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Monthly Archives: June 2013

For about 25 years, since I first saw a big green bus at a Whole Earth Festival in Davis as an undergrad, I have been curious about the Green Tortoise Adventure Travel bus trips.  When I was young, I was too shy to sign up for a trip on a bus with 25-30 people I didn’t know.  As I got older, I got in the habit of not taking vacations, since I usually had jobs that made it hard to get away.

Last year, when my son was turning 5 and could not stop talking about wanting to go see the desert, I finally decided to take the plunge.  I booked us a seven day trip to start the weekend after Alex graduated from Kindergarten.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Our trip was called The Western Trail.  It started from San Francisco (where we spent the night before in the Green Tortoise Hostel – a wonderful place to stay if you are in San Francisco on a budget).  It took us down the coast – Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Simeon, LA – then across the desert to Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, and Zion before closing the loop back at San Francisco.

Most of the time when I have taken vacation, I am very glad to get home again.  This time, I wanted to just keep going.  I didn’t even care where – just any Green Tortoise bus going anywhere.

The places we went were wonderful (well, except for our brief stop in Hollywood and our night in Las Vegas – two places I could do without ever seeing again).  Playing on the beaches, watching the elephant seals, climbing rocks and hiking in Joshua Tree, swimming in the Colorado River, and exploring Zion were all great times.  But the old saying of “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” has never been made so real to me.

I’m not going to say that traveling on a Green Tortoise bus is for everyone.  It means very close quarters, little privacy, room for only a few personal belongings, helping out with meal preparation and clean-up (but they are damned good meals), early mornings (but with ample napping opportunities later), and the hassle of finding your shoes in the pile every time you leave the bus.  If you want meals magically appearing on a set table and fresh sheets every night, are creeped out by the thought of touching strangers, don’t like vegetables, are uncomfortable with using pit toilets, need a shower every morning, or are easily offended by, well, anything – this would not be a vacation for you.

So there are my warnings.  Now for what made it so wonderful for myself and my son.

First, the simplicity of the mode of travel.  For me, true relaxation means not having to drive myself, not having to worry about a schedule, not really even having to know exactly where I am.  Just lounging on the swaying bus, listening to the wonderfully varied music coming through the adjustable speakers, watching the beautiful scenery gliding by, napping off and on, not knowing or caring exactly where we were or where/when we would be next – all of that allowed me to be truly “in the moment” much of the day, just appreciating the Zen of it all, trusting that our driver had everything under control and wherever the bus stopped next would be good.

The communal spirit that quickly developed was a blessing.  All through the day and night, there were acts of good will up and down the bus and around the campfire.  Bags of chips, fresh strawberries and blueberries, jerky, dried fruit, or candy were passed around the bus on a regular basis, and of course the alcohol flowed in the evenings.  The way the bus and the supplies were organized, set up of the outdoor kitchen, preparation of food, and cleanup after meals was amazingly quick, efficient, and even fun.  Packing up camp in the morning and changing the bus from sleeping mode to day arrangement was accomplished with surprisingly little hassle.  I have always enjoyed working on projects with people more than just sitting around making small talk, so having work to do together made me feel right at home and helped me bond with people.  I was very impressed by how respectful everyone was at night after the early birds went to bed – when people were partying around the campfire and I went to sleep in the bus, it was quieter and more peaceful in that bus than it ever is at my home, and when the late people came into the bus to find themselves places to sleep, they were quick and quiet about it and I barely woke up.

The pace of life on the Green Tortoise suited me perfectly.  I had been concerned about long hours in transit, but in reality we were rarely on the bus for more than a two hour stretch during the day time.  We would meander along for an hour or two, then stop for a break – either at a lovely beach, in a town where we could use the restrooms and purchase snacks, at a roadside stop with a good view for photographic opportunities, or occasionally just at a truck stop.  I never felt cooped up on the bus.  In transit, I could move about the bus as often as I liked as well – lounging on the big communal bed in the back, sitting at the tables in the middle or on the couch-like seats near the front, standing up to stretch my legs, or climbing into the upper bunks for a nap.  A completely different experience than sitting in a seat with a seatbelt for hours at a time.

I found the bus and the people on it to be a wonderful environment for my outgoing five-year-old son Alex.  He instantly fell in love with our driver, Sully, and his wife, Gwendoline.  I could nap confident that he was safe and having fun.  He spent a lot of the travel time sitting on a tool box that he pulled up next to Sully’s driver seat, chatting and telling jokes and amusing himself and those around him.  At other times, he rotated from group to group around the bus, sharing fruit and jerky, posing for photos, showing off little treasures he found on our stops (like the Bubba Gump rainbow glasses he found along the bike path in Monterey), and giving high-fives.  At meals, there was usually some way that he could help with food prep (cutting strawberries or melons for fruit salad, snapping green beans, or stirring something), and he took to dish washing very well.  At stops, he and I usually went off on our own because the interests of the rest of the travelers generally involved longer hikes, more alcohol, and different interests than he had.

Which leads me to one of the really excellent aspects of the trip – the great opportunity for flexibility.  Yes, we had to be up at a certain time, ready to go at a certain time, and at each stop we were told what time we had to be back on the bus and ready to leave again.  But other than that we could go in any direction we wanted.  Want to just sit on the bus and read?  Hike as far and as high as you can?  Hit a local pub?  Go swimming?  Shopping?  Sleep?  Totally up to you.  Our hosts had a lot of knowledge of the areas to give ideas and answer questions, then turned us loose and went their own ways too.  On the bus as well, people who wanted to could just sit in a corner with headphones on, staring out the window.  Others would climb up in a bunk and sleep or read.  Others would play cards, drink beer, chat and laugh together.  As pretty much an introvert, I felt totally comfortable just chilling out and watching the scenery and listening to the music, while my son the social one partied it up.

I had a few concerns before the trip…  thought it might be hard to sleep at night with other people partying, thought I would lose most of my stuff, thought people would find my son annoying, thought I would get car sick, thought I would feel socially awkward among so many strangers, thought people would try to draw me into being more social than it is my nature to be.  Not a single one of my worries came to be true.  By the end of the first day, when I was going to sleep peacefully to the occasional distant sound of laughter, I stopped having any worries at all.

I must dedicate one paragraph solely to the amazing Green Tortoise staff on our trip.  Sully our driver, Gwendoline his wife, and Kevin the, hmm, what am I supposed to call him? – the non-driving host dude, were all wonderful.  Warm and friendly, easy going, knowledgeable, organized, funny, and damned cute – I rarely feel so comfortable around people so quickly.  Their attitude and gentle leadership skills created an atmosphere of warmth, companionship, and cooperation that permeated the bus.  If my husband and I ever fulfill one of our dreams, having a large piece of land with multiple housing units and a semi-cooperative community lifestyle, these are exactly the kind of people I would hope to attract to live there.  It was a bit sad having to say goodbye – no offense to my husband, whom I am very glad to be with again.

So here we are eight days after starting our adventure.  Alex has a new career goal – Green Tortoise bus driver (also to grow his hair long and only wear a shirt when it is required).  I have a new “if I won the lottery” dream (foolish since I never play the lottery) – I would travel the country on Green Tortoise buses from the day Alex gets out of school at the beginning of the summer until he has to return to school in fall.  In reality, I will start saving my money right now for another trip at the beginning of next summer.  If we go somewhere cooler, my husband may want to join us, and if we are really lucky his older son will come as well.

In short, I am hooked.

My photo album of the trip is at:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201326939556234.1073741830.1255458643&type=3

I’m so sick of people saying that to me.  It happens surprisingly often.  It’s always when someone is talking about being worried about their daughter:  Usually about her safety – protecting her from other people, sometimes other adults but often also her peers.

It’s worries about her going out in the world, being away from them and with other people.  Worries about her growing up.  Getting hurt.  Being negatively influenced by other kids.  And of course, that ultimate daughter-worry, getting pregnant.

Fine, worry about your daughters.  Comes with being a parent, I suppose.  But please DON”T tell me that I don’t understand because I have boys. 

Boys get hurt. 

Boys get raped.

Boys get beat up – often, and with less chance of someone stepping in to protect them.  And you can add in the fact that if you DO step in to protect them, you may be making it more likely that they will get beat up more aggressively the next time you are not there.

Boys get negatively influenced by other kids and other adults – possibly one of the worst influences being the attitude that “boys will be boys” and thus they are allowed to do shit that should be nipped in the bud.

And if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty…  the Big Scary…  PREGNANCY – I’ve got news for you: 

If my sons are the responsible people we are trying to raise them to be, and one of them sleeps with one of your daughters, and your daughter ends up pregnant…  THE BALL IS TOTALLY IN YOUR DAUGHTER’S COURT.  Not in my son’s.  He does not get to decide what happens.  SHE gets to decide whether to have an abortion, put the baby up for adoption, or keep the baby.  SHE gets to decide whether she wants to work after she has the baby, or stay home with it and make my son pay for everything.  This is her right, as it is her body – I do not begrudge her that, but I do begrudge you the right to tell me that all of the danger and worry is on your side.

Yes, there are irresponsible males who will run away (and their families who will actually HELP them to shirk the responsibility – shame on them).  I do not plan on my boys being like that.  And do keep in mind that there are also plenty of irresponsible females out there – who will forget to take their birth control pills for days at a time and not mention it, or who will actually want to get pregnant so someone will take care of them (I know it’s not PC to say so, but females like this do exist, and they are often very pretty…).

I’ll make a deal with you:

  • Teach your daughters to make people earn their trust, not just give it to everyone who smiles at them.  I will teach my sons the same. 
  • Teach your daughters to use birth control (AND protect themselves from STD’s).  I will teach my sons the same (and hope that research into male birth control gains momentum). 
  • Teach your daughters to not accept abusive or deceitful relationships (as friendships or romances).  I will teach my sons the same.
  • Teach your daughters to protect the boys and girls in their lives from danger.  I will teach my sons the same.
  • Teach your daughters to take care of themselves, to use their judgement, to be honest with their partners and friends.  I will teach my sons the same. 

And please, think before you condescendingly tell me that I don’t understand – like I don’t care about my boys, like they are somehow immune to danger and hurt and “bad people”. 

Our worries are two sides of the exact same coin.

I have raised my son to talk to strangers. I remember when he was about 2 and a half years old, and I was waiting at the pharmacy with him, and he just walked over and climbed into a chair next to an old man who was waiting, and said “Hi!” Then the man commented on his shoes, and he happily discussed shoes with the man for a while before wandering off to look at a sunglasses display. A woman waiting nearby gave me a very disapproving look.

Like yeah, that old man was going to molest my son ten feet away from me in the Rite-Aid pharmacy waiting area while I watched.

Teaching your children to be afraid of strangers is not going to serve them well.  It is not going to help them not be molested.

For one thing, most molestation is not perpetrated by “strangers” – it’s usually by family, extended family, or friends of the family.  So teaching your children that “family and friends are safe” and “strangers are dangerous” is misleading them.

For another thing, if your child IS approached in an inappropriate way by a stranger, fear and shyness are not what your child needs in his emotional toolbox – what he needs is the confidence to SPEAK UP and to CHOOSE TO DISOBEY.

He may have to speak up to another “stranger” nearby – “Hey, this man is bothering me!”  He’s not going to do that if he is afraid to talk to strangers.

He needs to disobey – “No, I’m not going to do what you say” and when the offender tells him not to tell anyone, he needs to go tell someone.

I have always thought “Don’t talk to strangers” is an odd way to raise children, considering that nearly everyone in the world is a stranger to them, and over time they are going to spend more and more of their hours and days away from their family and out in the world.  With all the strangers.

I think it’s great that my son meets more people than I do when I take him to a big party.  That he introduces himself to people at other tables in restaurants.  That he chats up the nurses at the doctor’s office.  That he tells jokes in the men’s locker room at the gym.  That he waves at people driving by.

The more social interaction he gets, the more I feel he knows what normal, healthy social interaction feels like.  Which ought to help him recognize when someone is not interacting with him in a normal, healthy way.  And because I have never scolded him for talking to strangers, I’m thinking (hoping) that he will not be afraid to tell me if anyone is acting weird to him.

I see him with a lot of different adults and older children in many different situations, and I love that he feels comfortable inviting people to play with him, singing for them, asking them for help…  AND he feels comfortable telling them “Stop that, now!” or “I don’t want to play like that” or coming to me and saying “He hurt me” or “He said a bad word”.

If my son were not so used to talking to strangers, I would worry about him more.  I remember being a shy kid (not so much at his age, but as an older kid), feeling awkward around strangers and afraid to talk to anyone, and I do not believe I would have had the social skills that he does to deal with any problems that do arise.

I am in no way saying that it is the parents’ fault when a child is molested, or that my son is invulnerable to abuse.  I am saying that in his toolbox for dealing with the world, I think confidence and social skills will be more useful to him than fear and shyness.