Remember when you were 16? I do. I do, and let me tell you, it wasn't pretty. Specifically, I wasn't pretty. That's what everyone told me, anyway.
Let's talk about my 16th birthday party. You may or may not know that my birthday is New Year's Eve. I decided to throw a party. I excavated our basement. I wrapped streamers around the bannister and support posts. I brought down the stereo, speakers and all my records. That's right, I said records.
I bought snacks and drinks. Well, my mother did, but I picked them out.
And then? The most popular guy in our class decided to have a party the same night, and most of my "friends" decided they would go there. And not to my house. With my streamers and records and peanut M&Ms. Actually, my best friend, her boyfriend, and one other (female) friend showed up. We had fun, mostly discussing the party that we WEREN'T at. Then the Popular Guy and another girl drove on over to see what was happening at my house.
Which was a whole lot of nothing.
Popular Guy might have felt bad.
I ate more peanut M&Ms.
Sixteen spanned the second half of my junior year and the first half of senior year. During that time I discovered I really liked beer. A lot. Pot? Liked it too. I was experimenting, and since I didn't have any candidates for, you know, sex, I had to confine my forays to alcohol and marijuana. Also, breaking curfew and daydreaming over unrequited crushes.
Basically, I didn't know who I was. I did some really stupid shit. Problems that seemed so big then were, of course, not really so big after all.
This is why it's tough for me to put myself in the place of Abby Sunderland. She is the 16 year-old who is trying to circumnavigate the globe, solo, on a sailboat. As I type, she's lost at sea. Her family believes she is still alive; she's equipped to handle many eventualities and the boat's alarm that is triggered if it goes below15 feet of water has not activated.
Her brother, Zac, made the trip a year ago.
I am not the parent of a 16 year-old. I was 16, though, and there's no way I could've done what she's doing. The vastness of the ocean, being so alone. Alone, with towering seas and howling winds.
I am now a parent, and though my kids are still little, I can't imagine allowing them to do this. Letting them drive a car some day is enough to put me in a panic. There has been a lot of debate - as there was when she embarked on this trip out of Los Angeles in January - over her parents' decision to let her take this journey. You can read an interview with her mom at the time here.
The mother basically argues that children should be allowed to pursue their passion. That they don't have to follow the traditional path. They are Christians and quote "G-d's will." The family - Abby is one of seven children, and the mother is pregnant - lived on a boat for three years. The father builds boats for a living. Abby is as experienced a sailor as a 16 year-old can be.
But she's 16. Sixteen.
There is something to be said for facing fear, for overcoming obstacles. But can't that be found elsewhere? Does it take a solo sailing trip around the world? And can we not encourage our children and nurture their passion without putting their lives at risk?
I'm sure Abby is mature for her age, and an amazing young woman. There comes a time, however, when it is the parents' responsibility to say, "No." She has a lifetime to push her limits. We complain about how kids are growing up too fast. Maybe sometimes we give them too much credit to handle things the way an adult would.
Because they can't. And they shouldn't.
We give our kids wings, but we also give them feet.
I hate judging other parents. I do. But seriously? I don't understand this. Abby wanted to set the record as the youngest person ever to do the solo trip. A thrilling goal, but really? Once engine trouble forced a stop in South Africa, she no longer had a shot at it. Disappointing, I'm sure, but in the scheme of things, she certainly moved forward.
At 16, we're invincible, aren't we? Invincible, and frankly, we have no sense of our own immortality. Parents know better. That's our job. Calculated risks. You want your kids to dream big, and then you get to figure out how to make them come true - while also keeping them safe.
I don't get why waiting a few years would change the unbelievable experience that she would have of a solo circumnavigation. She'd be a little older, a little more experienced, a little more ready.
Abby's parents will continue to be slammed for this. Maybe deservedly.
I keep going back to this, though: Abby is their baby. Their baby, lost at sea.
Update: Abby has been found ALIVE and well on her boat. She has made radio contact but the nearest vessel is still about a day away. I am SO thankful she is okay.
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