Mountain Mama | Parenting in the Public Eye

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Tobin picked up the three-ring binder that contains the latest version of the book that I’m in the final stages of editing and asked, “What’s this mama?”

“Be careful, Little Bear. Mama’s story is inside there,” I said while I strapped my backpack shut, surveying our apartment for any stray items that we’d need for our trip.

“Where’s my story?” he asked.

“We’re writing it now, sweet boy. That’s part of what we’ll be doing in the Islands, we’ll be writing the first words to your story.”

We drove to Atlanta that evening so we’d be close to the airport for our early morning flight. Tobin fell asleep while I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting for a jack-knifed tractor trailer to be cleared from the interstate. Every ten minutes I inched a few feet forward to wait more and my mind wandered, thinking about the Ted Talk I’d listened to early that week. A woman who sailed around the world spoke about how she fell in love with sailing as a four-year old when she first stepped foot on a boat and spent her teen years plotting to get back to the sea.

Tobin just turned four and one of the reasons for taking him sailing is because the experience will shape the person he will one day become. I want him to see women as strong and capable. I hope he believes that his dreams can be transformed into reality when he applies himself in directions that may seem impractical or even impossible.


Mostly though, I want him to feel the intoxicating thrill of dancing with waves and conversing with the wind. I want to see the gleam in his eye as the sunset gives finality to another perfect day outside.

As I’ve told my story about being a single mom who dreamed of sharing sailing with my son, I’ve basked in so many compliments about my parenting style. So many have chimed in that they admire what I’m doing.

At times, I feel like a fraud. More often than not my body tightens when he calls out to me with yet another request. I’m guilty of shirking on the second bedtime story or not engaging in meaningful play. I’ve been known to glance at my phone and count down the hours until he’ll fall asleep.

All my parenting foibles are going to be exposed, both on the sailboat and through my writing. Life on a sailboat affords little of the privacy. We’ll be living in close quarters with the other crew, Sarah and Maya, on a 35-foot boat and secrets will be few and far between.

It’s already started. Right before we were going to meet up with Sarah and Maya to board the water taxi to Water Island, the poop-tastrophe happened. We had one hour to buy water and groceries before catching the ferry to Water Island. I carried our luggage and raced around the store, throwing fruit, yogurt, and bagels into the shopping car.

Tobin trailed behind me calling out, “Mama, I gotta poop.”

I looked frantically around the small market for a bathroom.

“Ok baby, wait a minute. Let me find somewhere.”

Tobin started screaming. “I gotta go now.”

Before I could scoop him off and whisk him off to a bathroom, he pooped in his pants right there in the middle of the produce aisle.

A few minutes later Sarah and Maya met us on the dock to catch the six o’clock ferry. Tobin refused to greet either of them, still embarrassed about his accident.  I recounted the fiasco.

Sarah just smiled. “Well, I guess you could say shit happens.”

It turns out, shit does happen, especially when traveling with a four-year old. When it does, having others to share the experience with helps make it a little less stinky.

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