Family Gap Years

The Next Family

By: Stacie Lewis

Britain has an unhealthy obsession with family gap years. A gap year is what 18 year-old kids do before they head to university. It’s a year out, doing something totally different in a foreign country. Sometimes it involves charity work – like building homes for a village community in Africa. Most of the time, it involves drinking in bars in Thailand in a bikini while discussing how amazing it is that poor people really know what happiness is, you know?

But, lately, on television and in the newspapers, families are doing it. Mummy and Daddy are packing up little Tristan and Eloise, removing them from school so they can learn without boundaries. Okay, so those boundaries might be teachers like me who would insist they learn to read and write, but who am I to judge what makes a person literate?

I moved to the UK when I was 23. I’d done an overseas study program and I loved it so I came back to do my MA. That’s how I met my husband. I fell in love with him and London. I still feel it inside when I cross the Thames River on a train. I go a little giddy.

Except, I barely ever cross the Thames anymore, or go in to see an exhibit, or shop on Oxford Street. I have a baby now – putting aside the brain-damaged bit – have you ever tried to lug a stroller, with a baby inside, up and down two long flights of stairs? That is the beginning of my journey at my local train station. That’s before I hit Victoria Station, the largest in London, and one that contains zero elevators or escalators down into the Tube.

Every day I wish I were near my family. The other day I said to my husband, “I don’t care where we go. Let’s go to the States, let’s move to Wales (where his mother is), let’s stay in London… but you have to help me make it work. I need to see people, go places.” What is the point of living in London, away from our families and broke, if we aren’t taking advantage of it at all?

(He would say that we both have jobs we love – and what are the chances of that ever happening again?)

Contrary to parents that forcefully separate their children from the people and experiences they love, the same ones that give them the comfort, encouragement, and joy to succeed, I wish every day that I lived closer to my family. When I read stories about gap year parents, my first impulse is to ask –“why would they do that? Why would they move away from their families?” –before I even consider my predicament.

Maybe it is a question I need to ask more of myself.

Stacie Lewis blogs at Mama Lewis and the Amazing Adventures of the Half-Brained Baby.

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