Scamper – yes, scamper – that’s the word I was searching for. The little Indio children were playing tag in a maze of mangrove roots, and I was looking for the perfect verb to describe their dexterity and speed as they chased each other. They were not running and they were not leaping - they were … scampering. And what made their game even more amazing, was the fact that they were doing this with bare feet.
While viewing this exquisite scene, in which raw Nature was their playground, how could I not contrast it with the “children’s recreation areas” of the so-called First World. Among the tangled branches and roots of this authentic jungle gym, there were many sharp spikes that taught them a valuable lesson. These kids learned to play with joy and abandon, but to also pay attention.
I marveled at the stark difference between this playground, which was literally growing out of the Earth and the Sea, and the plastic, rounded-edges, garishly-bright, child-safe playgrounds of El Norte. Once again, my beloved Archipelago of Bliss, with its primitive wisdom, seemed to offer better life lessons than the advanced societies.
A few days later, I was anchored near a lovely sailboat with a family of four on-board. They had two beautiful and energetic girl children, who also liked to scamper. I never saw them playing tag in a mangrove obstacle course, but I did frequently witness them playing with Indio kids. The parents would work on boat projects, and every once in a while they would look ashore to check on their daughters and their new friends as they frolicked on the beach. Even though these youngsters were from two different worlds, they could amuse themselves for hours with just a coconut and a stick. Communication was not a problem, since laughter is a universal language.
Along with these halcyon shore-side idylls, this family also did tough ocean passages, where they were far from land for weeks at a time. Life at sea in a small sailboat can be difficult and dangerous. Monotony, sea-sickness and fear can sometimes slip aboard. But these hardships forged confidence and character. The girls learned that life is not safe – it is hazardous. But more importantly, they experienced the deep joy that comes from facing their anxieties - and defeating them.
I have met hundreds of “cruising kids” in my decades as a sea gypsy, and almost every one of them has been enjoyable and extraordinary. Their daily existence is so free-form and spontaneous. These Children of the Wind, as I like to call them, interact with all ages and types of people in many different environments.
It is starkly different from how modern kids are raised in the so-called Real World. Structured and supervised activities are the norm “back there.” The concept of Helicopter Kids, who have parents hovering over them at almost all times, so that they are shielded from any possible harm or accident, is laughable in the cruising fleet. But many sea gypsy parents believe that this excessive pampering, this attempt to eliminate the bumps and bruises that help kids relate to others and to the world, isn’t funny at all – it’s tragic.
Indeed, that is why they have removed their family from that “bubble-wrap” concept of raising children. The extra effort that it takes to home-school their kids, seems a small price to pay for the prospect of a child whose creativity and uniqueness is not suffocated by the educational industrial complex. That monolith has now become so restrictive, that there are many schools where the students are no longer allowed to play tag in the schoolyard - much less in a mangrove labyrinth.
Often, when I sit and chat with cruising parents, the issue of “screen time” comes up. Because we sailors live so close to the wonders and whims of our ocean planet, we recognize that humans evolved as outdoor creatures and not as high-tech, urban hipsters. We understand in our core biology, the value of Yellow Light from the Sun. And we grok at a deep level, the danger of Blue Light from the Screen. You almost never see a group of cruising kids hypnotized by smart phones. But you will witness them catching fish together and snorkeling together and savoring the Huckleberry Finn joys of outdoor life.
My reflections on the Indio kids led directly to my thoughts about cruising kids. It then seemed like something within my brain was urging me to extend that analysis one level further. For a couple of days, that next stage eluded me. And then I realized that I could not make the connection because it was right in front of me - and so obvious.
The first generation of these bubble-wrapped, helicopter kids had now made it to college. The soul-crushing sadness that I have experienced in observing the evolution of the modern university, made sense in a tragic way. If you excessively pamper and coddle young people, they are far more likely to feel adrift and rudderless when they leave the world of mini-vans and soccer practice and participation trophies.
Suddenly, panic sets in and they need “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and they must be shielded from any ideas that are different from their own biases. Socrates would spin in his grave if he knew that higher education was no longer an environment where students cherish the prospect of being exposed to information that challenges their beliefs. And he would spin even faster if he learned that logic and evidence were now subservient to political correctness and snowflake feelings.
One of the books on the required reading list when I was in college, was the black-humor, anti-war novel, Catch-22. There was a character in it named Orr. In chapter after chapter he was subtly trying to convince the hero that there was a method of escaping the lunacy of their situation. Ultimately, he fails to do so, but he does manage to liberate himself.
I know Orr’s sense of frustration, because often in my essays I have tried to inspire my readers that the sea gypsy life is an achievable, affordable option to the insanity that is spreading and metastasizing. My approach consistently strives to be measured and calm, but sometimes I just want to scream:
Flee - FLEE – FLEE TO THE SEA!