“If I were in the camper, I would be able to find it!”
It’s the second time in the space of ten minutes that have uttered this phrase as I try to make dinner in my home kitchen. Just the simple act of searching for the can opener makes me feel frustrated and out of place. It is wholly unsettling, and somewhat unexpected, to feel like a stranger in my own home. But it’s a feeling that I cannot shake. It feels foreign to walk through my own living room and sleep in my own bed. I seem to have vague muscle memories of where things go and how things work, but nothing feels comfortable or intuitive. I feel like a visitor in a lovely vacation home where I do not belong.
It’s a ridiculous feeling, I keep telling myself. “Listen to me, self. It’s ridiculous! Snap out of it!”
To add to the ridiculousness, is the unmistakable fact that life here is just plain easier and more comfortable than life in the camper on the road. For starters, there are many more creature comforts. Things like dishwashers and garbage disposals and washing machines and vacuum cleaners. All things designed to make life easier, in theory.
But, in just one week, I have twice let the dishes pile up so high in the sink that they wouldn’t all fit in the dishwasher. It’s the same story with the laundry. And then the dirty dishes and stinky laundry nag me with the unfinished task, and I lazily ignore them because I know there is a machine to do it for me eventually. Unfinished tasks never happened in the camper. Out of sheer necessity, dishes were washed immediately, so there would be something to use for the next meal.
This strange comfort vs. necessity dichotomy carries over into our personal interactions, as well. In our brick and mortar home, we have plenty of personal space, a commodity that was at a premium in the camper. No doubt, we have all craved a little extra space to spread out. But, again, the extra space creates a cycle of complacency. In the barely 300 square feet of the camper, it took no time at all for the clambering activity of four boys to reach a fever pitch. Faced with that, it was a sanity saving necessity that I plan for bike rides, and hikes and fun activities- activities that forced me, whether I was in the mood or not, to engage with my children. At home, I can send them upstairs to play far too easily.
It would be logical to conclude that camper was just better for our family than life here, and oh how I wish that was true. Unfortunately, the truth is far more incriminating and requires a level of self examination that I don’t want to accept.
But it’s not the camper. It’s me. I was a better person in the camper than I am at home.
At home, I can so easily become lazy and complacent and selfish and monotonous. In the camper, I was none of those things, partly from necessity and partly from the overwhelming sense of freedom that comes from feeling like you are giving your whole self to your true purpose.
I think it’s time for a little talking to myself again. Feel free to listen in, but this is really just between me and me.
“Hey, self! Listen carefully. Your location has changed, but your purpose hasn’t changed. Your true purpose is to fully engage with your children and help them engage with the world. It doesn’t matter if you are in a camper or on the moon – you can fulfill that purpose. Yes, life on the road was special and you will likely never be able to repeat those experiences. Life at home is just as special! Do you know that you only have six Christmases before your oldest son is a grownup. Six! There are only 15 summers before there are no children to take to the pool and share ice cream. Life is screaming past at an unstoppable speed and every single moment matters. Pay attention. Make them count.”
After that little talk, I think I understand better why I feel so out of touch with my home. Nothing here changed while I was gone. But I changed. I changed for the better. I learned to be in touch with my kids and their world. I learned to be in touch with myself and my feelings. I had an awakening about the treasure that lies in every day-not just the special days on an extraordinary trip. This is unsettled feeling is my unconscious way of warning myself to heed those lessons and never go back.
Harnessing the things I learned from those three months on the road and make them a permanent part of me will be my greatest challenge. Well, that and catching up on the dishes and laundry.