We just bought a new van.
I've never really been that excited about new vehicles. When my first car was beyond help, we donated it. Downsized to one car. We were teaching in the same school system, not far from each other, and it just made sense.
Five years ago, though, when I was pregnant with our third child, we broke down and bought a used minivan. Nothing pretty. Just a basic van with no extras. But it was, we thought, functional.
(pause for laughter from anyone who knows anything about our red van...)
Within a year, the engine died. Followed by the water pump, and then the radiator. A tire blew on the interstate. Eventually, the rack and pinion gave out. And in between all that we regularly replaced random hoses and belts. Of those five years, that van was on the road for no more than three years total.
At first, it was no big deal. My daughter was still in school, and I was no longer teaching so we could just walk her up to the bus stop instead of driving her. The baby was very sick during his first year, and, when we weren't driving off to doctors' appointments together in our one reliable vehicle, I stayed at home with the boys anyway. Beyond a few LLL meetings, I didn't feel like we were missing much.
Then we started homeschooling. And there was a whole 'nother world we needed access to. So we started patching up the van and it would work for, oh, a month or two, and we would cram in as many activities as we could until it broke again.
This fall, when it started overheating again whenever it was driven more two miles, and when our mechanic discovered that the oil was mixing with the coolant and theorized that we needed yet another new engine, we gave up. The doctors' bills have slowed down and we paid the darn van off, and started the long, excruciating process of looking for a new one.
This time, we did things right. We took our time researching, comparing the blue book values and safety and reliability ratings and carfax reports. And, after shaking off the slimiest dealers, which is an entire discussion itself, we ended up with a gorgeous van. It's a 2006, a former rental vehicle with extremely low mileage and an excellent warranty, and lots of extras that I didn't even know I wanted until I had them.
In addition to the extras I didn't know I needed, the van came with a sense of freedom that I didn't realize I had been missing.
We can go anywhere. We can take off on impulse in the morning, or I can sign the kids up for something months in advance without worrying that we won't be able to get there. We'll be able to go to the beach this spring and collect sharks' teeth. We can even get stuck in traffic on the way home--the air conditioner and the heat both work, and the engine won't blow up. If it does, it's under warranty anyway.
I have a renewed appreciation for our freedom.
I taught in the school system for 12 year, and my daughter was there through third grade. We bask in the luxuries of homeschooling because we've seen the other side.
- We can each follow our body's natural rhythm. Which means my daughter and my youngest son can sleep past 9 or even 10, while my 7-year-old son can get up at 6:00. And he can start eating. Which brings me to...
- Food. My 7-year-old starts with a cereal bar, then a bowl or two of cereal, then a hot breakfast that's leisurely made sometime after the other kids get up, followed shortly thereafter by lunch. He stops eating around 4:00. Nt daughter, having eaten her share of school lunches, has a special appreciation for a well-stocked pantry and fridge. We can drink as much water (or, for me, coffee) as we want, whenever we want, because...
- We don't have to train our bladders to follow a predetermined schedule or justify how great the need is if it violates that schedule. We were at the Natural History Museum last week when a school group arrived--looked like middle school kids. They were organizing their groups near the bathroom when a teacher called out, "Since we're right here, who has to use the bathroom before we get started?" Some of the kids must have responded affirmatively, because she then said..."Well, you should have taken care of that before we left." Ummm...Okay.
- We can take full advantage of our proximity to Washington, DC. My kids love taking the Metro in and we can go during off-times and explore the museums at our leisure; we don't feel pressured to shove the entire experience into a couple hours. If we like something, we can linger; if we don't, we can leave. If we miss something important, we can go back next week. My 11- and 7-year-old can discuss the three branches of government and what they do, and can tell you what two groups make up Congress--because they see it. The Capital is real to them. We have the time and opportunity to participate in campaigns, to go to debates, to see candidates speak, and to watch the process and be a part of it instead of just reading about it.
- Socks. We can walk around in cozy, funky socks all day.
- We can go apple picking in the middle of the week in the mountains, and to the beach in the middle of the week. Now that we have a new van.
- We can stay up to all hours of the night, to see meteorites and comets, a lunar eclipse or the Northern Lights, when they appear this far south.
- We can eat warm brownies for lunch.
We have time to talk.
Missy's homeschooling journey began when she realized that the walls surrounding her daughter's classroom were too narrow; there was no room for exploration, no space for stretching. Now, she and her three children stretch and explore the world together. My blog: caffeinatedjive.