The semi-functional bus AC roared loudly from the drivers seat; the vast expanse of nothing suggested we must be close to the Texas state line. “Shylah, sit down!” I wailed for the 14th time in an hour. I looked in the rear view mirror to check in on my groom, T.J. who was sitting with a few of the boys discussing music and laughing. As the sun sank, illuminating the big Texas skies with neon hues, we kept morale high with bluetooth speaker dance parties, group karaoke and impromptu games. My heart warmed with gratitude as I focused on the road: I couldn’t believe I found a man willing to spend our honeymoon on a school bus with 12 rowdy preteens.
T.J. and I met in 4th grade playing soccer at recess in Seabrook, Texas. My 5th grade crush for T.J. stemmed from my envy of his ability to beat me in everything: math triathalons, soccer and even reading competitions. Little did I know that the feelings were reciprocated and that T.J.’s crush on me lasted through the next decade.
We attended the same elementary school, middle school and high school but we only knew one another from afar. We both took the same courses but often times had different teachers. We were in different circles. T.J. focused explicitly on his soccer career and grades (T.J. actually played soccer with my dad on Sundays), while I rode out a few wild streaks.
Freshman year in high school, I remember stopping T.J. for help on a geometry problem and even though it made him late to class, he patiently explained the proof and asked me if I needed anything else. I walked away, wondering why I didn’t date nice guys like T.J.
I attended The University of Texas at Austin, while T.J. left the great state of Texas for college in Colorado. After graduation, I moved to Colorado for a magazine internship where my Instagram picture of a Colorado hike actually sparked conversation and refueled the old 5th grade flames and just like they say: when you know, you know. After a few months of wild road trip adventures, love letters exchanged and sweet memories made, I married my 5th grade crush on June 6, 2015.
Deciding on a different kind of honeymoon
We had both traveled extensively and the prospect of our honeymoon—a brilliant excuse to splurge on a dream destination—inspired wild lists of remote destinations and adventures. While we would’ve loved to spend T.J.’s limited vacation days in the Galapagos Islands or New Zealand, I came up with an alternative honeymoon instead.
After my magazine internship, I took a two-year position with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation in Boulder as an AmeriCorps volunteer, where I could pursue writing on the side to help with the below-poverty wages. The “I Have a Dream” Foundation provides long-term academic and socio-emotional support for at-risk, low-income youth. I had the best two years of my life with a cohort of 60 “Dreamers”—otherwise known as our students. I spent 50-60 hours per week coaching sports, hosting sleepovers, tutoring after school and assisting in the classrooms. Together with my students, we backpacked though the mountains, wrote books together and lost an awful lot of soccer games while still maintaining high spirits. Those middle school preteens became my family.
Our wedding coincided with the end of my two years of service and I couldn’t imagine leaving these kids I had come to love. The Dreamers actually served as flower girls in our wedding and Junior–one of the Dreamers–was a groomsman for T.J. So I proposed, “What if for our honeymoon, we take the Dreamers on a road trip through Texas?” Texas was decently close to Colorado, affordable, we would have free lodging with family and friends. Not to mention, T.J. and I grew up on Galveston Bay, while some Dreamers had never seen the coast. I knew it was a risk, but T.J. not only said yes—he was excited.
Hitting the road with “The Dreamers” in tow
We had one school bus, four adult chaperones (my boss and his wife joined in on the fun) and many friends and family members willing to host throughout Texas. We held the trip as an academic incentive and 12 Dreamers earned their spots on the bus to Texas with hard work: The Dreamers with the highest GPAs and a few slots for “most improved,” were invited on the trip. In the end, all the permission forms were signed and we headed for the Lone Star state.
Day 1: Boulder, Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon, a western frontier gem, is featured in Lonesome Dove and hosted the cattle drives of the Wild West—brimming with enchanting Texas foklore and colorful geological formations. Though, in the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that I forgot to make reservations and the park was completely full. We ended up sleeping at a KOA in Amarillo. But were still able to roast s’mores, hot dogs, and dance along to bluetooth speakers. We played soccer, pitched tents, and swam in the KOA pool. The kids actually never noticed we didn’t make it to the park and probably enjoyed the swimming pool and BBQ pit more than the rustic Palo Duro backcountry.
Days 2-3: Amarillo, Texas to Garner State Park, Texas
Garner State Park is a summer tradition from my childhood; each summer we would tube down the river by day and country western dance at Garner State Park by night. My selfless mother offered to host the same country getaway for our Dreamers. She secured the old cabin and met us there with grilling supplies and epic snacks. The kids loved it! We rented out 16 tubes and loaded up that little white school bus. The sunny days were filled with riding out rapids, jumping from cliffs and rope swinging into the cool, green waters. At the dance hall, the lady Dreamers blushed as they were asked to dance by nice Texan boys, and our male Dreamers couldn’t believe the high school girls they got to twirl around the dance floor with. We all cooked meals together, splashed around in the river and I got to relive a highlight of my childhood with my new husband and all the loves of my life.
Day 4: Austin, Texas
In Austin, we grabbed a few home slice pizzas and took the kids to Zilker Park. We then went swimming at Barton Springs—a three acre pool fed from natural springs—and dried off in the Texas sunshine to tour The University of Texas at Austin. A main mission of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation is college promotion, so I had been talking up The University of Texas for a while now and it was special to take the Dreamers through the 40 acres.
My college roommate was from Austin and her wonderful family lived in the area. Her parents hosted all 16 of us in their lovely Austin home. The kids couldn’t believe that a fellow Mexican (Elizabeth’s dad was from Mexico) could own such a large “mansion.” We played soccer in the street and Elizabeth’s family grilled out for the kids while we watched the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team play in the World Cup.
Days 5-7: Seabrook, Texas
My dad still lives in the same humble beach-front home and I was excited to show the Dreamers where I had grown up. We live about 15 minutes from NASA, so we took the kids on a space tour and then played around Johnson Space Center. But what did the kids really want? The beach. Some of them had never seen the ocean and were thrilled to play and swim until they pruned. We brought the skimboards and windsurfers down to play with. Throughout our stay, we toured the boardwalk and rode rollercoasters. We ate tons of Whataburger (Texas’ supreme fast food delicacy), and had ourselves a world-class honeymoon vacation. The more, the merrier.
En route back to Colorado, I reflected upon each prank, fit of laughter, spontaneous dance party and beautiful memory made. Exploring a foreign place and culture is invigorating and I’m sure my husband and I will make it to the Galapagos Islands one day, but no destination could’ve hit deeper than taking that alternative honeymoon to Texas with a school bus full of Dreamers.
Meet the Author
Becky Kivlovitz is a writer for The Pin the Map Project with published work in Backpacker Mag, Women’s Adventure Magazine, Texas Music magazine, Wide Open Country and more. Email Becky at Becky@thepinthemapproject.com.