In Which We Are Home Free!
"The notion that we need the same type of economic system for all areas of life is ridiculous. For big things like cars, airplanes, computers, etc, capitalism is appropriate and works very well. For public services, education, utilities and (I believe) natural resources, a kind of socialism is the appropriate model. But for things like food, farming, clothing, low-tech manufacturing, etc, the best model is free enterprise (which is different from capitalism)."
--Sally Fallon Morell
Okay, so where were we? Oh yes: when last I wrote, we'd just put our house on the market and given away or sold most of our belongings.
Since then, we've bought a pop-up camper and full-size van, sold our house and car (in that fairly-financially-stressful order), and moved ourselves and everything we own into the camper and van.
Want to see our packing list? Read on! Otherwise, feel free to skip this fascinating and informational document that only took me 23,537 hours to compile (more or less).
So. Gearing Up For The Mobile Lifestyle...
I can now say from experience that there are many good reasons why lots of folks prefer to continue to live in their houses.
Here is a partial list of Action Items from a week leading up to departure (not referencing, of course, the fact that even during times of stress and Busyness, everyone still persists in eating Meals That Cost Money at least three times per day):
To Do List
◦ Propane thingy
◦ Cable for camera
◦ Brian - install smoke detector in old house
◦ Credit union statements - how to get?
◦ Balance bank account statements - all four months' worth
◦ Jems sandals refund
◦ Pam - check
◦ Cancel ins policy - home and car
◦ Thank you D & J + meat
◦ pressed flower book?
◦ where's waldo now?
◦ Organize Important Papers + files and put in ziplocs
◦ Friday 8am Diane's auto - get lugnuts on trailer wheels checked (Must pack up camper early)
◦ Friday 8:30am accufab - propane tanks install + tie-downs on rear deck
◦ Monday morning pick up glasses
◦ Monday afternoon - Jeff's glasses appt.
◦ Tuesday - Karen 11-3
◦ Sunday pm final house walkthru with Bill
◦ Close Tompkins accts
◦ Books/audiobooks/podcasts on old phones?
◦ make sure get full-timers RV insurance effective immediately w/liability coverage
◦ ben's bike - pick up from shop
◦ bike grease
◦ handle grips for scooter
◦ Patch kit
◦ Email about car + Autotrader + Craigslist + FUNschool - Must Sell This Week!
◦ McGuire - ridge road imports - Highlander trade in??
◦ order: coconut oil, beans, rice noodles, tomatoes, anchovies, kippurs, rice
◦ buy: instant seaweed, ghee, olive oil, cinnamon, basil, oregano, cumin
◦ walmart - small cubbies - rags, small stuff in front storage
◦ Wapf - ask about meat/milk pickups along the way
◦ pedometer - cuz I want one!
"Outfitting Six People For A Journey" was the main to-do item on the list for about two solid months. I spent countless hours (and by countless hours I mean an Amazingly Shit Ton of hours) thinking through what we'd need, where we might need it, and how to store it. I read thousands of reviews concerning So Many Things that they began to blur together in my dreams: LED headlamps mini baby potty screen solar inverter tent pillow umbrella composting toilet RV hairbrushes to grow into rain boot Jem sandals Ivy-sized low-pressure propane stove sneaker substitutes...
I'd estimate that we needed to purchase about three-quarters of the following list, and while the list itself might seem incredibly simple and straightforward (if a bit long), you - meaning me, when in future years I try to understand why exactly my hairs went gray so precisely in the year 2016 - would be wise to consider that each bullet point represents A Super Lot of Decisions: Should this item be on our list-of-stuff-to-bring in the first place? Do we own this item? If so, is it worth keeping/easily cleaned/durable enough for the trip? Where will it be stored? And if we don't own this item, where should we get it? What kind should we get? How can we get it for the best price? Are there other items that could work instead? Do we really truly need it? What might happen if we didn't have it? How do we figure out that we need a thing if we haven't actually heard about it yet? Etc. etc. etc.
Usually, possessions accumulate so organically that many of them defy categorization, if you were to even try to list them all. I think it is rare - at least, it has been exceptionally rare in my own experience up till this spring - to actually Think Through every single thing I choose to own.
But now we have that list. It is called, inventively,
Our Packing List
▪ 1 queen waterproof pad
▪ 1 queen mattress cover
▪ 1 full mattress cover
▪ 3 queen size fitted sheets
▪ 2 full size fitted sheets
▪ 3 pillowcases
▪ 5 towels
▪ 3 kids' sleeping bags
▪ 2 adult sleeping bags
▪ Baby Sleeping Bag
▪ Pillows for parents; little ones for kids
▪ Pack'n'Play or similar
▪ large Pot
▪ small pot
▪ dutch oven
▪ large cast iron pan
▪ 4 kraut jars
▪ 6 mason jars qt. size
▪ 4 mason jars pt. size
▪ 2 mason jars 2-qt. size
▪ Can opener
▪ Metal spatula
▪ Bottle brush
▪ Wooden spoon
▪ Steak knives
▪ Garlic press
▪ 2 metal bowls
▪ Metal food storage containers
▪ Cutting board
▪ Immersion blender
▪ Water Filter
▪ Dish tubs
▪ Storage tubs
▪ Spices, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegars, sardines, tamari, pantry items, coconut oil, etc.
▪ 12v fridge
▪ Propane for stove
▪ Eating utensils
▪ Metal dishes
▪ 6 metal cups
▪ 5 waterbottles
▪ New waterbottle lids
▪ Wash rag
▪ Dish soap
▪ 4 dish towels
▪ Booster seat
▪ Paper towels
▪ Anti-icky poo
▪ Toilet paper
▪ Little potty
▪ Clothes pins and bag
▪ Wash Tub
▪ Laundry soap
▪ 5 big, fast-drying beach towels
▪ Screen Tent + wind panels
▪ 5 pinch-light red LED flashlights
▪ 2 LED headlamps
▪ Nat'l Geographic Road Atlas ▪ Earplugs
▪ Fly swatter
▪ Picnic blanket
▪ Front door mats
▪ 2 Folding chairs
▪ A/C Extension cords
▪ water hoses (for drinking water)
▪ Solar Panel
▪ Inverters (small and large)
Stuff For The Van
▪ Screens for the front windows
▪ Screen for the side door
▪ 6 underseat plastic cubbies
▪ 4 carseats/boosters
Clothes (per person)
▪ 4 long sleeve shirts
▪ 4 short sleeve shirts
▪ 4 pants or tights
▪ 4 shorts/skirts
▪ Long johns/pajamas
▪ 8 undies
▪ 8 socks
▪ 2 dresses (more for Eliza - 27 to be exact; fewer for Jeff)
▪ 1 or two fleeces
▪ 1 rain jacket
▪ 1 summer hat
▪ 1 winter hat
▪ 1 set thin gloves (REI)
▪ 1 swimsuit
▪ 1 swim shirt
▪ 1 pair shoes
▪ 1 pair sandals
▪ 1 duffle for clothing storage
▪ Haircutting scissors
▪ Haircutting cape
▪ Sara's toothbrushing supplies
▪ Hair brush
▪ Hair clips
▪ "Peanut" buzzer
▪ Contacts stuff
▪ Shaving stuff
▪ Coconut oil
▪ Cocoa butter/coconut oil/olive oil
▪ Hydrogen peroxide
▪ Rubbing alcohol
▪ Toiletry bags
▪ Baby Bjorn potty
▪ Socket set
▪ Allen keys
▪ Bike pump
▪ 5 bikes
▪ Burley Bike Trailer
▪ 6 Helmets
▪ Handlebar bags for Sara and Jeff
◦ Bike Carrier/Rack
▪ Big plastic storage crate for helmets etc.
▪ rope/tie-downs/ratchet straps/etc.
▪ Doll or stuffed animal for each kid
▪ Precious Things
▪ Sand toys
▪ Rubiks cubes
▪ Tiara for Eliza
▪ Book light
▪ ~6 books per kid
▪ Pens and pencils
▪ Envelopes and stamps
▪ Beeswax crayons
▪ Blue Tape
▪ Origami Paper
▪ car bingo plus other car games
▪ daypacks for kids and grownups
▪ Purse for Sara
▪ Computer stuff for Jeff
▪ Supplements (three months' worth)
▪ Pill boxes
And that's it. I mean, I'm sure I've forgotten a few things, but the above is basically all that we now own. A couple items we had to swap out or return right away, like the broken inverter. We ditched the side door screen for the van, because it wasn't worth the hassle. And weeks before that, there was the pack'n'play-like baby-sleep-tent - which was a great idea, if you have the sort of baby who would somehow compliantly sleep in a pack'n'play-like baby-sleep-tent.
But we have Ivy. On the first night, Jeff and I kind of looked at the thing (the sleep tent, not the baby), sitting squished into its bag (while the baby yowled and refused to sleep, despite her slumber-hogging position in the middle of Jeff's and my comfy, appealing, cozy, well-appointed bed), and vaguely laughed. At the ludicrous idea that we would set the thing up on the floor, insert the baby into it, zip the door closed, and...what?? Hope that Ivy would lay down on the soft blanket lining the soft foam floor of the tent...and SLEEP?? All I could imagine was my daughter, howling and writhing and deforming the sides of the Baby Sleep Tent with every Strong Kick, utilizing her ability to remain awake for five consecutive hours in the middle of the night, rather than godforbid fall asleep in an unfamiliar place, to render the Baby Sleep Tent a sort of pipe dream fantasy of sleep-deprived parents.
In the "reason" field on the item return form, I noted that "Unfortunately, I have to send this back. Although the item is not defective, my baby's sleep just might be."
It is hard to explain how eager I was, by the time July rolled around, to be DONE with the purgatory of Transition Time to-do lists. There are many liberating aspects of getting rid of most of your crap and embarking on a new and grand adventure. But there is that aforementioned shit ton of logistics and Deciding. I'm pretty good at (and enjoy) organization and list-making...but by July even I had reached the point of Severe Decision Fatigue. It is safe to say (because he often said it) that Jeff was already at that point well before our plans even got underway in April.
And while the decision to take this trip was definitely made by Jeff and me together - and the trip itself is a fully shared crapshoot I mean endeavor spearheaded by both of us - much of the figuring-out and logistics, in between Deciding to Leave and Leaving, were largely up to me. Jeff is an amazing, superlatively supportive spouse, and when he retreats protectively due to his super-lacking-of-desire-to-Logistick-and-Scheme, he is almost always willing to go along with the crazy plans I dream up. Not to mention how he had plenty of his own Stuff to deal with this spring concerning money-earning work.
But still, he had to be involved in some trip planning, and I could see his stress visibly deepening as the spring wore on. Even though I was spending every waking second considering propane tank baby shoes to grow into toiletry cubby cabinet sticky tape Ben shorts style crayon type kitchen cleaning water filtration Eliza sleeping bag storage for cooking computer peripherals - basically, the many things that didn't require a joint decision - there were still a lot of things that did require it. A LOT Lot. Like, during most every waking moment that we were together. When we weren't taking care of our children, trying to earn some money, and/or preparing food, of course.
Anyhow, the stress was reaching fever pitch by July, because I was super keenly aware of Jeff's fatigue. And since I was also at the helm of Bringing Up The Distasteful Topics for Discussion, I was finding this a mutually exclusive task with my wifely mission of Making things as nice for my husband as possible, along with nurturing my own self and our four offspring.
It was a difficult spring for many reasons. And while I am satisfied with a lot of the work I did to make our new adventure take flight, I wish it could have been a more peaceful and calm process.
Speaking of, I'm sure that you're eager to hear all the details about what it was like to move four children and ourselves from a full-size house into our camper + van. Pretty crazy, huh?!
But first I have to relate my realization. It came on the heels of like three people in three days coming up to me and saying, "Sarabeth, you look so good! Did you lose weight?" or "I haven't seen you in so long - you look so skinny and great!" These were nice compliments, but here's the thing: these are things people say to me relatively frequently, like maybe 50% of the time when I greet old friends/relatives/etc. Yet I have weighed exactly the same (excluding pregnancies) for approximately 18 years.
Which forces me to conclude: I am a thin person whom people remember as being fat. A strange predicament, since it's hard to lose weight in other people's imaginations!
Also: since time seems to move inevitably forward in this universe, I have decided: someday, I wish to be a gorgeous person with gray hair. I'm not super thrilled about getting it, if you must know, but since the gray is coming along quickly, I feel like I must find ways to grudgingly welcome it.
End of beauty salon commentary.
Back to the Journey At Hand.
Specifically, a description of our rig:
First, a Quicksilver XLP tent camper (Jeff had to drive to Ottawa and back, plus we needed to make approximately thirty five thousand trips to the DMV to obtain the necessary paperwork and pay a truly enormous amount of sales tax). It is a gorgeous yellow, aluminum, and canvas pop-up, which sleeps six in three beds. It has some nice amenities like a water tank/hot water heater/water pump, fridge, outdoor sprayer, and a Really Scary "Cassette" Toilet which has not yet been used (campground toilets are for pooping!). It is really awesome because since it's mostly aluminum, there is much less Food For Mold/Rot, it's super lightweight, and it folds down relatively small. It is much much better than camping with four children in a tent. And there is a ton of airflow, due to the walls being made of windows.
We did a stressful, up-till-midnight googling crash-course in solar electric power generation, and ended up getting a pretty nice little solar panel setup to give us officially Off The Grid capabilities (except for the Pooping Issue). Jeff, with help from friends, got us all wired up (the solar panel, not the pooping) and able to power a couple of fans, lights, computers, camper systems, and even (occasionally) a tiny immersion blender - all from the sun! (And propane.)
The camper has a small storage deck on the back which holds the smaller bikes, plus a large crate with helmets, etc. On the back of this deck we intended to attach our bike rack + four more bikes, but after our first day, when Ben's bike went flying off the rack after a particularly large bump (and had already been snatched by the time we noticed its absence and went back for it), we had to Re-Think The Bike Rack Situation. We now have a rack that straps to the top of the camper, thereby allowing us to get additional exercise when we're loading up our campsite each day. The bikes are such a pain, and yet I so want to bring them! (Jeff...not so much.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself now. I haven't even told you about our van.
Our van is amazing. I am a little embarrassed about it, even though it really is the vehicle that holds this whole endeavor together. I tell people, a bit sheepishly, that it's so fancy and ostentatious and Big 'cuz we traded our house in for it. Which we did. It's a Sprinter with 12 seats, and Jeff can nearly stand up inside it. There is space for TONS of stuff, no child need sit next to another child unless they want to (and all four could theoretically sit next to one another if they really did want to), and there are all sorts of other fine features: a floor that can be swept (no carpet!). Screened windows that can be opened (though these we had to get installed by a van upfitter, for a tidy price, since the one downside of these vans is that there is no factory option for opening windows). Enough space to hang out and read books inside if it's raining (not that it does that much any more around these parts). Enough space in case the rest areas are crappy and we need to eat lunch inside.
Jeff was so great when we were at the dealership, buying the van. We had done our research, and Jeff made it really and articulately clear to the salesman how we knew he (the dealer) needed to make a profit, and that we also wanted a fair price...and then we came to a mutually agreeable price in like three minutes. It was a scene that I wish Jeff could capture for his portfolio, in case he ever wants to get a job as Car Price Negotiator.
I may have forgotten to mention that over the course of five weeks this spring, all four of our children had the chickenpox. (Because otherwise things would have been boring!)
We expected that they'd get them simultaneously, since the kids were exposed on the same day. Instead, everything happened in succession: first Ben (thank goodness his pox crusted over the day before the homeschool band concert!), then two weeks later Eliza and Jem, and then a week after that, Ivy. Ben had them pretty good: during his second night's fever, he was standing up in bed and telling Jeff that we needed to go downtown in order to deal with Voldemort, who was definitely coming... Eliza and Jem had lots and lots and lots of pox, and were pretty miserable for a couple of days. But Ivy may have gotten them the worst of all, when you consider her incredibly small self compared with the incredible number of pox that dotted her all over. Luckily, she will never remember the three nights during which she and Jeff and I barely slept. Just another batch of gray hairs for her parents.
The great thing is that if there is a god, we will never have to deal with chicken pox ever again.
"I don't want to die!" But Eliza, you don't have to worry about that - you're still very young. "But...I'm growing up so fast!"
Eliza, surveying the duffel bag that contains her entire wardrobe (which includes 27 party frocks): "My name is Eliza-with-the-bulging-bag-of-dresses!"
Frustratedly teary after falling down on her bike: "...But I didn't WANT to go slow! I wanted to go FAST on my bike: zoom zoom zippity zup!!"
"How old to drive - this old?" She holds up 5 fingers. "...THIS old?" She holds up 10 fingers. No, Eliza, you have to be sixteen or seventeen before you can drive. "But...I don't have even that many fingers!"
"I WANT to have babies when I'm big, but I DON'T want to be a mother!!" Then she starts to cry, and says the reason she doesn't want to be a mother is because "...then I'd have to make lots of food and do lots of things and I couldn't play with my friends!"
But, "I don't want to be a Papa, because then I'd have to work."
"Ahhhhh! I just saw something BLOODY after Papa played that bike video!!" Oh, sweetheart, what was it? Were you scared?? "I don't know! That's why I screamed: I wanted to SEE it, and Papa closed his computer!"
"I'm licking my cake clean!"
Eliza's pretend friends: "My Babies have names: Raspberry Bush, Blueberry Bush, and Banana Lulu!"
Riding the trail-a-bike: "Be careful on our bikes, Mama! I wish we were fairies, because then if we fell we would just SWOOP up with our wings and not-fall! No booboos."
Playing a pretend food-making game: "Here you go, Mama! Do you want a lolli-pup?" (Where on earth did my child learn about lollipops!?) "This one's gluten-free!"
Jeff's friend, calling on the phone on a warm summer night:
"So Jeff, can I ask you something...are you still living in a house?!"
After a particularly grimy day: "I just had a joyful time in the shower!"
"Papa, what's your least favorite part of life?"
"I might not be right, but I'm sure!"
After reading a ton of articles and retaining very little information therefrom, we are intending to head toward Texas this summer; it will be our new Domicile. Here are some of the useful articles before I lose track of them:
What's the Best State for RVers When It Comes To Taxes?
Domicile Information for Full-Time RVers, with an eye toward Good Homeschooling Laws:
http://www.rv-travel-with-kids.com/rv-domicile.html (also check out their state-by-state guide)
Tax Deductions for RV Owners:
A Discussion (not necessarily family-focused) on Health Insurance for Full-Time RVers:
A Good Resource for Insurance Information For Full-Time RVers:
Books Read To The Boys This Spring/Summer:
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
- Super fudge
- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows
So, right. You're still waiting to hear about how we moved from a house into a pop-up camper (+van).
Oh my lordy lord, what a couple of weeks we had at the end of June! You are going to have to try some guided visualization.
To start: imagine you are moving into a camper, with four kids, on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon (it was June 19th, two days after Eliza's fourth birthday). Then further imagine carting down your final remaining possessions and food items to said camper (you're additionally trying to leave your old house all clean and tidy, in preparation for cleaning it for the new folks to move in), and with those four _hungry_ children in tow, arrive to find that your new 12v fridge is malfunctioning, plus you don't yet know exactly how the hell to use the other fridge, in the camper.
Nor do you know how to operate much at all, in said camper, which is parked about a quarter mile from your old home. You're preparing for a month of "practice" camping before actually leaving town. And everything feels kind of insane. And your kids think so too, and they let you know that by being exceptionally needy and super-duper hungry, while you feel exceptionally needy too, and wish very much for somebody to swoop in and figure stuff out for you, so that you don't need to experience any of the following scenarios:
- What happens when a half-gallon of milk, in a glass bottle, freezes in the camper fridge (once it starts working a bit TOO well!) and then bursts and then spills and then spreads in a perfectly downhill flood of milk, seeping into every crevice possible prior to souring.
- The impossibility of managing an infant's napping schedule, so that, after a couple days of mixed-up-napping, said infant is so exhausted and bummed and teething that she cries for three hours one night and doesn't fall asleep until 11pm..and 9:30pm the next.
- The insanely predictably ravenous appetites of four Small People who are depending on you to make money and prepare food for them three times per day, come hell or high water or dust storms or ferociously tired parents.
- The fact that, if you're Jeff, you still have clients depending on you for Work, Video Conferencing, and Regular Office Hours, even when milk is flooding, family members are needy in close proximity, and you're super super de dooper-a-la-peter-t-hooper TIRED.
Anyway. We could see tiny glimmers of nice stuff coming into focus slowly: days spent almost entirely outside! Kids riding their bikes so much! The potential for simplicity. So many visitors stopping by to say hello! So many fewer possessions to deal with. A to-do list that would soon NOT be split between house selling AND house keeping, and involve only the Stuff we have right here at the campsite.
Two joking friends helped us realize: We're home-free outsiders!
And we're such freaking beginners at Living In A Camper. It is a damn hard thing to learn a ton of new stuff all at once, because learning pretty much requires that you make mistakes. And making a ton of mistakes in a short period of time is hard especially when you're an adult and most of your time is devoted to four little people who think you should be omnipotent, speedy, AND an entertainment squad...and once you've moved into a camper there's so freaking much to do and no time to luxuriously study, let alone complete the tasks, and MAN there are so many Things that your brain just keeps running in mad thought loops that involve the impossibility of doing all that needs to be done, coupled with the irresponsibility inherent in the act of slithering away into a hole somewhere to try to regroup and concentrate and just have, please lord, only two short minutes of Completely Silent Solitude.
There are moments of stabbing fear: what if you've made a terrible choice??
And yet...I have no desire to go back to living the way we were before. I miss our friends (+ the separate bedroom for Baby), for sure - but life wasn't exactly a walk in the park back at home.
In other words: a gorgeous house does not Solve All Ills.
I am so happy to be outside.
We lived in our camper for a month before we left, enjoying lots of time with friends and neighbors, wrapping up some of Jeff's work (which he'll somehow resume after a semi-sabbatical at the beginning of this trip), learning how to use our numerous new Systems, doing all those tons of things on the to-do lists, etc.
The heat wave/drought kept going. We said many teary goodbyes. We tied up more and more and more loose ends. (One week before we left, we finally sold our car!) The kids affirmed that living in our new camper wasn't terrible after all. Gradually, we were figuring certain things out. We had some really sweet and fun times.
And then, on July 15th, in the middle of the blazing drought, and for the first time ever, we packed up all our stuff. And after teary goodbyes, we rattled down the driveway to Begin.
I have a confession to make. All the past spring, I lied a lot. The lies weren't exactly dangerous, and I mostly told them to myself in order to keep myself going without resorting to self flagellation. But it's probably time to come clean and admit that these were only HOPES, not Known-to-be-true Statements: "Once we leave on our trip, life will be easier." "Once we leave on our trip, Jeff's crushing fatigue will go away, along with all his Many Other Scary and Worrisome Symptoms." "Once we leave on our trip, everyone else will feel better immediately also, especially Eliza." "Once we leave on our trip, Ivy will sleep better." etc. etc. etc.
I promised myself these things in order to banish the Fears.
But as soon as we left, I had a few very depressing days. And I quickly started to see: I will feel like less of a henpecked housewife, and be a lot more able to have fun, if I immediately stop measuring this journey's success by whether my fantasies match reality.
One good thing: while life definitely doesn't feel "easier" now that we're living outside, it doesn't feel NOT-easier. Which is something, I think.
And the little bits of sweetness are there for the noticing: Jem picking wild blueberries and depositing them into Ivy's eager, open mouth. Ben, quietly playing the Talking Teddy Bear Game with Eliza. Eliza, riding her bike like a Very Fast Biking Girl, determined to keep up with her brothers. Ivy, learning to step up and down a stair, match shoes with their owners, and occasionally poop in the potty - three accomplishments that cause her to grin and say, "Yay! Yay! Yay!"
So okay. The beginning of this trip involves two weeks in Cape Cod with Jeff's family, followed by two weeks camping with my family, before the Road Trip portion of things begins in earnest.
But here's the thing. Even for these first few destinations, driving is involved (duh). And of course, the road trip will involve a TON of driving.
But here's the other thing. Have I mentioned this before? No, really? That's strange. I guess you might not know.
Maybe it's time to mention it: I have this totally full-blown phobia about being a passenger in a car. This is not just a partial thing. It's kinda vacillates between Bad and Really Not Good. And although my generalized anxiety/depression/OCD has nearly completely subsided in every other realm of my life http://lifeisapalindrome.com/updates/thinking-about-me-and-ocd , over the past two years, the Car Anxiety has not. At All. No way, no how. I hate being driven in a car.
I know, pretty stupid, isn't it? To move into a mobile house and hit the road, right?
One of the lies I told myself, prior to this trip, was: "I'll be okay in the car once we're on the road - I'm sure my Car Fears will become manageable by pure necessity."
That is just totally, shittingly, impressively not happening. The day we left, I was fine when I was driving, as always, but...when Jeff took the wheel, I could feel the panic rising in my chest. On the second travel day of the trip, driving from Albany and Cape Cod, I had a massive, full-blown panic attack.
The difference between an obsession and a phobia may be kind of like splitting hairs, but in any case, I can't control mine. It feels real, it tortures me fairly constantly, it's triggered by one situation (being a passenger in a car), drives people around me crazy, and I know it's irrational. But for over twenty years, it has ruled my life in some major ways.
I go out of my way to never be a passenger. I always offer to drive. I feign Other Reasons and duck out of social engagements if they require me to be a passenger. I make up reasons for me to be the driver if at all possible, even when others really want to instead. The net result is that I'm generally the driver, and In Control, except for rare occasions (when I grip the armrests and try to pretend the panic away (or at least cover it up, socially speaking, which I can if the drive is short enough))...or when my good friend, excellent partner, experienced driver, and sweet husband is at the wheel.
Since I can't exactly relegate Jeff to the passenger seat every time, he bears the full brunt of my car phobia. And here's the thing about phobias. My intellectual brain KNOWS that Jeff is a careful driver. My brain knows that while driving is dangerous, the odds are in our favor still, each time we get into an automobile. My brain loves and trusts Jeff insanely: with my body, our children, our money, my life. But my phobia doesn't care about all that.
When I get into the passenger seat of a car, a noose of anxiety tightens, and my experience ranges from throttled/disguised anxiety to full-on panic. I am ruled by it. The ways I behave must conform to the Phobia's single-minded rules: make sure the driver is driving as safely as possible, and doing everything that my Phobia demands (looking at the road exclusively, following the rules of the road, noticing hazards, staying attentive, staying calm, being a Conservative driver, driving no more than five miles above the speed limit). Additionally, I must prevent the driver from being distracted, driving too fast, driving erratically, looking at me, looking at the stereo, looking out the window, letting go of the steering wheel for even a nanosecond, etc. This in turn means I must: never look at the driver, prevent children from being loud, inform the driver of all hazards, maintain a constant readiness to grab the steering wheel in case of accident (despite the fact that I must not look out the window in case my looking encourages the driver to look, which would be Really Not Good)... Etc.
Depending on my anxiety level and the length of the drive and the number of otherwise unpleasant things happening in the car at any given moment, I can sometimes behave more pleasantly than other times. But when I'm tired, and the panic is swelling in my throat, and the kids are bickering (or even just talking a lot), or there is an unexpected stop or an Oh-Shit moment, or Jeff reaches out to adjust the stereo volume, and my Phobia is screaming in my ears that Due To His Action We Will Surely/Imminently Run Off the Road...--well, at these times I turn into a breathless Sara Witch, and I snap and nag and say ridiculous things ("Jem, stop SPEAKING!!" "Sweetheart, that car up ahead of us at the red light is STOPPING!!")...and then I hate myself for this.
I have often longed to be one of those women who get taken for a drive by her lover (or even ANYONE!), while playfully egging him on to go faster. Those women-who-I'm-not have hair that totally flies loose in the breeze, and they Live In The Moment and have a fantastic time partly BECAUSE they are riding in a car. Instead, when I'm in the passenger seat, I generally slump into a rigid puddle. I try to stop twisting my hands (often alternated with politely white-knuckling the armrests), but I'm in total captivity of the overwhelming fear and certainty that today is the day - no, the next moment is THE MOMENT! - when I and all of us in the car will die.
Hellooooo, Road Trip!!
(Have I mentioned that being married to me isn't always easy?)
Anybody have any personal experience with hypnosis?? The only thing I have found that helps a little bit...is sitting in the back seat. But it doesn't make things all the way better...
But enough about that. I have to gear up for a nice long car drive tomorrow...
The first night out, after losing Ben's bike in Bainbridge, we camped at a state park outside Albany where they had recently paved the campsites with a foot of the finest, softest sand you have ever seen. It turned into a sea of mud after a dinnertime thunderstorm; the kids were ecstatic (and all our stuff was coated with a thick layer of fine grit). "Mama, come see, we're throwing Splat Balls!"
The splat ball game had paused for a sweet dessert of cherries when Ivy, who was at the time naked and covered with mud and cherry juice, took a dump. "Ivy's pooping!" everyone noted, at which point I ran to get the paper towels, and Ivy went over to the van...and pooped again! In a different color. Maybe blueberries? Or possibly it was the grapes. "I cannot keep up with you!" I scolded Ivy, whereupon she laughed and crouched by the road...and pooped again. In a third color. Maybe carrots. Jem went to inspect, and asked, "Did a rainbow colored dog come and take a poop here?!
"I-am-so-glad," Jeff intoned, "that-I-am-doing-this-traveling-thing-and-not-sitting-at-home-and-watching-Mister-Robot!"
"You bet you are!" I said, and ran for some more paper towels.
It turns out that Ivy has two modes: on, and off. We learned this on that very first night, when all Ivy wanted to do (aside from eating cherries and playing in the mud and pooping) was leave the campsite and walk down the road.
She flashes her shiny grin, bobs her curly head, and She Is Off. She toddles. She picks plants. She heaves rocks, she practices her conversational farewell each time she walks away ("Bah!" she says brightly, with a little wave), she practices downhill and uphill walking...but she Does Not Like to Turn Around. Ever. Heading toward home is totally against her baby religion.
On the second day, we took a teeny tiny family bike ride, and that night new neighbors set up next door. These folks had one, two, three, four, five, no: ten tents, and six bazillion extended family members, and with no enforced quiet hours, I started to groan. Eliza asked why, and when I told her that I wasn't looking forward to a Noisy Night, she told me that she knew what I meant - it's like when Jeff is reading Harry Potter to the boys, which is a teeny bit scary to Eliza. "You can cover your ears, mama!" she explained to me. "'Cuz falling asleep can't make ears not hear."
We have just spent nearly two weeks camping at Cape Cod, and this time...we made it to the end (unlike in 2014 http://lifeisapalindrome.com/updates/summer-gone )! The drought made for mercifully few mosquitoes. The sun shone every day. We did a whole lot of chores, and a whole lot of Figuring Out and Making Mistakes. And the best part was that we spent almost every day with family. Our good friend Sue came for a few days. The kids played with cousins and grandparents and their aunt and uncle. Jeff and I chased Ivy around and dealt with Eliza's irrationality and Jem's Distraction and Ben's Questions, and exulted in our children's cuteness and Ivy's strong little legs and Eliza's precocious adorable nature and Jem's love of sea-glass-hunting and Ben's new Interest in bird watching. Jeff read Harry Potter to the boys. I made different braids in Eliza's hair every day. We spent an amazingly large percentage of the time making food, planning for the next meal, chasing a baby, washing clothes, planning for when we'd next wash laundry, cleaning up messes, fixing things, Dealing With Stuff, Schlepping, fetching water, and Making Sure Our Children Had Most of What They Actually Needed.
And we made all that happen! Living Outside, Home-Free, with four kids! It's both a very tiny achievement or a very big thing, depending on how you look at it.
We stayed in a wonderful campground (and yes, it must be noted that for years my own mother has been asking us to consider this place, while we tried two other Much Inferior options, and no, we didn't take her advice until this year. Sorry, Mom - I swear, I'm paying my dues in penance!!). In fact, North of Highland Camping Area, Jeff says, re-instilled his faith in humanity. While it's nestled in the middle of the National Seashore, it's a private enterprise, with carefully enforced quiet hours, and clean bathrooms. And this place was QUIET. For two weeks, the loudest sounds at night were those made by our own child in our camper (whom we attempted to shush just as thoroughly as possible). Jeff talked with one of our neighbors at the campground who has been coming here every year for thirty years. This man actually gets his pots and pans out the night before, so that he won't make loud Clanking sounds in the morning when he makes breakfast. Many of the folks we met have been coming to this campground since they were kids, and now bring their own children to enjoy some serious Time At The Beach.
I mean really - doesn't a campground with of hundreds of people, all of whom stay more or less quiet at night just out of respect for each other, make you feel a little bit better about the potential of your fellow humans?
Now we are off to visit dear friends, and spend two weeks with my family, before the road-trip part of the road trip begins in earnest. Will Jeff survive my car-phobia? Will he actually be able to work from the road, in the midst of all the Work he's already doing? Will he note Health Improvements?? Will the rest of us have news to report??
Stay tuned till next time!