I had the strangest encounter in San Diego earlier this month while attending BlogHer. On more than one occasion, a blogger who had been following my family’s cross-country road trip pulled me aside, lowered her voice, and asked, “so tell me what it’s really like.”
The conspiratory tone was as common as the squeals and hugging that are so rampant at blogging conferences. It seems that everyone was certain there was some secret about life on the road that I hadn’t yet shared.
What’s it really like?
It’s probably not near as bad as you imagine. In fact, as I told my curious friends repeatedly, living in an RV full time is the relatively easy part of this entire experience. We adjusted to living in a smaller space and with fewer possessions rather quickly, and the extreme closeness has been mostly a blessing.
Do I find that I need more alone time than anyone else in my family? Do I feel extremely guilty about that personality difference? Yep. Exactly like I did when we had 3,000 square feet between us. As I suspected, our perceived need for more physical space is more of a societal value than an actual requirement; it certainly has nothing to do with happiness.
It’s been the freedom that’s been hard to manage.
And here is when my well-meaning friends’ eyes would kind of glaze over, and I get it, because the idea of freedom is insanely abstract and, I suppose, not nearly as interesting as four people sharing a portable toilet. But it’s this abstract and rather uninteresting concept that’s given me the most trouble – and joy – on this trip.
Freedom comes in many forms. As an American, I’m intimately familiar with political freedom (and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about that in the last two months.) We talk about it, sing about it, and wave our flags in honor of the freedom to speak and vote and choose as a group. We’re used to this collective freedom, and it’s a source of pride rather than panic.
But this trip is about individual freedom, and I seem to have that in almost lethal doses lately.
As of August 8, I no longer own a home. I have no real job or utility bill or weekly social appointment to keep. I’m not bound by conventional rules of schedule or season, and even societal pressures have been largely cast off, if only because the face of society is constantly changing for us right now.
We have no rules except our own and ridiculously few responsibilities beyond the ones we choose daily.
We can do what we want, when we want.
What’s that like?
It’s like standing in front of an elaborate buffet full of food both familiar and foreign, and being told you get one pass through to create the perfect meal for yourself and your family. You can choose whatever you want, but you must choose alone.
The potential is amazing. But it is also impossible to deny the responsibility I have for creating my life. Those rules, regulations, and obligations that we assume keep us from doing what makes us happy also serve as a convenient crutch for explaining why our lives aren’t exactly what we want, why we aren’t exactly who we want to be.
My only limitation is my family.
And isn’t that a double-edged sword of its own.
They are the one obligation I would never extract myself from, but they are unquestionably the heaviest. They are both the fuel for my soul and the strongest boundary against my independent pursuits of happiness. I am, by nature, strong willed and self centered, traits that often need to be tempered if I’m to be a good mother and wife. I’m coming face to face with this reality often now that my family is my last real tie to order.
Make no mistake, I am grateful for that tie. But I also instinctively buck against it and fear that I will not be able to meet everyone’s needs, including my own.
That conflict, I realize, doesn’t sound like it has much to do with freedom and the question of having too much of it – but that’s what it’s really like for me to live in an RV. It’s a daily challenge to balance drawing your own boundaries and creating a group collage with three other relatively free people. We used to have a lot more guidance on how to do that dance, but those steps have gone the way of the alarm clock, so now we’re making that up on our own as well.
We’re making it all up as we go along.
What’s it really like to live in an RV on the road?
It’s confusing and exhilarating and frightening and liberating and fun and challenging all at the same time.
And it has nothing to do with square footage.