Are you about to move aboard and cruise with your kids? Here’s what you need to know!
Packing: Don’t sweat the first aid kit. Most of your family’s injuries will be psychological.
You may be tempted to do the responsible thing and raid your kids’ college funds in order to stock up on a locker full of first aid supplies, but, trust me, those suture kits and Israeli battle dressings will not soothe the emotional wounds your children will suffer from living 24/7 in a confined space with you and their siblings. DO, however, spring for the skin stapler; shooting citrus fruits with skin staples provides comic relief, and laughter is therapeutic. Just remember to remove the staples before adding that slice of lime to your gin and tonic.
Nutrition: Cocktails are not just for grown-ups.
I’m not advocating underage alcohol consumption, but
if you’re going to when you have a sundowner, don’t forget to offer the kids a refreshing beverage of their own. Ours love Ting, but anything fruity and colorful will do. Bonus points for paper umbrellas and creative names for your kiddie cocktails. If your children start calling them “kiddie cocks,” they did not learn it from mine.
Socialization: Don’t be shy – stalk that kid boat!
A happy cruising child means a happy cruising parent and a happy cruising family. What makes cruising kids happy? Other cruising kids! If you meet another kid boat and your kids get along, then forget your itinerary and follow that boat. But be warned that if you have a forty-year-old boat like ours with curtained-off bunks instead of a spacious, modern cruising boat with real cabins, your children will envy every other kid boat they visit and will repeatedly ask why your boat is so old and crappy.
Mental Health: If your child develops a new tic or nervous habit, don’t worry.
This is normal and to be expected when a cruising child is exposed to smoking engines, 20-foot waves, stressed-out parents, running aground, boat schooling, friend deprivation, and a different anchorage every few days. The cruising lifestyle is enough to make even the most easygoing child pull out his hair until he has a halo-shaped bald spot or make repeated hand motions that an orchestra conductor would envy or pick that scab just inside his nostril until he looks like he has a permanent nosebleed. Um…right?
Literacy: Read to your children.
Do not, however, limit yourself to books intended for children. Adult books can be equally beneficial, particularly those that make it clear that your children’s lives – and your parenting – could be much, much worse. For example, our boys were fascinated by The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls in which she describes the childhood inflicted on her by her loving but batshit crazy, unstable, often negligent (even by cruising standards) parents. You will look like parents of the year compared to her parents.
Vocabulary: When reading adult books aloud, do not censor the swear words.
Trust me, your kids will love you for it.
Radio Contact: DO NOT use VHF channel 68 – or whatever your anchorage’s chosen cruiser communications channel happens to be – for family communications.
By all means, leave your age-appropriate children alone on the boat and take the handheld VHF to reggae night at the beach bar, but unless you want every boat in the bay to hear and respond to your screaming child’s cries when he decides you’ve had enough fun and need to come home, choose a frequency that no one else uses.
Behavior: Expect cruising to bring out the worst in your kids.
Your children will bicker with each other almost incessantly. They will hit, kick, punch, and bite each other. They will swear at each other and call each other names. Sometimes they will call you names, too. They will refuse to do boat school. They will tell you you are the worst teacher ever. They will say they hate the boat and want to go home. You will wonder why you ever decided to move onto a tiny boat with these hateful, ill-behaved, ungrateful little people.
Love: Expect cruising to bring out the best in your kids.
Your kid will become more responsible and independent and curious and brave and outgoing and capable and resourceful. You will feel prouder of them than you ever did on land. The good moments will outnumber the not-so-good. When you think you can’t climb up that waterfall, you will hear your oldest son say, “You can do it, Mom!” When your tough middle kid comes back from the beach he will surprise you with a collection of pretty shells. When the sun is setting, your youngest son will sit in your lap and watch for the green flash. You will know that, despite all your failings as a parent, your kids love you anyway. Sometimes, your children will even get along with each other, and you will watch their silhouettes frolicking together in the twilight surf, that little band of brothers, and you will know that image will stay with you forever even though you forgot the camera. And then, then you will know why you decided to move onto a tiny boat with these beautiful, brave, lovable little people: you wanted to share the world with them before they grow up and explore it without you.