“Normal” Life

We’ve owned Take Two for seven years now. She’s been our home for nearly six. That’s longer than I’ve ever lived in any house, anywhere. It’s long enough for the initial romance to have worn off, but not so long that I am tired of living aboard. Living on a boat seems to possess the perfect balance of familiar and foreign. Sometimes, our life is exciting—we meet new people, we go to new places, have adventures. And sometimes it’s humdrum, especially if we’re tied to a dock because of boat projects or Jay’s work. Somehow, over the course of several years, both the extraordinary and the mundane have woven themselves into some kind of “normal” for us.

One reason I think we have been successful living aboard is that we try to balance working on the boat with enjoying the boat. The to-do list for a boat is not linear, but circular. As soon as you’ve fixed one thing, another needs fixing, and if, by some miracle, everything has been fixed once, then it’ll be time to go back and fix it all again. If you accept that you’ll never be finished, it frees you up to just pick a stopping spot and leave for a while. This would not be possible if the boat represented a sabbatical from our normal lives, but since it is our normal life, we’ve found a way to compromise. We use the boat, bring it back to a dock to work on it, and then make some more money so we can use the boat again.

People frequently ask our kids “what is it like to live on a boat?” They think they’ll receive some amazing response about adventure and fun and an unconventional life, but our kids either look at them blankly or, worse, tell them how they always get seasick. For children, “normal” is defined by the adults in their lives. Rachel, who has never lived in a house, thinks a bathtub is exotic, and looks forward to going to her Mimi’s house because she can take a bubble bath there. For boat kids, taking the dinghy to get groceries is normal, using laundromats is normal, going to the beach for recess is normal, seeing dolphins and manatees in the “yard” is normal. Without the perspective of time and experience, they won’t be able to appreciate their upbringing on the water.

For Jay and me, leaving suburbia was anything but normal—some people said we were “crazy” and by that, a few even meant “foolish.” But the way our culture defines “normal” was not attractive to us: we didn’t like the norms of indebtedness, rush-hour traffic, school schedules, mowing the lawn, and saving for retirement. If that’s your cup of tea, have at it, but we longed for something else. I am always being asked, “How do you do it?” It’s a question that has many possible answers, but the most boring one is that I get up in the morning and put my pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. It’s normal for me to homeschool five children on a boat. I appreciate that it’s an interesting way to live, and that we’re different even from a lot of the families we meet cruising, but, honestly, the excitement has worn off and we’ve settled into the business of raising our family, working, fixing our boat, and going exploring. That said, I love our life and love being able to change the scenery without packing any boxes and renting a U-Haul.