My eldest daughter cried herself to sleep a few nights ago. She’d been acting up all day, you know, just generally being snotty and dramatic and teasing her younger sister to no end. After we finally tucked her in with a sigh she read to herself for a while. Michael went in to give her one last hug and that’s when the tears simply bubbled over.
He tried to soothe her, asked her gentle questions, trying to garner a clue about what it was she was feeling so emotional about. She was sad about all the toys we gave away when we moved onto the boat she said. She never wanted to give away Teddy. She loved Teddy with all her heart, squeezing him to her chest tightly. She missed her friend B. She missed all the people we’ve left behind. There was that My Little Pony toy that didn’t make the cut onto the boat and was passed on. No, she didn’t remember what it looked like. But she wished we had kept it.
A lot of what she blubbered out didn’t make a whit of sense but we understood perfectly.
There’s been an unrelenting hum of questions aboard the boat for months as Michael and I try to make plans amidst the uncertainty of our lives in New Zealand. Do we really want to stay here, so far away from the rest of our families and old friends, or should we sail back to Washington? But we really do like it here on this peaceful little life raft of a land in the South Pacific. Will they let us stay for longer than the two years of our work visas? If we do stay, and they let us do we want to do more sailing, say a little trip up to Tonga and Fiji and back before really getting serious about saving for retirement? And then what? Nursing school for me? Finishing that novel I’ve always wanted to write? Perhaps a screenplay for my neighbor Peter Jackson? A boat business for IT-weary Michael? Where? Opua? Auckland? Wellington? Invercargill? (The only place we could ever dream of moving off the boat into a house here in NZ. Forget Auckland.) Maybe we should just resign ourselves (again) to a forever liveaboard life, pick up a bigger boat for cheap in Mexico and sail it right back across the Pacific?
The adults onboard try to keep these questions hushed but little girls have keen ears. I imagine that Leah is already worried about having to say goodbye to her new best friend at school, as she has had to do with all the other friends she’s made on this journey. I watch her and S. together, two giggling 7-year-olds lost in their own private world of whispered secrets and notes written in code, imaginary stories told above the earth in the branches of trees. I clean out Leah’s school backpack and find little cards and drawings with “I love you” and “Best Friends Forever” written on them, with lots of hearts and smiling cartoon girls. I give them to Leah to tuck away under her bunk with her other “special things.”
Friendships at this age are formed so quickly but they go deep. They are the truest kind there is: face to face, hand in hand, simultaneous smiles. Leah makes (or has learned to make, perhaps) friends fast and the leap to “best friend” status happens in days. These friendships aren’t the type that most adults have nowadays – nurtured though the joy and annoyance of Facebook, emails, texts, sometimes an actual phone call. But when Leah’s friends are gone, they are really gone for a good long time. Might as well be forever, to a 7-year-old’s scale of time.
Our daughter’s tears reminds us that traipsing around on the big blue all footloose and fancy free is not really. Every place we’ve been we have made friends, set down ties. Then just when we get comfortable we promptly leave all of it behind. Including part of ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s sadness ever since. Wondering if it’s really fair to her to know such difficulty because of a dream of her parents. Sure, it’s true that she has loved and benefited greatly from our months of sailing together. The time we’ve spent as a family together has been priceless and we are closer than we ever dreamed. She’s experienced the wonder of nature first hand, the beauty of untouched places. She’s seen how our fellow humans really are the same as us, even with different languages, foods, cultures. She values experiences and friendships far above material “things.” But I have to wonder, isn’t it possible, though, to find these things without leaving so much behind?
All the uncertainly of our chosen lives makes us want to bubble over too, at times. Maybe saying goodbye is just a life lesson that everyone learns at Leah’s age. Friends come and go, even if you don’t move anywhere yourself. Some of our life questions will resolve themselves whether or not we are patient. Maybe it’s time to put down some roots again, to show the girls that staying put is full of it’s own special joys. Maybe the islands will hold more mystery and intrigue if we sail over to them every now and then. I don’t know.