You have heard them say it, I’m sure you have:
“We spent a month camping/boondocking/mooch-docking in our kids driveway and all we saw were the grand-kids. The kids keep saying, ‘But dad, we work all the time.’ I wish we’d had more time with our children”
I never quite know what to say in response. Perhaps because I don’t want to be cruel and say what I really think.
You see, I’m convinced that one of the things we RV’ers have to learn is …
How to be away from your family
That is particularly if you are among those 1 million Baby Boomers they say are retiring each day now. It is my generation that was called the ME Generation. We have been conspicuous consumers all our lives and we have also been extremely self-centered (as a whole — sure there are the exceptions).
Since our daughter was born I have tried to continuously readjust my behavior towards her as she grew. A parent can’t treat a child the same way all the way through their life. Children change and parents change and those changes demand alterations in the relationship between any two people — ANY two people — even parents.
When our daughter was about 13 we had a bit of a kerfuffle about something or another and she really put me in my place. “Dad,” she said to me, “you raised me so that I would learn how to make good decisions, now that I’m starting to make decisions you can’t change the rules on me.” And she was right. Those words stung harder than any slap on the face. But she was right.
Being aware of the times in life when I have to change MY behavior hasn’t been easy, and it’s never easy for anyone. Not even when the parents are older (let’s not say “OLD”), and retired.
Our grand-one is in her early 20’s now. At her age I was married, living in Chicago, doing my alternative service for the draft board and making a pittance — in 1968 I started work at Chicago Wesley Hospital (now part of the great Northwestern Medical Center) making… yup… $1.98 an hour and I had to commute to the cheapest apartment we could find and do all the other things newly weds had to do. In those days I was a confirmed chauvinist and I didn’t want my wife to work — and we got along on $1.98 an hour (+ a little from what we both had in savings) until I happened to have a good boss who moved from the Materials Management Department to Information Services and took me along and I got a slightly more livable wage for about 6 months of my required 2 years.
The point being that we were on our own. We lived 100 miles from my parents and 200 miles from Peg’s parents. There was no magic in the proportions there (chuckle) that just happened to be where Chicago was! My parents came down once a month for a meal (that they took us out to) and to spend some time together. My mom at the outset was quite antagonistic to the idea of our marriage; mostly my fault — I handled announcements and such in a really crappy way — and all she saw was some girl ruining my life. What she didn’t know was that I was the one ruining the girl’s life (just joking) because I certainly wasn’t prepared for what marriage was all about — who is at 19. But my dad was happy for us — he could see way beyond the obvious and he embraced Peg from the Get-Go. Eventually my mom did too (within a year or so). And to this day we laugh about the walk my dad took with Peggy and I the day he met her.
Dad wanted to get to know Peg, and not being a talkative guy, and not wanting to compete trying to get in a word edgewise with my mom, he suggested the three of us go for a walk. Sometime during that walk he looked at Peg and said, “Well, one thing for sure, life will never be boring with Peter.” If he only knew. And to this day Peg will tell me, “You know you don’t have to try to keep if from being boring, with you around it just happens.”
So, my parents came to visit maybe once a month for an afternoon. Peg’s parents didn’t visit quite so often, maybe twice a year and they would usually stay over one night, sometimes not even that (we had no SPACE to put them) . But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see them more often.
I know it’s not the case, but in retrospect it began to appear that every weekend we were going to visit one parent or the other. I know that wasn’t the case, because even at $0.19 a gallon for gas we couldn’t afford to go anywhere every weekend.
Eventually we moved to Ohio for two years where I managed a Locksmith shop, then back to Geneva Illinois where I had an office job, then up to Milwaukee after I bought my first semi on a hokey plan with North American Van Lines New Products Division. Once I was on the road and we were in Chicago we quickly realized that with a 2 year old baby and no family nearby that would be terribly hard on Peg and Kathryn — so we ultimately moved up to Milwaukee. I continued driving for a while, new products, then reefer freight and finally flatbed freight.
You may ask where am I going with all of this…. and that’s a good question… probably the same question TWO sets of parents were asking: “what are the doing and where are they going and are they ever going to get their life in order?” (my words not theirs)
I bring this up because they had to struggle the same way I/we had to struggle in learning to WATCH our daughter, and to continue loving our daughter while she was ‘figuring’ things out her own way. And man, it takes a lot of love to let go: to give another human the time, and the ‘power’ to live their own life and become who they are supposed to become (not who I might want the to be — which is the problem my mom had)
RV’ing flips the equation on it’s head
That day when you drive away from the place that used to be your home knowing that you might be ‘property-less but not home-less’ your relationship to your family and all your former friends changes forever.
Suddenly you have the power to ‘drop in’ on them any time you choose. Not any time they choose, but any tie you choose and that changes the relationship significantly. Friends you may have kept in contact with for years — but friends who chose to move away from you suddenly become prey to your whims. Yeah — I know, I’m being a bit harsh here — but the fact of the matter is that those friends made a conscious choice that what they were moving to was more important in their lives than hanging around with you wherever you were. And even though they may have kept in contact that doesn’t mean they wanted to be bosom buddies.
Family too may have moved away. Our daughter and her hubby only live about 15 minutes from our former home. But the Grand-one, she couldn’t wait to get out of Milwaukee — just like me. She moved to Chicago, then to Minneapolis. Nothing was ever said about wanting to be away from mom and pop, she wanted to be closer to something else. And that’s natural. But how does a parent take to a child’s adult decisions?
How indeed? We’re fortunate in having a very close family. Most of the time we’re happy to be with each other and the distance between us always seems to be a dastardly problem to getting together. We look for ways to get around the distance and we manage as well as we can — but then we are together for a short time and then apart again.
Even in our annual returns to Milwaukee we stay in a campground — not with our daughter. We could. We are welcomed with open arms and hearts the times we ask to do so — like last March when Peggy needed some medical attention — but most of the time we want them to live their own life so we don’t ask. We have plenty of time to get together during a month and we’re happy to do so.
I don’t know what other RV’ers expect of their children (or their grandchildren). That’s none of my business. As is how they manage their family relationships. What I am saying is that as soon as you hit the ignition on your RV for the first time and take off down that driveway your relationship to the people you are leaving behind changes — by your actions you have changed the rules on everyone in your circle of friends and family — and it’s up to the person doing the changing to figure out what that means to them, and to their loved ones. It’s OUR responsibility because WE are the ones doing the changing. They are home in their houses wondering what the heck is going on with mom & pop, or with their friends and they are the ones who could have every right to feel either: betrayed (if left behind) or put-upon (if regularly visited when they didn’t actually want you around).
There are no sign posts. But the evidence will be there for anyone who chooses to look.
And the trick is, who is this relation about? Is it about what they want? Of is it about what you want? And in answering that question there is always the secondary issue of whether we, the RV’ers, really want to know the answer.
Thanks for stopping by, I enjoy our little meetings each morning and thank you for showing up. 🙂