As I recount to people what we’ve been up to for the past 7 months, the typical questions I get are: What were the highlights? What did you learn? Would you do it again?
Let me take them in reverse order:
Would you do it again?
Yes, and I think that after more reflection, therapy and a few more weeks of school lunches, the rest of the family will share this view. We set out to reconnect with our family, to rediscover the United States and to move our kids away from their affluent comfort zone. We definitely achieved all of these things.
One of the big challenges I’m realizing as we get back to “normal” is how hard it is these days to give kids the independence and freedom that I’d like to. If you want your kids to be good problem solvers they need problems to solve. I also think of it as the judgment paradox -- In general, you want your kids to develop good judgment. But, good judgment only comes out of challenging experiences and most challenging experiences usually occur after using bad judgment. It now seems clear that it was a lot easier to give the kids additional independence and responsibilities while we were on the road than it does in our Brookline, MA apartment. I’m hopeful, however, that we’re now much more aware of what Josh and Simon are capable of, and more willing to let them take risks than we were back in London.
Would did you learn?
I learned a lot about the country, our family and my idiosyncrasies over the seven months. In no particular order:
- Stuff is not very important - Most of the best times we had didn’t require any of the technology, gadgets or high-end housewares that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Now that we’re in a three bedroom apartment, with mostly borrowed furniture, I’m ruing the day when our 500+ boxes come out of storage. Simon put it best, “compared to the RV, this apartment is like a mansion; our house in London was a palace.” Once again, everything is relative;
- Less is more… spend more time doing less – Most of the best and most rewarding parts of the trip were when we surprised ourselves by taking a detour. We loved having extra time to see local oddities like the Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN, and to discover interesting towns like Deadwood, SD and its fascinating historical museum. But, for some portions of the trip we had too inflexible a schedule that didn’t allow for the random discoveries that we came to cherish. Next time we’ll plan fewer stops and leave more time for random discoveries;
- Eating out tastes better when you do it less often – When you don’t do things very often they are a treat made us all appreciate those few times when we did go out (and it was definitely budget friendly);
- If you’re going to make your 12 year old son the trip CFO, don’t give him receipts that show the Christmas presents you bought – Making Josh the trip budget manager was a tremendous success in most ways, but Wendy and I quickly learned the need to have a small slush fund that bypassed the usual disclosure requirements;
- In this digital world, libraries are still relevant – I have come to appreciate public libraries even more than before. Most of the towns and cities we visited had thriving public libraries which are community hubs (not to mention free wifi hotspots and great places for us to homeschool the kids);
- Minor league baseball is an excellent and inexpensive family activity – As major league sports have become more and more expensive and less budget friendly, we had to find alternate forms of entertainment. All of us still talk of the Peoria Chiefs vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels game we saw last September, and we’re looking forward to lots more minor league ball in the Boston area this spring;
- An RV can never be too large – next time I’d go for the longer length over the enhanced maneuverability;
- Teachers rock; I’ve always admired the people who have chosen to spend their days surrounded by children and enjoy teaching them. I never realized just how hard it is to come up with meaningful lesson plans and bottomless amounts of patience until I tried home schooling. We were never ardent home-schooling zealots, and now after seeing how hard it is to teach your own kids I think we’ve become even more ardent supporters of regular schools.
What were the highlights?
There were so many “small moments” that were truly amazing and inspiring, far too numerous to mention here. In terms of the “larger” highlights, here are mine:
- Coolest museum – EMP / Sci-Fi Hall of Fame in Seattle, although the San Jose Tech Museum was pretty cool;
- Biggest adventure – Traveling over 1000 miles (including 18 hours by train) to see the Polar Bears and go dog sledding in Churchill, Manitoba. Definitely worth the effort;
- Most varied natural beauty – Hawaii (but we had to go to three islands to see it all);
- Best modern Presidential library – Clinton’s in Little Rock (not that I’m biased)
- Most original kids place – The City Museum in St. Louis (it isn’t really a museum, its more of a post-apocalyptical play space)
- Best civil war site – The Lincoln library in Springfield, IL had amazing historical information that was very accessible and user friendly;
- Best hotel room – The YWCA cottage in Ke’anae, Maui was the most incredible room with a view we’ve ever stayed in;
- Best National Park Experience – the photo safari Josh and I did in Yellowstone;
- Most surprising National Park – Joshua Tree was way cooler than I’d expected and we all had a great time camping in it;
- Best snowshoe hike – Along Crater Lake in October;
- Best freebie – Big Bear ski area in California let me ski free on my Birthday;
- Best charity shop – The Goldmine in Sun Valley, ID; we got a like-new waffle iron for $8, we got Josh & Simon skis and boot for less than $50 each,
- Best sunrise – Atop Mt. Haleakala on Maui;
- Best sunset – anywhere along the pacific ocean; there were several great ones we saw;
- Most useful piece of technology – Paying Verizon $30 /month to let my Blackberry act as a 3G modem for all of our laptops. We were able to get online just about anywhere!
- Best bike ride – The new multi-use path from Jenny Lake to Moose in Grand Teton National Park;
- Best quirky attraction – Largest ball of twine in Cawker City, KS.
That’s it for my family adventure blog writing… I’d like to say thank you to my faithful audience (the two of you know who you are), and hope to stay in touch.
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