Families on the Move
We have been blessed to connect with many amazing families online, all of whom have adapted a travel lifestyle in one form or another. We wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to them here and highlight the positive aspects travel has had on their families. Welcome our interview series called Families on the Move. Miro & I are honored to a part of this global community we consider our extended family.
Meet the Amazing Family Behind BreakOutOfBushwick.com
Melissa: 36 years old; single mother; novelist; co-owner of a skincare company called Paloma & Co. wanderlust specialist; romantic; musician; and art historian who is PASSIONATE about single parenting issues
Anevay: 11 years old; single daughter; chemist; cellist; co-owner of a skincare company called Paloma & Co.; storyteller/novelist; and actress who loves to sleep in late.
Where are you now, where have you been and how long have you been traveling?
Currently, Anevay and I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, an economically depressed yet vibrant neighborhood in New York. Last summer we traveled through six European countries for two months, and this coming summer (2013), we plan to stay in Peru for a month. The original plan had been to travel long-term, living in Thailand for a year, but Anevay was awarded a four-year cello scholarship and we decided as a family that right now our home-base needs to remain in Brooklyn. While I am still keen on long-term travel, I also love helping my daughter become a better musician. For now, traveling for a month, two months or even three-months a stretch gives me great pleasure, and we “get out of Dodge” regularly by visiting friends and family a little closer to home.
Why do you travel as a family?
Two summers ago, I became disillusioned with the American public school system and the American “dream” which had, for my family, translated into me working 70+ hours a week and my daughter being so exhausted by nine-hour school days that her creativity had been stifled and she was suffering from latent depression. I devised a four-point plan that would ensure my small family’s happiness: 1) Homeschool; 2) Develop my own editing, writing, marketing and business development company; 3) Work on my fiction writing (I’m a novelist); and 4) Travel. All of my energy went towards making these things happen. So far, so good! Anevay and I travel because I feel it is our responsibility to get to know the world by taking great big chunks out of it. I want my daughter to get along with people who live in various cultures from all sorts of backgrounds. While our home (New York) is known for being a “melting pot,” running around Chinatown for the day is certainly different from visiting China.
Also, selfishly, I feel a great sense of freedom from traveling. I am a single mom, and, while my friends and family in New York and the States are wonderful, it is generally assumed in this country that women need to have a partner. Indeed, it’s built into the very fabric of this nation’s economic system. For example, a two-parent household is considered to be the norm, and it is expected that single parents need child support in order to properly raise children. In my view, this is a system devised not to help women and families, but to oppress them. By telling a woman that she can’t support a child on her own, that she must be assisted by a man, she is essentially being told that she will never be accepted as a self-supporting, independent entity. A single parent really ought to be able to make it work by his or herself. This isn’t to say that women in America should stop accepting child support. Currently our system isn’t built so that women can survive off one-income. I, however, don’t want to have to be dependent on any man, anywhere, at any time. While life for single parents around the globe isn’t any easier than in this country (often it is more difficult!), I find that learning about single mother civil rights around the world really enriches my own life. Also, travel in many countries is less expensive than living in Brooklyn. As a one-income household, travel (long-term) just makes sense. Also, it’s a lot less lonely as a single parent to meet other like-minded single parents from around the globe.
I’ve been in the midst of researching single parent economic issues for a few years for a book I’d like to write, and, eventually, would like to meet with women around the world who are dealing with single parenting issues. (I love single dads, too, but I particularly resonate with women’s issues.) One group that I’m particularly interested in is the Feminine Solidarity Group in Casablanca, Morocco. The woman who spearheaded the group, Aicha Ech Chana, works with single mothers and helps them get work and take care of their babies- all in a culture that is very critical of women having babies out of wedlock. I want to meet her. She inspires me. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find contact information for Ms. Ech Chana, so it looks like I’ll have to visit Morocco!
What are some of the benefits your family has experienced as a result your travels?
This past summer I got on an airplane to Iceland with a very excited little girl who clung to my hand, was scared of flying and who complained about carrying her luggage. Two months later, I returned from Spain with an enlightened young woman who confidently helped lead me through the airport, kept me calm when I couldn’t figure out how to manage all of our luggage and talked up a storm to the gentleman who sat next to her on the airplane.
While I’d love for my daughter to remain by my side forever, I’m raising her to be an adult. Travel helps her become more confident of her own person. At the same time, because she’s still obviously a child, people in every country we visit really give us the royal treatment… See, here’s a little secret: Nearly all people love children and try their best to make them happy! Traveling with kids seems to open doors (and promote smiles and conversations!) that don’t open as easily for adults.
How do you address education while you are traveling?
While I follow a basic unschooling philosophy, I consider myself a homeschooling parent because I do expect my daughter to learn math and a rather linear program of world history.
When I first made the decision to homeschool my daughter, I read a book called ‘The Book of Learning and Forgetting’ by Frank Smith. In the text, Smith discusses the militaristic history of our modern educational system. Down to “batteries of tests,” Smith makes a strong case for our modern educational system being modeled after the military. Rote learning, he believes, is not permanent learning, and he uses a lot of research to support his case that performing on standardized tests isn’t “real” learning. As a previous testing coordinator in a New York public school, I really felt that Smith was on to something. Indeed, I felt that taking my kid out of the classroom and into the world would help her figure out what she is passionate about learning. Last summer, for example, while traveling, my girl told me that she wanted to start a skincare company. If she had been in a public school setting, I don’t believe she would’ve been allowed the time to follow this interest. As it turned out, my daughter spent long hours studying the medicinal purposes of many plants, and together, we formed a company. Today, Paloma & Co. has an online store and is also in a brick and mortar in Brooklyn. Our little company is planning it’s first fundraiser for a literacy program in our community (Still Waters in a Storm), and both of us put our heart and soul into experiential learning. My daughter has also been free to follow her love of chemistry and cello, and has had time to act in a couple of independent films. Soon she’ll be taking part in an acting class with one of New York’s coolest theatre companies. What a joy!
While traveling, Anevay and I learn through experience. We meet people, cook with them, visit the architectural locations that they find special, and listen carefully when people are willing to share their knowledge with us. This past summer we had the opportunity to stay with an architect in Spain who has done major work in many of the country’s castles. We learned so much visiting various castles with him, and, through his stories alone, received a crash-course in areas of architecture and art history that had been unfamiliar. What an experience, and one that wouldn’t have happened without travel.
How do you and your family experience being global citizens?
I really cover this in previous questions, but the short answer is that in learning about other cultures, countries, places and individuals, we’re learning more about ourselves. The more we learn, the more we’re able to respectfully and mindfully share with the world. Not to get too metaphysical, but I believe that we’re on this Earth to figure out how our atoms attract and repel each other. How and why we work in our own bodies as well as with everyone else on the planet is a special question that deserves ongoing exploration.
Through a skincare and candle company that Anevay and I started (www.palomaandco.com), we donate a portion of proceeds to various worthy organizations and, most recently, are helping to host events to raise money for those groups.
Being a global citizen doesn’t need to start when you’re an adult. It can start at home, grassroots-style, one kid at a time.
Can you share one story from your travel experiences when you and your family had an “aha moment”.
In New York, living the day-to-day grind, I sometimes forget how fleeting this life is. This past summer, while in Paris, life slowed down enough for me to see my daughter through fresh eyes. I realized that my time with her is short. It’s a simple enough thing to write about, but it really struck me on a deep level. Indeed, that evening, after Anevay was asleep, I bawled like an infant. Let’s call it acute separation anxiety, mortality, loneliness and frailty all at once. My God, was it wretched. Once I was finished, however, I fell asleep and, waking in the morning, puffy eyes and all, felt a sense of calm. I had a new calling- to be an ever-present mother to my kid. To give her as much as possible, RIGHT NOW… TODAY… THIS VERY MINUTE. I silently vowed to give her my complete attention. I would no longer be “too busy” to listen to her. I’d try my best not to say in a minute please, or wait until I’m done with this. Someday, when my girl has the life she’s created for herself, whether she is on her own or in a relationship, I want her to know how loved she’ll always be by me. This was a huge “aha moment” for me.
I think my daughter’s big “aha moment” might be very different. She might say that she loved learning how to cook fish over a fire, or that the Swiss Alps are really pretty. I know that she was proud of herself for getting over a fear of the dark in caves in the wilds of Iceland. I also know that my girl returned home to the States more confident than ever. I’m not sure my daughter had an “aha moment” as much as she had an aha trip!
Besides continuing to take great chunks out of life? Well, we’ll be joining you (Lainie and Miro) in Peru this summer for the Unschooling Teen Retreat. It’ll be a great opportunity for Anevay to connect with other young, globally-minded young adults, and for the two of us to become a little less dependent on each other (not that I feel dependency is a bad thing within families and loving groups of people). I’m looking forward to spending time with a group of traveling parents- while I don’t yet know all of them, I really feel that these people are my “tribe.” It’ll be nice to step outside of New York into the arms of people who I know, by default of life decisions alone, will ‘get me’.
Anevay will be planning a big fundraiser late spring for our trip to Peru, and I’ll be helping her put together a fundraising page. We’re also helping to host a fundraiser for a co-op school in our neighborhood called Still Waters in a Storm (www.stillwatersinastorm.org). Still Waters is a big part of our lives, as I volunteer there three or four days a week while Anevay, under the guidance of a great teacher, becomes a better writer, learns Latin and learns more about science with a handful of other kids her age. Stay tuned on my blog, Break Out of Bushwick (www.breakoutofbushwick.com), for more information about upcoming events and news!
Name: Melissa Banigan
web site: www.breakoutofbushwick.com