Together we make the world
For this series of newsletters, we interviewed families and friends to learn about different ways of living and different possibilities when raising kids. A lens to think about contemporary life. This round, Quartier Collective.
Taryn and Martin are Quartier Collective: photography, journalism and explorations in family travel and education outside the box. They have three kids: Matilda (9 yrs), Francis (7 yrs) and Viggo (4 yrs). They are Canadian/American but lived in Seattle before they sold everything and started travelling full time in 2018. They are currently artists in residence on a grand old country estate on the East coast of Ireland.
What prompted you to move there?
Marty was born in Canada and Taryn in the US. Seattle, our former home in the Pacific Northwest, is one of the sweetest corners of the United States. There’s a beautiful combination of city, mountains and the sea. It rains all the time and people drink a lot of coffee, read books and visit each other.
As much as we loved it there, we were itching to see new things and to show our kids the bigness of the world in a real and lasting way. As we travel we keep an eye out for places we may want to live when this nomadic chapter is over. Ireland, where we are currently, has the funniest, most remarkable people and fascinating history. But it rains as much as Seattle, and we’re missing the sun! Portugal, a country we love, is up next!
How is it, as a family, to live together, on the road?
Living on the road is just as hard as you might expect, and twice as rewarding. We don’t have the advantage of all of the systems and supports that exist in a more place-bound life. The most basic things, like what to eat for breakfast, what to do for an hour with the kids, what bedtime routine looks like, are invented or discovered over again in each new geography. It takes an obscene amount of energy, but the rewards are enormous. We’ve made beautiful memories and the most heartfelt connections with remarkable families all over the world. But the biggest reward is the cohesion we have built between the two of us, and within our family. We are a better team, more engaged with each other, more gracious and more in love. As the kids get older the unique value of this becomes even more clear to us.
What is the first thing you look at or think of when deciding to buy your kids’ clothes?
Because we live out of our suitcases each piece is carefully considered for its weight, versatility, durability and silly things like how long does it take to dry in front of the fireplace in a damp Irish house. We don’t buy much, but when we do it has to be exactly right.
How conscious are you of setting an example for your kids?
Because we are together as a family nearly 24 hours of every day the kids get constant exposure to all of our humanity. Basically, they see us get stressed, argue, fight, hold grudges, then laugh at ourselves, apologize, hug, cry, say thank you, say I love you… The example we set is not that we have life figured out, but that we are intentional about it and willing to drop our pride in favour of harmony and growth.
What are the most important lessons you try to pass on to your kids?
If you’re feeling grumpy or angry, do something nice for somebody else. The practice of active kindness is the most powerful tool in helping us be at peace with ourselves.
How and when do you talk to your kids about race and equality?
We speak openly with our kids, including discussions of our own white privilege and our responsibility to help build a more equitable world. Their context for this is constantly changing, which helps illuminate the pervasive patterns of control, power and greed that have driven racial inequity all over the world. Race relations in Turkey and Marrakech may look very different, but they share some features.
It’s not always great to have the power to skate across the surface of this, as light-skinned outsiders; there’s a danger it can seem like somebody else’s problem, like we’re simply passing through and not active participants. This is why it was so good for us to return to the United States this last Spring. The lessons of the Black Lives Matter movement felt far more personal to us than if we had been in a jungle in Indonesia.
How are recent events and politics discussed at home?
All over the world children make fun of Donald Trump. There’s something satisfying in this, but it doesn’t accomplish much on its own ;). Because we are educating our kids (we call our approach “sort of-schooling”) we have the time and motivation to talk about what’s happening in the world, either close by or far away. There are so many resources right now to help white folks like us encounter our own complicity. We read with the kids, listen to podcasts about race (1619 is great for the older ones). But we also try to take it past theory and history and place it very firmly in our experience today. A recent example hit home for our kids. On entering Ireland we had, for the first time, a lot of trouble at immigration. While we waited they offered us water to drink and asked if we needed to use the toilet. It took time but eventually they let us in with a strict warning not to overstay our visa. The only other people detained were two young men who looked like they were from East Africa. No water was offered and in the end they were both denied. The impact for Matilda (especially) was huge. We were not more legal than they. We were not more entitled to enter the country. We had whiter skin. We really did not want to be denied entry and, after 30 hours of travel, have to fly back to the United States, but for these guys the ramifications were likely far heavier than the inconvenience and disappointment we would have felt. In the end we were happy to be let in, but it was bittersweet. We talk about that day often, about what we could have done differently, about what pieces of the system need to change and what we can do about it.
How important is art in your daily life?
We have our own in-house documentarian of the beautiful things we have seen on our travels: Matilda draws and paints whatever inspires her in the places we visit. She typically moves in geographic themes: In Japan it was geisha, in Morocco arabesque architecture and veiled women, birds in Sri Lanka, cats in Istanbul, flowers here in Ireland. Our work is very visual and we take a lot of inspiration from what’s around us, not always “art” per se, but the beauty of older things, landscapes, people.
Any favourite artist or work of art?
Seattle has an installation by the sculptor Richard Serra, a series of giant ellipses of iron, tall and rusting in the rain, like the hulls of a fleet of freighters setting off across the sea. We’ve seen his work in a couple of other places and it always makes us feel at home.
What kind of future do you dream of?
Our most pressing dreams are about climate and education. We hope our children help move the world toward a cleaner, more responsible future, where people are better connected to each other and to the environment. We hope this long chapter of travel will nudge them in that direction, or provide some well from which they can draw.