brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world



Today has been a great day meeting lots of babies at a reunion with a lovely group I taught in June.  As anyone who talks to me for any length of time lately knows, the subject soon turns to travel and so there I was, not so subtly, picking the brains of those with any travel experience to share.  A few additional possibilities for our trip emerged.

If we are planning on flying from the West Coast of North America (probably via LAX) to Australia then surely it makes sense to stop in Hawaii??  Indeed.

Ah yes, but don’t forget Fiji and the Cook Islands suggested another couple who regaled wonderful memories of their time on both, until I was ready to scrap North America altogether and head off for 3 months in the Pacific.

As soon as I got home I consulted the map, then I did what any novice does; I Googled.  Ten minutes of research tells me that we simply have to spend time in all of these islands; that it would be remiss of us to miss these unique islands out (we owe it to our kids’ education) and that since there are no direct flights from Honolulu to Rarotonga  we’ll have to go via Tahiti.


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Facts and feelings

The spread of Ebola has dominated the headlines for the last couple of days, with a nurse in Spain being the first to contract the virus outside of West Africa. There is talk of the US screening airline passengers as they arrive and experimental vaccines being trialled as the urgency to find a cure intensifies. I remember similar alarm being raised a few years ago in connection with Avian Flu and before that it was SARS.  Naturally the practicality of worldwide travel is on my mind a great deal at the moment so I suppose it is inevitable that I wonder whether the risks are any greater now.  I’ve mentioned before the process we’ve been through when contemplating our forthcoming trip – all the pros and cons, as it were, so the question is, should the potentially increasing threat of Ebola make any difference to our decision to go?

Here is where I find an interesting overlap in what I do for a living (supporting new families and in particular helping them make choices that are specifically right for them) and what we are doing in our personal life; the decision to opt out of mainstream education, travel the world and live a less conventional life for a while.  So far the impact on factors like affordability, the kids’ education, our future employability and so on (let’s call them the private factors) have been relatively easy to evaluate – we have most of the relevant information available to us.  But what about a potential global health problem that we know very little about?  How can we assess the risk of increased travel both to our family on an individual scale (a private factor) but also in terms of any increased threat we might pose to the general public, just by virtue, for example, of having taken so many flights with hundreds of others who have also been travelling?

In NCT we teach parents the BRAIN decision making tool – when presented with options we ask what are the Benefits, Risks and Alternatives of those options, what does our Instinct say and what if we do Nothing?  Years and years ago when I practised law part of my job was to assess and try to minimise risks for clients.  Even if I did my job well though, those risks still exist and sometimes, even if the odds were in your favour, the outcome may not be what was hoped for.

I’ve always liked Martin Lewis’s example of risk taking.  He says, suppose I offered you a bet – we’ll toss a coin and if it lands on heads you must pay me 10p but if it lands on tails, then I must pay you £100. Do you take the bet?

Of course you do, (unless you are represented by a city lawyer, in which case she is probably trying to hedge your 10p, but I digress).  If the coin then lands on heads, the outcome is not what you had hoped for but does that mean you made the wrong decision?  I see this all the time when working with pregnant couples and part of being comfortable with decision making is understanding that you can’t control all the outcomes but if the worst happens, it doesn’t prove that you made the wrong choice.  Applying this to private factors, I am bullish when it comes to risk taking – we may not get our old jobs back but we’ll probably find others etc.  Matters of public health feel a bit different though.  It feels like we need more facts.

I had the pleasure of hearing Ben Goldacre speak at the weekend. He came along to the NCT conference to give a keynote speech, the theme of our conference being the potential conflict between facts and feelings and how that impacts on decision making.  Goldacre is currently a Research Fellow in epidemiology at London School of  Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and he is known for exposing the misuse of research and statistics by those with a vested interest.  I would love to have heard his views on both how the public does respond and indeed how it should respond to each of these new pandemics as they sweep the globe.  I imagine he would have had nothing to say about individual cases but from a policy point of view, when, if at all, does it become better for the greater good, for the general public to stop travelling large distances?  One flippant answer to that is, when your government says so. Now I would have thought such action from any government extremely unlikely; the economic consequences would be difficult to comprehend but sometimes travel is advised against if it is not “essential”.  The truth is, what we have planned is not “essential”. So, hypothetically, what do we do if non essential travel is advised against?  I’d like to think that we could look at the evidence; make up our own minds if all travel is risky, or only to certain regions, for example.

Sadly for me, Goldacre wasn’t there to speak about this issue but he had plenty to say about how much we can rely on “evidence,” and about the need to consider the motives of those who are carrying out or reporting research. It is conceivable that if the Government ever did reach the point of prohibiting travel, or advising against it in general, it might not be because that is what the evidence points to; it could just as easily be to address the need to be seen to be doing something, to be in control so that we all feel better. Even on a macro scale feelings as well as facts are relevant.

Ultimately whether this latest global outbreak impacts upon our plans will depend upon what happens over the coming months and, of course, how we feel about it.  I’m hoping that, like bird flu and SARS, this will be long forgotten in 12 months time because if not, I’m not sure that BRAIN is going to help me.  How could I assess the risks if I don’t have all the facts and where could I reliably get them from?  Maybe an email to Goldacre?

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According to Wikipedia (and I have no reason to doubt it, I’m just too lazy to double check the calculation myself), October 1st is the 274th day of the year, with 91 remaining until the new year.  We’re down to just double figures for 2014. In the words of Lance Corporal Jones, “Don’t Panic, don’t panic!”  and I’m not panicking. It might be due to the unseasonally warm weather, giving the impression that we are still in early Summer rather than at the start of October, or it might be the ostrich effect; I’m not entirely sure.

I’ve spent a couple of hours this morning helping out in Teddy’s class at school.  The hope is that I’ll get an idea of where he is with his school work, so that I can start thinking about how to approach road schooling all three boys.  I went along to his maths class where his lovely maths teacher started with a subtraction rap; the kids loved it.  Sadly, I am no rapper and, as such, I’m hoping there will be other tactics I can employ to demystify arithmetic otherwise dad will be in charge of numbers. That’s not a bad plan actually, given that I am more at home with words – literacy for year 3 this morning included working on non-fiction writing and thinking about describing words for different kinds of settlements – see, that’s more like it! On a serious note though, it is such a pleasure to be able to go into the classroom and spend time with the children without having to give any notice at all.  John and Teddy are so fortunate to go to such an open and welcoming school and it is one of the few hesitations I have about travelling because there is a very real risk that when we return there won’t be space for Teddy and Alex (John will be at secondary school).  I made a conscious decision to inform the school of our plans back in the Spring and, without fail, everyone has been totally supportive and positive which has made a real difference for the older boys who have been able to speak freely about the trip, helping them to get used to the idea themselves.  Of course Alex has no real understanding yet of what is going to happen; sadly he already seems to have forgotten most of our trip to Perth last year.  He is at the lovely age where he wonders everyday whether it will be his birthday this week as he knows he enjoys going to birthday parties and thinks it might be quite nice to have one of his own. Likewise, we talk about Christmas and he knows it’s exciting but can’t quite remember exactly why. Having all that gorgeous innocence with us while we’re travelling will be such a delight and I love that he helps us all to take things at face value now and again; to just enjoy the moment – we all need to work on that.

So plans are moving on.  We have spent time this week looking at exactly where we want to go in the US and trying to figure out if we need a rental car for the whole time.  Apparently Wednesdays are traditionally the cheapest day of the week to fly on, (according to Google, anyway) so in my mind I have pencilled in Wednesday 23rd September as the day we leave; the date being arrived at on account of it being half way though Nick’s holiday year and thus a final extra month’s money to add to the coffers.  At the risk of relying too heavily on Wikipedia, September 23rd is the 266th day of the year and thus we have 357 days to go.  Further crunching of the numbers reveals that there are 51 weekends until we leave and, so far, I have committed to work part or all of 24 of them.  We’ll be in Kent with mum and dad for another 10,  which leaves 17 weekends unaccounted for.

17 weekends to de-clutter, sort and sell or store all our things, redecorate the most tired rooms in our house, build a wall in the garage so that we can use the storage, finalise our plans for the first few weeks, organise insurances and find a tenant. Oh, and of course, keep the blog updated.

In the words this time of Captain Mainwaring “I think you’re entering the realms of fantasy here, Jones”