As many of you know, most of our Christopherus consulting work is done by Lisa Marshall and Barbara Benson, two very experienced Waldorf homeschoolers who, between them, have 8 children and - well...many, many years of parenting and educating under their belts! Both Lisa and Barbara are moderators on our on-line discussion forum and provide a wealth of knowledge, support and friendly advice there. I thought, though, it would be good to help them become known beyond the intimate circle of our discussion forum and thus have asked them to occasionally write entries here on my blog, so that you all can "meet them".
Here is the first of these guest entries. The following was written by Lisa and describes her three months on the road in a rather small camper (I saw it when they rolled into Viroqua to visit me - believe me, it was really small!) with her family and large dog. So many times one picks up a magazine or paper only to read of the horrors of even being in a car for an hour or so with children - and here Lisa and Geoff spent 3 intense months with theirs - and they are all still alive and from what I can gather, happy, fit and nurtured by their time together. How did they do it? Can children really be wonderful to be with and can one manage to create forms and rhythms which make life on the road bearable? Read on.....
Our Life on the Open Road
My family of five plus one large neurotic Collie dog, recently completed a 3 month road trip around the United States. I am often asked what our daily life looked like during this time and how we were able to survive such an intense period of togetherness in what can only be described as extremely close quarters. How does one home-school and maintain rhythm and sanity while traveling?
Our 1966 Airstream trailer sleeps 2-3 comfortably but there were 5 of us not including the dog. There are two twin beds in the mid section of the trailer with storage compartments above and below. At the front of the trailer is a little couch that opens up to a double (sort-of) bed. This is called a "Gaucho". The 3 children shared the two twin beds. Most often the girls shared one bed and my son and the dog shared the other. The Gaucho was for me and my husband Geoff but invariably we were joined at some point by my son and/or the dog. Sometimes I think a tent would have been more comfortable! There is a little bathroom with a toilet, sink, and small tub, at the back with a curtain hung up for privacy. Each child had his or her own clothing storage compartment except for underwear and socks which were kept together in two bags. When one child got out socks and underwear, she or he was expected to get out the socks and underwear for their siblings as well. I also had a drawer and Geoff had his own closet. We also brought along a few carefully selected toys, a bunch of craft and handwork supplies, and way, way too many books. Along the way, we accumulated a number of rocks and "special" sticks that seemed to mostly end up in my son's bed! It was difficult to keep everything tidy, organized and accessible but for the most part we managed. The little kitchen is in the front with a 3-burner propane cook top and a decent sized oven. Food storage was the biggest challenge. We had one tiny refrigerator which had to hold all our perishable food plus raw chicken for our dog and also keep a few beers cold (a necessity). I learned to serve any large, leafy vegetables first, just to get them out of the way.
At home we have different routines for weekdays and weekends. On the road, we had travel days and camping days. Travel days had a very predictable routine. After eating breakfast and getting dressed, the children practiced their violins and did their travel day chores such as filling all our water bottles with water and putting them in the car while we did dishes, checked e-mail (when available), planned our driving route, etc. As check-out time neared, Geoff and the children would work outside while I got busy inside. There are a series of tasks that need to be done to get the trailer unhooked from water, power, and sewer and hitched to the car. Geoff had the children trained to assist in these tasks which they enjoyed very much especially cranking the trailer hitch up and into place. Inside, everything needed to be stowed in such a way as to prevent things from falling down and breaking especially on bumpy roads. An old trailer can be quirky. We learned which doors could be counted upon to stay shut and which needed something heavy propped against them.
We tried not to drive for more than 5 hours in a day. Mornings in the car were quiet. The girls would often do a math page or two and read their books. My son would look out the window and chatter about the things he saw, or look at a book, or create miles and miles of finger knitting. Lunch was usually a picnic at a rest area. Not until the late afternoons when boredom and restlessness were at their worst, would I read aloud or put on an audio book. Sometimes we had lovely talks and sang and laughed together. Sometimes we fought, especially when it was getting late and we would get lost while looking for a place to eat or camp. And through it all, there was the spectacular scenery unfolding before us as we traveled across the vast American West.
Camping days were the most fun of course. The first day at a new campground is always exciting for the children as they explore their surroundings and get to know the neighbors. This would give us a chance to catch up on trailer maintenance, laundry, e-mail etc. If we were at a national or state park a stop at the visitors' center to pick up maps and chat with the Rangers on the first day would help us plan our stay. Most parks have Junior Ranger programs with little booklets for the children to complete to earn their Junior Ranger badge. The quality of these programs varied but they were, for the most part, well done and our children enjoyed learning about each place and earning their badges. We tried to get at least one good hike in at each park. One has to be careful not to overdo hiking with children. Ours are fairly agreeable hikers, but even so, if we tried to do too many hikes or put in too many miles in a day, we faced mutiny. On a day when a challenging hike is planned, we found it best to also plan an ice cream or pie for afterwards, not so much a bribe as an incentive.
Evenings at the campgrounds were the best times of all. Often, the girls would play their fiddles and other campers would come over to compliment them on their playing or to meet our dog. Our son would be busy gathering sticks, digging holes or plowing roads through the pine-needles, maybe even building a campfire. I would fix a simple supper in our trailer kitchen which we would always eat out doors unless it was pouring rain. Most nights, just like at home, I would read a bedtime story while Geoff washed the dishes and often I would fall asleep while singing to the children.
On paper, our rhythm was quite chaotic and at times it did feel that way. On the whole however, there was a good balance of out breaths and in breaths, regular meals, story and bedtimes, warmth and good humor which sustained us. We didn't have much alone time. Every other day or so, I would take the dog out for a long walk early in the morning and get a little quiet time to myself. Geoff ran several mornings a week and accomplished the same thing. The children would find their own ways of having quiet time provided we didn't over schedule our days. Couple time was the hardest to come by. I had imagined many nights sitting by a campfire, just the two of us, gazing at the stars while the children slept, but too often we fell asleep with them or it would start to rain when the sun went down.
It has been four months since we left Florida and we are more than ready to get settled in our new house in upstate NY. Once we are there and we resume normal life, we will try to remember the lessons of our time together on the road, to appreciate the natural world, to take the time to get to know regular folks, to make room for down time, to not accumulate too much stuff, and that home is wherever your family is gathered together.