Welcome Home

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All my life I’ve been traveling.  I was born in Maine and at one and a half, moved to Beirut, Lebanon.  Another country, another culture, another climate.  At four, in the middle of winter, my mother and I left the Meditteranean and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, newly divorced in the late 60’s.  At eight, my mother re-married and we moved to Oberlin, OH where academia coexisted with rural poverty and racial tensions of the early 70’s.  After two years, we moved to Lake Forest, IL,  listed in the “Preppie Handbook” as one of the 10 preppiest towns in the United States.  I moved from place to place feeling like an alien.  This is a pattern that has repeated itself my entire life.  Always moving, trying on the new customs, reinventing myself.

One of the things I have always loved about traveling to India is the feeling that I am so far from anything familiar that it forces me to let go of any outward identity my ego may cling to to define myself:  parent, wife, hospice volunteer, runner, home owner, etc.  The only thing I have in India is the over-arching requirement to stay present.

I read somewhere that gold fish grow to the size of their bowl.  If they’re swimming around in a tiny glass, they will stay that size, if they’re put in an aquarium, they will grow larger.  The Bay Area is a much bigger fish bowl than the the one I’ve been living in.    And I feel…free.  I feel anonymous.  I feel alive with possibility.

The past several days have been jam-packed with moving and arriving and storing and unpacking.  It’s been exhausting.  Yesterday was the first day I had a glimpse of the ocean.  I forced myself to drive in afternoon traffic and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped my hat off.  I stood at the shore, turned off my music and consciously welcomed myself home.  In that moment, I knew that this land isn’t home.  I know it’s cliche, but still I want to share.  I am home.  I am my home.  Wherever I choose to go,  I will always be home.

That said, I also had the realization (for ME) that 16 years is too long to yearn to be somewhere else.  I feel a peaceful joy to be back, this multi-cultured holy land where I am both completely unknown and deeply loved.

My kids are having some last adventures with family this month and in September we will all meet up and take my daughter to college and then Harlan and I will begin Road School 2017 for the fall semester.  Just like a blank canvas can inspire the painter, the open road calls to my soul – it always has. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler,  I look forward to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” me, mile by mile.

 

Road School 2017

This Spring, my son announced that he had two life goals: quitting school and living in a van.  His love of learning has been with him from infancy, but ever since 6th grade, he’s slowly and progressively been losing interest in school. Over the past four years, I’ve watched the light go out of his eyes while in the traditional educational system.

By April, things had spiraled rapidly downward; my son was depressed, uninspired and feeling powerless to change his life.  Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t getting up in the morning, he was isolating from friends and was refusing to go to school.  I had no idea what to do or how to help him.  Finally, at a crisis point, Harlan opened up to me.  What I heard more than anything was that he really and truly doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to “drop out”.

As I listened to him, I had an “Aha!” moment.  What if we “Dropped In” and hit the road?  What if we took this Fall Semester of 2017 and he got to live and learn in real time, in the real world, seeing life through the eyes of a traveler?  As a mother, I knew I needed to act quickly to come up with a creative solution that might serve to inspire my son into not giving up.  Since nothing traditional has worked (and we’ve tried it all), I wanted to come up with an out-of-the-box learning opportunity that would spark his innate curiosity.

Without knowing exactly how I could pull it off, I proposed the idea of living on the road this Fall to Harlan.   Almost instantly, like pumping a bicycle tire with air, I watched him come back to life.  He became motivated and finished 9th grade.  He joined a gym and is working out daily.  He’s working with an inspiring mentor who is teaching him about meditation and healthy living.  We’re training for our first Sprint Triathlon in October.  He has a summer job and is saving money for the trip.  We’re working with an educational consultant to design a personalized curriculum for Harlan.

We’re plotting our itinerary on the map:

Vancouver to Baja from September through December.

Along this route, we will be researching people and places that inspire us, in order to learn from these interactions. Together with an educational consultant, we will design a curriculum that Harlan resonates with; creating projects that involve writing, music, photography, and natural science – all with the rich backdrop of the Pacific West to support his education.

Since I have announced our decision to hit the road this August, miracles are happening.  People are reaching out with places to stay, well wishers are offering words of support, and we are packing up and moving out of our home on July 31!  Finances are an issue.  I’m a single mom navigating work, life, and parenting two teenagers, the oldest of which is heading off to college in September.

I’m a grief counselor. I work with people who have lost a loved one and are navigating life without the person they love. I have teenagers. I know angst. I have lost family members to suicide. I have close relatives that struggle with clinical depression. I know life is short. And mysterious and powerful and awe-inspiring. I know that I love my son with all my heart and will do anything within my power – anything – to help him get the light back in his beautiful brown eyes.  And yes, that means even asking for money, something I’ve been raised never to do.  I’ve started a Go Fund Me Campaign, called Road School 2017, to help with our costs.

Donations will go toward:

  • Online Educational Consultant
  • Used laptop
  • School Supplies
  • Educational Experiences (e.g. Museums, State Parks)
  • Gas
  • Campgrounds

NOTE:  5% of what we receive in donations will go to Pacific Sands Academy, a program that offers an accredited, interest-led, passion-driven independent studies program for teens.  This money will help families afford an alternative choice for children who may be struggling with the traditional educational system.

There is no training manual for what Harlan and I will are about to embark on, but there is a road map – the one he and I will follow along the highway.  As a parent, my job is not to mold him into a smaller, younger version of myself, but to hold a safe container large enough for him to expand his wings.  To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I want to introduce my son to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” him.   Stay tuned, Road School starts late August 2017!  #roadschool2017

 

End of an Era

Oh boy,  this week is going to be tough.  It’s taking me by surprise…Andy’s not surprised though.  He called it when Lili went to Kindergarten 9 years ago (!)

Lili's first day of school
Lili’s first day of school

I was complaining about how institutionalized the school seemed and how it was nothing like our awesome, Buddhist inspired preschool Alaya.   Andy said that I would become just as active in this school as I had been at Alaya, that I would make friends, and that I would be boo-hooing when my time at Crest View was over.  (A time which felt about one million years away, by the way.)  I vehemently denied all of his predictions.

Fast forward to now.  Lili is “graduating” from 8th grade and Baby Boy is completing 5th grade, and the time has come…one million years have passed, and it is the end of an era.  For almost a decade I have been walking, biking and driving to Crest View. I have volunteered.  I have fund-raised.  I have combed hair for picture day.   I’ve been a room mom.  I’ve stuffed Friday Folders.  I have made good friends.  And last week, when I rode my bike over to Crest View before school to put a ‘thank you’ card in the office for Harlan’s teacher, and the principal was cranking Pink Floyd (who knew?) and the office ladies smiled at me and Lili’s kindergarten teacher from 9 years ago waved to me, I realized I was the world’s biggest liar.  I am a wreck!  I’m not ready for this!

Harlan's first day of Kindergarten (with his best buddy Cade.)
Harlan’s first day of Kindergarten (with his best buddy Cade.)

I already know when I’m sitting at the 8th Grade Award Ceremony (that’s right, she’s getting an award) I will be making that awkward half smile face that signals to my kids that “Mom is trying not to cry but it’s not working because oh Geez, now she’s making these tortured half laugh/half cry sounds…look away and pretend you are not related because now she’s full on crying.”  What can I say?  I’m a cryer.

Then on Thursday, I will bike over to Lili’s 8th grade graduation and see a lot of kids that I’ve watched grow up since kindergarten walking across the stage looking like young men and women.  I will remember the Halloween parties and the play dates and the class field trips when they were so much smaller.  And I will cry.  And I will be proud of the young lady that Lili has become, even if she is ignoring me because I am crying.

bigWee
ready to fly

After the graduation, I will head directly over to Crest View for my final ever class party (how could this possibly be?) For 9 years I’ve been doing this.  I’ll scoop ice cream and congratulate kiddos.  Some of the other parents are in my shoes, this is their final year at this neighborhood school, and I’m guessing there will be tears…

growing up
growing up

I know the only constant is change. I also know that my kids are each ready for their new, bigger frontiers;  I trust them and their journeys.  Right now, I’m just saying goodbye to an era that I remember fondly and won’t happen again.  There is something poignant and beautiful in being present to a moment you know is impermanent…a stage in life you will never get to do over.  I loved living so close to school and being welcomed into the classroom, even if it was just to say ‘hello’ and give a hug.  I loved that the teachers knew my kids and kept a close eye out for them.  I loved being a mom to an elementary school kid.  I already know that Middle School is the dark void re. parental involvement.  I’m sure High School is even more so.  I am feeling this milestone with a mixture of heavy heart and gratitude for getting this far.  Grateful for the teachers and families that have been part of the ride.  Thank you.