Young parents Charlotte and Eric Kaufman departed from Mexico on a 36 foot sailboat, intending to travel to New Zealand. With them were their two toddlers, one year old Lyra and three year old Cora. After traveling 900 miles, with Lyra sick and having lost steering for the sailboat, Eric Kaufman called for emergency help. The family was rescued through the combined efforts of the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and California Air National Guard.
And the airwaves are abuzz. One faction is castigating the Kaufman’s for irresponsible parenting. Another is bemoaning the cost of the rescue, where scarce public dollars have been spent bailing out yet another group of romantic idealists who put themselves at risk by engaging in challenges clearly beyond their capabilities. A smaller cohort of voices is defending the parents, saying that the kids are growing up in an adventuresome family and the parents get to be who they are, even if they expose their children to risks that most of us wouldn’t even consider.
My first reaction is practical: I wonder if the two little ones are especially placid children? I’d hate to think of trying to confine normally active kids on a 36 foot sailboat for however many months it takes to navigate between Mexico and New Zealand.
As far as the risk, it’s true that many Americans hover over our children. I see it in the playground where I take my grandkids in the afternoon. And I confess to being guilty myself. Both kids are a whirlwind, and fearless. Some of the slides they like to climb have open platforms where the fall might be ten feet or so. I’m more risk averse with my grandkids than I remember being with my own children, wanting to return them to parents unbloodied.
Rural Panamanian parents are far more relaxed than we are. Toddlers run with lollipops in their mouths, eat peanuts or small candies without anyone fearing they’ll choke, and wander around barefoot with sharp objects littering the ground. They all seem to survive.
All things considered, I do think the sailboat trip to New Zealand -apparently without a Plan B – was nuts. Little ones get sick. Sailboats do lose their steering, or develop other mechanical problems. And it costs a heck of a lot to call out the rescue forces of three ocean-going services to bring the family safely home.
I suspect the Kaufmans, once on dry land, will soon be planning their next adventure – children in tow. As all of the media voices both pro and con have noted, this is just who they are.