Nobody was inside the hairdresser’s, and the woman sitting outside, twiddling her hair and focused on her phone, didn’t look too impressed that I´d interrupted her to ask if I could come in. It´s a long time since I´ve had a haircut in Spanish, and she was equally unimpressed by my almost useless efforts to describe what I wanted. She kept showing me pictures in a worn magazine and I kept showing her photos on my phone and eventually after a lot of confused, unimpressed looks, she shrugged: “Un bob clásico, es un bob clásico”. To get things moving, although I was already wondering whether it might be better to leave before anything went horribly wrong, I agreed that a bob clásico would be just fine. She didn´t seem like someone who wanted to make small talk and we settled into a slightly awkward silence. I sat there feeling uncomfortable and she stood there looking grumpy and we probably both just hoped the whole thing could be done with as quickly as possible.
Until she made some comment about something on the radio, and I replied, and she realized I did speak Spanish after all, I just didn’t know how to talk about hair – and it’s true, I can’t even in English, just ask Chelsey who somehow always worked magic despite my inability to articulate what I wanted. (Just don’t ask her about my last visit on the morning of my thesis defence when a combination of a problematic dinghy anchor and a taxi mix-up meant she only had ten minutes to save my hair and self-confidence.) Missing the ease of my Vancouver haircut chats and desperately trying to think of some topic my new hair-person and I might be able to talk about, I mentioned Toby’s curly blonde hair that everyone here in Mexico touches and delights in, and suddenly we were talking about parenting, and the hour flew by. She was a single parent with a teenage daughter. I’m married with a three year old. But there was enough, in the shared experience of being a mum, to keep us chatting happily and for me to wish we’d swapped email addresses when I finally left, with (yay!) a great cut that kept me glancing at myself in shop windows all the way through La Paz and beyond.
I thought of her a couple of weeks later in Bahía Agua Verde, a beautiful village in a stunning bay, when Toby was having the meltdown from hell in an otherwise peaceful anchorage. For people who don’t have a three year old on a boat, it’s hard to describe the humiliation and horror of a full-on three year old tantrum when everybody can see and hear every detail and the screams echo round the bay. But there we were, trying to prepare to pull up anchor and leave, but unable to because our lovely little boy wouldn’t get out of the dinghy because it was on ‘the wrong side’.
We sat, he screamed. We reasoned, he screamed. We hissed, he screamed. We refused to back down and move the dinghy, he screamed. Eventually he was pulling so hard on the dinghy line that a handle snapped and gave him such a shock that the screaming stopped for long enough to calm things down. (And, yes, he was tired and hungry, so we were kind of annoyed at ourselves for not dealing with that in time.)
Afterwards I rowed over to one of the other boats in the anchorage to apologize for disturbing the peace. I’d been wanting to say hi to the woman, who appeared to be living alone in the bay, and this seemed like a good moment to introduce myself. And the women, mother of a grown-up son, said all the right things, like ‘you both are so calm with him, you did so well not to shout, you have nerves of steel’, and understood so perfectly, that I ended up crying my way through the conversation. I didn’t get her name or nationality (though she asked to speak in strongly-accented English rather than Spanish) and by the time we’d shared a few stories and laughs, I rowed away feeling like I’d met an angel.
As we left the anchorage, we went by the other two boats and it turned out they both had older kids aboard so we got a bunch of sympathy and understanding from them too and left feeling like everything was right with the world again.
We didn’t really experience the ‘terrible twos’ but everyone warned us that if we had a relatively calm two year old it meant three would be tough. No, we thought, we just have an exceptionally rational, amazing child. Ha! We’ve definitely had a few big meltdowns in recent months and I have occasional panics that the boat-life is a bit overwhelming for him. New places all the time is great, but not as easy as being able to do our regular library, playground, family centre and café trips that gave parenting in Vancouver an easy rhythm. But on the other hand, he’s so happy most of the time, and loves exploring, and gets really excited about sailing and then equally excited about arriving and finding new beaches and playgrounds and people to talk to. He loves socializing with people on other boats and local kids when we’re somewhere long enough. He didn’t spend all winter with a cold and cough. He loves being in pools and the sea and never wants to get out, even if he’s getting hungry and tired. He loves hanging out in his room playing with toy trains and looking at books. He loves looking at the atlas or google maps to see where we’ve been and where we’re going. He loves finding places to buy ice-creams and is now also obsessed with smoothies! So I think he’s probably a normal three year old who sometimes just loses it.
In La Paz and nearby we hung out with SV Decision and their four year old and it was just brilliant to see the two boys playing together. Then in La Cruz there was a swarm of little ones in the swimming pool. And recently we were joined by friends from British Columbia so for ten days we had three kids aboard! (When we told other cruisers the plan they looked amazed and/or horrified). It was definitely a little noisy at times and I think all of us adults looked forward to the calm of the evening, but wow, it was also amazing to have company and see our kids playing so well together, and enjoy the magic of being out on the sea, watching whales and turtles and the stars from a child’ s perspective.
Occasionally we feel we’re missing out by not being free to join other cruisers on nights out and fun adventures, and sometimes after passages we wish we could just sleep all day rather than parent. Traveling as a family has its challenges, but is also a great way of getting into conversations, meeting people along the way, and slowing down to really notice all the things we’re seeing. I’m filling in a lot of gaps in my plant, bird, marine life, and star-related knowledge as a result of his questions. We get to spend time together . Toby sees us dealing with difficult situations, learning our way through them, and even having fun occasionally! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend sailing with kids as a relaxing, easy way to live, but, just like that haircut in La Paz, the awkward moments fade and the good moments are amazing.
*Thanks for reading! I am usually more up-to-date on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter – when we have phone signal. Blog posts happen now and again, when I can get the rare mixture of time to sit at the computer AND internet! We try to remember to update our location on Farkwar too. If you know the area and have recommendations, let us know, and if you´re nearby, let´s meet up!*