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, living on the Northwest point of the largest of 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 operator. We were a few years into a relationship that seemed to have no future, so I pulled an 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 recovered from a day of windsurfing and sipped sangria in my rented 13th century converted convent room, he started whispering about diamond rings, babies. A future. I said yes, yes of course.
Neither of us imagined that fourteen years, six moves, two big dogs, five careers, two masters degrees 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. For J, it was the soul-crushing two hour commute to New Jersey and corporate politics. But I am also weary of the over-scheduling of our family, the dull khaki and polo 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. I am simply 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 Nike 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. There is inherent in our culture a pervasive, assumed privilege.
In the dreamy, early days of 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, food came from the ground, children played sports for the love of the game, not the accumulation of championship trophies. 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 kiteboard 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 was hired as project manager, developing 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 island where the easiest 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 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!
This blog past was originally printed in the Huffington Post.