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Redefining one family’s spring vacation
By Shelley Murphy
Spring break isn’t what it used to be. When my boys attended elementary and middle schools we’d regularly visit our favorite sunny spots, for week-long family vacations full of fun and memories.
Today with my oldest son in college and youngest in high school, each observing separate spring break schedules, I’ve grudgingly said farewell to our annual family vacation.
Two weeks ago my college sophomore saw his fraternity brothers travel to Mexico as he headed home to gulp multiple antibiotics, catch-up on lost sleep and complete pending assignments. While he complained about missing the trip, I secretly celebrated a week free from worry about tequila, tattoos and typhoid.
Last week my high school junior embarked on his equally exciting spring break and spent it studying for Advance Placement tests.
So when I received a text asking if my niece, Eden, could mail us a houseguest, I offered to greet our visitor with open arms—even Flat Stanley vacations over spring break.
My niece is in first grade and Flat Stanley’s a popular project that teaches writing and geography. In 1995, Canadian teacher Dale Hubert created the Flat Stanley Project based on Jeff Brown’s 1964 children’s book, Flat Stanley.
Brown’s story tells the tale of young Stanley Lambchop who goes to bed one night and while asleep the bulletin board above his bed falls from the wall and flattens him. Stanley awakes to find fun being flat since it allows him to slide under doors and slip into mailboxes to visit friends.
My last encounter with Flat Stanley occurred about 10 years ago when a nephew mailed us his paper person. We took Flat Stanley to lunch at Fisherman’s, snapped a picture on the pier and promptly mailed him home.
Expecting to entertain our flat guest with another quick lunch, my surprise turned to shock when I opened the envelope from my niece. Inside I found Flat Eden (nowadays it’s common to make a flat version one’s self), a 24-page journal and instructions lengthier than the directions I used to assemble my new lounge chairs.
The letter instructed me to take her on “daily adventures” and report them in the journal. I don’t have daily adventures—unless you count Starbucks and the gym.
The guidelines encouraged me to be imaginative and creative with my writing, take numerous photos, gather many mementos and send back small treats for the entire class.
San Clemente’s a great place to live and vacation, but Flat Stanley has visited presidents, rocketed into space and was even rumored to be aboard the flight captain Sullenberger landed safely in the Hudson River.
Since the project complements first grade curriculum, I reached out to a family friend and my oldest son’s first grade teacher, Kelly Barreira, to ask for help. Kelly graciously invited me and Flat Eden into her classroom, saying my assignment coincidently coordinated with their current classroom community project.
The next morning Flat Eden and I visited Mrs. Barreira’s classroom. Almost 15 years had passed since my last classroom visit, and I still marveled at Kelly’s calm control, contagious energy and enthusiasm as she instructed her students.
The students sat quietly, listening as I told the story about Flat Eden and then agreed to let her help with their project. I left Flat Eden with the children and said I’d return next week.
The week passed and my son, still home recuperating, agreed to accompany me to his old elementary school.
Walking with my son onto his onetime playground, nostalgia took hold of me. I flashed back to my son’s first day at the school, recalling my overwhelming anxiety and his uninhibited excitement.
As we approached Mrs. Barreira’s classroom, my son raced past me to greet his first grade teacher, just as he had 14 years ago.
Gone were my first day jitters, but seeing my adult son and his first grade teacher embrace, I found myself once again fighting back tears as I stood nearby wondering where the years went.
I’m no longer whining about missing a pricey spring break vacation, instead I’m thankful for a priceless trip down memory lane.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.
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