|Our cool Sarah Steenland comic--we're not done with boats, it's just time for a little landlubbing|
Over the years we’ve had a lot of different questions come up—and for the next while I thought I’d try and reflect back on some of the big ones that we were asked about most often (between prepping the boat to sell, moving back to Canada, finding a place to live, going back to work, traveling to Ireland and getting Maia sorted for school—so bear with me).
What’s it Like Having an Only Child on a Boat?
It used to surprise us but there are a LOT of only kids out here. In some ways it’s probably just a reflection in the rise in single families in general (20 percent of US households with children are one-child families) but it’s also easier to hit the traveling sweet-spot age-wise when you only have one child to take into consideration.
This means that through the years I’ve been fortunate enough to touch base with lots of one-child families. We’ve had the chance to compare notes on how our kids are doing, what challenges we face and what the positives are:
|through the years Maia's become a more than capable crew|
Do you have to constantly entertain your kid?
Maia was seven when we left and was an avid reader with a very busy imagination. She’d also already been an only child for a while ;) and was pretty awesome at entertaining herself. There were times when I would have rather read my book than read her another chapter of hers, and I may have played a few board games I might not have played otherwise, but I think this is on par for most parents. I don’t have the alternative to compare her to, but it seemed like she was pretty self-sufficient. (Plus Evan loved playing play-do with her ;)
Did she get lonely?
Lonely happens for almost everyone who is social and who sails. Sometimes we’ve been out of season, or just had the urge to do something different from the crowd—and there’s been no one to share it with. Usually we enjoy the time where we’re a family of three—but as Maia got older she felt the need to have friends around more often. Fortunately if you stick with common cruising routes it's not hard to find kids. With some planning it’s even possible to have long term friends. We're almost always with 'kid boats' in Mexico and crossed the Pacific in the company of a couple of dozen families. We were off-season in Indonesia so had a couple of months with only a few kids here and there, but crossed the Indian Ocean and explored South Africa in company. So in our eight years we planned our routes so we spent more time more time with other kid boats, than without.
What about shyness?
Maia is reserved by nature and it’s a constant effort for her to put herself out there. She’s also a bit introverted so she takes a while to warm up. But over time she’s learned she has to make an effort and that age and gender aren’t that big a factor. Currently in La Cruz there are about 20 kids from 5-17 and they roam around as big happy bunch. They split off into smaller groups more by interest than anything.
|thanks to the wonder of the internet--this fabulous Fijian family is still in our lives|
What about meeting local folks?
One of the things we discovered is that as a small family is that we had a lot of opportunities open up to us. I think it's easier for a local family or person to make an invitation to a small family for dinner or a stay in their home or for another cruising family to take along one extra kid on a special outing. We often discovered people were happy to adopt the three of us (or just Maia) and Maia has stayed in contact with people she’s met from all over the world.
|This year we plan to get the 'band' back together with a reunion with some of the best people in the world|
Do you think changing locations and intermittently hanging-out with other kids could make it hard to maintain long-term relationships?
I think it could—we do know kids who don't seem to bond really well—but these have often been kids in larger families who don't necessarily have the flexibility to change plans to nurture each child’s friendships. In Maia's case she still has some of the friends she made as an 8-year-old (now 15). Most friendships last a season or more—so 6-8 months and as she’s gotten older she’s used social media to stay in contact with the friends she really connected with. I think one of the tougher discoveries for her was realizing that some friendships just don’t last—even when you have geography in your favour.
What are the best ages for an only afloat?
I’d say from the time they can read until they say they’re done—broad, I know. Last year I was certain we kept going too long—but seeing her and the other 15-17 year old boat kids this year, I think it was worth riding out her 13/14th year aboard. More importantly, she's happy she stuck it out. I think the transition from 12-15 is hard no matter where you are and in many ways being aboard gave her the freedom to grow-up at her own pace. Part of it though is we are currently with an incredible group of families and kids. There have been a good number of older teens and they are a remarkably happy, well-adjusted, socially conscious, super nice bunch. Being somewhere long enough for them to become involved in the local community has also been a gift. They've been volunteering in a variety of things around town here.
How has cruising been for your family?
We've grown into a very close, happy, playful family and have learned to keep an eye on how each of us is doing (we’re not always happy and playful). It's always been a group decision to keep going from one year to the next. We love the times when there are fewer people around and have great memories of things just the three of us do. This contrasts nicely with when we're in bigger harbours with heaps of families because those become social whirlwinds. It's often a relief to go to sea just to have family time.
This all said—Maia is still an only child—and it's been pretty essential she develop solitary hobbies. Fortunately she’s had no problem with this. I actually think it's helped her thrive—she's shy and reserved by nature—but a childhood afloat is a pretty gentle and freeing one so I think she's much more outgoing because of it.
I'd also hazard the guess that Maia has had way more sleepovers, dinners with friends and hours of unstructured play time than your average North American kid. A typical day usually includes school to about 1 or 2pm and then the kids are gone until dinner, or longer.