a five year happening

The point in life where you’ve lost both of your parents is an important one.

This cord which has biologically tied me to my past; the physical forms – gone. Wheeled out and whisked away and never more tangible.

It seems a true end to a phase I wasn’t even aware I was in; a clear division in time; bookends to an epoch. A point where you are now truly on your own.

I’m realizing that the death of my parents, though two separate things in chronology, is really a single period of time in my life. A five-year happening. The death of my dad, our year-long sabbatical & subsequent life change, and the death of my mom. I can see it now for a single event; a complete evolution with a start and a middle and an end.

It stared with my realization that losing my dad, though I was prepared for it, impacted my life in ways I hadn’t been cognizant of. I’m convinced this event had bearing on changes to my attitude towards my career and my family. Under cover, not in the conscious open, my dad’s death worked in my mind. Losing dad changed everything, but it took me this long to recognize it.

Mom’s imminent passing will no doubt also drive change.

reclaimation

“Everything looks junky.”

That’s what Keaton says about Florida.

“It’s all dirty and broken-down. It’s not like California.”

No, it’s not like California.

At least, not like the thirty square miles of California that our kids, in their limited exposure, assume is wholly representative of California. The manicured, whitebread suburbs and master-planned communities with convenient parks and shopping and schools, where all the stucco and paint are new and clean and the grass and ornamental plants are trimmed. The HOAs that keep the streets free of cars and houses free of well-water streaking. The stay-at-home moms with thousand dollar purses and fresh tans and nails.

Nope, it’s not like that where we are now.

In contrast, Florida seems alive – always straining against being tamed, steadily working to reclaim all human undertaking as jungle-swamp. You can fight it, but it’s a continuous fight. It rains a lot, and everything stays wet even when it hasn’t rained.  It’s hot, the sun bakes the land.  Plants grow while you watch.  Hurricanes come every now and then to wipe away things men arrogantly continue to build, giving the swamp and jungle a fresh canvas to overtake. There are several creatures which feel directly descendant from dinosaurs that are just… walking around everywhere.

It’s OK though.  Not just for me, it’s OK for us all.  Part of me thinks maybe it’s even healthy… to get out of the bubble, to see that it’s not all pristine upper class new car disposable income.  

Could do without the Trump flags, though.

indigent

Moving is challenging.

I did not anticipate the red tape and chicken/egg situations we encountered trying to do things.  Things like establishing new bank accounts and moving money, buying a used car & getting new driver’s licenses, buying a house, getting library cards, putting the kids in school.  

Our situation for the past year exacerbated this unanticipated complexity.  The Man has a tough time taking you on your word when you don’t fit the norm.  Having no physical address and no history of income for a year really complicates things.  How can such a person be weighed and measured and deemed “real” enough to re-join the system?  It’s all nested, too: You need an address to get a driver’s license, a license and address to get the kids in school; local insurance to by a car, an address to get insurance, etc.  

These processes are challenging when you can’t show that you’re “stable” from a financial perspective – when you don’t fit the model.  Surely a person who has no paychecks in the last year, isn’t paying rent, and has no current home address requires extra vetting before being allowed to open a bank account.  I imagine the AI that analyzes our profile and ranks and rates such things must stamp INDIGENT in red across the top of the file, a warning to every account officer and underwriter.

Thing is, the data that represents us appears this way because we, using the very means the algorithms assume we must not posses, chose to live outside the norm for a year.   It was our decision to live jobless and travel.  How much harder must all these processes be for those who have truly been out of work for a time, who’ve not had a home address because they literally have no stable place to live?   

Thinking about it this way made me consider just how biased systems are towards what we consider financial stability: A regular job, a consistent address, established credit.  Our frustration came only from having to demonstrate that we were not, despite what data analysis may indicate, poor.  Ours was simply an issue of proving stability, and we were aided greatly by the fact that we are, indeed, stable. 

Yet there are those who must navigate these waters because they are working their way up.  They are not stable.  It is not simply a matter of jumping through a few extra hoops to prove stability so they can get a new bank account or used car.  No, the bank account and used car are actually things needed to begin demonstrating stability, to make forward progress towards it.

Harder, though, than experiencing a taste of the biased system, was the realization that I’m a part of the bias.  It happened while we were working to get the kids enrolled and started in school.  The district will not allow you do this without a driver’s license and address and paper utility bill in your name that proves you reside at said address.  Because we’d only just moved here, we had none of these things – yet we wanted to get the kids started.

One very kind and helpful woman at the district office recommended we register the kids as “homeless.”  This way they need nothing, no documentation whatsoever.  Better still, they can start the very day they are registered, absolutely no questions asked.  We took advantage of this, using what felt almost like loophole to skirt the requirements that we’ll meet as soon as we close on our house and register our cars and, and, and…

And, although we did this, registered the kids as homeless, we felt the need to let the schools and teachers know that they are not, in fact, homeless.  That they are simply in between homes after a cross-country move.  Being tagged with the “homeless” status came with free lunch and outreach calls from social workers… so we felt the need to clarify.

But why?  We did we feel the need to “clarify?”

I wondered this to a friend and her answer still shames me: Because we are conditioned to equate poverty with character.  You were embarrassed.”  

Oh, God forgive us, she is right. 

“Hey teachers, I know how this must look, but, trust us, we have means.  See, there are special circumstances… we’re a loving family unit, we took a year off and traveled.  We’re not really poor we’re just adventurous.”  

It’s not what we said, but it’s what was underneath.  

parallels

We moved from California to Florida just before I started the 6th grade.

That summer before school started was great. I spent every day playing with my brother. We spent most waking moments either in the pool or in the waves, as the condo Dad’s work set us up in while we looked for houses was beachfront. We met girls who spoke French.

Starting school in a new place was more challenging. I can vividly, like, almost even to the taste of dust in my mouth, remember feeling alone and confused. Questioning how I was going to fit in and who I even was. I was brand new, no one knew me, how was I going to act, who was I going to be?

We moved from California to Florida just before our 20th wedding anniversary.

The year before was great. I spent every day in an RV my family. We traveled around the US and Canada, exploring creation and history and learning about each other. We made new inside jokes, Cohen developed a love for Pokemon, Keaton for writing. Sharaun constantly reminded me why I love and need her more than anything.

Establishing our family a starting work in a new place has been exciting and scary. This morning, I had a feeling so close to that feeling 6th grade me felt that I was inspired to write this in response.

I am brand new.

it keeps going

This is not another permanent break.

I will continue the writing habit I regained on the trip.

The excuses, then.

It has been so busy.

The trip ended. We went back to California, but we knew we weren’t staying. We’d decided, with about two months left in the trip, that we were leaving California and moving to Florida. Doing it. Fully embracing it. Taking a lot less demanding job for a lot less money to be able to spend a lot more time together as a family. A wild midlife vie to maintain some of the magic we were able to create the past year together on the road.

We listed a house, refinanced another, and arranged a cross-country move with naught but cell phones, rest areas, and interstate ramps. We moved Mom, then moved her again. Felt guilty and sad about leaving her, leaving family, leaving friends. We packed a house and slept on the floor and then lived in the front yard of friends. We said tearful goodbyes for too long.

I said the trip ended but it didn’t – that’s wrong. It kept going. It keeps going. We got to Florida. Living in the front yard again. Working to do life as typically as possible but doing so from the RV. Still homeschooling the kids until we get an address and can enroll them in school. Cars still registered out of state, no drivers licenses, no library cards, no Disney season passes – can’t do any of it without an address. Here permanently, but with no sense of permanence.

We bought a house, though. Just yesterday. Just bought it. We talked a lot about downsizing in this move. Downsizing our budget, our consumption, our things, our home. The place we bought is both two-thirds this size of our previous place and five time bigger than our home for the past year. We will sell a lot. Furniture that filled rooms we no longer have and didn’t use much when we did. Wall hangings for wall space we no longer have.

I am excited.  I am ready.  It keeps going.

lately, also

In the RV, the morning is my time.

I’m up first, always. Usually an hour or more before everyone else. I make the coffee. It’s quiet and I try to keep it quiet. It’s almost always a peaceful time, even in a place like a noisy Walmart parking lot. On any given day, we can put our house anywhere, and when I’m the only one awake I’m lord of that place. It feels safe and right-sized. I listen to the birds or the semis idle. I think.

I think: How did people measure linear distance over a span of land that’s not flat before modern surveying equipment? Why do flies land on horses and cows, just because they are attracted to the smell or are they feeding somehow? The generator’s carburetor can’t be that hard to clean, right? How does lightning happen, is it kind of like static electricity on a grand scale? If I was a God, would I create humanity just so something would worship me? Isn’t that conceited, or needy? What is the minimal set of clothes which can produce the maximum set of outfits?

Lately, I also think: Are we doing the right thing? Have I modeled the numbers accurately? Am I being selfish? How will this change us, change everything? Will the kids adjust OK? Are we doing right by family? Will Sharaun hate it? Am I going to be able to perform, to meet expectations? Will I like it?

Mornings are my time.

Hugs.

far from over

To think that ten months has elapsed. Gone by. Been spent. It’s almost like an in-joke between us; there’s no way ten months have passed, we just started yesterday.

But really. Yesterday I drove up the Oregon coast. We got really cheap gas at that casino and ate lunch by those huge rocks. Remember I met that rail rider, the busker, in El Paso. Christmas was getting close and we slept at a Cracker Barrel across from him, his dog, and their flying sign.

We had coffee on the beach, it wasn’t very warm but it was beautiful. When we got back to the RV the kids had baked muffins as a surprise. And we had to move the RV to the parking lot and sleep there because the trees in the campground were at risk of being blown down in the strong winds.

We saw a nutria, and I learned that a nutria is a thing and what a nutria is. There were tarantulas scampering across the road. We hitched a ride with new friends, both families crammed in the back of a minivan. Jesus sang us a song for $10.

It rained. All night it rained. We got stuck in the mud but God fed us. We walked with ghosts and invited ours along, we even talked to one once. God met us again at the lake, he was a former tweaker. And again, but this time he saved kids for a living.

I guess, I don’t know. Maybe I kind of knew. Maybe this was always just a long beginning.

Kisses.