Would You Sail the Seas With Babies? The Kaufman Family Did

Before I had kids, I was obsessed with travel.

When I was pregnant with Fia, I continually said that I wasn’t going to change my traveling lifestyle a bit. I said I would strap the baby on my back and just “go.” In some ways, I did. But it wasn’t as simple as taking her and a backpack. I took a steamer trunk of baby supplies wherever I went. I was cautious. I remember strolling her through O’Hare at 8 weeks thinking, I am doing this! I am still my old self. But what wasn’t my old self was the fact that I was exhausted and crying. A lot. Still I forged on. We took 21 flights that first year. All domestic, all safe and within a doctor’s reach.

I also declared when I was pregnant with Fia that we would indeed, go to the World Cup in South Africa, like we had always planned. We had tickets and we had gone to the games in Germany 4 years earlier. And the Euro Cup 2 years after that. Why wouldn’t I travel with a 6-month old, barely vaccinated, on an 18-hour flight, halfway across the planet? I would simply strap her on…

It didn’t happen. And I didn’t miss the fact we didn’t go. It was just too much.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. But it’s hard and not without risks. Plenty of people do it, plenty don’t. I sit here torn, internally debating the front-page story today: The Kaufman family who took their 1- and 3-year-olds on a sailing trip around the world, only to have it go awry 3 weeks in.

Their 1-year old girl, who had salmonella a few weeks earlier, came down with a fever and a rash that wouldn’t go away. Then the steering on their sailboat stopped working. From reading the stories and their own blog, it appears she got sick, but they didn’t give up the trip. It was only after the ship stopped functioning that they radioed for help and got rescued. I don’t know how much time lapsed between the two incidents. I hope it all happened nearly at once, or I will begin to judge their judgment.

They had a dream. They wanted to sail around the world. They had doubts, too. Here’s an excerpt from Charlotte Kaufman’s blog on Day 8–March 26:

The girls have no one to talk to but each other, and me and Eric. There is no true place to have alone time. We can’t go for a run, or take the girls for a stroll to get their wiggles out. We are all tired. We rotate watches. The wind dies completely at night and the resultant swell makes it very difficult for Lyra to sleep. She won’t sleep wedged in a lee cloth, or in the baby chair we brought her. She ends up rolling all over the place, waking up frequently, and burrowing into my side to try to find a place where her body won’t move. This keeps me up, or wakes me up, and the whole thing is exhausting….

…There is a lot to be said for reaching a goal. Not everyone gets to realize their dreams in life, so I really am trying to focus on the amazing things. Like the fact that I’m doing something that very little people have ever done, or ever will do.

I guess as a parent, this is where I begin to wonder what the point of their “goal” is. The children are too young to really remember this, or frankly enjoy it.

A couple years before I had Fia, my 64-year old Aunt Nancy and I went to Tanzania, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Two days before we flew home Nancy got sick. Not emergency-room caliber sick, but stomach pains so severe she could barely eat or drink. I was worried, but since she was an adult and could talk to me about her exact illness, I felt reassured she would be okay. And she was. Back home the doctors said the strenuous climb had caused the lactic acid to build up in her stomach. They gave her medicine and she recovered.

There are obvious risks when you travel no matter your age.

I think when you become a parent though, you have to decide what the reasons behind your goals are. If they are purely selfish and just for you, then I think you need to reevaluate why you’re doing something. If you really think they are going to enrich your entire family–including tots–well, then, maybe it’s worth it. I can only say that from where I sit, it’s not a decision I would have made. But I’m not them.

Phil and I often impose the “risk-benefit” analysis on one another. Example: is it worth speeding to get your kid picked up from preschool in time? What is the risk versus the benefit? It’s pretty simple. But still, I can’t say I haven’t gone faster than I should, even with Em in the car with me, to get Fia on time.

I think this comment on Charlotte’s blog summed it up best for me:

As an older cruiser my advice is to not be afraid to turn back if it gets too hard. There is no shame (and a lot of pleasure) in coastal cruising in the Carribean, Mexico or South America while the kids are young. You can sail until you are 70+ so why not do the Pacific on a comfy vessel with a washing machine, hot water and separate shower, down the track. Look after your marriage and your kids…

As I sit at my breakfast table, with a nice cup of coffee, I feel the comforts of my life. The sun is streaming in, I hear the birds and I hear Emmett laughing to himself as he pages through a book. I have everything I need.  Our days are very content. And mellow. It’s a space I have had to learn to enjoy since I had kids. I have found happiness in the tedious and mundane.

But there is still a part deep down that can’t wait to travel again. To stay in a yurt in Mongolia and hike through Bhutan. I want to show my kids the world, but it will be when they are a little older–when they can understand it, and take it in. I also want it when they can voice their pain or discomfort. Fia is getting close to this time. She started asking me about going camping last night. But then she came down with a rash and a pain in her leg. She said her rash “stung” but she couldn’t explain if the leg pain was sharp and shooting or just dull. I put cream on the rash and it went away. I suspect it was from the 90-degree heat wave we are having. And the leg pain was probably exhaustion because she hadn’t slept well the night before. Still, it’s a huge relief to have her doctor on speed dial and a short drive away.

I tiptoe in their rooms every night before I go to bed. I touch the hair on her forehead and put my hand on Emmett’s heart. Then I go to sleep feeling safe. My children are secure, and therefore so am I. Adventure will come later. And it will be amazing. But right now, this is all I need.

 Death Valley with family, Dec 2012
Preparing to sleep on rooftop, Dogon Country, Mali, West Africa
 
 On Top of The World, Tanzania, Mt Kilamanjaro

In mountains of Belize (also with Aunt Nancy)

In Timbuktu, Mali (before the coup d’etat)

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