My Kansas

Lisa Noble threw out a challenge on her blog with the post Leaving Kansas….

It’s a blog post that describes a young lady with the gumption to say goodbye to her local community and to experience living with other families in another country.  It was a different time and a different era – no texting or hanging out from a distance – connections with family would be difficult and probably impossible at times.  Yet, she stuck with it and had a moment of reunion with a friend recently.  It’s an interesting read and I’d encourage you to do so.

But she does pose some questions to anyone who happened to read her blog and she tagged me explicitly and, knowing Lisa, she’s expecting a response.

Being me, I am left with some questions. What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world? Please share in the comments, or your own writing – I’d really love to know.

Second batch of questions: Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?

So, response it is…

The description from Wikipedia sets the stage.

I wish that I could relate an interesting globe trotting story to compare with Lisa’s.  Sadly, I couldn’t.  My “leave home and friends” moment happened when going to university.  Just about everyone from my graduation class took the traditional route and went to the University of Western Ontario.  My friend John and I were a bit different in that we headed east to the University of Waterloo to study Mathematics and Computer Science.

For us, it was a big deal.  On our own, we learned to cook and budget and study and meet new friends for real.  Sure, our parents encouraged all this when we lived at home but it was artificial.  A meal here and there or a job that existed to raise money for school but the ability to go home at the end of the day and live rent free was always there.  University was exciting at first but then the reality kicked in.  No matter how tired and tough the day was, we had to cook and clean or go without.  How can people live like this?  And raise kids?  My parents were saints.

Further studies took me on to Toronto and then a great career in Essex County.  It was all new and exciting, but the reality was that I could always go home.  It was only 3-4 hours away.  Frozen in time, my old bedroom was always there.  We were always welcome to come home and our place was always welcome for parents to visit.

But that was to come to an end.  It was a sad moment when we signed the papers to sell the building that had been home and later home away from home.

I guess it’s our Kansas in that, when we visit these days, there is no place to land and have those family conversations.  The local restaurant or coffee shop becomes more than just a place to eat – it’s also a washroom.  Overnight stays now involve a motel or a very long day of travel.  The bottom line – identifying your own Kansas means coming to grips and facing your own mortality.

Though I’ve lost touch with my friend John, my wife and best friend has been there every step.  My story isn’t nearly as exotic as Lisa’s but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

To address the second question, I do believe that the opportunities do exist for today’s youth.  But, I also believe that it’s not as easy as it once was.  There was a time when going overseas on an exchange was the “thing to do”.  I don’t ever recall advisories from the government about countries that were not recommended for visiting.  The notion that you could experience the real underbelly of another country isn’t always the best of decisions these days.

Even airports are so much different.  Instead of being places to fly the “friendly skies”, we’re all treated with suspicion and considered guilty until our belongings have been x-rayed and we’ve walked through a metal detector or had a full body scan.  On a trip last year, I had a can of shaving gel confiscated because of its size and my wallet double x-rayed because it looked too thick for the homeland security agent.  (Don’t be too impressed; they were all American $1 bills.  I should have traded them for 2 or 3 twenties)

To that end, Lisa’s “How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?” doesn’t resonate with me.  While it is possible to blindly go and potentially put yourself in danger, only a fool or the truly brave would do it.  Why wouldn’t we use the available technology to ensure a certain level of safety or, in this day of the selfie, fully document the experience?

So, dear Lisa, there’s my Kansas.  I hope that you have more folks that open their lives and share their thoughts.

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5 thoughts on “My Kansas

  1. The not-in-Kansas-anymore moment came to me incrementally. The first epiphany came on our family’s discovery visit to Mozambique. The architecture was different. The food was bursting with new looks and tastes, especially those served at seaside caravan cafes. But my parents were still tightly woven into the new discoveries, so they didn’t have the mind altering effect the second new world epiphany had. It happened for me, as it did for you Doug, when I was able to attend university far from home. After six months of searching for footholds, I found them and ecstatically embraced my new life. I’m still in regular contact (thanks to technology) with my best friend from those days. The third tessera came with my marriage to Aurelio. To marry Aurelio, I had to elope to Italy, that’s a whole different story. My arrival in Italy was greeted with architecture, vegetation, fragrances, aromas and a love of life that convinced me I had stepped into the Garden of Eden. My life then billowed into on-going amazing experiences, which really began with my setting off to university.

  2. Doug – now I understand the teariness. I had a cry reading this. And you raised all kinds of thinking for me.
    I, too, am an orphan in terms of “going home again”. Nobody lives in London anymore (where I grew up – age 5-18 – and my parents were there until 99). My brother owns the family cottage, which is a place that in many ways is more home than London ever was, but it’s a long way away from where I live now, and it’s not the same space anymore. Camping in the provincial park down the road isn’t quite the same as being at the cottage, although with my mom now in Owen Sound (only half an hour from the lake), it may be a more manageable thing.

    Isn’t university living a great shock to the system? I loved it, and loved even more my summers working at Ste Marie among the Hurons…..independence. I remember my first morning walking home from a friend’s place after a crew of us had stayed up all night, and knowing that this was my choice to make, and loving the way the world looked at that time of day. So much freedom (yeah, when I was at home, that wasn’t so much an option).

    In terms of our kids, I wasn’t thinking about putting our kids in harm’s way – more about situations where they have to figure things out independently. I think they can still have those experiences where they have to figure out ways to problem solve on their own, but I don’t think it’s as easy….yes, they do it when they go away to university, but none of them will have to walk down the hall once a week to use the pay phone in residence to check in, as I did. We, as parents, can be on call 24-7, and some are – that was kind of my point on that one. I am extremely grateful for the summer that my older son went to cadet band camp for 6 weeks. He was 4 hours away, and we drove up to to see him twice, during his release time. But the cadets had to surrender their phones during the day, and could sign them out for an hour in the evening – no wifi. We got an occasional text, and that was good for me, in terms of realizing that it was time to start letting go. The kiddo I picked up from camp was not the kiddo I dropped off – he had done some independent growing up.

    Conversely, last summer, my 16 year old advocated successfully to bicycle the 110 km from my in-laws cottage to our house (took him about 3.5 hours) . A couple of factors played into my choice to say yes. First, it was a weekday – I probably wouldn’t have let him bike down from the lake on a weekend, with weekend traffic. Second, he works in a bike shop, and barring total disaster, can fix most minor difficulties on his own. Third (and I cringe at this one, but I’m being honest), he’s a boy (I’m still wrestling with whether I’d have let a 16 year old daughter do the same). Fourth, he had his phone with him. I knew if there was a big difficulty, he would let me know. That’s where the tech is helpful. It’s a mind-easer.

    Finally – I appreciated your (and others, who commented on my blog) reminder about how flight has changed, which I hadn’t really thought about. Incredibly, when the 30 of us flew to Germany, a number of us got to go up to the cockpit, and watch the sun come up over Ireland….another experience I treasure.

    Thanks so much, Doug, for your heartfelt response. So much appreciated.

  3. I enjoyed reading your piece, Doug, so much so, that I just have to write something too. My not-in-Kansas-anymore moment came to me incrementally. The first epiphany came on our family’s discovery visit to Mozambique. The architecture was different. The food was bursting with new looks and tastes, especially those served at seaside caravan cafes. But my parents were still tightly woven into the new discoveries, so the novelties didn’t have the mind-altering effect the second new world epiphany had. It happened for me, as it did for you Doug, when I was able to attend university far from home. After six months of searching for footholds, I found them and ecstatically embraced my new life. I’m still in regular contact (thanks to technology) with my best friend from those days. The third tessera came with my marriage to Aurelio. To marry Aurelio, I had to elope to Italy, … that’s a whole different story. My arrival in Italy was greeted with ancient and nouveau architecture, olive groves, vineyards, fragrances from flower-box blossoms, aromas of cheeses and salami from the ubiquitous alimentari and a love of life that convinced me I had stepped into the Garden of Eden. My life then billowed into on-going amazing experiences, which really began with my setting off to university.

  4. I so enjoyed reading your piece, Doug, so much so, that I just have to write something too. My not-in-Kansas-anymore moment came to me incrementally. The first epiphany came on our family’s discovery visit to Mozambique. The architecture was different. The food was bursting with new looks and tastes, especially those served at seaside caravan cafes. But my parents were still tightly woven into the new discoveries, so the novelties didn’t have the mind-altering effect the second new world epiphany had. It happened for me, as it did for you Doug, when I was able to attend university far from home. After six months of searching for footholds, I found them and ecstatically embraced my new life. I’m still in regular contact (thanks to technology) with my best friend from those days. The third tessera came with my marriage to Aurelio. To marry Aurelio, I had to elope to Italy, … that’s a whole different story. My arrival in Italy was greeted with ancient and nouveau architecture, olive groves, vineyards, fragrances from flower-box blossoms, aromas of cheeses and salami from the ubiquitous alimentari and a love of life that convinced me I had stepped into the Garden of Eden. My life then billowed into on-going amazing experiences, which really began with my setting off to university.

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