Sometimes Bridges Just Burn

If you value a relationship, whether it’s familial or friendly, there are certain things you just don’t do.

If you continue to lie, insult, disregard, and manipulate though, don’t be surprised if the end result is bridges getting burned, especially after years of discussion, warning, and friction.

We are not a mainstream family. We don’t do things considered normal. We’re a bit different and out there, but in no way have our decisions hurt us, our sons, our family members, or our friends.

Our choices are neither right nor wrong. They are our opinions and what has worked for our family unit, and we have had no regrets. We also don’t believe our decisions work for or are a fit for everyone, and we would and have never imposed such on anyone, regardless of our experiences.

No, our sons have never been to school, and that includes daycare and preschool. Studies have shown there’s no benefit of formal or structured education before the age of 6. We’ve had a passion for traveling since our sons were 1 and 3, and Papa’s work schedule gives him 3-day weekends every other week, which we’ve happily taken advantage of. As opposed to daycare or preschool, Mama was able to make the decision to remain a stay-at-home parent as opposed to seeking a career in anthropology, and our travels have taken us all over, from Puerto Rico when our sons were one and three all the way up to Alaska in 2016. This is something we couldn’t have done if the boys had been in school.

Lack of a formal or traditional education does not equate to illiteracy or lack of an education period. Much of what they’ve learned has been hands-on and in-person. We’re talking places and things most only see in books. Even Mama and Papa got to experience and see many things only in books, on TV, and then eventually on the computer. But our boys have seen iguanas climbing ruins in Puerto Rico, an abandoned Florida town that once belonged to a now-extinct religious sect, a blacksmith forging iron objects, views of Mount Rainier from the Space Needle, antelope grazing in prairies, and bull moose sparring in Alaska in books, on TV, on the computer…and in person.

All this and more by the ages of six and eight.

In terms of how Mama educates, we decided a couple of years ago that we didn’t like curriculum and we didn’t want to use a school-at-home method. We researched different types of workbooks until we settled on something all-encompassing and engaging, something that our boys enjoyed, something that covered all primary subjects in an age-appropriate manner. After attempting four other lines of workbooks, we came across Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills. No, it’s not curriculum, but it is a workbook broken up into language arts, reading comprehension, and mathematics. The reading comprehension always covers social studies, science, or literature.

Yet our oldest son was recently cornered and informed that he isn’t being educated, doesn’t have a teacher, can’t read or write, and doesn’t know math. All of these accusations with no questions or quizzing, just a barrage of unsupported insults.

Let’s keep in mind that both of our boys are reading chapter books, are writing complete sentences and short stories, and can solve multiplication and division problems. None of that matters, apparently, because clearly neither are being educated or have a teacher.

Our son was so hurt and upset that he hid and cried.

This isn’t the first time terrible things have been said about our decision to homeschool our sons, although this was the first time something was said directly to one of our sons, and it was under one of the worst circumstances and in one of the most damaging manners possible.

It’s tough enough that many believe kids have to go to a regular school in order to be “socialized,” although when kids are in school they see the same kids that are the same age every day, aren’t permitted to talk or interract freely, and get stuck sitting for hours on end. Our sons have friends that span as young as four on into the teens. Their birthday parties always have many friends, they make new friends nearly every time we travel, and they’re never uncomfortable talking to anyone, regardless of age, gender, lifestyle, race, and so on.

Too many also believe traditional school is some rite of passage, as though a child’s life is incomplete without team sports, bullies, writing assignments, tests, music lessons, science fairs, or dances. What they also don’t realize is that all of these are or can be experienced by homeschoolers as well.

Being educated at home doesn’t turn kids into a recluse. Quite the opposite, homeschoolers are usually more outgoing and well-rounded because barriers and walls are removed. They’re more comfortable with change and challenges, and they tend to adapt to situations easier. Time and again we’re told by strangers that our sons have impeccable manners and are incredibly intelligent, and when we say our boys are homeschooled we’re usually told, “That’s obvious,” and it’s never condescending.

In no way are we saying traditionally-educated kids don’t have manners or aren’t smart, nor are we saying our sons are nicer or smarter. We’re also not saying homeschooling is a fit for everyone or that sending kids to school will damage them. We are, however, tooting our own horn because many do fail to realize how beneficial homeschooling is and can be, simply because this isn’t “normal” or what most families are doing. We tend to be judged harshly, rather than questioned or spoken to first.

And then there’s our decision to sell our house and live in our RV full-time. This is not a permanent deal, but rather a chance to pay down debts, save up money, travel more, and do something a little crazy. We are in a position to be able to do this now, and since tomorrow — let alone reaching retirement age — is never a guarantee, we all want to do this while we can. This was a family decision, not a parental one. Our sons want this as much as we do, if not more. Our home will be mobile, our physical address will change, our experiences will grown, and our yard will constantly be different.

But we’ve been told we will be homeless, are making a mistake, are too young for this, or could potentially ruin our sons’ childhood. This isn’t something we decided to do overnight, nor did we jump into this without years of research and planning. This will give all of us a chance to minimize and better appreciate what we have, spend more time together, and expand our horizons, so to speak. We’ll branch out, move around, and experience things most only dream of. Yes, we’re going from a home of 2,133 square feet to one just under 350 square feet, but we will have what we need and be together. Our boys will still share a bedroom, as well as a half bathroom. We will still have a dining area — both inside and outside, if we so choose — and a couch for sitting, watching TV, and entertaining. Our kitchen is well-equipped and we will be able to cook and eat indoors and outdoors. Mama and Papa will still have their own bedroom, there is still a full-size bathroom with a full-size shower, we will still have a washing machine and dryer, and we have both a front and a back door.

What of this makes us homeless?

And what part of this could hurt, ruin, or potentially deprive our kids and their childhood?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and concerns, but under no circumstance is it okay to insult, spread rumors, tell lies, or speak ill of us, especially when the only thing we’re guilty of is being different. We’ve not hurt anyone, our family is stronger than ever, and our kids are happy and thriving.

If there’s something you don’t understand, ask us or do a little bit of research. The information is out there and it’s free. And we’d be more than happy to answer questions about anything.

Whatever you do, don’t accuse us of something or make an assumption based on personal opinion, not education. And media isn’t an accurate source of information in any way, shape, or form, so don’t even go there. Go straight to the person or family. Ask. Every year hundreds — even thousands — of individuals and families transition to or begin RVing and homeschooling, be it one or the other. Why not us?

Furthermore, don’t be surprised if your actions, behavior, or comments result in bridges getting burned, especially if past decisions and conflicts have already caused it to start swaying and crumbling. We can take only so much before we cut our losses and realize our efforts have been futile.

We’ll just keep on keeping on, happily living our crazy, haphazard, abnormal lives.

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The Reality of Downsizing

We are going from a 2,133 square-foot house to an RV with a square footage of around 315. That means six and a half of our rigs can fit inside our house!

We are a homeschooling family of four with two boys, so we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the 11 years we’ve lived in this house.

And that’s all it is: stuff.

For Mama and Papa, it’s not very difficult letting go of things, although we are storing sentimentals and a couple of pieces of furniture for our future house down the road, but it is proving to be a challenge for the boys.

“But this is so small, it won’t take up much space!” we’ve heard dozens of times, so that small item would actually turn into a large item.

“But I forgot I even had it, and that’s why I never played with it!” they’ve declared regarding many items as they go through their seemingly endless toy bins and storage cubes.

“But I might play with this later!” we’ve been told about more toys than we care to mention.

When something has been long forgotten about, has been broken and turned into an item “I might use later,” or is clearly too young for them and there’s something else that does pretty much the same thing and is age appropriate, it’s time for it to go.

The reality check of all of this, though, is just how much stuff has been accumulated!

Action figures, toy guns, puzzles, games, Legos, K’Nex, Vex, Hex, science project kits, random balls, stuffed animals, coloring items, fort-building sheets, stuff, stuff, and more stuff! Yet, half of this “stuff” they’ve simply forgotten they had!

But do you know what they haven’t forgotten?

Places they’ve visited. Campgrounds we’ve been to. State landmarks they’ve seen in person. Time with family members. Playground-hopping days. Fishing excursions.

We can ask them where they went three summers ago, and they can tell you!

Ask them what they got for their birthday last year, and their response is, “Um, I don’t remember, but we had so much fun with our friends at Andretti!” (Andretti is a local amusement park with laser tag, rides, an arcade, and go-cart tracks.)

Stuff.

And we put so much emphasis on “stuff.”

Unfortunately, we’re guilty of it, but that’s something else this experience it going to help us with. We’ll have no other choice but to let go of more than 80% of what we have to make room for our much smaller home. And we know that, over time, even things we’ve elected to hold on to for now will be let go because it’s just taking up space.

We’ve already decided that, down the road, when we do get another house, it will be a lot smaller than this one. We want land, for homesteading and a tree house and a backyard zip line…

We want to have more experiences and far less “stuff.”

You can’t take it with you when you go, and nobody will remember or talk about what you had when you’r gone, but there will be memories about things you have done and who you did them with. People will remember the way you treated them. Your kids will remember if you spent more time working and cleaning up than doing things with them. One way or another, memories and experiences live on.

There’s more value in what you can’t hold than what you can.

Three Months Later…

It’s been three months since Mama ‘Skiy’s pacemaker implant, and she hasn’t felt this well in years!

She is often asked not only how she feels physically but how she also feels about it emotionally.

First and foremost, she and Papa were terrified at the idea of her getting a pacemaker, and the decision was not an easy one to make or something we took lightly. After all, pacemakers are typically something people need well beyond fifty or sixty years old, right?!

Apparently not.

One of our nieces had heart problems from birth. She’d had multiple surgeries and several heart attacks. Sadly, just a few years ago, she had one heart attack that turned out to be fatal.

And she was a young mother.

So it actually knows no age. Something can go wrong with any part of the body at any time, at any age, and for no apparent reason. Regardless if the individual is a newborn or just two months shy of turning 37.

No medically-necessary surgery is one that’s desired, but sometimes that’s the only solution. We asked if Mama could simply go on medication, change her diet, or do something to correct the problem or help prevent the issue from happening again. There was nothing that could be done except the pacemaker implant.

Still, leading up to the minutes before her surgery, we were constantly reminded what a mistake we were making, how her life would forever be limited, that there had to be another hidden problem and the doctors didn’t know what they were doing because all they are interested in is making money.

There are still some that don’t seem to understand this was probably the most difficult decision we’ve ever had to make. In no way was it easy, and in no way did we take it lightly.

Believe us: our cardiologist tested for every imaginable and unimaginable possibility. Every.Single.One. And he even consulted another cardiologist, listened to the concerns and advice of a family friend that also happens to be a surgeon, and really did everything he could to try to make it so Mama didn’t need a pacemaker.

But an easier solution just wasn’t in the cards.

Yet we still receive negative comments and criticism regarding the choice we made, but none of that matters to us.

Mama is still here, Mama has healed, and Mama feels better than she has in a long time.

Case in point: she loves thrill rides and roller coasters, but before the pacemaker implant she stopped going on certain rides because so much anticipation would build that her heart rate would increase and she couldn’t breathe. Just a couple of weeks ago she managed to go on two of those rides, for the first time in years, and when she got off she was ready to go again!

And let’s not forget about those horrible and painful heart palpitations…now gone.

The pacemaker has leads that attaches to two chambers in her heart and will emit an impulse if her heart’s natural pacemaker hasn’t done its job. An added bonus is that the pacemaker helps her heart rate increase a little during times of exertion or excitement.

So tell us again, how was this a mistake?

Oh, the scar? We love tattoos, and scars are tattoos with better stories. The story of our little titanium friend TJ is pretty freaking great.

All those limitations? Well, to be quite honest, she in no way has any desire to compete in Mixed Martial Arts, lift over her head the equivalent of her own body weight or more, or hug a huge magnet. Seeing how those are her only limitations, we’re pretty sure she’ll live her life her way.

And what about the battery life? Well, yeah, that part sucks. It could be as soon as eight years and as long as 14 years, but she will need regular precedures to replace the pacemaker and leads. Those batteries last a long time, but it’s also the technology in the device that also needs upgraded. The leads attaching the pacemaker to her heart will wear and go bad over time, so those will need to be replaced as well. Ultimately, though, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, followed by the month or so of recovery.

By the way, that’s another reason her cardiologist wasn’t crazy about giving Mama a pacemaker: at 37 years old, that’s a lot of pacemaker replacement procedures to go through during her lifetime.

We’re not going to worry or think about that right now, however.

After multiple ER visits, dozens of scans and tests, and years of fearing something was truly wrong with her and not understanding why no doctor could help, we finally feel like we’ve found both the problem and the solution. It’s not what we wanted, but at least we finally got an answer and a fix.

And no, we have no way of knowing for certain if Mama’s heart would have restarted on its own in the ER or if such a pause could have led to cardiac arrest…or worse. This pacemaker will prevent that pause from happening again, which it likely would. The last thing we want or need is for her heart to stop while she’s driving or while we’re off gallivanting in some evergreen forest or snow-covered woods again.

It’s too bad if her pacemaker or scar bothers anybody else. We couldn’t care less.

Mama got a new lease on life three months ago, and her heart won’t stop like that again.

More To Do, Less To Hold

Two Christmases ago we were gifted a Disney annual pass by Papa ‘Skiy’s parents. The year 2015 was full of visits to the Orlando theme parks, and we had a blast.

When our passes expired, we chose not to renew them because it was too expensive and there were still things M ‘Skiy was still too small to do. Also, there were several things under construction that wouldn’t be completed until 2017 anyway. So we bought a Sea World annual pass for 2016 that included the waterpark Aquatica.

Sea World is nice, but the waterpark is amazing!

This year we decided to surprise the boys with Disney annual passes again. On Christmas morning, after they saw what Santa had brought and opened the few gifts we had gotten for them — mostly stuff for camping — they ventured out on a scavenger hunt that finally took them to an envelope with a paper inside informing them we would again be going to Disney in 2017.

This pass was different, though. Not only did it include the four main theme parks, but it also included the two Disney waterparks…and none of us had been to those yet!

So, yeah, many will think: “Whoopie! Disney! *Yawn*”

And honestly, we weren’t fans of theme parks ourselves.

But in 2015 our opinion of Disney changed. Expensive, yes. Crowded, quite often. But it’s additional family time spent together, and the service and treatment visitors receive are outstanding. You feel like a guest, not a customer.

In a period when the generation has become entitled and downright lazy, pacified with electronics, jam-packed extracurricular schedules, and “stuff,” we don’t mind theme park visits anymore. It’s another place to go and something else to do.

And we’ve always been more about experiences, not material things.

We do a lot and go many places together, and we’re not rushed or overwhelmed. We can’t slow down how quickly our boys are growing, but we can fill our days with memories and activities with them. Our shelves don’t hold trophies and our calendar isn’t jam-packed with this commitment and that event, and we’re okay with that because it doesn’t matter to them either.

We’re not rushing through life. After all, we’re not going to get out alive anyway, so what’s the point?

On those lazy mornings when they want to crawl into bed with us and just cuddle, we can do that.

On a random evening or weekend that we suddenly feel the urge to ride Expedition Everest, watch a fireworks show, or explore the tunnels on Tom Sawyer Island, we seldom need to worry about something on our calendar stopping us.

Expensive? Perhaps, but when you consider what we’re not spending in dues, fees, uniforms, and school supplies, there’s a good chance we’re still spending less than most.

And again, we’ve included our boys in these decisions, not made those choices for them. D ‘Skiy wanted to take Taek Won Do, so we signed him up. After he advanced to the next level, he asked if he could quit. He didn’t like being required to be someplace on certain days, at a certain time, and he didn’t like hitting. We didn’t push him and we didn’t sign him up for another month. M ‘Skiy enjoys playing tennis, and we’ve asked him if he’d like to take lessons or get on a league, but he said no, that he preferred just playing tennis with us, and that’s what we do.

As homeschoolers — well, unschoolers — our schedule is pretty relaxed. There are certain things Mama requires they do during the week because it’s required by the state, but we also take them to activities like a four-week-long Ninja Warrior obstacle training gym class and the annual Maker Faire Orlando, and we travel and camp a lot. These are things they enjoy and more we can do together as a family.

Many believe our sons should be on a more regular or tighter schedule. We disagree. They’re kids! Let them enjoy this care-free time of their lives. Halfway through their teen years their lives will become busier and more hectic. Fifteen years of actually being a child isn’t going to ruin them for life.

Kids are not little adults. They’re little people. What’s the point in over-scheduling? Why give them more stuff, just to toss it aside after a couple of weeks and forget about it?

Now, our kids have toys and their fair share of stuff. But these are things they love and play with almost daily: K’Nex, Hex, a Yamaha keyboard, popsicle sticks (yes, popsicle sticks), board games, rollerblades, archery supplies, tablets… And once we notice they stop playing with or they forget about something, we phase it out and donate it.

However, we much prefer going places and doing things, namely together.