We’ve never been parents to hover. Well, to hover too much. Okay, we may have hovered a little. And living on a busy street in Anacortes while the kids were toddlers, we were understandably relieved when we finally got a fence built to keep their wandering legs away from speedy, distracted drivers. But I did look forward to the day when I could send the kids across the street to the playground on their own and not have the police called on me for being a negligent parent. That moment never came while we were in Anacortes, because we set sail when the kids were only 3 and 5 and proceeded to make the Pacific Ocean and its sandy shoreline their playground.
We may have hovered a lot at first as the kids found their footing on rocky shores and a rocking boat. And we may have hovered a lot when they were anywhere near water, because they hadn’t mastered that essential skill of swimming that we had tried so hard to instill before we left. But in time, we lengthened their leads when appropriate (i.e. not when there were bears or deep water around). As they get older, they get more and more bold and more and more skilled. Sometimes, we have to rein them back in, but we also have to celebrate when they’re ready to take that first little leap out of the nest on their own (and actually do it). Agua Verde will always represent for us a special moment in Dylan’s life, a moment when our safety-conscious, anxious child had the confidence to take the leap.
All that we knew of Agua Verde was what we had heard from the owners of a Mexican restaurant in the U-district in Seattle: that they had been there on a kayaking trip, it was beautiful, and they loved it so much they ended up naming their restaurant after it. We did not know what to expect, except the existence of a protected nook that our guide books said was a suitable anchorage in strong north winds.
We sadly left the beauty of Los Gatos and began to motor straight into the north wind. We cursed the catamaran out there with us, which, with all sails up, bashed straight into the wind and gained ground on us (we were relieved to find out later that day – over a few laughs – that they had also had their engine on the whole time). We puttered slowly past Punta Marcial with its extensive reefs lurking just below the surface, and slowly saw Roca Solitaria emerge as we rounded the corner, marking the entrance to the famous Agua Verde.
We pulled up behind the catamaran we had been cursing, found our depth and distance, and dropped our anchor. Before we had even finished setting and backing down on our anchor, a dinghy with two kids aboard came over and welcomed us to the anchorage. An invitation was extended to Dylan to come kayaking with them, and we hardly had our anchor snubber in place before Dylan had donned his lifejacket and – with our blessing and encouragement – was climbing into the kayak that the kids had returned in. The oldest was 8, the youngest 6, and we didn’t know their parents’ names yet.
Such is life of a boat kid – or perhaps of boat parents. While the three kids in their fluorescent green kayak disappeared amid the five boats in the sheltered bay, we parents shared a few beers together and occasionally looked over our shoulders and wondered where the kids were. It turns out they had befriended a lovely man simply called Tio (Uncle) and his friendly dog, skittish cat, and fierce kittens, who all lived in his small shack on the beach. They had, unfortunately, invited themselves into his house and made the complete tour, but Tio seemed to be all smiles and happy to have the kids enjoying themselves.
It was a special thing to see our solitary and young-for-his-age 6-year-old connecting so well and so immediately with other kids and enjoying the freedom that that companionship gave him. He would never have done that alone, but in a group he felt the security and confidence of the others. He reveled in the chance to run around, to play with other kids away (ish) from the watchful eyes of parents, and to explore the way he likes to explore. The kids returned to the boat and continued their exploring there, though the parents’ conversation was now disrupted every two or three minutes by at least one of the four kids now running around on board.
The free range parenting we engage in and the quick trust we have in fellow cruisers might be alarming to someone peering in from the outside, but we are not the only ones. Another kid boat once invited our kids over for a play date the day after we met, while Tom and I went ashore for a presentation. We had another 4-year-old over for a play date not two minutes after we had met him and his mom, who was headed into town to do some shopping (better to do that task without a kid in tow!). And the other night, a number of fellow-cruisers of the self-described “grandparently sort” offered to watch all 17 of the boat kids while the parents had a night out. In the world of cruising families, there is a common understanding among us that we need to support each other. We are each other’s tribe.
So many of us are raised to believe that the world is a scary place and that all strangers are dangerous, and sure, we’re not encouraging our kids to take candy from random people on the street or get in their cars (duh). But we are finding that most people we meet – cruisers and locals alike – are open, friendly, caring, inquisitive, and have their eyes open for our kids and all kids. We’re finding that we’re surrounded on all sides by a welcoming community, and while a healthy dose of caution and street smarts is important everywhere, we like that we can raise our kids in an environment where there isn’t pervasive fear but rather pervasive support and pervasive encouragement for kids to gain the skills, confidence, and smarts to take responsibility for themselves and each other.