The following is an excerpt from Paradise Imperfect: A Mother, A Family, and A Year Out of Time
Anthony and I had decided...
Now, as enlightened, empowering, 21st-century parents, we just needed to trick the children into agreeing.
I’d always assumed the entire universe unwrapped its school supplies at the start of September.
Not so! The morning after Anthony’s and my midnight exchange, I learned that the little mountaintop school we’d visited three years before would start its new academic year in mid-July, just under seven weeks away.
We usually tried to ensure everyone felt heard in family decisions. This was practical as well as philosophical—the whole thing would crash and burn if the kids didn’t buy in. I dug a piece of white poster board out of the space beneath the stairs, where I conducted a perpetually losing battle to keep art supplies organized, and found colored Sharpies in the kitchen drawer. I headed the poster board MOVING TO COSTA RICA and called a Family Meeting to Consider a Thrilling Adventure.
Pros on the left, Cons on the right. I transcribed everything verbatim, later adding asterisks and possible resolutions to Cons. (Middle management, anyone? Don’t let anyone tell you you aren’t yourself in every single action.) As fast as the cons could pile up in red, blue arrows appeared, pointing to the mitigations that began to fill the margins:
I’D REALLY MISS MY FRIENDS ** Pick a couple of favorites to have visit. Talk to their parents—possible?
I left the poster board hanging in the living room. With pens, so any of us could add to it.
Five days after we’d begun our poster board, the margins were full—an answer for every Con. We’d stopped at home between Harry’s baseball game and dinner at my mom’s. On impulse I grabbed the sign as we ran out the door. The 25 minutes between home and Grandma’s would be enough to get the decision ball rolling.
We piled into the ancient Previa, the only stickshift minivan anyone had ever seen. Anthony drove. I rode shotgun, pulling the visor down so I could see the mirror. I adjusted it away from my own dirty-blond, curly head to look at Hannah’s brown, sleek one in the middle seat, and past her to Harry’s red mop in the way back. Ivy was missing from her customary spot next to Hannah, having slept at her grandparents’ the night before. Perfect. At four, Ivy was too young to contribute anyway—we’d tell her something thrilling (“There’ll be horses!”). Ivy would be fine.
The mirror wasn’t cutting it. I turned around to face the kids. I held up the poster board like a teacher and poised my Sharpie to begin running through the lists.
“So. How do you guys want to talk about this?”
Pause—not a long one.
Harry: “I think we should just go.”
Hannah added logic: “We thought of every reason not to, and none of them were really that good.”
Anthony and I looked at each other. Was it really that easy?
We were six blocks from our house, not even to the freeway yet. But we were off.
Read another excerpt, in which I blow an opportunity