Taking on a new adventure!

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We were in the middle of an ocean cliffs ranger-led tour in Acadia national park, when my 9-year-old chimed in to add to the discussion that baleen whales, attracted to the shores of Bar Harbor each breeding season, can’t eat more than a balloon size amount of food which is why they mostly prefer to eat small fish, plankton, and krill. The ranger replied in delight that he would not only share this correct fact, but do so confidently. I was left in awe that he even knew that.

Later on, he would go on to also share that it was the Wabanake people, not the European settlers, who were the first to settle Mount Desert Island, where the park is located. He had only learned this the day before during a museum visit.

This wouldn’t be the first time I have seen my boys enthusiastically share information with tour guides and others whom we meet in our travels. Yet it was during our time in Italy, and again during our recent trip to Acadia, that I was left convinced that we were ready for homeschooling.

I would love to say that this decision came about because we have a life full of travels and adventures and it’s just easier this way. I would like to do as many of my friends have, and take a year to explore the world while homeschooling in the process. And though we plan on traveling more now that the demands and schedules of traditional schooling will be out of the way, the decision was one led by stress, frustration, and at times, sadness and disappointment.

We are one of those families who enter every school year afraid of what we are going to get. Will we get an enthusiastic teacher? Will he/she be one so visibly frustrated with the system that they no longer enjoy the work? Will they feel so susceptible to the results of standardized testings that they will grow impatient and intolerant of those kids who just can’t, and in their minds, won’t keep up?

Will I have another teacher who tells me my son has “mental problems” and needs to see a specialist, because he is too quiet and breaks out in tears when pressured to work faster? Or will we have the new, enthusiastic teacher who absolutely loves his creativity, sense of humor, and passion for books? Will my sons learn to be more quiet this year, or speak up more, or work faster, or stay on task? Will they just learn to shut up when needed, talk when told, and in general, be good? These are the questions I ask myself, almost as if in prayer – and I am not even religious!

But, like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolate, we just never know what we’re going to get and it has eaten away at us for years. I always just told my kids that we all had crappy teachers growing up at one point or another, therefore, I told them, “suck it up and deal”. I mean, that’s what my parents would have told me.

The moment of truth

Until they started getting sick. My youngest was waking up with stomach cramps. A pain so bad that he would enter our room in tears in the middle of the night. My middle son started suffering from severe headaches, also waking up at night or tired in the morning from not being able to sleep well.

This went on for months. Blood work, scans, and other exams would lead to one simple diagnosis: stress.

At the same time, my teenager, who was in the last months of high school began to suffer from joint pain. A doctor would diagnose him with preliminary rheumatoid arthritis and even go as far as telling him to stop playing sports. A few months after graduation, and since starting college, he has experienced no further pain, even when playing sports, and hasn’t needed to take medications.

It was hard for me to process that I could no longer compare my school experiences, which were a roller coaster ride as well – and the reason my family opted for me to study abroad – to that of my children. There is a lot of literature out there pointing to the fact that our children are under a lot of different types of pressures that many of us weren’t during our school years. Some kids handle it beautifully, while there are still a few who do not. I will not lie and say that I didn’t struggle with questions. Why aren’t my kids able to deal, and what am I doing wrong? Am I coddling them? Am I enabling them to be weak? Am I setting them up to crumble under pressure? I also won’t deny that all those questions held more insecurities over what people would think, of my children, of me. I could almost hear the judgment.

And so I allowed my kids to struggle. They would pass a grade, we would sigh in relief that another year was over, and brace ourselves once it started again.

This year we did something a little different. We gave ourselves a break. We left a week before spring break and went to Italy and I saw my children come alive and I knew what I had to do.

The fear

I quickly got over what people would say about me as a mother, or of my children, but I went through a longer stage of fear for what this change of lifestyle would mean for me. I knew to stay away from the people who would laugh at me and who would swear that I would fail. But I still worried about my career. How will I travel for stories? How will I get work done? Will brands turn me away now that I come with baggage? Will I be able to say no? What opportunities will I miss?

Working moms are already stigmatized and considered a burden in many professional settings. Those without children will cry out in fury should I get any consideration for having kids in ways that they wouldn’t for not having them. The torch and pitchforks would light up my social network were I to be seen as demanding anything because of my children. And I don’t plan to, nor do I want to. I simply needed to be OK and come to terms with the opportunities that I will lose over this and believe that better ones will take their place.

Luckily I am not on this journey alone. I have an incredibly supportive husband, who has allowed me the time and space to figure this all out at my pace and is as committed to this as I am.  My children are older and can take care of themselves, but I intend to commit to what we are doing – to them – and working on helping them through this process. However, in the travel industry mom isn’t very sexy or cool (though 80% of all travel decisions are made by women, a lucrative growing market of baby boomers and single mothers – but that’s another post for another time), and I suspect some doors will just not open for me.

I had to have a serious moment of reflection and think about what I could lose for deciding to put my children first. “This is professional suicide,” I thought over and over, and a wave of panic would take over me before I could breathe again.

But I have been here before. I have been in this place where I am made to choose my career over my family…and then my family over my career. And though in my mind it felt like a huge step towards a dramatic result, nothing really happened. Except that every time I have chosen my family over anything else, I – we – have been happier for it.

And so, here I am, taking that leap of faith that it will, once again, all work out. This will all work out. We will all be fine.

Who I am

Having an almost 19-year-old now has helped to give me a lot of perspective on things. Well, that, and being older myself.

Though I will always be someone’s mom, I won’t always be someone’s mommy. It would be naïve for me to say that I am committing every ounce of my being to the welfare of my children because they don’t really need me to (or want me to). Plus, that would absolutely kill my soul.

I need to be creative and I need to write. I need to think about other things besides my kids and I need to continue to do things to take care of myself.

And though I won’t always be someone’s mommy, the truth is, I still am. This will all change in a few short years and what I do with that responsibility and gift will help shape another human being’s sense of confidence and self. So yes, I am my own person, with needs and wants and dreams that extend beyond motherhood, this decision doesn’t change nor threaten that, but being a mother is the most important thing I have to do now and I find incredible happiness in it and great peace.

I'm ready to take on this new adventure for my family's health and happiness.

What now

I don’t expect my blog to change very much over this. I’ve recruited a new writer (Yay for Stephanie!) and am looking to expand the voices of female travelers on this site. I continue to have access to opportunities that allow me to travel without it affecting things too much. I suspect, however, that my travel might change a bit over time and that it will include my kids more. If that sounds like a negative, I don’t mean it to. On the contrary, I can’t wait to see what this year will bring. It could be that next year the kids want to go back to a traditional school environment, or that I really can’t do this. Who knows? But what I do know now is that we are very, very excited.

I am planning a few trips with them and am looking forward to having happier, healthier kids at home who love to learn and explore and discover new things. Because I always plan for “the worse”, I suspect that traveling for work, with kids in tow, won’t really be supported. I’ve come to terms with this and will do as I always have which is freelance and save money to fund our own travels, just like every other normal family does. What we love to do and how we enjoy spending our time doesn’t need to change. If anything, I see it getting a lot better. It already feels better.

Final thought

One of the main reasons I am writing this post is because as I somewhat quietly started on this path to this decision, I voiced out my fears and ups and downs with online friends. The support has been astonishing. I have been showered with words of encouragement and wisdom, from friends who are homeschooling for years now and others who aren’t but are happy for us either way. From my sister-in-law to people I have only ever spoken to online, I have been talked off the ledge more times than I can count, been given resources and information, been listened to and guided. It’s been truly incredible. However, many moms have also shared how they have been insulted or accused of being bad mothers for their decision to home school. Some mothers shared how they would never be open about it as I have been, or how when they started they received nothing but negativity from both family members as well as online.

This is why I am open about it. There are tons of families out there who do it for all sorts of different reasons. There was a time when I couldn’t have imagined being here. But, then again, there was a time when I couldn’t have imagined myself married and with kids, much less three of them! Point is, I am not the first to do this for her family, and I won’t be the last. If my speaking about it brings less negativity to the matter and breaks apart stereotypes and misconceptions in any way, then its all for the best. This isn’t an easy choice, and it isn’t for everyone. It might not be for us in the end, but we are excited to give it a go and incorporate a lot of the travels we want to take on in the process.

I have no idea what I am doing, other than that I am trying to help my kids have a better learning experience and bringing my family back to a place where we aren’t so frustrated and stressed out all the time. Traditional school just stopped working for us. We might be able to go back later, but right now we need a break and I couldn’t have made it to this point of courage and excitement without the support of so many. We are so grateful.

My kids are finishing the school year at our local school and then we are on our way to several trips together. I look forward to continuing in sharing those travel stories with you and if you are curious about our homeschooling journey, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I don’t know too much yet, but it already feels like a fun and crazy ride!

 

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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