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Travel: Family Travel Gives Children the Gift of Independence

 

 

   As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.

 

   For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.

 

   When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.

 

  Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places. 

 

 I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.

 

I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.

 

She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Women, climate change topic of Gonzaga environmental series talk

ENVIRONMENT – Sustainability expert Gloria Flora will be in Spokane this week to discuss how women worldwide are confronting the challenge of climate change.

The free public lecture titled, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat: Women and the Global Response to Climate Change” at 5:30 p.m., Friday (March 22) in the Wolff Auditorium of Gonzaga University's Jepson Center.

The lecture is part of the Gonzaga Environmental Studies Speaker Series — which recently sponsored Dr. Jane Goodall — and is sponsored by the Gonzaga environmental studies, and women’s and gender studies departments.

Read on for more details about Flora and her quest to keep flora and fauna functioning on earth.

Back to School Promises

I got a call this morning from an old friend, a woman who was there with me when our children were small. Those children are all grown up now (the “baby” is 15) but each year, at the beginning of September, we can't help but think back to the days when we had to gather books, crayons, lunches and sometimes bits of beloved “blankies” and fit it all into little backpacks. She called to ask me if I still had the “list.” I do.

I wrote the list in the 1990s but looking at it now, I think it still applies:

(Originally printed Monday, September 2, 2002)


Start the school year with promises
Cheryl-Anne Millsap - Correspondent

My children know that on the first day of school, maybe even the first weeks of school, I'll get up early to make their eggs just the way they like them. Or arrange their pancakes and bacon into smiley faces.

They also know that by mid-February, there will be mornings I'll dig through the breadbox for power bars left over from Bloomsday, so they can eat breakfast on the school bus.

I know that my children will start the school year with sharpened pencils and carefully organized backpacks, and by May their desks will be full of dangerously unwound spiral notebooks, missing assignments and dried up markers.

Going to school can be hard work. Getting children to school can be hard work, too. We all (parents and children) start each year with the best of intentions, but the real world, with its deadlines and gray skies and big misunderstandings, comes crashing in on us. The little things, like smiley face breakfasts and organized backpacks fall by the wayside.

That's why before the craziness starts, I pull out the “back to school” list and put it on the refrigerator. It isn't a list of school supplies, or a list of things that need to be taken care of before school starts. It is a list of promises; part contract and part covenant. It tells my children what they can expect of me and what I expect of them in return. I keep it on the door of the refrigerator, pinned by magnetic poetry, hidden behind artwork and band calendars, until the edges curl and summer vacation comes at last.

I wrote the list years ago, before my youngest daughter was even born. I wrote it when I was a sleep-deprived, over-committed young mother trying to find the energy to get three children up and out the door every morning. I needed to remind us all that even though I wasn't going to school with them each day, I was a partner in their education.

Over the years my friends saw the list and asked for a copy to put on their refrigerators. Sometimes, teachers asked for a copy to put in their classrooms.

 

Back to school

I'll wake you up and get you to school. You can't learn if you aren't there.

I'll put you to bed when I think you need to go, and I'll make you stay there. You can't learn if you can't stay awake.


I'll buy you clothes that fit the season and fall somewhere between totally boring and incredibly cool. You can't learn if you are thinking about what you are wearing.

I'll help you have fun after school and on weekends, but I won't let you take on too much. You can't learn if you are too tired.

I'll give you a place to do your homework and I'll give you a helping hand, but I won't do it for you. You can't learn if you don't study.

I will stand beside your teacher, and together we will show you the wonders of the world. But you have to do the hard part and put your heart into everything you do. You can't learn if you don't care.

(You can hear an audio version of the column on PRX here.)

Graduation Girl

Going through previous graduation columns…

Home Planet: They grow up at breathtaking speed

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
June 2, 2008
 

She came into this world after a labor and delivery so fast and efficient it left us both dazed and breathless. Exhilarated and exhausted, I rubbed my cheek against her soft, dark curls. I counted 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes. I tucked her into the curve of my arm and closed my eyes to rest.

I’m still trying to catch up.

I brought her home and held her close to me as we rocked in her great-grandmother’s rocking chair. I nursed her and sang lullabies in the dark. But in a heartbeat she got away from me. Before I knew it, she was toddling around, talking and singing, one thumb in her mouth and the other hand twisting her hair, laughing a deep belly laugh at the antics of her siblings.

Then, distracted by the everyday chores that pulled at me, I looked up to find she was ready for kindergarten, already reading the books her brother and sister brought home from school.

Another blink and she was on her bicycle, wearing Band-Aids on skinned knees and an ear-to-ear grin on her face. She was in constant motion, an Energizer Bunny who danced through the house and into our hearts.

We were still calling her “the baby” when she went away to summer camp for the first time and I brought her home to find she’d grown taller in just a week.

One minute she was playing with her dolls and the next she was wearing braces on her teeth and getting into my makeup and talking about boys. Then she was driving and dating and we were arguing about curfews and clothes.

Yesterday she was in my arms and now, although it feels like I only closed my eyes for a second, she’s graduating from high school.

While I looked over my shoulder at the past or gazed too far down the road worrying about the future or simply focused on the day-to-day routine, she grew up.

She’s bright and beautiful and I’m grateful for every minute I’ve had with her. But, oh, how I wish I could turn back time.

When she heads off to college in the fall, putting three states – and other less-tangible barriers – between us, I suspect she’ll start her new adventure with just as much impatience and exuberance and determination as she showed when she came into my life in the wee hours of a February morning 18 years ago. She’ll rush off to her future, a whirlwind of potential and possibility.

And once again I’ll be left to catch my breath.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Hannah Project

     My friend sat with her husband in a stadium crowded with of thousands of parents just like the two of them. One by one their college-educated children marched across the stage and picked up diplomas, given with a smile and handshake, before crossing to the other side and back to their seats.

      Suddenly, my friend’s eyes filled with tears. Tears of tenderness. Tears of bittersweet sadness. And, to her surprise, tears of relief.

      For the first time it occurred to her that she’d really reached the end of the “Hannah Project” they’d started 22 years before. She had, as the old saying goes, worked herself out of a job. The baby was grown. She had a good education and, most miraculous of all, had already been hired by a reputable company. There was a young man in the picture who gave every indication that he would eventually be a son-in-law.

      For a moment she was wracked with sadness. The baby was gone. Then, for the first time, my friend realized that she wasn’t losing the baby. She was gaining freedom and independence and a second chance at making some of her own dreams come true. Without the day-to-day worries of parenting, she could focus on the dreams she’d put off to raise a child.

      In the time it took a new graduate to cross the stage, she had an epiphany. She was graduating, too. Even as she grieved, she was already looking forward to having a second chance at life.

      Wanting to share what she was feeling, she reached over, clasped her husband’s hand, and whispered in his ear.

      “I can’t believe she’s all grown up,” she said. He nodded.

      “It seems like she was born yesterday,” she whispered. He nodded again

      “We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” she said with tears in her eyes.

      “I know,” he replied squeezing her hand, looking like he was close to tears himself. “No more tuition.”

      She told me the story over a cup of coffee, still shaking her head and laughing. She’d been overcome by the significance of the moment. By the idea that it wasn’t just her child who was moving into a new life; that she was being reborn, as well.

        Her husband had more practical matters on his mind.

        “I had stars in my eyes and he was seeing dollar signs,” she said.

      Actually, when you think about it, that’s a pretty good description of parenting. From conception to graduation, raising a child is brief periods of rose-colored daydreams followed by sobering reality. Maternal glow and  morning sickness. Lullabies and sleep deprivation. Adoration followed by frustration. The drive to give a child what he or she need to grow and thrive and the spirit-crushing responsibility of bringing in the cold hard cash to make it happen. And, finally, when they step out of the nest, regret tempered by the thrill of picking up the life you put on hold.

      Of course, that first step is a big one. A few days after the graduation ceremony, over a late-morning homemade breakfast of pancakes and sausage in mom’s kitchen, my friend’s daughter sheepishly asked for a small loan to tide her over. Just until the first paycheck. It seems the deposit on the new apartment and all the other nickel-and-dime expenses of starting a life on one’s own had erased the balance in her checking account. And, she’d been thinking… To really get ahead she might need to go to graduate school.

      I laughed and she smiled at me over her coffee cup.

      “I know, I know,” she said. “I got ahead of myself.” Apparently, so did her husband.

      My friend may have stars in her eyes but she doesn’t have to rush to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Again. After all, it takes a little time to wrap up a big effort like the Hannah Project.

      Well, time and a few dollars more.  
 
 
 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com