How many likes?

I am just not a blogger and I really thought I would be. Perhaps I can blame it on the ease with which social media allows you to keep the world, although I honestly have yet to figure out why the world cares , very much aware about our daily life. Certainly in my former professional life, I had people who pretty much knew where I was 24/7. It was likely, perhaps even on weekends, my custodian, assistant principal and my secretary, knew what I was up to regularly. When we got on the road last August , we started our YouTube channel and our weekly videos as a mechanism to keep our five adult children up to speed. However, nine months into this nomadic adventure it turns out our kids and closest friends are not the only ones who seem to care what we are doing and where we are, pretty much daily. Somewhere between our weekly video, there are nearly daily updates to Instagram and Facebook.

These communication vehicles have provided us with all kinds of unique experiences, most of which have been pretty damn awesome. We can’t even pretend to be unaffected enough to not check regular on our numbers. When our Instagram hit 1000 subscribers , it was a strange hurdle of popularity that if more humble, we’d have ignored…. but today 1700 people paid attention that we were spending the day on the clear blue waters of the Gulf. They hit “like” and offer comments and emojis that feel like high fives and occasionally even , hugs. In my old school reality, these people are not the friends who celebrated our live’s highs and lent love and understanding for the lows, but they did “ choose” us nonetheless.

The RV community is far bigger than I ever realized before we began and a large part of our following initially gets on board because of shared hashtags regarding the lifestyle. Sometimes this manifests itself with someone knocking on the door of The Nest when they identify our easy to spot purple and green or catch our rear window screening that says “ Empty Nest Nomads”. They are so psyched to find us, I sometimes end up freaked out a bit. Yet, more often than not, we make great new friends, end up sharing a drink or an experience and these random screen names become real people.

All of that being said, my blog has sadly been neglected and I not sure that will change. The good news is that if our adventures are something that remind you to embrace you bucket – list-life or you secretly have some kind of innocent voyeur travel condition, we appreciate your love and attention on social media. When you miss your kids, long for the routines of your every day ordinary life or tear up at the posting of your best friends having a happy hour in your absence , the reassurance of a thumbs up or a three word comment, reinforces that someone cares about the chaos that is your life choice. Occasionally being an Empty Nest Nomad can feel a little alone, and those of you who take the time to voluntarily make us feel part of your world, are truly appreciated!

Freezing Time… rewinding with time on my hands

The path that our kids choose is always something that affects us in ways we had no idea about before we were ourselves parents. The people I grew up with are in our fifties and so mostly our kids are in their twenties or headed that way. We thought getting through middle school hoop was hard, than realized high school was an even bigger challenge. I cannot even think about the stress of getting into college or deciding on a way to make a living. Alas, all of that seems pretty damn easy as a parent, compared to their journey as independent adults. Sometimes it seems the time went so fast between sending them off to Kindergarten to listening to them talk about paying utility bills and true love. It’s hard to say which milestone I’d freeze if I could halt time.

I taught and was an admin in middle school for many years , so I was not as shocked by the intensity of mood swings and teen angst that some friends had been. Their sweet son or daughter went from innocent, loving people pleasing humans to crazy, unpredictable seemingly psychopathic beings. And although I had a better idea than most of what was coming, I clearly remember days in tears, thinking I had obviously done something metabolically to my child ‘s mental stability because I drank that glass of champagne in month 6 of my pregnancy at a wedding I had attended . Then before I knew it, they would morph back into my sweet child for pinches of time, reminding me that I had indeed given birth to them and the hospital had not mixed them up with a serial killer’s offspring. It was hard to learn to contain opinions and let my children face hurdles I could have made easier. Three years of middle school as a Mom, made me appreciate the battle worn look so many of the parents sitting in my office often had. Alas, even the most stereotypical “ perfect” child has moments in the middle years where you have to blink twice to contemplate if it is your genetics standing before you or Satan’s Spawn. You are so glad when it’s time for high school, hoping in spite of impending dread of driving and dating“, that life will be on a more even keel.

Again, my career had a few times put me into a high school setting; I was sure I was ready. That went out the window the first week of drama in band camp, followed on the heels of 9th grade parent orientation, that had me near ulcer level worry about if my kid was taking the classes to get him into the right college. That feeling never dulled in those four years, but was often muted by the chronic pain of the increasing demand as extra curricular taxi duty and a persistent open wallet. However, I wished for that when the extended complication of a first part time job and the anxiety of a learners driving permit became our reality. I clearly recall the first time I felt that priceless bond of my young adult trusting me with an intimate secret and wish I could forget the kind of helpless pain I felt, the first time they truly had their heart broken. I am not sure if I cried more than they did, but I was positive it took years off my life, worrying about if the fragile moment would ever pass. There was battles about curfew, wars about reserving family time and amazing moments of such pride, that the crayoned family portrait still hanging on my office wall, felt likely to be replaced with a Grammy, Nobel Prize or at least a Lamborghini for Mother’s Day. And God Bless the parent of a child in their Senior year, for which I am certain my grey hair largely rooted itself. Ten months of heart wrenching “ lasts”. The final football game, the end of marching band, last homecoming; it all has this ending scenario that makes watching the bus pull away for their first ride, feel like junior varsity parenting. Waiting to hear from a college, riding the chaos of AP testing and enduring the roller coaster of Prom, makes the finish line of graduation feel like the relief of your cruise ship pulling away from the dock. As this is just my blog of meandering thoughts during my travels, I won’t spend time or type on holding your breath that your child is not the one arrested during the somewhere rite of passage called Senior Week.

College is not for every human being and four consecutive years is lovely, but more often unlikely. So with each one, this was a different adventure in my role as a parent. So much of this time is about letting go enough, while finding the balance to be a kind of safety net. It was hard to figure out if that help is often just fiscal assistance or trying to find ways to continue to bridge a new evolved relationship. The first time they are not going to move home for Summer or they get an apartment that looks less like your hand me downs and more like a space that defines them, feels like a piece of your heart has permanently broken off. That doesn’t mean you aren’t proud. I have smiled through some marginally livable spots in neighborhoods that had crime rates that equated to my significant loss of sleep. These were years I found myself frequently biting my tongue and swallowing some helpful suggestions. It is a time that you start to see moments of having that sweet child from Elementary again; they have sporadic spurts of appreciation and occasional desires to spend time and have your attention. It feels like you might survive these many years of parenting as trial by fire.

I have to say that sitting here having the time to write down these things feels like nostalgic rewinding, but it also reminds me that we earned the time we have now. It makes me grateful for the friendships I had throughout raising our kids, where I could share the highs and lows of the crazy train. I wish that I had some awesome words of wisdom for those still in the midst of it, but I know listening when needed is a far better idea. It also reminds me that my job as a parent will continue to be the epicenter of who I am until my last breath. These days I look forward to phone calls that involve significant others and discussions about my own travels and our interests. They are not done becoming who they are, but I am pretty sure, neither am I. So although I regret not always appreciating moments as much as I could have, I don’t think I’d freeze time… there’s more ahead.

I’m hanging out in Truck Stops

Had you asked me 9 months ago if I would spend a great deal of mental energy contemplating Truck Stops, I would have absolutely believed you had broken out your oldest tequila. However, in my current full-time RV world, I am forever planning, reviewing, assessing and obviously visiting our nation’s truck stops regularly. There is a whole culture among this transportation /commerce world that I never even had any idea existed.

Alas, driving an 18 wheeler for a living has got to be an incredibly challenging career choice. We are driving around 65 feet between the F450 and the Fifth Wheel, which is plenty. The average trucker manages 80 feet. We are pulling 24000 pounds, while the legal weight of a tractor trailer is 80000 pounds. The midsized sedans we drove prior to selling the house in Delaware, were about 3500 pounds. So the truckers who drive hours on end each day, with enormously large hauls, frequent these places much the way we did hotels, in our former world.

So, on any given travel day- I’m looking for a clean restroom, decent coffee and reasonably priced diesel- knowing that my fellow drivers will have shower shoes and toothbrushes in hand inside. Understanding that we try to plan our stops and make our longest travel during the day, even at night, I have never felt the least bit unsafe in one of these truck stops. These folks can look fairly rough sometimes, but they are frequently helpful, polite and they always love Xena. We have asked for directions, and had to have someone show us the very unique scenario of getting fueled up in the truckers lane. I even had my debit card not work getting coffee once and some 40 something dude in a leather baseball cap, driving a trailer with a bright red cab which had“Big Red”painted on the side, insisted he buy my coffees. He told me his Mother raised him right and buying a lady and her man a cup of coffee would make her smile from heaven . Hence, trying to not let tears cover my cheeks, I let him and simply said, “ Thank you”. Truckers are some of my favorite new people in our life’s episodes of adventures.

So the next time you smile when the UPS guy brings you a package, remember that likely some man or woman ( forgot to mention that’s been really cool too- many women are driving now and seem very happy in the profession) drove that package across the country to get it there. They got paid, but likely miss family and friends to bring you that Amazon Prime delight.

So today, as we have spent what feels like endless hours on the south east highways of this country, I’ve been really contemplating the zillion trucks we share the road with and thought I’d write about my new found appreciation for them on my journey.

Thinking about the next generation of Nomads

People assume with 5 grown kids that we are grandparents, but they would be wrong. It’s currently something that pleases both of us as we have enjoyed that every single one of them has taken on some combination of careers, adventures, travel and are taking their time to nurture relationships with some incredible people. We are in no rush and absolutely have plenty on our own agenda that makes us perfectly content watching them live their lives as they are right now. However, we also recognize that’s it’s on the horizon and something we struggle with as a factor in our decision to settle on a retirement relocation. Where do we fit Grandparenting into our future?

On one hand we have a group of friends who continue to live close to their kids and have even relocated to be closer to those who have moved away; all so they can play an every day role in their adult children’s lives. They do things like provide daycare and are ever present for holidays and birthdays. They seem quite happy in these roles. Their social media is packed regularly with adorable pictures and we enjoy watching these multi generational timelines evolve from newborn shots to proms.

We have other friends that have moved to the Carolinas, some to Florida and even a few farther west. They retired, packed up and sold the family home and now call snow something they might see on a ski vacation or a holiday return trip to the Tri- State area. They celebrate their investments and spend their pensions with endeavors like golf games, Pickleball and all kinds of cocktail related adventures. Some have amazing new, ginormous homes, but most have modest, quainter versions of where they hosted things in Delaware or Pennsylvania. Like us, smaller is more manageable and few in our age range dream about mowing lawns, cleaning multiple bathrooms or paying utilities that cost more than rent in our college apartments.

We talk about it and find ourselves feeling that the later seems to fit our lifestyle more closely. Having raised our kids with no help, save the family of friends who switched babysitting duties or the rare friend without kids, who thankfully seemed happy to practice with ours. We have raised five extremely independent humans who rarely, after getting a driver’s license, wanted input from us on a daily basis. I say that in no way judging those people who have amazing daily relationships with their adult kids; it’s just not likely a good fit for us.

Alas, I think we want to be the big ticket, memory maker grandparents. We are the ones that will have grandkids that annoy our kids to find a way to come see us every time they have a school vacation . We will do our best to go back when and if we are ever needed. Yet, when we take the grandkids in our sunshine filled home, spoil them unbearably for the precious time they spend with us, we can grow old as the grandparents who might not have shown for each birthday, but damn if we didn’t make the best memories . Now, the unmanageable mental energy to decide what the hell we’d want to be called as grandparents ?!?!

Aging Fairy Tales

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We were watching “Wedding Crashers” and a line in there says that, “True love is your soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another” and I have to say Keith is likely my counterpoint at every turn. I would not say we are opposites- being married to someone who doesn’t share your core values would be insurmountable, but we really do have very different perspectives on the world. And now that we literally spend 24 hours a day together, 7 days a week, it’s a very distinctive relationship juggle. Some people would think raising kids together would be the hard part. Trying to find time and energy between dance, soccer and seemingly endless taxi services. Others might see the career of a scientist and a principal, demanding of time, mentally draining as a difficult tightrope to walk. I’m pretty certain any staff member that ever reported to me would confirm that I lived in a school building from mid-August until the sacred September 30th count and my closest gal pals could fill pages of blogs about my life when Keith spent week after week on business in Europe or Asia. In retrospect, which does offer amazing clarity, I have literally no clue how it is we managed to keep 5 kids alive, work until we got pensions and stay married. Yet, this nomadic life- the physical morph from 5500 square feet to 500 is like a marriage surviving the space of a cage fight. In the past 5 months, we have never been apart for more than a few hours- our soul’s don’t just recognize one another- we know about one another’s digestive cycles.

It’s this unexpected chapter that has made me embrace and be very grateful for our differences that seemed in the past, to be hurdles when we could only fit in time alone every now and again. We kind of have a life of daily perpetual dates. He is my doubles partner, my workout companion and my recliner buddy. I am the cook and he is the dishwasher. I take early morning walks with Xena, he does after dark walks. He kicks ass in the long game on the court and I’m way better at the net. I worry endlessly about the kids, he believes firmly we have done a good job and they will all figure things out. He watches the news and let’s political insanity get to him, I have a series of routes to Canada preconfigured. He is the peacekeeper among the kids and I’m the one who offers life’s vivid reality and sends the care packages. Yet, there is a terrifying piece to all of this in that we have 5 kids who are extremely independent; none need us- in fact, I worry myself frequently that if we didn’t call- we’d never hear from them. Thus, we are an entity of just two and I am just not sure how one could exist without the other. And that is a road that is hopefully very far away, but true love has a crossroad- thus mentioned in your “until death do us part” vows and the thought of having it and losing that person is paralyzing even in just consideration. We filled our lives and continue to on this journey, with amazing people that are awesome to have in our world, nevertheless each night as we settle, as just two, into our mini world, I genuinely appreciate that I have something very unique in a man, a partner, that balances out who I am- if I could just stop time and aging, my fairytale might work out.

 

Leather Chaps & Rogue Elk

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Someday I want to write an actual novel.  People used to ask if I’d write about being a Principal, as I seem to have a plethora of stories of students, families and staff; some comical, others tragic and sad. However, turning on any news station provides you with more than enough insight into what educators see evolve in their classrooms daily- I think my novel should be more along the lines of creating the imaginary lives I design for strangers I come across daily. As we are facing people on this journey from every walk of life- I often entertain myself with a running dialogue of their worlds. Other times I have an actual dialogue going on, as I have really become addicted to digital books- in this case- Audible. I find listening to a book while I work out keeps my head focused on the story and not on my body telling me it’s ready to be done. I often have on a wireless headset as I cook, while we set up or break down the RV and when I have no interest in a TV show that Keith’s chosen. It has become a great way to avoid salespeople chatting me up in a store, makes grocery shopping more entertaining and walking the dog early, just fun.

As I am typing, we are traveling, taking  two days to  stop by The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, in route to our destination Casa Grande and likely ten plus hours in the truck. This means I have on a book- playing with one speaker in my ear so Keith can chat me up or I may check an exit for him. It’s like having a surreptitious world going on in my head, while I politely acknowledge a pretty mountain range he is pointing out, open a water bottle for him or recognize his annoyance at some else’s bad driving. And it amusingly reminds me that there are moments when I’m listening to something steamy, hearing clearly as a lusty biker licks the very willing stranded lady motorist from head to toe while I’m participating in Keith’s debate about how much air should be in the tires- an audible book keeps you in an imaginary world that is secretly all yours.  Other moments, I am listening to Amy Poehler and I break out laughing loudly while waiting in a long WalMart line or I start to cry while picking up dog shit as the Protagonist in a Hildebrand novel is finally cancer free. At times it’s easy to get caught up and to forget you are covertly in two places at once, but I love the company of the colorful fictional characters. Someday I’m going to put my ideas together and create worlds in which others can disappear. In the meantime, I’m going to go back to my earphone to see what else the biker has going on beyond his leather chaps, all while dutifully watching the road for rogue Elk, which Keith has just pointed out is a problem on this road.

Limes & Salt

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Writing on a picnic table, sitting outside the RV in the warm New Mexico sun and I keep thinking that I should be in a hurry to do something? I ask myself, even after nearly two years of my pre- retirement normal life of leaving the house at 6 and trying to be home by 5 ended, if I have accomplished enough today. I really wonder if it’s just me or if that sense of needing to make and check things off a list ever dulls. On the flip side, never before have I not set an alarm for weeks at a time and I want to celebrate that small shift. Keith seems to have no issues with a life of leisure and he had an equally demanding career. I marvel at his absolute disregard for urgency or sense that time is an indulgence not to be overlooked. For years, I was the psycho wrapping Christmas gifts until 3 am so that they would be ready for the tree to go up- the first Sunday of December each year, the sadist who set a 4 am alarm to disinfect the washer and dryer so as to not compromise my self sufficient laundry duty offspring, and the principal who sent 2 am emails and wrote evaluations until it was too late to string words together. Upon making the decision to retire, I was exuberant that all of these things would be history and my world of dancing in the sand to Jimmy Buffet, yelling “salt, salt, salt” with my margarita sloshing merrily, would be my norm. Am I just not capable of that?

My roommate, my lover, my “it’s your turn to walk the dog” partner and 24/7 live in best friend, claims that I create work for myself. Do not misunderstand, I am a champion of having a good time- there are currently 12 videos out there documenting such events. And although, my children have told me, no one is interested in our nomadic cinematic endeavors, we have gathered a little audience who seems to enjoy the edited version of the adventures. Truth be told, that has become a great source for me having a marginal purpose beyond, seek fun, eat, exercise and sleep. I wish there was a measurement of when the shift from overload and chaos transcends to deep breaths of appreciated relaxation. After all, I’m sitting here with my dog cuddled around my feet, birds eating out of the feeders I set up tableside, a soft warm wind blowing as I type. My day’s agenda at this moment consists of going to the gym, starting to pack up for Arizona, perhaps cutting up veggies form the farmer’s market and some hiking in the foothills. Am I completely mad that I might mentally crave an occasional heated staff debate, a tension riddled meeting or a need for me to create a well-crafted memo about anything? My latte is getting cold….wait, perhaps the coffee machine needs cleaning?