Good “Car-Ma” For Long Car Trips

We took time to stop at parks, like this one in Fallon, NV. The kids were delighted to find rusting and not-entirely-safe playground equipment from a previous generation. Colly forgot the word for "merry-go-round," since she so rarely sees one, and said, "They have one of those tables that spins!"

We took time to stop at parks, like this one in Fallon, NV. The kids were delighted to find rusting and not-entirely-safe playground equipment from a previous generation. Colly forgot the word for "merry-go-round," since she so rarely sees one, and said, "They have one of those tables that spins!"

The four of us plus the dog just drove 1100 miles from Northern California to Southwestern Colorado, and along the way we avoided family feuds and never resorted to Happy Meal bribery (as in, “If you can be patient until the next town, then we’ll stop at McDonald’s”). The kids agreed it was one of the “funnest” long car trips in recent memory, and they didn’t seem to mind that we had no DVDs, no video games and limited personal space in the tightly packed Subaru Outback wagon. Here’s what I learned or was reminded of regarding car travel with kids as we passed the miles:

  • Take time to get there. We divided the trip into 3 days and 2 nights, even though it can be done pretty easily with just one overnight. Arriving at our midway destinations with time to spare allowed the kids to swim in the motel pool and play at local parks.
  • Share the music and listen together. We all have our own IPods and could have driven with earbuds firmly implanted, in our own little worlds. Not that there’s anything wrong with that for some of the time, but we chose to listen to one IPod at a time (trading off between the kids’ playlists and ours) and played it through the car stereo for all to hear. The upside: the conversation kept going, and the kids were happy that we were willing to listen to their music.

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The Sappy Departure

All packed up and ready to go. Goodbye, home!

All packed up and ready to go. Goodbye, home!

“Why are you crying, Mom?” Kyle asked this morning as I pulled away from my next-door neighbor’s hug. “Are you sad or happy?”

I thought about what had unleashed the tears: the final walk through our bedroom, where the hardwood floors echoed from emptiness because nearly everything is in storage. Then the last good-byes. It hit me that I will miss our home and neighborhood terribly. It also hit me that everything we had planned during the past six months had come down to this moment, and all the work and difficult decisions had made us ready to go — and we really, finally were ready to go — so I was crying tears of relief. And also, I was indeed happy that at this crossroads in our lives, when a great deal is transitioning personally and professionally, we had chosen to go in a direction that Morgan and I believe will keep changing us for the better even after the trip is over.

“Both,” I finally answered.

“Well,” Kyle said, “if you’re sad and happy, that makes you sappy.”

I am sappy, so much so that the family began mocking my sentimentality last week. “This is the last time we’re going to Crogan’s,” I said the other night as we approached a favorite pub. “Awww,” said Colly, her voice dripping with pity, “and this is the last time we’re touching this crosswalk button!”

“The last time” became a running joke until Morgan got the last word on our final morning at home. He marched to the bathroom after coffee and Cheerios and proclaimed, “This is the last dump!”

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“Back to School” Becomes “Leave to Learn”

People keep asking (somewhat skeptically), “What about school during your trip — are you homeschooling?” I keep answering (somewhat defensively), “No; our kids will do the same work as they would do in school, with real teachers assigned to help them, so they won’t fall behind.” I expound on the educational benefits of the trip and explain that we’re taking the year off largely for the kids’ sake. But inwardly I’m less confident, and all summer I have worried about “back to school” — about the transition to schooling our kids on the road.

My "roads scholars" pictured earlier this summer near Tahoe.

My "roads scholars" pictured earlier this summer near Tahoe.

I know it’s kind of crazy, because we’ll encounter extraordinary educational opportunities at every turn. Plus, most wise people recognize that learning takes place all the time and is more apt to blossom outside the confines of a classroom. So why the worry and resistance to the idea of homeschooling?

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Packing It In

One of the reasons we’re going away for a year is to learn to live more simply, with less stuff. I’m in the process of dealing with our stuff — that is, deciding what to bring and how to carry it, and what to leave behind and where to store it — and discovering why packing is so complicated: It forces one to take stock of one’s life. Past, present and future collide while standing before an open closet. Each piece of stuff stirs memories from when it was acquired and the feelings attached, while questioning whether we need it triggers deliberations about priorities and daydreams about where we may go.

Every day I try to pack a little and end up making a mess. Take the bathroom cabinet, for example.

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Two Months To Go

In 2008, my most adventurous plan for 2009 involved swapping our living room and dining room. I put it on my to-do list as the Big New Year’s Project and thought a lot about window treatments.

Then, life took a turn. Or you could say my husband Morgan and I both switched off the autopilot and had one of those “blink” moments where we knew what we needed to do, and it felt strangely right. Instead of hiring a decorator and moving furniture around, we researched countries on five continents, purchased One World airline tickets to sixteen destinations, developed an independent study plan for our daughter and son, and found tenants to rent our house for at least 10 months.

We're packing up and leaving our home sweet home in Piedmont.

We're packing up and leaving our home sweet home in Piedmont.

Now it’s summer — the kids just got out of school — and my stomach feels knotted when I consider the two months left until our departure, which is August 15 (give or take a day). The details to debate and arrangements to make leave me short tempered and quick to cry, like an amped-up wedding planner in her third trimester of pregnancy.

Between now and August, we will clean out closets, pack away personal belongings and repair miscellaneous broken things. We’ll organize finances and copy important documents, and plan and scan the kids’ lessons for their 3rd and 6th grade curriculum. We’ll go to the dentist, get shorter-than-usual haircuts and fill prescriptions for things like Cipro. We will synch and streamline our laptops and cameras, untangle and condense all the cords that go with them, and smartly pack our suitcases with multipurpose, easy-care outfits that we will find time to buy.

We’ll try not to drink too much when we throw a goodbye party, and try not to cry when we give our dog to my in-laws. And in my free time, I will practice Spanish, learn new software and read novels set in countries we’re visiting.

(If I say all this like I believe it, perhaps it will increase the chance of these things actually getting done.)

People keep asking where we’re going, which is easy to answer (check out our map) — and in some ways not as relevant as it may seem. Going anywhere is the point. We will try to follow advice we read somewhere that travel, to be meaningful, should be less about where you go and more about what you do and how you interact with the people and environment wherever you find yourselves. The more interesting question — what we’re still sorting out — may be, how did we get to this point? As David Elliot Cohen described in his book One Year Off, it’s one thing to dream about chucking it all and going around the world; it’s quite another thing to actually decide to do it and get ready — and not chicken out before you go.

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