Part One -- The Adventure Begins
In 1998, I left a boyfriend who said he couldn't commit to anything more than putting food in the cat's bowl. We were in our early twenties and living in the Cayman Islands. I trained horses and worked the breakfast shift at the hospital kitchen; J was a SCUBA dive master with a marine biology eco-tour company. We were stumbling along, a few years into a relationship that seemed to have no future, so I pulled my Escape Hatch Back Up Plan from my files and moved on. I left J and trekked to Tarifa, Spain, with my Newfoundland dog to study windsurfing, Spanish and mend my broken heart.
What I didn't know when I set out on this adventure was that J would show up three months later. As we sipped sangria in my rented 13th century converted convent room he stunned me by whispering about diamond rings and a future. I said yes, yes of course.
Neither of us imagined that fourteen years, six moves, two big dogs, five careers and three kids later, we would be planning another escape hatch journey out of the United States -- this time to the remote bay island of Utila, Honduras, population 2,500.
There are days when I am disenchanted with the suburban Americanization of our life. Initially it was J's soul-crushing commute to New Jersey and the politics of corporate America. But I am also weary of the over-scheduling of our family, the dull khaki uniforms, microwave lunch policies and busywork of prep school. This is not to sound unpatriotic or ungrateful for the many benefits of our life here. It is just that I am noticing some holes in the way I had hoped to raise my children, the things I dreamed I would nurture. I'm aware that they are becoming very good at exactly what we are teaching them -- to be American children. They are growing up in a culture of consumers and Super-Sizers. Recently, as we soccer moms jogged the track around our kid's practice field, there was discussion about who was paying their children for good grades. One mom reported that her daughter's swimming teammate received an iPad for beating a certain time; another that there would be a new hockey stick for a straight A report card. There is inherent in our culture a pervasive, assumed privilege.
Back in the dreamy days of early parenthood, J and I imagined our children growing up as citizens of a larger world. We wanted them to understand that water came from rain, that food came from the ground and that there were children who played sports for the love of the game, not the accumulation of championship trophies or artificial rewards. We hoped to create an appreciation for the wonder of diversity, interacting with people who spoke multiple languages and played music on instruments instead of Guitar Hero. I imagined my children would be friends with kids who had never seen, much less gone to bed sobbing over the loss of, an iPod.
J and I are also hungry for a return to a life that is more connected to nature and the ocean, that original salty sea from which we all crawled. Over the years, we frequently visited family and friends back in Grand Cayman. We introduced our children to the water -- we taught them to fish and kayak, how to clean and prepare conch and kite board and surf. They have all learned to snorkel the reefs there with appropriate reverence for these delicate treasures of the ocean. They have loved this experience -- but for them it is vacation, not their reality. That is all about to change.
When J received an opportunity to develop a luxury, eco-friendly community on the south shore of Utila, we decided to return to the island roots of our relationship as a family. On a remote side of the island where the only commute to town is by boat, where there are less than a dozen cars, where fifty foot whale sharks commune with swimmers in the turquoise waters a hundred yards off shore and where saltwater crocs cruise the mangroves, we decided to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Last year, our oldest son hit double-digits and was swept up in an increasingly huge social and sports life, with a little brother and sister whose schedules and appetite for activity and play dates are equally voracious. J and I realized that the opportunity for us to do this, to take our family on an extensive, international adventure, might not come along again. At least, not with children who are willing. We will homeschool them (the least of my worries as we have done this before when I was on book tour) with the added bonuses of hands on marine biology and Spanish immersion.
The journey begins now. It will embody our longstanding family motto: One of the very best things you can be is flexible. Inspired by a quest for rich experience, this blog feature will chronicle the quenching of our innate wanderlust and our attempt at a life that is simpler and more connected to nature. It will capture our transition from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the mangroves and crystal water of Utila, to a life that is muy rustico y autentico. Please follow along as we take the plunge!
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