January 20, 2012

Safety at City

“So you’re giving it up.” The comment came from someone we know and seemed to be heavily laden with relief.
The topic was cruising.
I explained that no—we’re not quitting, but if the chance came for us to stay in Oz and work for a while we’d take it.
“But you’ll move ashore and Maia will go to school?”
Not exactly.

I can tell many people are sceptical about our ability to childproof our chosen lifestyle. Hurricanes, tidal waves, mosquito borne viruses, stinging jellyfish, third world sanitation, uncertain medical care and horror of horrors, home schooling. The list of perils seems endless and, the inference is, it’s irresponsible to expose an innocent child to them.

I pretty sure it’s not really that dangerous to cruise, it’s simply the exotic nature of the risks that accentuates them. Hurricanes, for example, are pretty predictable and sailors have a far better chance of avoiding them than a Floridian homeowner does. We protect against jellyfish stings by wearing a rash guard. And by not eating unwashed fruit and veggies, practicing good hygiene and drinking our own water we can avoid a whole range of ills.

And then there are benefits of life aboard. Nothing can beat the education that comes from in depth exposure to different cultures, or match the level of self-confidence that Maia has developed by working beside us to accomplish various tasks. And I’ve tried to explain the connection that Maia has to the natural world; that she understands the role she plays in the greater ecosystem and can also identify a whole bunch of weird creatures.

But each point can be countered. Endless travel through new cultures could leave her unrooted and friendless. Too much time with her parents might make her weird. Too many hours outside will leave her unprepared to navigate the wilds of a mall. And she could fall overboard during a storm.

Occasionally, I do try to describe the beauty of it all: Slipping into a foreign country at first light; Arriving as ancient seafarers did, the land slowly revealing her secrets as the boat ghosts unnoticed into a silent harbour. Will children rush down to the beach and welcome us warmly? Will a stroll through the village market expose us to foods we’ve never seen before? Will hiking the trails in the hills behind town lead to hidden ruins, friendly locals, or awesome vistas?

Until now all I’ve been able to do is tell those who ask that this life is the best gift I know to give my daughter. And try not to absorb their doubts and fears.
But then we rejoined civilization.
 Charlie the Cat fell overboard within 48 hours of being back aboard.
We don’t know what he was doing or how he did it—he just startled Evan by coming through the hatch sopping wet late one night. Lucky for him (and us) he made his discovery that the boat has a moat around it while the current was near slack. If it had been running at it peak (upward of 4 knots), his swim may have been a much bigger adventure…

Charlie falling in made me think what could happen if Maia fell in.
swinging over the river is a favourite activity
 She’s a strong swimmer but living on pile moorings on a fast moving, murky river that has loads of traffic, and more than a few underwater hazards means we have a few new safety considerations to take into account.

And it’s not just the river. Somehow two and a half years of sailing have turned my urban child into one of those clueless kids who is oblivious to cars. And when she does think to look, it’s inevitable that she looks the wrong way. Then there are the bike paths, where--like cars on the street--the bikes go the wrong direction and Maia is forever darting in front of them. And cars—do you know how unsafe those things are to ride in?

It’s now occurred to me that sailing across an ocean might actually have been the safest part of this trip. And as we settle into Brisbane, and have to make an active effort to keep our kid from doing herself in, I realize it’s this civilization that thing comes with the biggest risks…


islandwonder said...

What an exciting childhood to have!

Behan said...

We love playtime like this! It's definitely smart to have the "what if" safety conversation with the kids but I have to agree, our biggest dangers are those *off* the boat. Our marina manager insists that this favorite pastime (swinging on the halyards) isn't legal in Queensland, and we need a letter from Maritime saying it's OK if the kids will be allowed to do it. 99.9% sure this is a total crock- aside from being offended to be told what we can/can't do on our own boat that doesn't affect the marina or our 'hood. She's been asked for evidence. Weird powertrippy person... Botanic Gardens looking better and better!

NatGeoWannaBe said...

I think you guys are doing a fantastic job as parents and I wouldn't worry about the nay-sayers. They live everywhere and have (negative) opinions about everything (that truly isn't any of their business). If it's not the "dangers" of cruising and home schooling - it's the "dangers" of letting them run around the grocery store...or watching too much TV...or saying out too late (or not late enough)...etc...

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

Thanks, Wanna. It's nice to have encouragement:)