I’m not gunna lie. A few weeks ago, when many you fine folks were posting those annual pictures of your kids with recent hair cuts, new tennies, neatly packed lunches, and bright signs displaying which grades were about to begin – I was jealous. I realize this is ridiculous, but I can’t help it.
Even though I am a huge fan of sleeping in late and generally lazy, early fall is my favorite time of year. Fresh starts, updated schedules, and settling back into a familiar routine trigger something perhaps primordial in me – comforting even. As a youngster growing up in Connecticut (yes, I am a Yankee, but Ahab still loves me), the sound of crickets and tree frogs at night was always the first sign that it was time to get back to school and get organized. The air started to smell different – no longer the hot ozone asphalt scent of summer, but just one notch off. Timid anxiety would keep me awake on back-to-school eve. As the parent of three boys living in south Florida, my back to school emotions were mostly joy and bliss to get some “me time” back. No longer were kids staying up too late, watching TV, playing computer games, complaining they’re “bored”. However, at the precipice of our third year home/boat schooling, I have to admit, I had mixed feelings. Remember the earlier part about me being lazy? Yeah, well there’s that, but also a bit of anxiety. The responsibility for the boys’ education weighs down on me. I’m most likely overreacting. Ahab will be the first to dismiss my angst, “There fine. What with the Internet and all, they practically raise themselves!” It still stresses me out that we are in charge of preparing the fellas to head into to high school and middle school.
So what to do?
When in doubt, procrastinate.
Rather than start the school year with traditional back to school basics, WIDAGO Boat School begins differently. Field Trips. Yes, that was plural.
Once we brought the boat through Kiel Canal and English Channel, we made landfall on the southern coast of the United Kingdom, in the small city of Brighton. Technically we are staying just outside of Brighton, in the Brighton Marina. Just an hour train ride from London, this has been a great staging area for us. Besides the fact that the marina has the best laundry, specifically the dryer, large grocery, and a dozen restaurants – all are within walking distance from the boat; the staff and security are spectacular.
Our first “lesson” was a four-day field trip to London. We loaded up our backpacks, jumped on the bus to the train station, and found ourselves in the thick of London: Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, London Tower, London Bridge, the Rosetta Stone, Harrod’s, the M&M Store, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The boys opted out of the wax museum and Hamley’s Toy Store, in favor of spending the afternoon at the largest bookstore in London. Go figure. We are all now well exposed to fine Indian dining (forgive me, but I think it may have overthrown Tex-Mex as my all-time favorite), and the boys are masters at “Minding the Gap”.
From London, the boys and Ahab returned to the boat in Brighton, while I made a quick trip back to the States to visit my folks. Lesson two of boat school included organizational arts, nautical domestic engineering, and experiential performance art. When I returned from my four day cross-pond adventure, there were only 8 loads of dirty laundry, and one sink full of mostly partially clean-ish dishes. William directed David and Gordon in the manufacturing of a full suit of viking armor, made entirely from the recycled card boxes used to ship their school textbooks. Unfortunately, Ahab had a slight slip while washing the boat barefooted, resulting in a cracked rib. On a positive note, the guys found a great bistro that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Lesson three was our second field trip of the school in just two weeks. We once again bused and trained, but this time through the Chunnel to Paris for three days of great bread and culture. My first reaction to Paris, was that the smell reminded me of New York City. A bit less well hygienically maintained than the other European cities we have visited this summer, but beautiful nonetheless. Ahab, found us a lovely hotel right down in the heart of city on the Right Bank near Notre Dame, the Louvre, and such fine establishments including: the Bear’s Den Pub, Dandy’s Bar, and a chain called The Love Store. I think the St. Merry’s Hotel must have been converted from a monastery at some point. Our room was on the top floor of five, spiraling upwards across a narrow red-velvet staircase, which reminded me of how out of shape I have become. Intricately carved wooden panels and doors abound in our penthouse. With only one toilet, the boys quickly realized they could also pee in the other funny looking toilet. Why do they always have to go all at the same time? In true French form, there was no shower, just a tub that neither properly stopped up to hold water, nor turned completely off, adding to a peaceful night’s sleep with the ambient noise of running water. Luckily, no one peed in the bed.
Paris highlights included traditional fan favorites: Mona, Tower, endless baguettes. However, the stars of the show were the Catacombs and Opera. After our first attempt to visit the Catacombs failed (FYI: they are closed on Mondays), we found ourselves waiting in the queue to see the bones of 6 million dead Frenchmen. Even though my sister-on-law assured me I would be fine, I nearly didn’t even make down the spiral stairs. The entrance to the Catacombs is a claustraphobic’s worst nightmare. The skinny spiral stairs, only wide enough for one person, descend continually for what seemed like a mile. Perhaps it was less – and I guess it could have been worse if the lights went out. As I thought I was at the end of the line of our group, I tried turning around and ascending – twice – but there was a gentleman behind me, who reassured me, we were almost down. I called out to Guyon in a nauseated panic to let him know, I was heading back up – couldn’t do it – freaking out – starting to hyperventilate. Again, gentle reassurances that I would be fine – hundreds of thousands of people go though this freaking hell hole every year. Aggghhhhhhhhh…….The things I do for these kids – they have no idea.
The Opera, Madame Butterfly, on the other hand was an entirely different experience. Wide open spaces; no lack of light or oxygen. Also, any excuse to get the fellas to put on pants other than jeans and a collared shirt is worth doing – especially when champagne is served. Other than the fact that I initially took us to the wrong Opera facility, you can imagine the joyful feedback I received from Ahab on that, the performance was spectacular, and facility beautiful.
Upon our return to WIDAGO in Brighton, boat school resumed to traditional topics of writing, science, and spelling. However, after three days of that nonsense, Ahab began to get edgey while waiting for the weather-window. We now find ourselves with backpacks in tow again, making our way north on another field trip. Destination: Edinburgh, Scotland.
Perhaps, now upon my reflection of these first few weeks of “school”, my jealously of traditional land-lubbing parents is somewhat tempered. In preparation for this adventure, the boys were required to do some research, so last last night we watched Braveheart for homework.