Actress Lisa Whelchel left behind the bright lights of Hollywood for the warm glow of full-time motherhood — and a year of full-time RVing.
By Lazelle D. Jones
I remember watching Lisa Whelchel, F264975, on television years ago as Blair Warner, the self-centered rich kid she portrayed in the 1980s sitcom, “The Facts of Life.” So, sitting in her motorhome discussing her life, then and now, was quite an experience. Lisa is nothing like the character that catapulted her to teenage stardom. And when the series ended in 1988, she traded in the high-profile lifestyle of an actress to become a wife and mother of three children. Since then she has dedicated her spirit and energy to her marriage; to raising her children; and to helping other concerned parents address the multitude of issues that bombard the modern family.
Last summer, Lisa; her husband, Steve Cauble; and their son, Tucker (13), and daughters Haven (11), and Clancy (10), completed a year-long full-time motorhoming trip across the United States that they called “The Family Dream.” I caught up with them on the final weekend of their adventure in late June at the Tiffin Motorhome West Coast Rally in Solvang, California. In the comfort of the family’s 40-foot Tiffin Allegro Bus diesel pusher, Lisa talked about her career as an actress; the two books she has written, Creative Correction and The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me; and about her life as a wife and a mother.
“The last two roles have been the most important ones I will ever have,” she said. “I always thought I would go back to work after having children, but after being with our children, I knew I had to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom.” Lisa pursues this mission with the same energy and creativity that she put into her television and book-writing careers. And, yes, a third book is in the works. I’m Thinking About Homeschooling, which is due in bookstores in April 2003, is intended to be a practical guide for anyone who wants to homeschool their children.
My curiosity was piqued by the fact that this family of five had just completed a year of full-timing in a motorhome. I had to find out what made Lisa and Steve decide to take their family on a motor coach trip of this magnitude and what enabled them to successfully complete it.
To understand how they were able to do this with young children is to know a few things about this couple. First, they are committed to homeschooling. Lisa has been homeschooling their children since Tucker was in preschool. She said she will continue to use this form of education for all three children through high school. Choosing a curriculum and putting together lesson plans for youngsters at three different grade levels is a monumental task, but not as daunting as it would have been several years ago.
“Living in the age of electronics and high-speed communications helps tremendously,” Lisa explained. “There’s an abundance of information available that can put those who homeschool on a success path.” Steve pointed out the many electronic devices in the motorhome that made educating the kids on the road possible. They have five laptop computers (one for each member of the family); an in-motion satellite system with instant Internet access; a satellite cell phone; a printer; and a fax machine. The children didn’t miss a day of lessons when they stepped into the Allegro Bus parked in their Southern California driveway and began heading down the road.
After deciding to embark on such an odyssey, the couple knew that a motorhome was the only mode of travel that made sense. Lisa could meet her speaking commitments; the children would continue to receive their education; and as a family they could share everything from America’s big cities to the hundreds of small towns that make up the fabric of this country.
The first obstacle they ran into was finding a motorhome. They were living on Steve’s salary (he’s an associate pastor at The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California) and couldn’t afford to buy a motorhome large enough to travel full-time in — with three children — for a year. They considered the possibility of renting a motorhome, and while investigating their options during a two-year period, Steve and Lisa fell in love with an Allegro Bus at an RV show. In the process, they also heard about Bob Tiffin, founder of Tiffin Motorhomes, C1717, who owns and operates the company with his wife, Judy, and sons Tim, Van, and Lex. The couple was told that Bob was very accessible to the public. On a hunch, Lisa decided to phone him, and was immediately put through. “Everything we had heard about Bob Tiffin turned out to be true, only double,” she said.
During that phone conversation, Lisa shared the couple’s dedication to family and her efforts to help others with homeschooling and parenting issues. She asked if they might rent or lease a coach for the trip they were planning. The next day Bob Tiffin called Lisa back. “‘My wife and sons and I have discussed this and we like what you are doing,'” Lisa recalled Bob telling her. “‘We also believe in family values and want families to spend more time together. This is just exactly where our heart is, too. We support what you’re doing and want to be a part of it. However, there is one condition to using one of our Allegro Buses: We will not rent it to you; we will loan it to you.'”
With a 40-foot motorhome at their disposal, Steve, Lisa, Tucker, Haven, and Clancy began their yearlong adventure at a Tiffin Motorhomes rally in Newport, Oregon, in the summer of 2001. From there the family traveled across the northern part of the United States and down the East Coast before spending winter in the South. In the spring of 2002 they traveled back up the East Coast and across the Midwest.
On her Web site, www.lisawhelchel.com, Lisa kept a daily journal about the family’s travels, trials, and triumphs so others could follow their trip. Lisa recalled meeting a woman at Bryce Canyon in Utah who recognized her. The woman told Lisa that she had been reading her journal entry on the Internet every day. These entries, she said, inspired her to take six weeks off from work and live her own dream, which was to explore America’s national parks.
The children each had their own idea as to what was the best part of the trip. Haven said it was Walt Disney World and Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Clancy said she liked Texas, because it was there that they visited Lisa’s family. She also liked horseback riding at Bryce Canyon. As for Tucker, he said he enjoyed it all.
To make sure the kids weren’t overwhelmed by the length of the trip, Steve and Lisa periodically sent one of the children back to California for a week to stay with friends. This helped the kids maintain continuity with the circle of companions they would rejoin after being away for a year. Also, friends from home would occasionally join the family during the trip. Was there enough room in the motorhome for these rolling slumber parties? “No problem,” Lisa said. “The sofa sleeps two, the L-shaped sectional sleeps one, and the [fold-down] dinette sleeps two.” The motorhome could accommodate as many as two guests at a time.
Throughout the year the family traveled 45,000 miles in the motorhome; added 25,000 miles to the minivan they towed behind the coach; and flew another 48,000 miles to honor Lisa’s numerous speaking engagements at churches and schools, her television appearances, and other miscellaneous commitments.
After the trip, Lisa continued to use the Allegro Bus as a hideaway, a place where she sequestered herself to finish writing I’m Thinking About Homeschooling. In the past, Lisa had borrowed a friend’s cabin to meet her writing deadlines. No more. In November, the couple signed the paperwork to purchase the Allegro Bus, not only to use as an office but for future trips they plan to take. They’re even talking about driving to Central America.
As part of Lisa’s ongoing efforts to help other families, she started a program called MomTime. It’s designed to refresh and rejuvenate moms who get burned out in the process of being a mother. Each MomTime group — which can include any number of ladies — meets for a few hours each week for food, faith, fellowship, and fun. The intent of the meetings is to bring moms together to encourage each other, learn from others’ challenges, and take some time to laugh and enjoy time away from the kids.
An offshoot of the program that Lisa kicked off last fall is called the MomTime Get-A-Way. “This is a place for moms to come and spend a couple of days laughing, being pampered, enjoying good conversation, and finding inspiration among others who are there for the same reason,” Lisa explained. “The purpose is to give Mom a break and send her home refreshed.” Information about MomTime and MomTime Get-A-Ways can be found on Lisa’s Web site.
As I found out during our conversation, Lisa is committed to being a wife, a mother, and a friend and mentor to those who are doing their best to raise good families. And even though she will always be remembered as Blair Warner by the public, her family and friends know her best as Mom. It’s a role she’s starred in for the past 13 years and one she’s not interested in retiring from anytime soon.