Children and Life Jackets

We are new to our marina neighborhood and with the warmer sunny days arriving, so are more people. More families are down at the marina as well, which means more small children. What I have also noticed is that many of these small children (five and under) aren’t wearing life jackets on the docks. It is making me crazy.

If we are being honest here, I must preface this by saying that I am kind of a fatalist when it comes to safety. I grew up watching a steady supply of Dateline and Rescue 911 and can spot danger anywhere. It’s both annoying and helpful at the same time.

Did you know that the number one cause for accident related deaths in children ages 1-4 is drowning? I didn’t. I found story after story about kids getting stuck under docks, boats and boat ramps. Not the most cheery afternoon reading let me tell you, but they represented the reality of children and water. The common denominator in all of those incidents was the absence of a life jacket. I can see how it happens though.

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We walk the docks no less than four times a day with our girls. Putting life jackets on and taking them off is a chore. It would be a thousand times easier to skip it and just hold their hand really tight and keep a close eye on them. However it seems something always happens between point A and B on the dock. We MUST look at a certain sea star, or we stop to talk with someone, or a seal pops up, or a dog passes on the dock that we MUST pat or a cool boat we haven’t seen before pulls in. All of these things cause distraction. This distraction allows for the one minute it takes a small child to fall into the water. Every single time I want to skip the life jacket I think about these things and we put them on.

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Most little kids naturally have a curiosity about water. There are interesting things to see and somehow the closer they get their cute little faces to the water the happier they are. One of the most maddening yet beautiful things I have discovered is the innocence kids have about water safety. They don’t know what can happen and even when we explain it in the most kid friendly age appropriate way, it still doesn’t register as a change in action.

When I see families walking the docks with small children not in life jackets, I seriously can’t stop watching them. It’s as though I must be ready at a moments notice to spring into action if their child falls in. No one picks the day a tragedy happens. The water is cold here and that coupled with even basic swimming skills in a little person without a life jacket can cause them to sink quickly. It’s a dreadful thought but it’s a reality. The Port of Friday Harbor even has FREE life jackets that you can borrow for your time on the docks or a boat. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

So, if you have small children and frequent the marina I kindly ask you to put a life jacket on your child. It only takes one minute at the most and could save you a million moments of regret and heartache and could save a life. A wet, cold scared child with a life jacket on is way easier to deal with.

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Living in Small Spaces

By boating standards we have a large boat. I have come to realize this through the friendly comments of experienced boaters as they stand on the dock with their hands on their hips looking at our boat. Ohhhh the irony. This is our tiny house. It is vastly smaller than what we came from and we feel that everyday.

Living in small spaces isn’t for everyone. It’s a choice we knew we wanted to make. However until we were living it we didn’t know how small it would feel. So far it’s working for us. It’s different though. Moving through the boat is a constant dance. Passing in the hallway isn’t an option. Two people cooking together is a thing of the past. Eating dinner together is a scene like no other in our living room (I’ll save that story for another time, but I’ll leave you with one word: PICNIC)

We are always in the same space together. There really is no retreating to a different part of the house for a quiet minute. That’s what the marina laundry room is for. Conversations include everyone, not by choice. We are always swirling around saying “excuse me” “oh sorry, did I bump you with that?” “can you scoot over a little bit so that I can walk by you?” It’s kind of a beautiful mess though.

Our girls are quite active. They don’t really sit quietly. They are always moving, jumping, twirling, dancing, jumping, jumping, jumping. In our old house the girls had room to ride bikes inside, loads of space to show how fast they could run and we had a huge deck and even bigger yard to release energy. The boat is different and we hadn’t acknowledged the play space issue until last night when a moment of clarity hit me.

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Matt was out running an errand after dinner and it was just me and the girls hanging out. Like so many days before, the inevitable jumping started. Jumping off the ladder, jumping off the couch, jumping down the steps. The thing is though, Lyla can land these jumps, Savannah can not. Mind you, we have been talking about no jumping on the boat for weeks now. It makes me nervous and edgy. I’m just waiting for someone to get hurt. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked at the girls and quietly said, “If there is anymore jumping I am taking the ladder down and getting rid of the couch.” They stared at me. Maybe because we had already gotten rid of so many things they wondered if I was serious or maybe because I was so calm it made them curious. They stopped jumping and found another activity, rope swinging and tackling each other. REALLY??? We needed a new plan that didn’t involve me having more wine.

As I thought more about the whole exchange I came to realize that it was actually all about Matt and I and what we weren’t doing. It really had nothing to do with them. They are two and four and about as wiggly as they come. I realized that we need to expand our play space if we are going to make this work. We need to go for walks after dinner; we need to go to the park before bed. Living in a house I never would have dreamed of leaving with the girls after 4:00pm. That would have seemed crazy. Not now though. It is so necessary.

Living is a small space is causing me to expand my world. New habits are forming. I started a list last night of places we could walk and things we could do with the girls to expand their world as well. I am also refocusing on quiet activities we can do with them to help foster a connection with our new space. They need an example and guidance for what this new space means, not just a list of what they can’t do.

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Raising children is always a constant work in progress. Coupled with our change in lifestyle and we are dancing a new dance in so many ways. It’s testing us in ways I hadn’t even thought of and forcing us to be present. Success of this situation lies solely in the hands of us, as parents. We can’t rely on the space/toys in our home to entertain our children, we must engage in new ways. What parenting moments have caused you to personally reflect?

Our Little Mates

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To my Little Belle and Sissy Boo,

So many people have questioned why we moved to a boat.  They worry about you two sweet little chickens.  I am grateful people are worrying about you, but they could never worry more than me and Daddy.

 “Will your girls be safe?”

 “Where will they play?

 “Will they have to sleep in their life jackets?”

 “What if they fall in the water?

 “What if, What if, What if”

 In my heart I know we have made the right choice.  We kept you both first in every conversation we had about the decision.  You see though little loves, we’ve never lived on a boat before.  We don’t know what to expect, but isn’t that the fun of it?  Isn’t life about capturing the adventure that lies around the corner?  Isn’t it about seeing the unknown before you and charging towards it with intention instead of retreating because of fear?  We want you to see that different is okay.  A life with daily challenges is good.  It’s called living.  We want to learn this new life with you.

You don’t have the yard to play in anymore, but you have clams and sea anemones to check on and ducks to watch and Popeye the seal to guard the waters around our boat at night.  You have an ice cream shop a stones through from the boat and the park in town with swings is only a skip away.  You have a million stars at night to see from our deck and blue herons that sound like coo coo clocks.  You have otters that scared us to death the first time we heard them playing under our dock herding fish.  You have over zealous sea gulls that hope you will drop your crackers.  You imaginations run wild at night as we imagine the ocean floor below.  (Minus the scary jelly fishes that we will NEVER bring up again.)

You have a new fancy “life coat” with a whistle that each of proudly blow as you march along the docks.  You have a newfound confidence each time we let you walk a little further ahead without holding our hands.  We are learning to trust you more and more.  We are learning to communicate in a new way.  We are learning to appreciate your independence.  We are watching you grow in ways we never imagined.

Will you fall in the water?  My bet is yes.  Actually, I bet Daddy falls in first, then probably Charlie. You know what though?  If you fall in, we will get you out and dry you off and kiss your cheeks and laugh with you or dry your tears.  We will keep you as safe as we can but we can’t keep you in tiny little boxes your whole life.  We will let you lean over the edge just a little to get your balance and see what lives under our dock.  We will let you dip your toes in the water to see just.how.cold. the water is here.  We will let you jump in if you want.  This adventure is about living and learning together.  You ladies will learn what you like and don’t like.  I can’t tell you what that might be.  We must discover it together.

I can’t even begin to tell you how amazed I am with the spirit of adventure you girls have about living on a boat.  You are bursting with excitement.  Your ability to embrace this change astounds me.  Yes, Sissy, I know showers are scary.  But you are brave and last night when the whole family was literally cheering for you the whole time you showered, you shined on through and persevered.  You surprised yourself and couldn’t stop beaming and saying “I did it” when you were done.  Victory!

Little ladies, I promise you, our boat will always be filled with love for you both.  We will keep you safe and warm and we will learn and grow together on this adventure.  We will have ups and downs and surprises but we will have each other and that’s really ultimately what matters the most.

PS: You don’t have to sleep in your lifecoat.  Docks and deck only.