dreams of travel

I had originally started my trip to California with the goal of traveling most of the year, and spending summers at home in Michigan. It definitely didn’t turn out that way! Although I would still ideally love to be traveling much of the time, there were so many reasons that I changed my plans. Primarily, because I fell in love with an amazing person who stole my heart and even made me want to get married (something I swore I’d never do!). She couldn’t leave her town, so I more than willingly moved there.

But that wasn’t all… my daughter didn’t turn out to be the type to do well with full-time travel. While she loved trips, she wanted to “go home” more than anything after a week. When she realized we were staying in California, it set off years of “I miss Michigaaaaaan!” crying spells. She still tells me, 3 1/2 years later, that Michigan is still home. She has a lot of anxiety, and moving didn’t help that one bit. In fact, it set her back a lot in terms of hard behavior… so there was no way I could keep moving around with her. She’s my heart, my everything, and I’d do anything to give her the stability she needs to be happy. To this day, she still wants to go back to Michigan, but she also loves her home here. She’s a total homebody! Who knew?

Then there is work. I seriously cannot do travel nursing… I’m just not flexible enough to keep learning different systems, different rules, different places that things are kept. I only somewhat enjoy and get satisfaction from my job when I feel a sense of mastery and can move up in the hierarchy ladder. So when I went to Stanford, I decided that would be it for me. I’m staying until the bitter end. And it was 100% the right decision! I love my unit, I love all of the experience I’ve gotten, I love being part of committees and doing charge nurse. For the first time in a very long time, I like my job and feel invested in it.

So, I don’t travel around the world for now (well, no one is at this point, thanks to ‘rona). I do get to experience beaches, cliffs, forests, hills, and all of the varied ecosystems around the Bay Area! I’m also close to one of my favorite cities ever, San Francisco. And I make the best money a nurse can make, on top of it all. I don’t have a big old farmhouse withe nooks and crannies like I’d like, but I still have my lake cottage and I have big goals for it. It will be my dream escape as I redo it from top to bottom. We have taken lots of trips to national parks, Disney Land, and Washington (my wife’s home state), and once we can move around again, I’m sure we’ll travel farther out once more. (Hello, cheap flights to Hawaii from the West Coast!)

And lets be real… one day all four of our baby birds will fly the coop, and we can travel and do whatever we want. Hopefully with our grown up kiddos, too!

Local beauty… just a quick drive away, beautiful lush mountains

still alive

I’m still alive, promise. Thanks to everyone who wondered! I did my week of classroom orientation, which was a great week. I met other travelers, did fun things with M, had play dates with other moms. Then reality hit- I had to actually work on the floor. My anxiety was so high, I just wanted to puke and cry the entire day, but once I was actually there it was a little better. The second night was a little better than the first. If only I could’ve brought my last unit and job with me on my back. Then my life would be perfect.

Tomorrow is my first night on my own, without a preceptor. Pray for a manageable assignment and friendly co-nurses on that night for me, please! I need it. I’m a ball of nerves in that place. It is so hard to be new again, and I’ve actually cried for my old job.

M is doing great in school and swimming. But my going back to work was definitely hard on her. She has gone back to crying that she wants to go home to Michigan. The mom guilt is hard. Being anxious and panicky again, for the first time in years, is hard. But I’m pulling out my old tricks and telling myself that if I hate this hospital, I can leave in 11 weeks. Telling myself it’s normal to feel this way. Surely I felt nervous when I became a new nurse? When I was new in ICU? I just really miss knowing what I’m doing. I took so much pride in myself as a nurse, and now I feel like I’m back at rookie level.

In other news, I’m in a great place to protest the incoming government! Women’s march on Saturday, should be big!

Crunch time

My to-do list is no longer a tool for mental organization, it’s a living entity that must be paid attention to every single day! I have five days off before our move, plus Christmas Day! Today I managed to kick serious to-do list ass, contacting insurance agents, my agency nurse advocate (and her extensive documentation list), submitting more paperwork than I can describe, oil change and wiper replacement for my car, wrapping Christmas presents, grocery shopping for our corn/gluten/soy/dairy-free road trip (with a friend who introduced me to the complex yet oh so cheap Aldi’s), cooking dinner for tonight and tomorrow while I work, and taking M to her final swimming lesson. Whew! 

Yesterday I dropped a drug test urine sample, and today was scheduled for vaccine titers and a color blindness test. (There is so much of this in travel nursing. It’s nuts.) I’ve also completed several online skills and policies exams for the facility and still have another one to do. All 7 of our road trip hotels have been booked (thanks Hotwire for super cheap hotel deals, most at comfort inn level for less than $50 per night), our apartment, preschool, swimming and gymnastics set up. I have helmets, a bike lock, and tandem attachment, as well as a bike rack for my car (just need to pick up the bike). I have a packing list. My grandma’s cat has a new home and my cat has a temporary one. I have my Christmas shopping almost done, just need a few little things for M’s teachers. Pipes are scheduled to be drained the day we leave. We’re no longer buying refrigerated or frozen food as it needs to be empty when the fridge goes off.

People, this is all systems GO in 12 days!!!

don’t it always seem to go…

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of my daughter Avalon’s birth and death. I had a wicked stomach bug and therefore did nothing… didn’t go to the cemetery, didn’t blog. I did spare a few moments, though, to really think about who this little girl might have been. I honestly can’t imagine having a different child than the one I already have. I couldn’t have them both, either, as M’s due date was in mid-March, and Avalon’s was May 7th. It was always going to be one or the other, there is no scenario in which they’d both exist, simultaneously, with me as their mother, or as sisters. And so I find that my grief for the deceased daughter is tangled up in my overwhelming love and gratitude for the existing one. It always begs the question: how can I wish that she had not died, without wishing my daughter M away?

That’s not even why I decided to blog tonight. I wanted to write about all of the ambivalence I’m having about traveling. The most comforting thought, to me, is the money. I need it. I’m not making ends meet as things are, so something has to change. There’s no way around that. But after a teacher’s conference today, a Christmas concert, and after much reflection on what went wrong in Nepal, I’m starting to think that constant moving is not in M’s best interest.

You see, she has two teachers, both of whom she adores, especially her lead teacher Debra. Debra is a traditional Montessori teacher, firm but never raising her voice, strict but loving at the same time. M hugs Debra when she arrives in the morning, and talks about Debra and her other teacher all the time. At our conference today, when Debra heard we’d be coming back to Michigan in April, she practically insisted that M come back to her classroom there, even after 3 months of absence. She said it, “made my day!” to think that M might be back, even if just for the last 6 weeks of school. What could I say to that? The obvious love that they both have for each other is such a wonderful influence on M. She feels safe and secure in that classroom, which means she is open to learning and exploring and growing.

And then her friends, oh her friends. According to Debra, M is one popular kid in the class these days. The other girls compete to do their “work” (this means activities in Montessori-world) with M, which sometimes results in arguments and chaos. Unsurprisingly (to me), being social is the most important thing to my little girl. She can work independently for 10-15 minutes at a time, but much prefers to work with a friend or friends. She has a few super special friends, and she loves knowing that she’s going to see them and play with the every day. She knows the names of every kid in the class, all 22 of them, and recites them all the time. Debra says that a lot of the kids don’t know more than just a few names, but M is so social that it makes sense that she is keeping her address book filled out and up to date! Today at her Christmas concert I got to see just how close she is with her friends, and just how happy she is when she is at her school.

I’m finally getting to know some of the other parents as well. I have given out my phone number to one of M’s BFFs’ mom, and now another one has invited her over for Christmas eve day to play (I’m working overtime that day). Another of her friends has a mom who recently lost a baby, so we have been meeting for coffee every so often, and she even joined me on the Remembrance Walk this fall.

After the glowing reviews from her teacher, who had only wonderful things to say about M’s ability to focus, concentrate, listen, socialize, and her progress with reading, writing, and numbers, and after seeing her joy and how happy she is at her current school, well you can bet I’m sitting here wondering how I could be taking her out. HOW CAN I BE TAKING HER OUT??? Technically she could stay in this class another two years (it goes through age 6) and any decent mom would keep her there, where she is loved and supported so thoroughly!

The plan has always been to come back to Michigan after my San Francisco contract is up in April. I will return M  to her wonderful classroom for the last 6 weeks of school and hopefully have play dates with her school friends over the summer. Everything depends on whether or not I can get a travel contract in Michigan and what the take home pay will be. It needs to be $1300 or higher per week after taxes (I’d prefer $1500 to $1700) for me to bank at least $1000 more per month than I make at my permanent staff job, and that includes a second “travel home” rent and expenses. So… it’s doable.

But ahhh yes, I do love adventure. Adventure calls to me, it truly does. The lure of the ocean, the Himalayas, or the redwoods. The world calls to me but… what is more important to my daughter right now? She totally fell apart in Nepal. She’s a kid who, yes she does great on airplanes and she can adventure all day in mountains or forests or beaches, BUT she wanted to come home. And I swear to god since coming back from Nepal she has talked about nothing but how much she loves her home, how nice it is to be home, how much she loves her school, etc. She has been through so much in her short life, maybe I was wrong to think she’d be totally fine with being uprooted all the time? My little social butterfly, she was deeply crushed that she could not seem to forge deep connections with children in other cultures or in other languages. How can I rob her of the chance to be with true friends for more than a few months at a time?

It may be that Michigan becomes “home” after all, and these local contracts help me pay off debt. And then? Local contracts offer me flexibility, as much vacation time as I want whenever I want, and we can plan shorter trips (no longer than the month we spent in Nepal) to help her build up her confidence and her sense of security wherever she goes. The behavior was so rough in Nepal, and our mother-daughter relationship so damaged, that I’m not sure I can go through it again, not in that same way for that same amount of time.

I have to travel to be mentally healthy and happy, but I may be willing to turn long-term travel into shorter (1-4 week) “stints” throughout the year in order to give her that secure base that she needs.

UGH. This mom-ing stuff is hard, right? Like just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize something else or something new. But after we got home, I made her dinner, a bath, read several books, and she fell asleep happy and so easily, I know in my heart that this stability and routine that grates on me is what allows her to be calm, comfortable, and balanced. What else could I want for my child?

feeling domestic and connected

I had my shit together today. After I picked up M from school, I cleaned out her room and reorganized the toys, rotating them out. After doing that she played for like three hours, as opposed to the zero hours she normally plays with her toys. We even played together and I really enjoyed it… We built a marble run and Legos, explored the world map together, and had some good tickle fights. It pains me to say that it has taken all this time to feel connected to my daughter again. I guess it’s like any relationship, with ups and downs, except there’s no option to call it quits (nor do I want there to be). I don’t know what the magic formula is, except maybe just time and self-care.

I also have procured housing and am exploring preschool/activity classes in SF as well as insurance options. I have my budget firmly mapped out, including expensive insurance and weekly activities, with enough over expenses to pay off my car, work on my nest egg, and get us through a month in Nepal. I was approved for a chase sapphire reserve which, if you haven’t heard, is the gold mine of credit cards for traveling. It comes with 100,000 sign on points which is worth $1500 in airline tickets. Next trip to Nepal = paid for. I just put my monthly expenses on it to get to the $4000 goal that is a prerequisite to the points.

Can I just say, though, that if you make more than $42,000 per year and therefore do not qualify for Obamacare assistance, the monthly premiums are insane. More than my mortgage insane. This country is so fucked up when you’re playing more than a mortgage to have health care for your family! I’m desperately jealous of countries with socialized healthcare.

Back to my good day. I scored a bicycle from a friend for $15. Got a bike lock and child tandem extension, too, so now all I need is my own helmet! Take that gas bill! I have someone to take care of my cat and my boss guaranteeing me a position when I’m back in Michigan at the end of May.

I cooked up dinner (including brussel sprouts from our own garden) and packed food for me at work tomorrow and my mom and M for home. Then M and I had a bath, read three books, and she was sawing logs five minutes after the light was out. Major score.

I’m feeling optimistic about our future being not just ok, but truly amazing. I’m also feeling grateful for all that is home, since we won’t be here all the time. It’s the best of both worlds.

cross-country road trip

So after Christmas we will be loading up the car (to the roof, I’m sure) and following the setting sun as far west as we can go. We are going on an epic 8 day adventure from the Midwest to the West Coast, and yes we are cutting south to avoid snowy, wintery roads.

Day 1: Michigan to the St. Louis area: where I am hoping relatives let us sleep for free.
Day 2: St. Louis to Tulsa Start the morning with a romp in Forest Park
Day 3: Tulsa to Tucumcari, New Mexico (Why here? Because it’s too far to Albequerque, and the hotels are cheap)
Day 4: Tucumcari to Flagstaff, Arizona
Day 5: Grand Canyon 1.5 hours drive to the south rim and overnight in Grand Canyon village… this is our “break day”, all other days are 7 hours of driving
Day 6: Grand Canyon to Barstow, CA Little pitstop in the Mojave Desert
Day 7: Barstow, CA to Monterey, CA via Highway 1 Lots of lovely scenery here, good places to stop
Day 8: Monterey to San Ramon Spend the morning on the beaches of Monterey, and it’s just 1.5 hours drive to my best friend’s house in the East Bay area

We stay with her for two nights and then we are off to our new temporary home in San Francisco!

It’s going to be fantastic, right??? Well, my 3 1/2-year-old is not going to enjoy 7 hours of driving time per day, let me tell you. No one is going to enjoy cheap Super 8 motels. So yeah, a lot of it will be misery. But the Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert, and Highway 1 will definitely help us out at the end!

Now we’re going to be so free…

But freedom can be lonely.

I got my first ever travel contract… San Francisco! We’ll be living (and I’ll be working) right in the city! I can’t wait to bike to work, grocery shop a few blocks away, and be so close to parks. (Golden Gate Park will be less than a few blocks away.) We’re going to be real urbanites.

After the contract ends in April it’s back to Kathmandu for a month to 6 weeks. Then back to Michigan for some summer by my lake.

End of December we drive across the country and I’m going to take the southern route to avoid snow on the highway. St. Louis, to Amarillo, to Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas, to Yosemite, to SF! I wanted my sister to road trip with us, but alas she has pesky things like family in town for the holidays and back to work after. I’m going to be doing these things with my mom, but we’ll be on our own. A little gypsy family.

I can’t believe we’re actually doing it. Taking off and becoming gypsies. It’s so amazing and I just wish I had a pack of friends doing it, too!! But except for some really amazing bloggers that I read, I’m going this alone. People must think I’m crazy… This is a daydream, a pipe dream, right? Real single moms don’t just up and.take off. The timing isn’t right… There’s not enough money saved… The what ifs abound…

Well, here we go anyway. I only have one life, and I’ve watched too many well-meaning people die without ever really living. People put off their dreams with all kinds of practical and realistic excuses. Either you do this or you don’t… There’s no in between!

Ok universe, I’m leaping in perfect trust… Catch me if you can!

free falling

Our future is totally up in the air. And I’m ok with it… which is odd. You’d think I’d find it terrifying, but I don’t. I’m confident I’ll find a travel nurse position that is good if not great. There aren’t a ton of January start dates out yet from hospitals, so I’m still waiting. I probably get asked 15 times a day where I’m going after leaving my job in December… it boggles the minds of most people that I don’t know still! I feel a sense of peace and confidence about it, though. It’s going to be just fine.

Money worries me, though. M worries me, too. Since coming home from Nepal she says many times a day, “Ahhhh, it’s so nice to be home.” I don’t want to live a life on the move if she’ll hate it. On the other hand, staying here is unsustainable from a money standpoint. Maybe traveling is partly good for kids, though, because they do so much appreciate “home” after returning. I mean, I don’t want her to think that having running hot water that is safe to drink is just a given. We should all appreciate and value it as the luxury it is. I want her to appreciate indoor heating and plumbing, 24/7 electricity, and access to entertainment and amenities because not everyone in the world has those things. It’s important to both appreciate places where those things are not available and feel gratitude for what you have at home.

I’m optimistic that I might find a position in the Bay Area of California to start, and be able to have my best friend nearby. It would give us built-in family, someone for M to socialize with, and even another childcare option when my mom needs a break. Access to beaches and mountains would restore my soul and help get me through to my next Nepal trip! I’m not going to pay off all my debt before traveling… I’ll work on it always, but as an ICU nurse I know firsthand that life is too short to put off what you want to do in life, even for responsible reasons. I have to budget carefully so that I can make all my payments on time, and not add onto any debt, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll life until age 80 so I have to travel at the same time.

Also, I have no problem telling everyone that my end game is to live in Nepal for parts of the year. I’m looking at renting an apartment for like $300 a month, and when I’m not there AirBnB’ing it out to other travelers. I have friends there I can pay to get them the key and make sure they don’t trash it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Kathmandu “home” to come back to?

I’m home, and I don’t know

As usual, post-travel depression hits me like 2 tons of bricks. M was more than ready to come home, she was counting down the days and has exclaimed several times since getting here that she’s so happy to be home. But I… I’ve dreaded this moment since taking my first breath of Kathmandu air while stepping off of the airplane and the hugest smile spread across my face. I cannot shake the feeling that there is nothing for me here at home (except my mom and sister, but I mean future-wise), and coming home to my cat having been put to sleep and my grandparents’ house empty and the cold and the election… well… it’s all too much.

I’m struggling with parenting a lot right now. We’ve traveled so much, and M has always enjoyed it and asked to go on more trips and always behaved at her best while traveling. Going to Nepal was completely different… she was unhappy, unsettled, and her behavior was completely ridiculously awful. As a parent I was awful, too. I had a hard time finding our connection, or drudging up compassion for someone who, while so little, was being so insanely difficult all the time. I haven’t been such a shitty parent in a long time, but I had no idea what to do when I had to move her through a security line at an airport, or get her onto an airplane, and she was being destructive and hurting other people or running away from me. How to respectfully parent in these situations? I’m completely lost. It’s like last September when she was having the rages and I just sat there crying completely in over my head.

Part of why I was so irritable is that I just don’t know what to do with life in general. Nepal has a funny way of unearthing me and exposing me to the wind. We were in bad situations all around: not having our own space, being on the move too often, jet lag, culture shock… it’s no wonder she went crazy and I had a hard time dealing with it. But now we’re home and I no longer have even the possibility of happiness for quite some time. I know, I need to change my attitude. But something in me needs to go to Nepal. Needs to speak that language and hear its sounds and see its mountains. When I have to leave I just… my heart is broken, the way it feels broken when a relationship ends. I just cry. I feel nauseous. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here, in this life.

I’m sitting in my house at 4am. We’ve been up most of the night because we haven’t even slightly adjusted to the time change. The house is a mess. The air is frigid. My daughter just asked where the cat is, and I had to tell her she died. Just like grandpa and Gi Gi. The swimming pool people have called to say it wasn’t in their system that we were leaving (I made sure twice before we left). The travel nursing recruiters are trying to talk to me about being submitted for jobs. I have to go back to work Friday and Saturday and I hate work and I hate leaving my daughter. My mother didn’t eat and had a bad fall while I was gone, so I feel I can’t leave her anymore either. My daughter wants to go back to her school and loves being home and now, for the first time ever, I’m afraid that my daughter won’t want to be in Nepal with me. Or that I’ve damaged her, somehow, instead of inspired her.

I’d still get back on a plane tomorrow and go back if I could, because I hate it here. I hate it. Everything is different and empty and I feel so lost here. So pointless. I close my eyes and still see the Himalayas. I still feel their presence in my blood like a calling. Oh god, how am I still back here in this place. Without money I will never get out. I just have to work… more. I have to make money somehow so I can go back for longer. I have to have something to look forward to. It’s the only way to go back so… I guess I just put the pedal to the metal and go where there’s some money to be made.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be unstuck here, in America, in the Midwest. I don’t know how to be a single mom, take care of my own mom, and get out of the financial hole I’m in enough to get out of this country from time to time. But I have to. I’m dreaming of an apartment of our own in Kathmandu, trekking, and a contract once or twice a year in the states. A few summer months in Michigan at my lake cottage. That’s the life I’m working for. Somehow I have to push aside these post-travel blues and get to work. I have to be a good mother, I have to reconnect with the things that make me happy here, and I have to move on. I can do this. Right? I can do this.