Living Large Takes a Rebel Heart

Maia aboard her family's sailboat. Photo by Diane Selkirk


Thanks to all of you who have been patiently waiting and watching for more posts here at Living Large.

I didn’t intend on taking such a long break, but my favorite saying since moving to Our Little House has been, “Life is something that happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

It was a long, cold winter here, as it was in much of the country. It was the roughest winter we’ve had since we moved here.

I’ll be posting more about that on Friday.

In the meantime, I’ve watched with interest (and sometimes shock) to the reactions to the story of Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, the sailing family that last week had to be rescued from their foundering sailboat, the Rebel Heart.

(If you haven’t heard the story, catch up here)

They were experienced sailors and had lived on their boat for the past seven years; the past three of those was with their oldest child and their youngest, a 1-year-old, who was very ill when the boat broke down.

Reactions to this family’s plight has been mixed, ranging from outrage that someone could put their children at such risk, to commending them for giving their kids a childhood of exploration and adventure.

When my husband first saw the news, his reaction was predictable: “What were they thinking?”

My husband is safe. He’s always chosen paths that were as predictable as possible.

I’m more of the risk taker, the adventurous one. I was the one who wanted to jump at the chance of a weeks-long cultural exchange that would have taken me to Istanbul (unfortunately, I was very ill at the time and couldn’t complete the training process).

The boat, trips, building Our Little House and finally moving here was all at my urging.

So when my husband asked what these parents were thinking, I told him of all the wondrous things these children have done so far in their lives and if their parents continue on this path, all they will do.

They’ve seen and experienced things during their childhood that most of us never will have the opportunity to experience or see.

I learned this lesson through Diane Selkirk, a writing colleague I “met” many years ago on a writer’s forum. She and her husband are also experienced sailors and since she was three, they’ve sailed with their 12-year-old, Maia.

I’ve lived vicariously through their adventures Diane’s posted to social media knowing all the while that Maia didn’t have to just read about exotic faraway lands or dolphins and starfish in books as the majority of us did, but she is getting to live those adventures every single day.

“Maia’s now put in more sea hours than shopping hours and is more familiar with the stars in the sky (in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres) than the ones in the tabloids. She’s graceful and self-assured, in no small part because of her unconventional childhood,” Diane writes in a recent essay in defense of sailing families.

Diane’s full essay can be read here.

I reminded my husband that life is full of risks. Parents risk their children’s lives every time they buckle them into a car, let them ride their bikes, get into a pool or even leave them at school.

I also reminded him that we also live an “unconventional” life in a small home, waaay out in the woods.

People have questioned our choice and others who choose to live the tiny or small house lifestyle.

Would the Kauffman’s have left port if they knew their baby would relapse and become ill again? No.

Would we have moved knowing our whole plan would be derailed by an economic recession not seen since the Great Depression. No.

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have even moved here had I known that our plans of building a larger home were not going to come to fruition.

But I will say that is one thing in life I’m glad I couldn’t foresee. Life is all about risks – indeed having a rebel heart – and living is all about overcoming the challenges those risks sometimes present.

It’s called Living Large.

Read more on Friday about our winter here at Our Little House. What do you think, do you think the sailing life puts children at unnecessary risk, or do you think the risks are worth the rewards?   

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15 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    I too have missed your great posts and am so glad you are back.

    I would have taken my children on this trip in a heartbeat if I had their experience and expertise. Over the years there have been many “rescues at sea” for folks sailing alone, sailing around the world, etc. when they have illnesses and equipment failures. Life is fraught with dangers, but the opportunity to have an adventure should not be passed for the fears of “what if…” You can prepare for almost everything, but not everything. Children and adults get sick, but they can stay healty too. There would be no hoopla if they had not needed assistance, and people would say “What a wonderful trip they had” Just how you look at things, I’m a glass half full kinda person.

    • Kerri says:

      LOL, Carol, I love the “glass half full.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for also being patient and continuing to visit Our Little House here!

  2. Patricia says:

    SO GLAD you’re posting again… really missed following you, your family and your lifestyle. I’ve followed the “sea adventure and rescue” and have to say, I’m on the edge between the two “sides” – I love adventure, I love pushing the envelope (or I did when I was younger) but, as a mother, I also would have been terrified to take my two children out on the ocean, anything can happen, and it did. For awhile I followed a couple who lived on a large sailboat with a family, they would sail from port to port and use the stops to educate their homeschooled children. But when in port, would use it as a home base, there would be temp jobs, visits to educational institutions, stocking up on fresh foods and veggies to last them until the next port. I admired them and their lifestyle because it was one of adventure but it was done with their children’s safety put first. Then there was the family that set sail from Block Island, RI and they sailed around the world – across vast oceans in their mid-sized sailboat. I would read their posts and my stomach would clutch – when they returned to RI I said a prayer in thanksgiving.
    I realize they didn’t plan for the little girl to get so sick, but children do get sick, unexpectedly. And I agree that if the boat didn’t become disabled they would probably go back to port but they couldn’t and that, I believe is at the crux of this issue. There was no backup plan, what would they have done if help had not been able to get there in time, before the little one got sicker, before their sailboat was hit by a huge wave, before a storm blew over, before … well before they were rescued.

    • Kerri says:

      Hi, Patricia! Thanks for sticking with Living Large, I”m happy to be back. The family I know also stops in ports, the child goes to school for awhile and they take in the culture of the local city and country they’re in. I think that’s a regular part of the sailing family life. I think the family that was rescued prepared as best they could for unplanned events, but I you’re right, this highlights that everyone cannot prepare for every misfortune. Thanks you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  3. Alexandra says:

    Glad you are back. I shuddered when I read about these folks on the sea with such small little ones. Felt it wasn’t wise. Anything can happen and it did.

    • Kerri says:

      Thank you, Alexandra. It’s good to be back. Yes, what they didn’t plan for did happen. Like Kathleen, I’m just really glad everyone is safe.

  4. Mary says:

    Glad you’re back to posting. I have not followed the news of this family’s adventure and so won’t comment.
    We have survived the winter (even the snow flurries of yesterday). Grass is green again. Hooray.

  5. Brette says:

    I know people are outraged by this but if the boat hadn’t broken down I think they would have just turned around and gotten medical care on shore. The only reason we have heard about this is because their boat sunk. I too read Diane Selkirk’s writing and agree that there are wonderful opportunities if you take some risks.

    • Kerri says:

      Agreed, Brette. If their boat hadn’t been crippled as well, we probably would have never heard about a rescue because they just would have turned around to head back.

  6. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I understand parents who want to give their kids amazing experiences and expose them to adventure early in life. However, this seems to be a matter of degree, to me. Weekend sailing trips or even longer are one thing, sailing around the world and being in the middle of the ocean for weeks and months on end, is another.

    Having had two daughters, I wondered how children at such young ages could even have enough room to be rambunctious and run around on such a small boat. Again- that wouldn’t be a big deal for smaller trips, but months aboard a small vessel like that would make it very difficult for kids to do what they need to do for physical exercise and mental health- like climb trees, play on playground equipment at the park and socialize with other kids.

    And- children and toddlers do get sick, as happened with the one year old in this family. Even in the middle of the ocean, babies can fall ill. I do think these people took a big risk with their kids, and wondered why they could not limit their sailing adventures to weekends or extended vacations, rather than exposing them to the dangers of such a long and potentially dangerous trip. And I have to question what a one year old would get from this experience, since in all likelihood, that child will probably not have memories of it.

    I don’t mean to be critical, and yes, there are inherent risks in many of the activities that normal kids engage in, but I did think this particular adventure was a bit much for children that young. However, I’m glad it turned out the way it did and that everyone is safe.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for your perspective as a mother with two daughters, Kathleen. One other “risk” I was thinking of is when parents expose their children to living outside of the U.S. on missionary trips, most often in war-torn or countries with political and social unrest where medical technology is not near what it is here. One of the examples I thought of was the American family that was caught in the mall shooting in Kenya last year. I don’t hear a lot of people saying those risks are too great. Is it because those families are supposedly following a “higher calling?” I think it’s one thing to say, “This isn’t my thing and the risk would be too great for MY family,” as you have so well expressed in your opinion, but I see such viciousness in some comments when people choose a “different” path than a 3 bedroom house in suburbia. This sailing path is a way of life for these families. Many of these parents also grew up doing it. As long as they’re prepared to handle foreseeable challenges, I think it’s a good thing.

      • Kerri says:

        I, think too, the other thing that disturbed me about the coverage of the Rebel Heart is that we didn’t have any background on the family. Most of the coverage I saw only focused on the need for rescue. It kind of made them look like inexperienced fools who just decided one day to take a boat out into the middle of the ocean with their kids, when that’s far from the whole story.

        • I agree, they were clearly experienced and knowledgeable about sailing and the risks involved. When my daughter was ten, she started competing in hunter jumper horse shows. Some would question the wisdom of letting a little girl climb onto the back of an eight hundred pound animal and ride it over jumps. However, she did it under the supervision of extremely competent trainers who all had first aid training, and the emergency room was only ten minutes from the barn. Nevertheless, there were certainly risks involved in letting her do that. I have no regrets, and to this day she thanks me for allowing her to follow her dreams.

          • Kerri says:

            Oh, what a wonderful opportunity your daughter had! I showed horses for a couple of years when I was a kid and loved every moment of it and still have wonderful memories from those experiences. You’re right though, anyone who has ever seen “Gone with the Wind” might be a bit hesitant to allow a kid to do jumping. But again, it’s all a matter of having the courage to do what we love to do (or allowing our kids to do the same).