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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fail Big, Make Millions

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard about Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who tried to sail around the world, and had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean when fierce storms destroyed her mast.

When I was 16, I was ready to take on the world. In my heart I knew I could tackle bigger challenges than what my parents allowed.

I left home at 18 because I couldn't bear to be under their collective thumb anymore. They were wonderful parents and I loved them. But I was not meant for safe harbors.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when they refused to let me go on an archeological dig in Egypt when I was 17. That was the day I decided I needed to leave as soon as I was 'legal'.

Not because I resented my parents, but because we saw the world too differently. They wanted to protect me from everything, and I wanted to experience everything.

Kings have ruled their countries at 16. Not so long ago, teenagers married, had babies, struggled and DIED in unknown frontiers and cruel conditions. During the Middle Ages, young children were expected to grow up much faster. It made sense. Life expectancy was short. Best to get started as soon as possible.

So when I hear of a 16 year old making headlines, I don't get as upset as other people. I understand the need to be more than a high school kid with a cell phone.

But this Sunderland saga runs a bit deeper than permissive parents. Because of the failed mission, the Sunderlands stand to make big bucks, maybe even more than the Australian teenager (Jessica Watson) who successfully did circumnavigate the world.

With the failed mission, there is drama, controversy, emotion, anger and even a happy ending. Does anyone else smell book deal, movie rights and high dollar speaking tours?

Still, I am a little irate with a piece of information I learned recently. Apparently, the Sunderlands don't feel they should have to repay the Australian government for rescuing their daughter. No word yet on whether the Aussie government will send them a bill.

I don't know how these things work in international waters, but if it were my kid, I'd be out there on my own dime to get her back.

Either way, the kid stands to make a killing for failing. Ain't that a kick in the head? Now if only I could fail just as spectacularly.

Most of you guys have kids. (I do not.) Would you allow your kid to follow his dream at 16? Given the chance, would you have struck out to follow your dream at 16?


Ted Cross said...

When I was 16 I was offered a pro contract in soccer. Soccer was my life at that point. Since I would have had to move to Mexico City, my mom wouldn't sign the contract. The thing is, she truly knew better. I may have resented it, but I know for a fact that my life has turned out so much better because I didn't get to follow that particular dream. I do believe in letting kids follow dreams to a great degree, but it also depends on certain limits that wise parents should understand.

Mike Keyton said...

Parents have double standards. Admittedly, two years later at eighteen, I hitchhiked through Morocco with just a sleeping bag, a change of underwear and two
T. shirts. The question is, would I let my children do that...?

Jennifer Shirk said...

Good question!
I honestly can't remember what I was doing or thinking at 16. LOL I don't think I was dreaming big, though. :)
PS. I would definitely have paid for my daughter's own rescue. Whatever the cost.

Maria Zannini said...

Ted: It's a fine balance. In retrospect, it worked out well for you. But you have to wonder...what if?

And soccer at 15? Boy, what an adventure that would have been. You must have been really, really good.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: Definitely double standards. To be honest, I'm glad I never had to make that decision.

But for myself, I always regretted missing that dig. Archeology was so important to me at that time, and Chicago was boring. LOL.

And I don't believe for a moment you'd let your kids hitchhike, but you have offered them the chance for other opportunities, so you are forward thinking in your own way.

Maria Zannini said...

Jennifer: I agree.

My kid. My responsibility. Whether I'd let her go is another question, but if she were traveling the world, I probably wouldn't be too far away during her journey. Just in case.

Dru said...

At that age my only thought was that in two year I would graduate from high school and go onto college.

I really do think the parents should pay the cost for the rescue.

Maria Zannini said...


LOL. Yeah, I was counting the minutes.

Joanne said...

I would not allow my 16 year old child to follow THAT particular dream.
It just is not worth the inherent risk, at all.

And if the parents could not afford to fund a possible rescue, the whole journey should've been canned. No $$, no sailing.

Maria Zannini said...

Joanne: See, that's my thinking. I don't think the parents should have been crying 'poverty' if they could afford to send TWO children around the world.

As for sailing as a dream...I'm afraid of the water. If I had a daughter who wanted to sail, I'd blame my husband's DNA--then send HIM to go watch her. LOL.

Kait Nolan said...

I think I'd be pretty reluctant to let my kid sail around the WORLD at 16, but depending on the dream. Hell yeah, I want to be supportive. I submitted my first book for publication when I was 15. It was rejected but got comments (which I was delighted with). It was a first step. And then I got...steered away from the path of my dream because I was consistently told that my dream was not realistic. So I kept writing a bit on the side, but went through college and graduate school--only to come out the other side at 26 and know that I'd been wasting time, that I STILL wanted to write for a living. I've made some pretty big strides in the last four years toward making up for lost time, but I have to wonder if I'd had the support at 16, would I have made it before now? So yes, I absolutely want to be supportive of whatever dreams my children (who are hypothetical at this stage) have--provided it's not about risking life and limb alone in the middle of the ocean.

Maria Zannini said...

Kait: I wondered that myself. My parents were not particularly supportive of my dreams either. They, like most parents wanted me to steer toward something that made good money, and (gasp) a husband (but that was a different time and mentality).

When I was a kid, anything I've ever wanted I've had to fight for on my own. But at least now I have the support of a husband who lets me follow my dreams even if it goes nowhere.

Wendy Ramer said...

If my 16-year-old felt so passionately about that dream...maybe. When I was 16, I had no idea what my dream was. When I was 24, I did, and finally having the funds I set off to live in Europe. But there's nothing exciting about a 24-year-old doing that, so no story to tell...or sell ;-(

Sherri said...

First of all I think it is a different world. Things my parents wouldn't think twice about letting me do I wouldn't even consider letting my boys do today. That's not to say there weren't dangers when I was growing up but I think the ease of access we have today has made those dangers greater and added new ones.

I have regrets. Dreams I didn't follow because they weren't "safe" and I will do everything in my power to support the boys in their dreams...whatever they may be.

My biggest wish for them is that they travel the road less traveled.

Sailing around the world at 16...when they should be at least completing high school...not likely to happen. However, backpacking across Europe after they graduate...sounds like a blast.

We'll see, so far they are all extremely different.

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids, either, and I definitely would have struck out at 16. I remember reading a lot of "kids from the real world find magical portal to fantasy world" books when I was little, and the kids always either hesitated before going or spent their entire time trying to get back. I would have jumped in and explored!

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: But there's nothing exciting about a 24-year-old doing that...

Maybe not, but man, what an adventure. I envy you.

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: different world

Oh, heck yes. I remember streets in Chicago where my mother would walk with the little ones late at night to meet my father after work. No one would dream of assaulting a young woman with kids.'d have trouble walking that street in daylight.

I like the idea of a road less travel. That has a lot of appeal, at 16 and today.

Maria Zannini said...


I have been known to jump a portal or two. LOL.

Everybody's different. I probably would have been an overly protective mother--but I'd hope I would have remembered my 16 year old self and not be so inflexible with my kids.

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Well, according to one news report the Aussie gov't isn't going to ask for compensation, so if that's true the family's off the hook whether they think they should or shouldn't. Could have been a presumptuous report though.

I don't approve of kids and teens doing something like sailing around the world only because I don't believe they have enough experience to handle the worst case scenario. Sailing in safe waters for the majority of their young life isn't the same as braving world waters for a decade or more. It just didn't seem smart. Plus, what if she had to make an emergency landing in a port - a 16 year-old in a foreign port? Alone? That's just asking for trouble! Okay my rant is over. But really, I think it would depend on the teen. Some have their heads on straight, are smart and could probably handle being on their own. Others think they're indestructible and know it all, and more often than not it gets them into trouble.

catie james said...

I'm one of the handful of your readers who doesn't have children, so here's my two cents (if it's even worth that much): I think a decision like this depends on the kid.

At fifteen, I wanted to "fast-track" myself a cram two and a half more years of high school into one, so I could graduate early with my "friends" and attend a prestigious university far, far away from a dysfunctional, emotionally/psychologically abusive father. But my parents (Mom more than Dad) knew I wasn't read to handle that kind of pressure. (Years later I would realize how wise this decision was and how likely I would have been to suffer a breakdown, or worse).

On the other hand, I can't help but look at my five year old niece and think: That girl's one of our future world leaders, because she's so on the ball.

Ultimately I would tell my child to listen to their instinct and follow their passions, but always be prepared to work hard for what you want and have a back-up plan, just in case. If I thought s/he was capable of handling the themselves and the consequences of living their dream before (legally) being allowed to "make their own decisions"? I'd do everything I could to support their efforts and help make their dreams a reality.

(Apologies for taking over your comments section). :)

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: Others think they're indestructible and know it all,

LOL. Haven't you ever heard of 16 going on 35.

I think Abby Sunderland did have to make port in South Africa(?) when her navigation went out, but then she continued her journey.

As for experience...that's a post in itself. But I will mention that when my (future) hubby came back from his first year of college, he tried to convince me to sail around the world with him.

Back then we didn't have GPS or satellite communication. We would have REALLY roughed it compared to what these kids are attempting today. Fortunately, my fear of water won out and he found other crazy things for us to try.

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: hard for what you want and have a back-up plan,...

I love this! My motto has always been: have a back up plan cuz something is going to backfire on me. LOL.

Ref: (Apologies for taking over your comments section)

Not at all. No apology necessary. These are the kind of thoughts I want to hear.

That's why blogs have a comment section, and why it matters so much to me.

Angela said...

My little girl is five right now and I get a tad emotional knowing that she's gotten too big for me to purchase "toddler" clothes any more (lol @ myself). However, I like to encourage her with mind-engaging or sports-related activities. I want her to be well rounded so I try to be supportive, though I admit I'm rather protective of her sweet innocence. As for supporting her dreams, I hope to build a bridge of communication where she understands she could work towards pursuing them after she completed at least high school. I've even offered to take her to get her first tattoo after she graduated high school, if she still wanted one. She likes to point out that mommy has two. Of course she's only five and I'm sure the next several years are about to get more and more intersting.

Lynn Colt said...

I didn't know what my dream was at 16. But yes, although I was glad to hear that the girl is okay, I definitely thought 'book deal ahead!' lol.

On the one hand, I think the parents should at least take some financial responsibility for finding their child. On the other hand, I wouldn't want a parent to think twice about calling for emergency help for their kid because of the potential cost.

The best and classiest thing to do would be for the girl herself to dedicate a portion of her future memoir sales to paying back the cost! Think there's any chance of that happening?

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: A lot can happen between five and sixteen.

I happen to know you have amazing communication skills and I'm willing to bet she inherited from you. I predict a long and happy relationship--which will get VERY interesting once she reaches her teens. God help us all. LOL.

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: ...dedicate a portion of her future memoir sales to paying back the cost!

What an excellent idea. Talk about brilliant PR, too.

From the further research I've been doing, it seems governments are bound to render aid because of international treaties. Though that doesn't mean she shouldn't spread some of her fame to give back. Unfortunately, because she's not of legal age, her parents control her money. So she can't give it away without their consent.

Strange world, huh?

Marian Perera said...

I left the Middle East at 18 to go to college in the States, where I'd never lived before. Didn't have any relatives there either. It was just me on my own, as I'd wanted it to be for years.

That was one of the best decisions of my life. I don't think I'll ever have kids, but if I do I'll encourage them to do what they believe in as well, even if it means moving to the other side of the world.

Besides, with my luck any kid I have will be like me and will follow their dreams with or without my say-so.

Maria Zannini said...


From what parents tell me, kids never turn out the way you think they will.

Sometimes when I'm busting my tail out in the field, I, if I only had a son to do all this digging and hauling. And then I'd remind myself, 'Nah, he'd probably tell me he doesn't want his manicure ruined'. Then I'd clobber him for making his poor mother work so hard. LOL.

I totally understand picking up and moving away--even when you're on your own.

It'll either toughen you or break you. Obviously...we can tell you made out all right. :grin: