A road trip has always held the promise of wonderful adventures for me. You never know what you are going to see and who you are going to meet along the way. Sure, there is a plan, but at least a couple of the best memories that make the trip special come from all of the unplanned happy accidents along the way. I remember when I was young and a road trip held the promise of all of that road trip magic but didn’t entail any work in planning. My mom did that. And she did it so well that I never realized that there was work involved. Now I am the mom. My son gets to experience the magic of the road trip and I have pleasure of making the magic happen. I can only hope that it appears as effortless to him as it did to me when I was little.
My son and I just returned from our first road trip together. It was our first road trip, our first trip without any other family members, his first night in a hotel, the longest period of time he has ever been in a car…it was a lot of firsts. It was awesome!
In the spirit of full disclosure, I got the idea from an article posted months ago on Facebook by a friend. It was a tour of Ohio with stops at several waterfalls along the way. We both love the woods and have a special place in our hearts for waterfalls; this trip seemed perfect. I spent a couple of evenings on the internet gathering maps and information about each waterfall and away we went.
Mid-May seemed like a good time. The water is still high from spring rains; the other kids aren’t out of school yet; hotel rates are still off-season; the weather is nice. Perfect, let’s go! I packed up the car with way more food and clothing than any two human beings could possible need for a two night trip (because that is just who I am) and away we went on our adventure.
What happened next defined the spirit of our trip and in some broader ways the spirit of our homeschool. First, it started to snow. Yes, in the middle of May, there was snow. I brought winter coats, hats and mittens. “It’s OK, little dude”, I said, “Lets bundle up. We can still see the waterfalls.” Then my GPS dropped me in the middle of Youngstown and said “You have reached your destination.” “It’s OK, little dude”, I said, “My cell phone also has a map and we will find our way to the waterfall.” We found the waterfall and I noticed that my phone was down from 100% fully charged when we left the house a little over an hour earlier to 20% charged and dying quickly. “It’s OK, little dude”, I said, “I will turn the phone off and we will worry about it later. Let’s go see that waterfall.” Our teeth chattered; we shivered; the path to the waterfall was closed due to construction. “It’s OK, little dude”, I said, “We will take the road instead.” We saw the waterfall; we walked along the river; we saw an older gentleman wearing a coat and gloves filling hummingbird feeders and had an interesting conversation with him about the migration habits of hummingbirds. Unplanned happy accidents, remember? When we got back to the car, I got out my old fashioned pen and paper and turned my phone back on to copy the directions to the next waterfall and to the hotel onto paper so that we could continue our trip. When the phone powered back up, it was down to 10% battery. Halfway through my copying, my pen ran out of ink. “It’s OK, little dude”, I said, “I have another pen!” By the time I finished frantically scribbling the directions, I was down to 2% battery power. Time to take a deep breath and re-center. Breathe, mama, breathe. It’s going to be OK!
This was not exactly the start I was planning to our little road trip. Remember the magic I mentioned back at the beginning? This was not the magic I had imagined. I was picturing sunshine, idyllic wilderness, clear directions, and technology which worked. I got snow, road work, a tour through industrial Youngstown and a dead phone battery. It was time for me to live the example I want to set for my son – an example of the way to approach both life in general and education. We talk frequently about optimism, persistence, problem solving, diligence and not giving up. We also talk about doing all of those things with kindness, compassion and a smile on your face. It would have been easy to get frustrated and give up, to turn around and go back home to our comfort zone, to take out my disappointment in the beginning of our trip on my son, but that is not who we are and that is not how we do things in life or in school. Instead, I took that deep breath and we talked some more about optimism and persistence. We talked about how we could have reacted negatively to the situation and how we made a different and better choice. We persevered and continued with our trip.
It continued to snow for the rest of the afternoon. We made several wrong turns on the way to the next waterfall, but we had fun along the way. The next waterfall was beautiful and we found a bike path nearby. Another happy road trip accident. A bike path is always a mood-lifter for us! By the time we got to the hotel that night we were both exhausted, but having a great time on our waterfall adventure. The hotel far exceeded my expectations and set up an entirely unrealistic image of what hotels are like for my son. There was an indoor pool, an arcade, a huge indoor fireplace, pool tables and ping pong tables in the lobby, free popsicles with the kid’s meal dinner in the restaurant and a playground outside. The next day was everything I had hoped for in our waterfall trip and more. There was sunshine; there were waterfalls; there were wildflowers, there were wild chipmunks and singing birds. We were both relaxed and happy. The trip got off to a rocky start, but turned into everything I had hoped for. Just think, I could have missed all of that if I had turned around in Youngstown and gone home in a frustrated, defeated huff.
Sure we talked about nature, rock formations, the ice age, hummingbirds, using maps to navigate, Mohican Indians, and red winged blackbirds on our trip, but I think the most valuable lessons were those about optimism and persistence. Those lessons about what happens when you push through the hard moments and come through on the other side are going to be recurring ones through our homeschool experience.
I’m sure all parents worry about instilling the good values and important character traits in their kids when they are young. In our case, I spend a lot of time talking about optimism and persistence as I mentioned above. I wonder if, as a homeschooler, I put more pressure on myself to do that character-molding than I would if I was sending my little guy to kindergarten in the fall. Other role models would be more readily and consistently available in a school setting. He would spend more time with peers and would learn to regulate himself through their example. As a homeschooled kid, he has to rely on my influence and on the influences I introduce to him. This concept both intimidates me with its enormous responsibility and appeals to the control freak in me.
What values are most important to your family? How do you go about instilling them? How do you make sure that all of that character molding doesn’t fall directly on your shoulders? – PLH