Leaving My Context

Brianna Randall essays

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“See you when I’m eleven,” Solan whispered to me as I hugged his pajama clad body tightly. “But, Bwee-Bwee, WHY are you going away?” his younger brother, Jiah, asked. “Hey, Bri! Did you know that a monster once killed a bison on our street?” said my 3-year-old neighbor Quinn when I gave him a last high-five the day we locked our house to leave.

“Guess what? We’re going to California for nine days, which is kinda like you going on the ocean,” Eliana informed me. I ruffled her curly locks, wondering if they’ll be straight when I next see her. Her little brother, Soloman, stamped a muddy footprint on my new traveling pants, physical proof of his affection, and his opinion of my departure the following morning.

I don’t have any children. But I have a dozen kids, aged 1 week to 10 years. These kids know me and I know them right back, start to finish. They are mine, as much as Montana’s creek, mountains, roads and rivers are mine. They anchor me to my place, my community, and they mark the passing of time better than any birthday of my own. But I’m leaving my kids behind for a bit. It hurts my heart to even write the sentence.

In March, my husband and I quit our jobs, leased our house, sold the cars, and left our family and friends to set sail for new shores. We have one backpack each, stuffed with just enough to get us around the Pacific Ocean on sailboats for a couple-few years. I wish I could have added a bottle of my kids’ laughter, questions, curls and footprints. So does my husband. Actually, truth be told, Rob is more popular than me with all the kids: he tosses them around, wields pillows mercilessly, and initiates a variety of back-flips, street games and sledding contests that often make their parents cringe. He also makes kids pee their pants (sometimes twice in one day) because “it’s too fun to stop playing with him,” according to Eliana. Luckily, these parents loveus as much as we love their children.

Rob and I both prefer social events and front yards that are punctuated by joyful “did you know” stories and high-pitched reality checks. We already miss the wrestling matches, pillow fights and make-believe sessions from our hometown. That’s why our first stop in our adventures abroad is a voyage across the largest ocean on earth with a family of five. We’ll spend over two months at sea sharing a 53-foot steel sailboat with 3 boys aged 10 to 17. These boys quickly adopted us into their tribe, including us in their games and their jokes. To keep it a square deal, Rob and I introduced some new cannonball contests, swimming races and cooking lessons to pass time as we provision the boat for our 40-day crossing from Panama to Tahiti.

Many people might choose to avoid spending two months in close quarters with unknown children. But we chose to crew on this boat specifically because of the kids, knowing we are happiest around the scuffles and shouts, teasing and hugs of a family living fully. Kids provide context. They are my storyline, each one adding layers of spice, snafus, meanings and memories that enrich my own unfolding narrative. Leaving home means leaving my context, and it means shifting storylines.

The boys we’re sailing west with won’t fill the gap left by leaving my kids back home. But they’ll expand my horizons in new directions, weaving in new context that makes our voyage complete and adds zest to our everyday adventures.

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About the Author

Brianna Randall

Brianna Randall lives in Missoula, Montana where she toggles not-so-deftly between chasing her young son, running her own business, and fantasizing about sailing off to a deserted island (again). Her work has appeared in Scary Mommy, Outside, Backpacker, and several travel magazines.

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