By Brooke Palmer
Ed. note: For most of us, this marks the third week of some form of isolation and it doesn’t look like circumstances are going to change any time soon. And while those of us who have managed to avoid getting ill can count our blessings, we are no less starting to lose our wits about us. For Brooke Palmer, owner/operator of Nordhavn 55 Mermaid Monster and host of the popular Mermaid Monster vlog on youtube, life is no less crazy on board her yacht. Here she writes about how she is able to keep some semblance of calm and balance for herself and her family while they quarantine on Mermaid Monster.
Who would have thought something like a small virus would spread into a global pandemic?
There are many ways to cope with change. While the majority of the world population is experiencing an outward disruption to everyday routine, we are also learning to shift our lifestyle inward. We are all forced to take a step back and revert back to simplicity. While this is widely inconvenient and detrimental to many communities, it may also be healthy for our families wellbeing. Yes, there are ways to argue this viewpoint, but let me tell you what social distancing (electively moving aboard a trawler) has done for my family.
First of all, through this pandemic we are physically distancing from one another, everyone is still very social, thanks to social media. It has been really encouraging to see communities pull together in creative ways to keep everyones mood upbeat.
When we first moved aboard our boat, I felt very isolated. Remember, we electively chose this. If anyone knew me (Brooke) before boat life, you would agree that I was one of the most social people in my community. From 7am-7pm I had a planned and packed schedule. I rarely sat at home. I quite literally felt uncomfortable sitting at home in the quiet because that meant I had to sit with my scariest thoughts which were filled with fear and insecurity, so I kept moving. My kids fed off of this anxiety as well. When they were not physically busy, they would ask for distractions like the iPad, especially in the car. They too could not sit with their thoughts. They constantly needed to be told what to think and how to feel.
And then we moved onto a boat.
Yes, the boating community is very friendly and social, but unless you are a live aboard at one particular marina, you are constantly on the move, which makes everyday routine impossible and long term friendships more challenging to come by. At first I was very uncomfortable with doing nothing, especially while cruising. When we first moved aboard I tried planning my day from 7am-7pm like I did at home. By mid day I was fried and my kids were frustrated. I would usually have a meltdown and threw in the towel for the day. That schedule was very unproductive and left everyone unhappy. I knew something had to give.
Very slowly I began to deconstruct my hyper programmed mental state. I started by prioritizing what was really important for my family. I learned to trust my method of raising my children and learned to let go of what I thought society needed my family to accomplish in order to be a “successful parent”. I had to force myself to slow down in absolutely every sense of the word or I would end up exhausted. I had no school teacher, babysitter, soccer coach or grandparent to help out. There were days at sea when it was silent. All I could hear was the steady hum of the engines and the rhythmic waves lapping against the hull. I would go from a racing and nervous heart to a calm and steady feeling of peace. It was like my mind and body were learning to detox from stimulus. Granted, it is most likely easier to do this while constantly on the move because I usually do not have repeated opinions from the same people in my community. To be honest, even after two years aboard, I still have moments of anxiety where I feel like what I am doing is not adequate enough. These moments usually always occur after family or close friends interject their opinions. We must learn to trust ourselves and the ability to raise a family. After two years aboard being socially distant, but not totally isolated or disconnected, this is what I have seen happen within our family.
- I find myself enjoying being at home.
- My kids ask more questions.
- They do not grab for their iPad as much. What we have found is that if we start giving it to them more often, they start asking for it more often, which leads to a grumpier, more anxious and less productive child. It is like a drug and they withdraw from it by throwing tantrums and telling us they are SO BORED. The iPad can be amazing for particular times, but overall, in my opinion, it creates mini monsters.
- I find the kids gazing out the window more often.
- They have become very creative. One day they spent 4 hours turning a box into a Tesla while we were cruising. They build forts, make things out of nature, make up games, tell stories and ask to be read to.
- As we have slowed down, I believe their desire to learn has actually increased. Kids are naturally hungry to learn and create. We do not need to push them as hard as we feel we do. Yes, they need organized structure, but they also need freedom to gravitate towards what they love. This is imperative to allow them to develop their natural strengths and talents. Rooney loves art and math. Penn loves reading and science. Not a teacher nor I told them that this is what they should enjoy. Stop fretting over your children so much and learn to enjoy them.
- They do not need a full day of homeschool. Most of school is social babysitting. The actual curriculum where they are learning is minimal. Teach them through applied learning. Work on math while baking and science while star gazing.
- Some of our best days are not planned.
- This one seems obvious but is much harder than it sounds. Sit down and really play with your kids. Put your phone away, mentally set aside your to-do list and focus on them at their level. Make believe and imagine with them. They will not forget it.
- Do not compare your family to others. Good luck with this one. It is tough, but crucial. Comparing does absolutely nothing for your family, especially for the success of your children. For example, Braden is dyslexic. He did not learn like the other children in his class. In fact, he was placed in the special needs resource class when he clearly did not belong there. This obliterated his self confidence. For awhile he stopped trying until his parents realized that in fact nothing was wrong with them, he just thought differently from his classmates. He was then placed in an appropriate learning environment and he excelled. However, this was a problem all the way up until high school when his counselor told him he shouldn’t bother with college. He didn’t agree, found a way to learn that worked for him, and ended up graduating high school a year early. Yes, there are still hurdles he has to overcome with being dyslexic, but my point is is that if he spent his whole life comparing himself to others, he would have never succeeded. Some kids can excel being enrolled in 10 sports and activities and others do better with 1. We are all genetically different, so why would we be expected to learn the same?
Societal expectations are put in place, but that does not mean that they work best for your family. Only you can asses this and decide what’s best. For us, moving to a cruiser lifestyle was not about running away from society and responsibility. It was not about transitioning into an easier lifestyle, because in many ways, it is actually much more difficult. Daily, we are forced to think for ourselves, make various difficult problem solving decisions and ultimately decide what works best for us. We are not told how to live.
Overall, we must use forward thinking in a very backwards time. We do not have to cope alone. The community around you needs you. YOU need you. If you have children, give them time too reset. While many of you have been cruising through life at 100mph, ease on the brakes and give yourself time to slow down. Slamming on your brakes and shifting gears will only send you all flying through the windshield. Take the corners slow. There is no need to be a Nascar driver right now. You are on a theoretical road trip in the middle of a country town right now. You might as well stick your head out the window, take a big deep breath of fresh air, stop and buy local, pick the grass, look up at the stars and most importantly, let your little ones stay little for a little bit longer.
And while adventure is rad, do not ever underestimate the power of just being.
See Brooke’s latest story in the April 2020 issue of Passagemaker which also focuses on wellness, called “A Little Nudge.” You can follow Brooke on her youtube channel Aboard Mermaid Monster.