When we look back we often revel in our luck. We broke out of prison. We were lifers, in for the long haul. You see, wwe bought into the script that had been laid out before us and were “paying our dues”, (this phrase would become akin to nails on a chalkboard for us). We were hook, line and sinker into 9-5 workdays, 1.5 hour commutes, school, PTA and extra-curricular activities. We were the proverbial Jones’ and we suffered from serious FOMO on behalf of our kids. We were the king and queen of structured activities.
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Structured Activities: The Early Days
I remember taking my oldest daughter, to Gymboree classes. She was … 2. We did exactly what we did at home, we danced to music, we tumbled around on the floor, we laughed and we spent quality time together. But, instead of doing it for free, I paid for it. IN my defense, every one of my friends did so with their kids and I had heard the buzzword “socialization” and “necessary” in the same sentence countless times. to where I was brainwashed. Of course, this would have been fine, one little class, but as with everything we do, we eventually took it to the extreme.
Many seasons, after moving to Colorado, our boys sports overlapped. Now, at this point, we had 7, 8, 9 kids. I would pick my two oldest boys up from school, drive them to soccer practice, and then immediately after to football and then, whilst they changed frantically in the car, to hockey practice. And, I wasn’t the only one. Everyone was doing it! At 9 and 10 years old, these practices were legit and no player was able to skip a practice or they would be benched. That word strikes fear in kids who take competition seriously, as mine did. I look back and laugh at myself, I allowed the societal pressures, the idea that to be a good mom, my kids had to be in ALL the sports…I allowed this to interfere with my family life.
We did guitar lessons, ballet, dance, football, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, softball, basketball, choir and everything in between. We raked in hundreds of volunteer hours at our schools. I went to every birthday party, play date, party and school function, with mulitple toddlers and always an infant in tow. We chaperoned every field trip, every school dance, and never sent our kids to an away game without our presence. We coached little league soccer and football and were on as many planning committees as humanly possible. No, was not a word we ever used because it was all for our kids’ benefit, or so we thought.
Those days, my kids would come home and barely be able to keep their heads up at the dinner table. It would be 7:00 or 8:00 pm, sometimes later, by the time we sat down as a family, famished and exhausted. I remember cooking whilst nursing, eating while standing and rocking an overtired, overstimulated baby … but never once did I think all this was too much. I mean, anything for your children, right? Exhaustion for everyone meant I was doing something right.
In those days there were no red flags. The kids were thriving. Structured Activities were life. They loved the competitions, the trips to sing in Aspen, the recitals, friends, invitations … everything, For all extensive purposes, they loved it all.
And, I loved watching them learn skills, tools that I thought would take them farther than the simple education they learned at school. I loved hearing they made the A squad or were starters for the next game, I loved how it seemingly boosted their confidence and made them happy. The excitement, the smiles, the nervous giggles before dance. It was fun because they enjoyed it, they felt accomplished.
The Gradual Switch From Structured Activites to Freedom
But, God saw otherwise. Little signs from Him appeared at first, but like all those who laugh in the face of obstacles, we overcame them. Then God sent bigger ones, which again we hurdled, with more difficulty, but never-the-less we persevered. So He started work on my heart. Sent Dan and I little signs re: our kids. Homeschooling was a tiny seed that God planted and allowed to blossom. We were all spread so thin that had a burning bush appeared, we’d have missed it. And we did. But, like I said, God was working on my heart.
I remember clearly when we decided to homeschool and cut back on the crazy schedule. I had fought it for years, thinking I didn’t have the patience, I didn’t have the knowledge (college grad with 2 degrees), that I would fail and my kids would then fail at life. The changing point came when Dan happened to meet a family of 4 getting out of these little tiny freestyle kayaks. Imagine that! He was so intrigued he talked to them for quite awhile and within one week, he bought himself a Jackson 4 Fun.
Then, he bought a 2 Fun for Grady and a 1.5 Fun for Brody. Y’all know the rest…the rest is history. Little by little he bought a boat for me, then Kerry, then Kady. Kayaking was all we thought about. The kids were dropping hints like mad. They wanted to kayak after school, not go to football or hockey or soccer. They wanted to not run all over like chickens with their heads cut of, and simply play in the river with us in their newfound passion of whitewater kayaking. Oh, but to give everything up when it has been the substance by which you live? When everyone else’s kids continue? But, I’m telling you this, when we finally listened to our kids, when I finally listened to my heart, there was a major sigh of relief amonst the people in our household.
There was also a quiet gasp amongst our friends and family. “What? Grady isn’t playing soccer this season?” or “What? Brody isn’t playing hockey this year?” I consoled myself by saying that if this was the wrong decision, if dropping out of the chaos of the past years was the wrong decision, we could always rejoin the insanity next year. But that didn’t happen. What did happen was crazier than I ever would have given us credit for. We didn’t just drop out of all the sports and programs, we dropped out of school. The lure of freedom pulled on us with such strength it was impossible to deny. In 2010 we made the decision to homeschool all but our eldest daughter, she fought too hard against it, we were too late, sadly. If I had to do it all again, we wouldn’t have listened to her … I mean today she’s perfect and brilliant … but still, more time with her would have been way better than less.
We had all the freedom in the world to study and play on our own time. Our kids adapted immediately, I loved the new chill vibe that settled upon our household. Eventually I fell into my own educator style, and I allowed my kids space to seek out that which they found interesting. These interests came and went with the seasons, but they were learning, about the world, and about themselves. They were each others best mentors. We worked hard and played hard.
RV Life: Shock & Horror
And then we took it a step further. We decided to break out of society all together. We bought an RV and lived in it, almost exclusively fo 7 years, traveling the continent in search of adventure, fun, a different way of life that didn’t center around the pursuit of monetary success, but rather family success.
We traveled, kayaked, hiked, climbed, camped, snowboarded, dirtbiked … we did everything and then some … as a family. It is here, in our modest authentic life, that we truly thrived. Our kids blossomed. As they explored and discovered, experienced highs and lows, they became closer and closer and closer. They evolved into themselves, they learned who they truly were, what they truly were interested in and how they truly wanted to live. Education became individualized. The younger kids, never having stepped inside a classroom have a worldview eons ahead of their peers. They know what truly matters and we are increasingly proud of each and every one of our kids.
If we had listened to anyone, anyone at all, none of this would have materialized. As amazing as it sounds, this move was not widely accepted by … the world. You see, if you live in this world, but not of it, if your values aren’t identical to your peers, the conclusion is that there is something wrong with you, not society. Never society. I understand to an extent. At the time, we were so radical. So radical that the freakin Today Show came out and did a story on us. So radical that Nickelodeon followed us around for 1 week and made a 30 minute special about us. So bizarrely radical, that producers were coming out of the woodwork with show pitches. “You are prime material for a network like TLC,” they pressed. No thank you! Preserving our family and protecting our children is our motivation in everything we do, which is precisely why we embraced this radical (at the time) lifestyle. Today, though, so many more people are trying to escape the actual radical education that is emanating from the public school system.
RV Life: Shock and Awe
Despite the negativity we received from friends and family … eventually something happened. Something magical. Friends, family and even strangers saw our kids truly thriving. Thriving outside the auspices of trumped up stress, of over-scheduling, of forced learning. In place of all the head shaking and disappointment, we started to hear from people wanting to do the very thing they had heckled so hard the year before. We still receive, on average, 5-6 emails DAILY asking how we were able to get started. People want out of their hectic, stress-filled lives, and they see a shimmer of light. In this post Covid world, where more and more people are able to continue working from home, and the absolute insane real estate market, I wager to guess the RV community will begin to grow exponentially.
The Loss of Childhood
I don’t know when the pedulum swung so far in our society. When did American parents begin to feel the need to fill their kids’ lives with excitement every second of every day? I’m of the generation where our moms gossiped with friends on their decks drinking Tab and smoking a cigarette. We walked one mile to and from school, rode our bikes everywhere and weren’t accounted for until dinner. We made forts, played in sprinklers and climbed trees. We were covered in scratches and sun kissed skin, our hair lightened from chlorine.
There was no stress, no anxiousness. My mom had dinner on the table every night and my dad had a scotch the minute he walked in the door from work. His contribution to outside sports was waking up to drive us to swim practice. When the commitment became waking at 4:00 to go dive into a freezing cold outdoor pool, I quit. My brother persevered. My dad left it up to him to wake him up, because no way was he going to fight a kid to get up at 4 am. Zero pressure. Zero parental self worth garnered from a child’s performace. My parent’s rightly knew, if my brother wanted it, he would put forth the effort, my dad would merely wake long enough to drive the 20 minutes to the facility.
At soccer practice, I was only interested in making sleep over plans for the upcoming weekend. Softball practice was more about Big League Chew than anything else. I remember the snack bar being next level, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about those two seasons as a Blue Bonnie. Being benched was never a concern … my competitive gene didn’t flourish until I was much older.
Too Much Structure
Today, this kind of non-commital participation by parents is unfathomable. Showing up just for fun isn’t an option. Parents push, coaches push, schools push. You must be the best, do the best, win, win, win. Long gone are the days of missing practice because it snowed and you want to go sledding with your siblings. I remember bribing Brody to miss his basketball practice because it had dumped snow and we were enjoying an 18″ powder day with our family. He was so stressed because he knew, at 10 that would mean he didn’t play in the game.
The result is a much less well rounded kid because they have to commit to things at much younger ages. Parents are forced to weigh these commitments against the well being of the rest of the family. Not to mention, these sports are not cheap. $300 for mini mite hockey? $75 for 8&U basketball? And then the gear, the gas, the mandatory volunteer hours, the required fundraising … and if you have more than a couple kids? Hard.
Good at All or Great at One
Every once in a while, we notice a special talent in one of our kids. We ask ourselves if it would be worth it to give them a shot. But then the words of one of our kids echoes in our ears, “Right. But, do you want to focus on just one thing and be really great at it, or do you want to have fun and do lots of things and be pretty good at all of them.”
This from a kid who was changing in the car between practices. This from the kid who has lived both lives. These words are wise and so they bring us back to that decision we made 12 years ago and we relax, as much as parents can ever relax when it comes to raising kids. We did good. Our kids have a zest for life and new things. They enjoy a wide variety of sports that they can all do together until the end of time. And most importantly, they have each other and the knowledge and understanding that it is relationships with the people we love that is most important. For us and our goals as parents … this is success.
I rest in the opinion that if we had kept up with the charade, we’d have very diffferent children than the ones we have now, and I love who they are. They are independent and thoughtful, humble and kind and exceptionally generous.
Kick Stress to the Curb
Today’s buzzwords from kids are stress and anxiety. I don’t remember either of these as a child. Kids have so much on their plates these days, it saddens me. Everything from Covid to divorce, to screen addictions and everything in between. When I was growing up, kids never were inside, ever. We weren’t privvy to adult themed conversations, issues or concerns. We just played, and played, and played. We got bored and we learned to push past that boredom and find new creative, fun ways to spend our time.
I find myself wishing we could just reclaim childhood for our young people. To cherish the bleached out hair, the scrapes and bruises even the boredom. Heck, this weekend, how bout ya break out the oscillating sprinkler, you know the ones that shoot straight up and go back and forth? Throw some towels on your porch along with a deck of cards, a book for each and lemonade? And, for old times sake, yell, “In or out,” or “Close the door, you don’t live in a barn,” everytime your kids enter (or leave) the house.