When we tell people that we live and travel in our RV, their first instinct is to assume that we are leading a utopian life. In one way we are: we have the freedom to go where we want, when we want, for however long we want. We’re not tied down to a house or a mortgage. We’re not overwhelmed by material belongings. But when we adopted a less conventional lifestyle, we inadvertently managed to pick up a whole new collection of stressors and struggles. (There’s no such thing as utopia!)
Becoming modern-day nomads is a major transition for us. Three months in, we’re still trying to figure it all out. In fact, I’d say we’re in the thick of the struggle right now because the shiny newness of the adventure has worn off. As individuals and as a family unit, we’ve identified issues and challenges – some unexpected – that we’re going to have to deal with if we want to make this work.
Some of my personal struggles at the moment:
1. Job and identity. When we decided to RV, I traded my full-time professor job for, well, no paid job. Although I didn’t really enjoy teaching (I know – heresy! And just to clarify, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my students), let me be honest: I enjoyed my job title. I enjoyed being called Dr. McDowell. I enjoyed the feeling of prestige that comes with finding a coveted job in academia. If I’m being completely transparent, it’s a little unnerving to watch someone’s face when they ask what I do and I reply with some version of, “I’m a homeschooling mom, a vegan, a minimalist, a slowish runner, and a Beachbody coach.” “I’m a tenure track professor with an NSF grant” garners far more immediate respect, sadly.
It’s unfortunate that our society indoctrinates us with this idea that what we get paid to do for a living is who we are, and that our interests and passions aren’t worth much unless we’re getting compensated for them. I realize that’s a lie, but it’s a concept so ingrained in my understanding of how the world works that it’s difficult to let go.
2. Effective homeschooling. I love the concept of homeschooling (and particularly “unschooling,” as Sam has come up with some pretty ingenious ideas when left to his own devices), but it’s sometimes a battle. As someone said to me the other day, “You can talk and think all you want about curriculum and schedules and approaches and pedagogy, but at the end of the day you also have to take into account the most important and most unpredictable quantity: your kid.” Sure, I’ve made a schedule that looks good on paper. I’ve selected well-reviewed textbooks and other resources. I try to find location-focused activities and field trips that I think Sam will find interesting and that will supplement his learning.
On some mornings, though, the kid doesn’t want to learn long division, he doesn’t want to separate subjects and predicates, and he doesn’t want to go to a science museum. He just wants to play Minecraft. At which point I’m standing there gripping my coffee mug and wondering what the best approach is. Again – learning process, for me and for him.
3. Money. When I decided to leave academia, Trent – who was then working part time – picked up more hours with his freelance publishing gig. He loves the job and his coworkers, but we stress about money because now we’re essentially a one-earner household. To help pick up the slack a bit, I ramped up my Beachbody coaching business and then took a part-time online teaching job – only to discover that juggling online teaching with homeschooling, traveling, writing, planning our itinerary, social media interacting, and mundane daily chores is exhausting. Me working part-time as a contract employee seems unsustainable. I’m starting to believe that we’d be better off with clear roles: Trent as the primary breadwinner, me as the primary homeschool facilitator, route planner, and cook.
4. Space. I love our RV and the general concept of small living. We have everything we need in our rig, and we’ve carefully culled our belongings to only the necessities. But every now and then, I feel like I’m trapped in a very small box (makes sense). Sometimes I miss being able to cross the house, close the bedroom door, and get time and space all to myself. If I want that now, I have to kick out my family – something they don’t always appreciate.
And that’s just my list. Trent, Sam, and even Biscuit the cat could come up with lists that would look totally different and reflect their own unique areas of struggle and growth.
This “everything is so up in the air; what the hell am I doing?” feeling is one reason why I’ve been so dedicated to running and marathon training. At a time when everything seems to be in flux and I feel so uncertain about my self, putting my sneakers on and heading out to the trail makes me feel grounded. It doesn’t matter where I am, what the elevation is, or what the path is like. As long as I’m moving forward, I know exactly who I am and what I’m capable of.
So tell me this: What are you struggling with right now? What’s up in the air for you, or what are you wishing you could change?