“Before you go, I need to talk to you.” My daughter Lucy’s pre-k teacher looked stern as she ushered me into the hallway. I followed her, nervous both about the conversation and the amount of time it would take: I had come to school in the middle of the day to pick Lucy up before we headed to the airport for an international flight.
“Lucy,” my daughter’s teacher said, pausing dramatically, “was interrupting circle time to talk about Copenhagen. She isn’t paying attention. She’s always focused on the next trip, the next vacation.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to her,” I said. Lucy pulled my arm impatiently. I felt impatient too. In less than 24 hours, we would be in Copenhagen. I was thinking about stopping by Tivoli Gardens first; how we might check out the award winning aquarium that weekend.
“She needs to learn to be here now. At the beginning of the year, she was writing her name in full. Now, she gets bored halfway through. It’s all the travel. It’s too many absences,” the teacher continued.
“Okay. We’ll do better,” I said.
“Good. Do that. Enjoy vacation,” she gave me a tight smile as Lucy and I sprinted out the door and into our Uber.
As a writer who occasionally covers travel, I’m fortunate to have a flexible schedule and opportunities to take trips. Once necessities like aftercare, college savings, and bills are handled, I’ll put all our money toward travel. But to me, it’s not a “vacation” — it’s an essential part of Lucy’s pre-k education. No, she shouldn’t interrupt circle time. But as a four-year-old, I can’t help but feel this is the time when we can travel — and so we do.
In Lucy’s pre-k three year, she missed a total of 31 days of school — and 26 of those were travel days. We went to Norway, Denmark, Costa Rica, Cape Cod, and Disney World. And while these trips were pleasurable and fun, the dismissive way Lucy’s teacher used the word “vacation” bothered me. In Costa Rica, Lucy had gone to a children’s day camp primarily attended by local kids. In Norway, fueled by a Frozen obsession, Lucy and I went to a tiny rural town called Roros to see reindeer. In Copenhagen, we strolled through the world-famous Louisiana Museum of Art.
But it’s not just ticking “educational” activities off a bucket list. Even Disney World was full of lessons that aren’t exclusive to the classroom: Patience, courage, how to deal with disappointment when the restaurant serves everything but Cheerios. Through our travels, Lucy has learned to make friends on the beach in seconds. She’s learned to respect nature from our early morning hermit crab hunts in Costa Rica. She’s learned to try unfamiliar foods, unfamiliar drinks, even unfamiliar diaper brands when we went to Costa Rica when she was a toddler. She’s learned to function even when her routine has turned upside down. In short, she’s learned what it means to find a home anywhere in the world — a lesson I didn’t learn until I was a twentysomething solo backpacker.
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This is what makes the lost iPads and bumpy bus rides and horribly rude Airbnb host worth it. I want to imprint the sand and the sea and this feeling of endless magic on Lucy’s subconscious. Is Santa Teresa perfect? No. There’s a weird vibe in town I’ve noticed growing these past years; endless development and cheap Miami-lite architecture that threatens some of what makes this place so special. Of course, I know as a US tourist, I am part of the problem. Falling in love with a place means losing it. I feel we will come here for two years and then never come again. Too many places to see. I want this place to be part of Lucys earliest memories, the people we have hung out with and the endless sunset watching sessions and playing in the waves. Thinking all this reminded me of that song Paradise, by John Prine, which we sung all the time at Camp Nor’Wester (also a place that has had their own home reimagined) It’s sad introducing your child to a wonderland that will almost certainly not be the same when they grow up, to know in the current magic, there is a future feeling of loss. I love this place. This place makes me sad. ☀️☀️☀️☀️
I know as she gets older school and classroom routine will become more important. I know we’ll have to be mindful of school schedules — the same way I’m mindful of my own work schedule and PTO. But I also want her to understand the value of wanderlust, of the “I can’t believe this flash airline sale” spontaneous purchase, the realization that learning takes place all the time — and on any continent.
After the Denmark trip, I did tell Lucy to stop interrupting circle time. I told her there’s a time and a place for Copenhagen. And I also realized that advice — the need to be here now — applied to me, too. How often was I doing the adult equivalent of interrupting circle time by letting my mind wander during a conference call or spend a slow afternoon browsing flight deal sites? I love exploring the world, but I had also lost track of the here and now.
Lucy had zero absences during her last quarter of pre-k three, even though we jetted off soon after to explore Croatia. We already have our winter Costa Rica trip booked; she will miss nine days of school then. She will never have perfect attendance. But what I hope she’ll have is wanderlust, a passion for learning — and enough self-control to keep her discoveries on the DL during circle time.
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