Our family is in the process of fixing up our house, selling it, and moving permanently aboard a sailboat. A big part of this transition, naturally, is spending as much time as possible out on the water, to get the boys as comfortable as possible with sailing.
Jason and I are taking formal sailing lessons. Lacking anyone to teach us in a natural, organic sort of way, we’re spending the money and doing the “schooled” thing. It’s working well for us, both because we’re strongly motivated to learn, and because it’s a for-money kind of school, so they’re powerfully motivated to teach us. It’s a good situation for that kind of formalized learning.
No one teaches a four year old formal sailing. Rowan’s absorption of this world is as natural as his absorption of any other endeavor of ours. We show him how a thing works, whether it’s as everyday as the bathtub faucet, or as extraordinary as the bilge pump, and he accepts and integrates it.
Sailing with Rowan tests the depth of my understanding and my grasp of basic principles pretty profoundly. I am reminded of a story about the great naturalist Louis Agassiz, who had his doctoral students present their theses to his wife’s fourth-graders, on the assertion that if you cannot explain a thing to a child, you don’t really understand it. Since “why?” is Rowan’s response to anything, I am constantly in a state of pop quiz, and finding it both reassuring and disturbing to find and patch the multiple holes in the knowledge I possess.
Rowan is proud to demonstrate his knowledge of basic safety procedures; that we wear our PFD while we’re working on the docks and rigging the boat for sail. That we say “stepping aboard” and “stepping off” consistently when we are doing so. That we have three points of contact on the boat at all times. He understands the basis of the reasons why, and he’s quick to call both us and the other denizens of the harbor on their slip-ups. People have started perking up when Rowan hits the dock.
Experts on children and boats tell us that it’s critical that each member of the crew have age-appropriate jobs that they are responsible for. When we’re underway, it’s Rowan’s job to wave at passing boats. Not only is he totally enthusiastic about this task, and delighted when people respond, he’s already figured out for himself that the people who wave back are the people who see us and keep on appropriate courses, and the people who don’t are the people to be careful of because they aren’t paying attention.
Rowan’s enthusiasm is beginning to be an inspirational force with the other students at the sailing school. More parents are seeing that taking two small boys sailing is not only do-able, but enjoyable and invigorating for all parties. They’re starting to ask us about the logistical details of having small children out on the water. And plans are coming together for sailing playgroups.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom.