax?" This reminds Isla and I of a Truffala Tree!

This happy little sprite loves to hike, climb and explore. Our girls are monkey's!
One of the many incredible views from the top. 
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