“I miss Elizabeth, Mom.”
She’d only been gone for one day and one night, yet her little brother was feeling the immense void. We all were. But I think he was missing her the most, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I don’t like to see my kids sad, no parent does, but this sadness, this loneliness, this unrest told me a lot about my kids. Just a few days ago, I wondered where I’d gone wrong as a parent as I found myself continuously wearing my police officer hat. It was one of the many mornings when they couldn’t even walk past each other without poking or antagonizing the other. As the annoyances escalated, the reactions escalated, and I was ready to throw them both overboard. (Mom and Dad, I know, this is all payback for those never ending car trips during which my siblings and I drove you both absolutely bananas and caused Dad to pull the car over more than once. I can’t apologize enough, really. We were monsters.)
|My dad's last name could have easily been|
Griswold or Clampett in a former life!
When I was a kid, we didn’t live on a boat, but we were road trippers. Family vacations weren’t often spent on beaches or at destination vacation spots, but at extended families’ homes piled up in sleeping bags on their living room floor. We couldn’t afford resorts or plane tickets, but that didn’t deter my parents. Family time was made a priority, and as I look back on those hours and hours of road time jammed in a backseat with my brother and sister, I really admire my parents for making it happen.
Mom and Dad would wake us up before the sun was up, drag us all to the car in our pjs, and drive…forever. Our station wagon would be loaded to the brim with all of our “stuff”, and on occasion was even known to have a storage box mounted on top of the roof, forcing the back fender to sink only inches from the pavement.
My siblings and I would start squabbling even before the engine was started as we jockeyed for space in the back seat. Poor Lisa, the youngest, was always forced to sit in the middle with the “hump” between her feet and nowhere to lie down. Satisfied with our territorial claims, my brother and I would cunningly grin and prop our pillows up on the windows to fall back to sleep, all the while shoving our sister’s bobbing head off of our shoulders, lest she dare feel inclined to lean our way. (Yes, we were monsters.)
But somewhere between the “Mom, he’s touching me. Dad, how much longer? I’m bored. He’s in my space. I’m hungry.” and the license plate ABC hunt or family sing-a-long, something magical happened. Memories were made. Bonds formed. Sibling rivalry turned into camaraderie.
When Mark and I were planning this live-aboard lifestyle three years ago (well, back then it was deemed an adventure, but has evolved into more of a lifestyle) one of the main motivators was time together. Back then, we were living on a full schedule with dozens of agendas, events, opportunities, and just things that needed our time and attention. Sure, we had family time - camping trips a few times each summer, car time going from A to B, and even dates every now and then. We did our best to make family time a priority. Somehow, though, life has a way of pushing its way into those good intentions. Its shoulders shoving things like balance, rest, quality, and relationships out of the way to make room for progress and expectations and norms.
Was moving aboard a boat and sailing away the answer to this struggle, though? For us, it was. I haven’t always felt that way, the initial transitions to smaller space and life together full time was hard. Where Mark and I had been absolutely independent of each other, we found our every decision effecting the other. Suddenly, my domain (the home front) was no longer my own and he had to figure out how to become part of home life without defaulting to his CEO tendencies! :)
Our kids went through much of the same thing. Up until we moved aboard, they lived much of their lives apart - different classes, different activities, different bedrooms. Then, Mom and Dad woke them up and essentially plopped them into the backseat of a crowded ‘station wagon’ all in the name of family time.
They’ve had to figure it out. They’ve fought and cried and struggled for their own space. But the bond that has formed in the midst of all of it is beautiful. It is worth it. It has brought me to a place of wonder and relief to see them know each other so deeply. We haven’t ruined them. We aren’t completely crazy.
It was right for us to take the leap and give up what we knew for the sake of what could be.
While Elizabeth was away at camp last week, there were so many times when Michael would find something cool or want to show someone something he’d learned, and his knee-jerk reaction would be, “Hey, Elizabeth, come here!”
It broke my heart and filled my heart all at the same time. Does that even make sense?
Then, the first night Elizabeth was gone, Michael really wanted to sleep in her bed because he “missed her being there at night.” When I asked Elizabeth the next day if he could sleep in her bed and told her why he wanted to, she smiled the sweetest smile. She was missed and she missed him, too.
“Of course,” she said, “it must be quiet in there at night without me to talk to.”
Seriously, were these the same siblings who had been poking and prodding each other just the week before? Do they realize how close they’ve become? I feel so privileged to see them forming a special sibling bond that I remember from when I was a kid - like a secret club, with secret looks and language that emerge with time together in a crowded backseat.
My brother, sister and I used to delight in having a world all our own that we thought Mom and Dad weren’t even aware existed. But now, as I watch my own children swapping secret glances at dinner or giggling uncontrollably at who-knows-what, I realize that my parents were aware all along. I imagine them, like Mark and I do now, swapping secret glances or giggling uncontrollably once the kids have gone to bed, delighting in the relationships that were growing and the bonds that were forming between their kids through the family time together that they’d fought to create.
It’s worth the fight, the struggle, the sacrifice, the uncertainty. It is.