What I Learned At Home About Learning From Travel: One Mom's Angsty Journal


“It is something that must be lived.”-- My Daughter

Is the Grand Tour of Europe still part of a well-rounded education, even if you get it mostly from PBS?

My daughter once channeled the traveling voice of Rick Steves in an essay she dubbed, “I Watched a Lot of PBS as a Kid”

This sullen, excessively bearded man is my companion, Franςois. He will accompany me in restaurant scenes throughout the videocassette. Franςois does not respond to any of my questions in French, English, or Franglais, so I can only assume that he is a feral man-bear. Sometimes, as a way to earn money, starving children will dance or sing or play instru- ments or rap or rob people on Le Metro. . . But we certainly can’t spend the whole day underground! We’d miss one of my other fa- vorite activities – standing on rooftops and scanning the skyline for attractions I will never actually visit.

And then, my daughter and a good friend planned an actual trip to Europe for the summer.


Receiving the Passport

Even without Rick Steves and his hairy companion to advise us, we knew she needed a passport, and we’d been reading news about months-long waits due to post- 9/11 security, etc. Six months seemed like enough lead time. So right after Thanksgiving we went together to the county clerk’s office, with all the stuff required, birth certificate and picture ID, etc. But it turned out the feds won’t accept her learner’s permit as a “real” driver’s license. It took us another week and a trip back to the same DMV that issued her learner’s permit to get the very similar official state photo ID that IS accepted. (Learning to deal with red tape and redun- dant bureaucracy? Priceless!)

Then we went back downtown to send off the whole package of documentation along with $75 for the feds, plus another $25 for the local office. They told us it might be only three weeks but we didn’t believe them because we’d read the newspapers. They were right. Her real-live first USA passport arrived -- and it’s a thing of beauty, truly! Every page has Americana on it, evocative half-scale quotes and images.

How about Dwight D. Eisenhower? –

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world, must first come to pass in the heart of America.” It was stirring to hold and thumb through, even though it hadn’t been anywhere yet. She is thrilled. Her wistful mom is proud, and feeling old. A cool day.

Learning Connections

Another homeschooling mom asked if it would be a study trip, work trip, or holiday and I said none of the above. It’s the way she’s always learned: she meets people and gets involved in what appeals to her, like reading and writing, dancing and musical theatre. Then those people in those worlds connect to other people and overlapping interests, and she goes (how did the Chronicles of Narnia put it?) “higher up and deeper in!”

So I guess you could say it’s a Power of Story trip? Her Europe Adventure seems to have germinated in dance and been watered well by song and poetry and literature, and of course, PBS. It was fertilized by several college honors courses in religion and the humanities to which she was drawn. She just got around to formal foreign language study (French). If it hadn’t been for her French-fluent friend and meeting her family, I’m not sure she ever would have seen learning French as something worth her time and effort. And this trip might never have happened.

The agenda they’re planning all by them- selves is very personal and offbeat, and the different arrangements they’re consider- ing and criteria they’re using are just fascinating to hear about.

My years-younger son hasn’t yet traveled much, but because he met a musical family from Edinburgh and fell in love with everything Scottish, took up the bagpipes. He had a kilt made in the Ross clan hunting tartan, and his big sister was moved to make Edinburgh the first city they explored across the pond. Here’s what their mom learned from that:

If we thought of kids as bagpipes, would we better appreciate their eccentricities, and our own lack of ability to play them at will?

She Wasn’t Kidding

...and now she’s gone!

We’re not losing a daughter, but gaining a world traveler? She and her best girlfriend, fellow dancer and traveling companion Kiki, both declare they will be forever changed by their European adventure, so we took plenty of photos as they were leav- ing for the airport, to memorialize those pre-travel selves we’ll never see again [sniff, sob!]. It’s as they want it, flying solo, no family, chaperones or guides, not even a travel agent to help plan and book. Nobody told me my own journey would teach me some of what I’m learning now about staying home. In the beginning, there was my daughter and she gave me life as a mom . . .so this is THEIR story and in truth, I guess it always has been. I am more audience than author.

And at least it’s illustrated.

They are big dreamers like we all were once upon a time, but I swear that they’ve got some healthy perspective I just didn’t have, about achievement and family and self and humanity.

Home Safe!

Upon their return, forever changed – just as they had promised me on the porch before taking off. These bright young women broadened and deepened the travel they imagined and made happen for themselves, by broadening and deepening themselves right here at home, long before travel in turn could broadened them.

And they’ve gone “higher up and deeper in” by far, than anything I would have scripted and graded them on, had I been preparing lessons meant to change them. My daughter and her companion ended their Grand Tour back in London with the West End musical, Billy Elliot. As senior dancers here at home (that’s how they first met) it was the one must-see show for them both and did not disappoint.

Here’s what my daughter said she would have learned that last day, if it hadn’t already made her who she is every day in every way, at home and abroad:

“The whole message is ‘be yourself.’ ‘If you want to dance, dance.’”

JJ Ross, Ed.D., connect everything to everything else. She spent half of her six decades in public schooling, the other at home with kids, and the main thing she has learned in all that time is that the ones who need to be learning new stuff every day aren’t so much the kids in school – it’s the rest of us!