When my family moved aboard our 32-foot sailboat a year and a half ago, I was worried about all the wonderful things my children would miss from our Waldorf-inspired lifestyle. Our move meant abandoning a life rooted in the earth, our small patch of vegetable garden, and our dreams of chickens and fruit trees. It meant selling our handmade toy kitchen, downsizing our books, and giving away our wooden toys.
But it also opened the door to a life as a family together 24/7, instead of being separated daily by the sharp slice of work and employment. It brought to us a marine community where people go out of the way to help each other out. And it helped us to develop our self-sufficiency.
Without an easy framework to hang our life upon, I had to really dig deep to find the principles on which we could base our Waldorf-inspired boat life. After a year and a half, I’ve learned that finding our new rhythm simply takes some quiet observance and an open heart.
Living on a boat with less than 200 square feet of space means that we need to get out each day — rain, snow, sleet or shine. Usually our mornings are devoted to being outside. Everything in our immediate surroundings–the water, the beaches, the tide pools, and grassy marshes–becomes part of our backyard, just waiting to be explored. Spending acres of time outside means that our children have the world as their playroom. They learned to make a stove out of a ring of gravel, and cook “meals” with juniper berries. They make little “trees” using sticks and seaweed, and decorate sand castles with sea glass.
Inside the boat, scallop shells, pelican feathers, crab claws, and pebbles become our new toys. Wooden toys and cotton dolls are beautiful, but they don’t last in an environment prone to mildew and condensation.
Our boat life, which is dictated by the weather and the waves, does not allow for an orderly routine of weekly washing, painting and baking days. Instead, we focus on the daily rhythm which is marked by morning blessings, mealtime blessings, and bedtime verses.
Now that we are living and traveling on our sailboat, nature provides us with waterfront views of sunrises and sunsets. At night, the expansive sky tells us exactly where we are in the lunar cycle. The winds, tides and currents tell us when to pull up anchor and sail to the next destination.
We found that in New England the comb jellies bloom in May, followed by orbs of moon jellies floating in the dark waters. Silvery schools of fish move in during the month of June. Harbor ducks hatch their spring babies and pods of porpoises show up as we are going out on dinghy rides. As we travel further south, pelicans herald warmer latitudes.
Another part of the Waldorf-inspired life I missed was modeling real work around the house such as baking and cooking. The reality is that our tiny kitchen (called a “galley”) can only fit one person.
Instead, we started with daily boat living. My four-year old daughter can put on her own life jacket, turn on our VHF radio to the weather station, and help drive our dinghy (the equivalent of a family car).
Sometimes we hand wash our own clothes, or grab a bucket of seawater and do the dishes together. Our children watch us catch fish and set crab traps. On the boat there are numerous mechanical and municipal systems that need to be repaired or maintained. As they get older, they will be able to participate in more complex boat work.
Being in nature helped my partner and I come to a spiritual middle-ground. Through this lifestyle, my very science and engineering oriented husband was able to articulate that his spirituality was, “being in nature with my family”.
We felt this mood of reverence while off beholding a double rainbow over Onset Bay, while enjoying the sparkling Milky Way on an overnight passage off New Jersey, and while watching dolphins off our bow in the Outer Banks.
It is the cornerstone of our family’s spiritual life.
All around the world, families are forging a rhythm in the desert, in the tropics, on the water, in concrete jungles, and in the suburbs. We only need to open our hearts, grasp at the invisible threads of rhythm and weave them together in ways that will nourish our own family.
Serena Li lives with her husband and two children on their sailboat sv Wildest Dream. In the summer of 2012, she and her family started cruising down the east coast of the U.S. and are headed toward the Bahamas. She writes about her family’s adventures at tigandserena.com.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.