shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Empty Boat-Nesters

May 28, 2012

A reader recently asked how we were coping with our childlessness. It has been nearly a year since our youngest son moved out of the floating nest, and though some of the changes are the same as those that parents on land face, a few scenarios are specific to us empty boat-nesters.

When our oldest, Nicholas, moved out little David (who had been living in a coffin for five years) moved over to his room and the rest of us divvied up the extra lockers. So very little changed. A year later when Garrett went to college, his room became a shed filled with extra anchors and sails that we had never had the room to store or accumulate before and David's bunk got wider, including two-thirds of the aft cabin. So again, little changed. But then David moved out and took his guitars, amps, and all the other crap he had been storing for the past 11 years onboard. Since we shipped everything he didn't travel with (and even that had to meet weight requirements), we know exactly how much junk was removed from Eurisko when he left. Including his body weight, it was a THOUSAND pounds. No exaggerations. From a 34-foot boat. So, needless to say, we noticed it.

Garrett, Connie, David, Nick in Virgin Gorda 2005

Suddenly, the entire aft cabin, where three teenage boys and all their belongings used to live, was now empty. We have tried to keep it from becoming a giant junk pile (which means it becomes a giant junk pile, I flip out and put it all where it goes, and a week later it is a giant junk pile again). Our little 34-footer now seems like an enormous boat, with more space than we hope to ever fill. When a boy comes home to visit, there is no need to even rearrange anything, except maybe clear out the giant junk pile in David's old room.

But the physical changes, the extra room and less weight, are minor compared to the psychological impact of going from a family of five to a couple. When Nick first moved out I thought my heart would break. I have never missed anyone in my entire life like I missed him. For 18 years I had eaten nearly every meal with him, woken up to his "What's for breakfast?" and every evening listened to his crazy stories of how he spent his day. I heard, "What are we going to do today, Garrett?" thousands of times. I explained physics and calculus, Spanish and English grammar. I read his reports, graded his tests, and corrected his essays. Now there was no one to yell at for sandy feet, salt water wet board shorts, and a surfboard lying in the middle of the deck. Though the other two filled these roles to some degree, they still weren't Nick.

Kalima's crew with David, Nick and Garrett 2004

I hardly had the chance to recover from Nick's departure when Garrett moved out. The mourning process began all over again and I was beginning to contemplate a return to the States, just to be close to the kids. Then, for four years, David was an only child. If I thought I spent a lot of time with the kids when there were three of them, nothing prepared me for the amount of interaction you have with an only child. During those years the three of us went through some long passages and scary medical scenarios. David was asked to play an adult role that no 16-year-old should have to face. These years brought our little family closer than we had ever imagined.

And then the last little birdie flew the nest. It wouldn't be quite so hard (or at least that's what I tell myself) if they hadn't all moved so damn far away. But seeing your kids once or twice a year after living in such close quarters with them for over a decade is not nearly often enough.

Nick, Garrett, David, Connie and Dave Martinique 2007

Not only does the boat seem so huge (and incredibly empty), but we have lost our identity, as well. We used to say we were on "the boat with all the kids." Everyone instantly knew who we were. Because David spent so much time onshore and was such a social bug, the last few years we have even become "David's parents, you know, the kid with the long hair, always playing a guitar." Again, no question who we were. But we are no longer on the boat with all the kids and though we're still David's parents, it means nothing to most of the people we meet. So who are we now? Good question....

After we recovered from the shock of David moving out (and even Dave wandered around in a daze for a few weeks), we started to realize some of the positive ramifications, too. We had successfully completed the hardest job anyone has ever had. We raised three independent, well-rounded adults whose company we enjoy. Now we can sit back, relax, and actually become friends with our kids, something that raising them always interfered with. I've discovered that I really LIKE our kids. I would want to be friends with them even if they weren't my flesh and blood. That's a nice feeling.

Garrett, David, Nick and Dave Bermuda 2006

Though we still worry about them (I hate those emails from Nick that start out, "I'm OK, but...") I no longer wake up at 11:10 pm and think, "Did David come home and I didn't hear him? Where is he? Why is he late?" and of course answer all my own questions with the worst possible reasons that he would be late for a curfew. When I hear an ambulance I have (almost) stopped thinking, "Where are the kids?" (About 8 years ago I heard a siren, thought, "Where are the kids?" and realized Garrett was riding his bike to the library. About 5 minutes later a police officer knocked on the boat. That time the ambulance really was for him.)

The worry now comes in spurts (in conjunction with emails and phone calls), but the lack of responsibility is every day. We have been raising kids since we were 19 and 20 years old. The change happened literally overnight. I no longer have to get up for school; we don't have to be home early enough to have dinner cooked by the boys' sunset curfew; I don't have to save electricity so that they can use the laptop for school; I don't have to worry about baking something for breakfast; we don't have to cook enough food for a small army and make sure that it is something that is healthful.

Nick, Garrett, David, Hannah (the newest Mrs. McBride), Connie and Dave Montana 2011

We are just now realizing the implications of our newfound ability to be irresponsible. We can go wherever we want and stay as long as we want without worrying that the kids will get bored or possibly run in with the wrong crowd. We can skip dinner completely if we want, come home late, eat brownies for breakfast, anchor out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do for weeks and never hear, "When are we leaving? I'm bored."

There are still times that I miss the boys horribly. When I hear a song that David plays on his guitar I usually lose the battle with my tears. I choke up every time I say goodbye to one of them and leaving all three of them in one day just about kills me. But I don't think that ever goes away.

So I guess what being empty boat-nesters has given us is a new appreciation for the wonderful people our children have become. And we may have to tuck in our own reefs now, but we also got to buy a smaller boat to go gunkholing and exploring in. Just like cruising while we were young enough to enjoy it, we are now a childfree boat at a time in our lives when we can take full advantage of it. At least until the grandbaby is born in July....

Monday we'll share some simple RV-ing advice in response to a reader's request.

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