I wrote this on a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco, almost three weeks ago. I had less than an hour before touchdown and I felt compelled to pen our feelings about returning home after our year-long sabbatical before they were clouded by reality.
I am sure we will revisit the question, “Was it all worthwhile?” often during the coming year, but on that flight, the dominant feeling was gratitude and the realization that, while we all grew as individuals, above all, we came out stronger as a family.
Here are ten ways in which we grew as a family during our family sabbatical:
1. We saw our children change before our eyes
WorldTripGirl turned from a cheerful girl into a confident and independent teenager, we experienced Nine’s deep love for nature, and Seven became more resilient.
2. We got to know our kids as learners
After a year of homes chooling I better understand my children as learners. Above all, I came to appreciate the strength of grit and a growth mindset.
3. We developed new family mantras
Some mantras, developed early in our trip, stuck with us for the whole year, and I hope will stick with us after we return home, such as “Experiences, Not Stuff” and “People, Not Places.”
4. We appreciate things we took for granted
We are grateful for hot water, a functional sewer system, heated rooms, safe food and drinkable tap water. We also experienced we don’t need more than a small carry-on
5. We’re eating more healthy
We saw the positive impact that eliminating sugar had on our kids. As a result, for the first time, there is buy in as a whole family to pursue a more healthy lifestyle, also at home.
6. We discovered new interests as a family
We developed new, common, interests as a family, including fishing, surfing, sailing, escape rooms, biking, cats and dogs (and cat cafes), learning new languages, and of course travel.
7. We fell in love with our au pairs all over again
We visited our former au-pairs in Denmark, Prague, Australia and San Francisco. We were so inspired by these young people that we invited a new (male) au pair to join us in September.
8. We strengthened family ties
During the half a year that we spent near family in The Netherlands and Israel, our children developed more meaningful relationships with their cousins.
9. We became more resilient
We didn’t have major disasters, but the kids still adjusted to a new bed, food, language and culture every few weeks, and overcame homesickness along the way.
10. We stockpiled memories
When the going gets tough, as it inevitably will, the many beautiful memories of our trip will hopefully inspire us to try harder and solve any problems, together.
We are all a bit scared to return home. It will be difficult to match the happiness and peace that surrounded us in the past year. Our story doesn’t stop here and that our lives will be enriched by our experience, that will be more open and compassionate, that we will see new adventures as a family even at home.
I said to the kids, “It is like surfing in Brazil. Don’t think too much. Just catch the next wave and see where it takes you. Remember jumping in the water to go snorkeling. The water will be cold, but you take a breath and jump in, and you will be rewarded with the most amazing underwater sights.”
In the Galapagos, we learnt that Darwin, shortly before his death, changed his famous axiom from “Only the fittest survive” to “Only the most adaptable survive”. We will adapt to this next phase in our lives as well.