Thursday, June 10, 2010

16 and Lost at Sea


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.


Cheryl D. said...

I honestly don't get it. I can't imagine a 16 year old girl sailing by herself around the ocean. Even if you take away the dangers of mother nature, there are so many other dangers. I just think a 16 year old should be in school having typical-type experiences. I just don't get it.

Unknown said...

Thank you, I love, love, love what you wrote. I have thought about Abby all day--about her being out there, all alone. As a mother, my heart bleeds for her. I read through her blog, and she is obviously a mature young woman, but she is still out there...alone. It is one thing to encourage your child to dream big, and another to be the mature parent and know what is right and wrong. Now thousands of dollars, and the lives of others will be at risk to rescue her--did her parents consider that as part of her dream? What if they don't find her? A dream AND a life will be wasted. Abby, I hope you are okay.


Lisa said...

I was just reading about this on msn, did you know they found her? She's afloat and fine, but her mast is down. Hey, parents, TAKE THE HINT and get your kid home.

I love how you've captured the screwiness of sixteen in this post. That's exactly how it is. Popular Guy is probably bald by now anyway, and you have a great ass. So ha.

Ma What's 4 dinner said...

Crazy isn't it? She's from the town we just moved out of. I could barely drive my car from my house to school without disaster striking. Sailing around the world alone????

Lots of yummy love,
Alex aka Ma, What's For Dinner?

Pua said...

I've been keeping up with this story since I found out about her a few months ago. It doesn't surprise me that she is missing (she's had some issues and was actually supposed to stop her quest). It seems reckless to me to allow a 16 year old do this, and one of my biggest questions is what is she doing about school!? I know that's not really a big issue right now but honestly that was one of the first things that crossed my mind months ago. I hope and pray they find her. She's beautiful and has so much life ahead of her.

Shell said...

I have such mixed emotions about this. I can't see allowing my kids to do such a thing at 16. Then again, maybe it depends on the child...and their pain right now...well, I just can't knock them too hard while they are worrying.

Anonymous said...

How could they not come to your party if there were peanut M&M's, did you make that clear that there would be peanut M&M's?! Also I am humming away just trying to ignore the fact that someday our babies will be 16 and have angst and goals and stuff that doesn't involve me and I will have to let go. This parenthood thing can be a real downer sometimes. But then again how awesome will it be to raise kids that stand on their own and are ambitious and passionate and care about things? I mean sailing around the world at 16 is taking it to the extreme but...

Stefanie said...

I have a 15 year old and a 13 year old. I would no more let them sail around the world than I would backpack through Europe alone.

As hard as it was to enforce the old "wait until you are 13 to get your cell phone" rule, I think I could manage the wait until you are old enough to vote to travel the world. Alone. In a sailboat.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way, I just don't get how any parent could let their child go out there alone. Thankfully they found her but I think it is time they put someone on that boat with her.

Missy said...

So well said. I ranted about this today, but not nearly as eloquently.

And the story of your 16th birthday? Makes me wish we could hug all 16-year-olds and say, just wait. Just wait. This, too, shall pass.

Salt said...

I heard about this yesterday and I am SO GLAD she's ok. It didn't look good.

When I was 16, I had a curfew of 10pm on the weekends and my mom needed to know where I was at all times. Sounds like Abby has some SERIOUSLY relaxed parents. I mean...the girl is only just allowed to drive legally and they are going to let her sail around the world by herself?

One Photo said...

I had to think about this before commenting. I'm in the midst of writing a post about defining the line between encouraging your children in life and finding the compassion to know when enough is enough. This young lady clearly has guts and it sounds as if she comes from a less than conventional family with different ideas but in the end I think I agree that this was a step too far for a 16 year old girl and what her parents, with their supposed wisdom should have sought is a smaller, more achievable task and goal for her young years in the realms of sailing.

Cheryl your writing about your own 16 year old self touched my heart, so clearly did it evoke your tender soul and emotions at that age - another reason why to some degree we need to protect the hearts and souls of our teenage children.

ericka @ alabaster cow said...

yeah i don't get it either. i mean i'm going to freak out when ava starts driving let alone manning our family yacht. you know, if we had one.

Cheryl said...

Cheryl - The school part didn't bother me, especially w/ so many people homeschooling and unschooling these days (she is homeschooled). It was the whole thing about how an adolescent's brain is not as developed in certain areas - especially the one that deals with decision-making!

Jules - I completely agree. Completely.

Lisa - Yeah. Sixteen. Good times.

Alex - The parents think it's a calculated risk. Not clear what planet they're living on! And you lived in a beautiful area!

Pua - She's homeschooled, and sailing around the world alone is a great education - if she survives (which thankfully it looks as if she will). Not worth the risk, in my opinion.

Shell - I know, it's tough as a parent to judge when someone's child is in danger.

Mombshell - Yes, I hope my kids are all those things. And I will be right there, to squash their dreams.. ;)

Stefanie - Yep. It's good for the parents to actually be In Charge.

F - I think her trip is done and she'll be flying back to the States. I'm sure she'll try again, tho.

Missy - I also wish I could hug my 16 year-old self. I feel bad for her.

Salt - I KNOW! No, you can't drive to the store, but hey, let's put you behind the wheel of an expensive boat and let you sail alone around the world!

AM - Well said. The whole story really made me think.

Ericka - Yeah. My family yacht, too. ;)

Katie Gates said...

I've been following this story and also was relieved to learn that she is, as of last I heard, alive. It seems the impetus for her trip was to "set a record." When I was 16, the only records I thought about were the vinyl ones you mentioned in your post. A teen doesn't do something like this without parental influence, whether conscious or subconscious. I am glad my parents didn't drive me to danger when I was 16. I had enough adolescent angst to pursue risky behavior without their encouragement. But I never got lost at sea!

Pamela said...

I just heard about this story today. (I'm a little behind, sorry;) I'm shocked that anyone would let their 16 year old daughter do this on her own. I totally agree with you about having a panic attack just thinking about my son getting his drivers license at 16! I now completely understand why my parents didn't let me drive until I was like 21 - 16 just seems so young...

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