**This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of WestCoast Families Magazine**
MAURITIUS – I’m raising my daughter…to check the toaster for lizards before proceeding. Not something I ever thought I’d have to consider while making breakfast. Here in Mauritius, where we have spent the last month, lizards enjoy breadcrumbs and trust me, this is not an oversight you want to make. When we set out on this year long trip we really didn’t know what to expect and one of the biggest things we’ve figured out since leaving Vancouver last August is…we still don’t know what to expect. This is good life training.
So much of our adventure has consisted of small events that represent microcosms of life and have been powerful learning experiences. We get lost all the time. We work together to find the way. Bonus points for achieving this without swearing or yelling. We are no longer afraid of being lost. Another good life skill. Weird things happen that make us scared, confused or uneasy and those ‘weirdnesses’ usually end up being total highlights in retrospect. Ever eat a bat? Things don’t go as planned and often what happens instead is a more interesting option. If you don’t run out of gas on a strange jungle road, you never get to see that cute monkey! If you’re not lost you don’t stumble in the secret back door of an ancient Spanish cathedral and weasel your way right up into the bell tower and down into the eerie torture dungeon. I’m hoping that our daughter takes deeply to heart the understanding that perfection is not something to strive for. Interesting is. Challenging is. Meaningful is. This trip, like life, is often boring and sometimes uncomfortable. It is also crammed with stunning views, fascinating experiences, delicious foods, wonderful people and occasionally warm, clear blue waters teeming with spinner dolphins.
When I lost my job of nearly 20 years we had several different options as a family. We could take the handshake and slap it on the mortgage. That would have been sensible and could have vaulted us ahead on the old spreadsheet. It also would have been boring. So, after discussing the possibilities, oddly enough, on a road trip, we decided to take advantage of the world’s most valuable commodity (that we suddenly had a LOT of) time. If I accepted one of the attractive new jobs I was offered right away we would have had to cash in the freedom chip. That didn’t seem like a very brave or fun thing to do.
The timing was actually perfect. Our older son, at 21, was beginning life on his own with growing independence. Our daughter, at 11, was still pre-highschool enough that we could handled the math. Barely. Many people ask us what we are doing about her education. The totally honest answer is…not much. After consulting with other families who have taken long travel sabbaticals they all seemed to echo that the ‘school of life’ is a valuable education tool and their kids picked right up where they left off once they returned home. What did change was their life view and their world view and isn’t that what learning is all about?
So, to answer the ‘education’ question, she is doing math online with a groovy programme called IXL, reading like a fiend, learning quite a bit of French, reading maps, converting currency and doing some special reports on the places we have visited. The last one was about “Animals of Seychelles” where we spent the month of December. The cool thing is she saw all of the animals up close and personal. She watched ancient tortoises mating (yuck!), she saw a giant sea turtle bury her 200 eggs in the sand, she discovered what a nudibranch is and saw eagle rays fly when she got her Open Water Scuba Diver certificate as the youngest diver on the small tropical island. At just 11 years old, Lyla was offered a very big responsibility and accepted it with tremendous focus and maturity. She was also understandably nervous but passed all the tests with confidence. Bravery is another fab life skill.
Yes, we have seen and done some amazing things but we are becoming less and less interested in ticking off the tourist attractions. It’s the changes in perspective that have become the most valuable. We are more interested in learning and engaging with people. Living through a threatened cyclone will do that for you. We have become resourceful. Seashell Christmas tree decorations anyone? We have become exceedingly patient with one another. 24/7 togetherness on a tight budget will do that for you. We have shown humour in stressful and embarrassing situations. Accidentally driving down stairs will do that for you. We have exhibited empathy. Feeding skinny wild stray dogs and volunteering at animal shelters will do that for you.
By seeing how others live we have learned to be deeply grateful for the life we have the great pleasure of experiencing and the place we are so fortunate to call home. And, we have also learned to always check the toaster for lizards.