Highways April 2002

Living the Dream
Former television star turned author Lisa Whelchel and her family joined the Good Sam Club and hit the road as fulltimers for a year.
By Brad Johnson

Lots of people dream of driving across the United Stares, if not all of North America. There is so much to see and so many things to do. For Good Sam Club members Lisa Whelchel and Steve Cauble, and their three children, it was time to stop dreaming.

You probably remember Whelchel from her days as "Blair" on the NBC show The Facts of Life during its nine-year run. Today, she's an author who also speaks to churches and outreach groups. She and husband Steve, Good Sam Club members since 1999, have had the idea of taking their kids on the road for some time.

Well, that time has arrived.

Lisa, Steve, Tucker, 11, Haven, 10, and Clancy, 9, are nearing the end of a year-long journey that not only took them from coast to coast, but brought them closer together as a family. They've gone from Broken Arrow, Okla., to Butte, Mont. They sampled regional spice from Salem, Ore., to Celebration, Fla. And they drove their 40-foot Allegro diesel to New York, Nashville, Atlanta and Seattle. Yes, there have been some bumps along the way, but the family has discovered another American treasure: What it's like to share an adventure together.

"Our goals for the trip were to, first, avoid winter and its dangerous driving weather, and second to spend major holidays with our families," says Steve. Also integral to the plan were pit stops for Lisa's acting and writing career: interviews with local radio shows, tapings for TV programs and book signings for her recently published book The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me. While Lisa, Steve and the kids were meeting America, America would meet them.

But there were concerns before they left their home in Southern California. Would they have periods of depression because they weren't with their friends? How would a family of five cope with living in a motorhome for an entire year? After all, pour a growing family into a confined space and the result could be a jumble of mismatched socks, an avalanche of toys, mysteriously missing clothing - the tyranny of too much stuff.

But they adjusted. Tucker, Haven and Clancy were assigned their own basement and cubby storage areas in the coach, and were restricted to one stuffed toy apiece. Same for Mom and Dad: reduced wardrobes, minimal toys and any goodies accumulated along the way would be shipped home.

How would the children react to such a drastic uprooting? "To make it less traumatic for the kids to be gone an entire year, we built opportunities into our schedule for them to visit relatives and friends," says Steve. Besides an occasional flight home to visit grandparents and inviting a friend from home aboard for a week-long sleepover, holidays would be spent with relatives. The family rolled into North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with Steve's family, then headed to Texas for Christmas and New Year's with Lisa's relatives.

Then there was the challenge of educating the kids and maintaining discipline in a close-quarters, 24/7 environment. Lisa, who had been home schooling her children for several years prior to the trip, researched every state's national parks, history and science museums, historical sites and factory tours, scheduling visits that would serve as history, geography and cultural lessons.

"I planned a scaled-down version of the home schooling I do at home," says Lisa. "We're focusing on their math and language-arts curriculum, a mandatory hour of reading every day and the kids will be doing a lot of writing - reports what we've seen, postcards and letters home. The rest will be what the kids learn and absorb from being on the road."

Finally, jobs would have to be assigned, responsibilities shouldered. There would be times when, for the safety and morale of the ship, all crew members would need to pull as one. First, all loose items on countertops and seats must be stowed or secured before leaving the campsite. Tucker is charged with taking out the trash, Haven with securing all drawers and baskets and Clancy with locking the interior sliding doors. Steve and Lisa have worked out their own choreography for hooking up and double checking the tow bars, wiring and braking system of the Dodge Grand Caravan.

"There's no better time for our kids to do this than now," says Steve. "They're old enough to enjoy and remember the trip, and they're young enough to still want to be with Mom and Dad."

Though Lisa (author of Creative Correction, an award-winning book on child discipline) and Steve are skilled parents, the playing field had shrunk. For one thing, there are times when you need to separate kids, but there's only so much room in the motorhome. And where do you send a child for "time out?" It turned out that a 15-minute time out in the bathroom, with the motorhome swaying down the highway, was equivalent to an hour's banishment at home.

On a typical day, the kids write postcards, do their math, rider their bikes, organize basketball games and e-mail friends. A sociable bunch, Tucker, Haven and Clancy are quick to make new pals at national parks and at Mom's book-signing and speaking engagements.

Of the many stops the family made as they crossed North America, one of the more significant was in Toronto for the filming to The Facts of Life reunion movie, which for Lisa was an invigorating return to acting and an opportunity to reestablish old friendships with the cast members. But by the end of their five-week stay in a hotel suite, the family was itching to get back on the highway.

Life on the road, it seemed, had them hooked.

"We're surprised by how much we love this and how much fun it is," says Steve. "It's not like being cooped up in a car. Because we have the comfort and convenience of home, we have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks of long-term travel."

Says Lisa: "I hope that other folks with this dream realize that they can pull it off, too. With a little bit of flexibility, compromise and sacrifice and a whole lot of faith, it can happen."

Adds Steve, "This trip is giving our kids memories they'll have all their lives. They're never going to forget it."

The same, it must be said, goes for Mom and Dad.



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