David and Veronica James chose to look at this next phase of life as a beginning instead of an ending. Rather than staying put and facing the constant reminders of empty bedrooms and backseats, a plan began to develop to sell the nest and hit the highway. But could a homebody helicopter mom learn to let go of her heartstrings and house keys all at once?
Filled with a sense of adventure and humor, Going Gypsy is the story of a life after raising kids that is a celebration of new experiences. Pulling the rip cord on the daily grind, David and Veronica throw caution to the wind, quit their jobs, sell their house, put on their vagabond shoes, and go gypsy in a beat-up old RV found on eBay.
On a journey of over ten thousand miles along the back roads of America (and a hysterical, error-infused side trip into Italy), they conquer old fears, see new sights, reestablish bonds with family and friends, and transform their relationships with their three grown children from parent-child to adult-to-adult. Most importantly, they rediscover in themselves the fun-loving youngsters who fell in love three decades prior.
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About the Author
Veronica James was born and raised in Southern California and was like, totally, a Valley Girl. Against any sane person’s better judgment, she ran off with a musician at age eighteen. After procreating, she became Earth Mama, then Helicopter Mom, hovering over every detail of her children’s lives. She and her husband are the creators of the popular website GypsyNester.com. She has held approximately thirty-three different jobs including writer. She is never bored.
Read an Excerpt
Life after Kids
By the time our youngest, The Boy, was finishing his senior year of high school, we had already sent his two older sisters successfully off into the world. We knew the drill. That's not to say it was easy to see them go, but our pride in them and their desire to start their own lives far outweighed the melancholy. The Piglet and Decibel have both thrived outside the nest.
Perhaps I should give some explanation about those names. Our eldest, The Piglet, has just always been The Piglet. I don't remember how it stuck; it may have been a Pooh thing. But even now, as a big- city journalist, she will answer to it. If she minds, she has never let on. Sometimes she even refers to herself as such.
Decibel, on the other hand, is self-explanatory. It's a volume issue. She is loud and impossible to ignore ... always has been, always will be.
Their leaving brought a flood of bittersweet emotions, hopes, and fears. But each time, there was the task of finishing up with younger siblings. We still had work to do.
This time it was different; there would just be us after The Boy took flight. We were ready to seriously ponder what our life after raising kids would be. This was an opportunity. A chance to celebrate, reconnect, and live a little, but we had yet to determine exactly how.
One lazy St. Croix Saturday morning, we were lingering in bed with the tropical sun streaming through our window. Veronica was reading a paperback, and I had laptop in lap and gears turning and grinding inside my pea brain. There may have been a small puff of smoke wafting out of my right ear. It had popped into my head to Google "empty nesters."
I wanted to see if anyone else was looking at this stage of life from a point of view like ours. We've spent twenty-five years raising kids. Isn't it great that they have grown up, moved out, and started their own lives? We'll have our time to ourselves again.
After typing into the search box and hitting enter, I said, "Look at this, honey."
The biggest item on the first page was an enormous ad for an Alzheimer's patch.
"Holy crap! What's wrong with these people? We just finished raising our kids; we're not dying." Ah, she was engaged now. "Keep looking. Let's see what we can find."
So I did, with Veronica ditching her book to look over at my screen more and more. Soon my quest had become a joint effort. All we could find were websites that lamented how terrible it was that the kids weren't around anymore. A lot of self-help, self-absorption, and self-pity.
Raising kids is hard work, and we couldn't comprehend all of these people grieving the end of the task. Granted, continuation of the species is one of life's most important activities. But unlike the other critters on earth, once we have finished the job of rearing the offspring, we're able to have some fun. To accept a big pat on the back. Job well done.
The kids have grown into full-sized Homo sapiens fully capable of feeding themselves. The time had come to let them do their own hunting and gathering. When they get hungry enough, they will find food. But they have to learn to do it for themselves. Otherwise, they'll end up like zoo animals. When tigers get fed every day, they never learn to hunt. If they're released into the wild, they starve.
Personally, we taught our little cubs that if they get really hungry, they can always kill and eat a bag of ramen noodles. They've gotten pretty good at it too.
But we had barely evolved into full-grown human beings ourselves when Veronica and I started having babies. While many people our age were still in school, we were raising kids. Veronica transformed from child to mother while I figured out that Daddy better get off his rump roast and bring home the bacon. For my work, that meant hitting the highway. As a general rule, we musicians have to go to the people — they don't come to us.
As with almost everyone else of our generation, it took the combined incomes of both parents to bring home enough pork product to raise three kids. Because of the logistics of road work, the bulk of the child rearing landed on Veronica's shoulders, so she, like so many other women, juggled work and mommying with the skill of a circus performer. She took on various jobs — waiting tables, delivering pizzas, even watching other people's kids, all while tending to our ever-growing brood. Sometimes I could swear I heard calliope music.
Meanwhile I was away from home 250 to 300 days a year as a traveling troubadour in a never-ending hillbilly roadshow. And through it all, Veronica and I always tried to remember that a huge part of being good parents was being a good couple.
In a weird way, all of the travel may have helped our fledgling family. The money certainly didn't hurt, but the constant emotional good-byes and happy homecomings managed to keep our relationship fresh. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.
Through the years we worked out our lots. I found ways to travel less and still keep the wolf from the door, while Veronica started a home-based web design business that allowed her to grow into her helicopter mommy self.
As our Spawn grew, the parenting became more of a joint venture. By the kids' teenage years, we were both fully engaged. We had to be, because raising teenagers requires all hands on deck.
Having survived the terrible teens, we had any number of conflicting feelings, and these days even the smallest emotion or complaint must be labeled as a syndrome. It was right there on my computer screen, in bold type: empty nest syndrome.
How in the hell can kids moving on with their lives be a syndrome? Shouldn't that be like breathing oxygen syndrome? Shouldn't we be excited about this portion of life? Most of us have made more than a few sacrifices to get here, so we say stick a fork in us, we're done. It's not only not selfish to take a little time out for ourselves after surviving three teenagers; it's insane not to.
While clicking onto page after page of empty nest lamentations, an idea began to germinate. A plan to have no plans. Veronica and I could be the kids for a change. The time had come to get back to just the two of us, to resurrect what brought us together in the first place. We could cut loose and go wherever we wanted, be untethered and free. Wander the globe. Veronica could finally see all of the places I'd seen while singing for my supper. We could Go Gypsy. Gypsy Empty Nesters. GypsyNesters.
The theory sounded great in my head, but in real life there were logistics to being footloose and fancy free. We would have to untangle ourselves from all of the possessions and responsibilities that held us down. We couldn't travel by telekinesis and would need lodging of some sort along the way. These things require funding and a modicum of preparation.
While I babbled on about these ideas, my mind was beginning to formulate some viable modi operandi. Veronica's mind, however, was going in an entirely different direction.
Could a homebody mommy who's been totally engaged in her kids' lives really just cut and run? I think her inner voice might have been whispering, "What are you thinking?"CHAPTER 2
David made it sound so simple, but after I took a little time to think about it, I had to confess to some anxiety concerning this GypsyNester stuff.
It didn't help that most of the family and friends to whom I'd mentioned the plan-is-no-plans idea found it harebrained. Frankly, I'm not quite sure it wasn't.
I'd become a bit of a worrier over the years (okay, a lot of a worrier) and had morphed into quite the homebody. I wasn't convinced that homebody was my natural state, or even what my natural state was at that point. I'd liken it to my hair — I've dyed it for so long, and in a rainbow's worth of different colors. I'm not really sure what would come out of my head if I let it grow without intervention.
The cold hard fact was that my kids had become my life. I'm not the first person to say this — but I'm not just saying it. My purse became a diaper bag. My car became a minivan. My me-time became their-time. I even sold my thriving web design business in Nashville and took a job at their school when we moved to St. Croix. When I called myself a helicopter mom, I wasn't kidding. No one hovered like me. My rotor blades were sharply honed.
My job at the school, which had begun as designing their website in exchange for tuition, became a rewarding career involving all of the school's technology systems. My best friends were my colleagues — The Spawn's teachers, deans, and advisers. I was entrenched.
By working at the school, I probably knew way too much about what was going on in my children's lives, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.
I knew all of their classmates by name. Some of these kids even came to me to sob on my shoulder, tattle on The Spawn, share dreams and goals, or just hang out to have a laugh or two. I was their room mother in junior high, mother-confessor in high school, and the one they begged to go to Chicken Shack for after-school SAT prep session snackage. They brought their lists of prospective colleges to me, seeking my opinion of their choices, and excitedly stormed my office when the acceptance letters arrived.
The idea of The Boy and his classmates moving on and leaving me behind at my desk was heartbreaking; I wouldn't be able to bear it. It was time for me to move on as well. I just needed guts.
Could I give up my home and embark on an undefined mission? When I think back to The Beanpole and The Valley Girl, and their willingness to take life as it was thrown at them, I can still feel the excitement of it all. The joy of new love, the world before us, tethered only to each other. We were broke and naive, yes, but we were free — and fearless.
I needed to believe it was possible to become like that again, to return to what David used to call it, our Nation of Two. A magical land with closed borders and no foreign policy. A realm where nothing and nobody outside its boundaries mattered. A country with only two citizens, a Nation of Two. The blissful State that Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently proclaimed in Mother Night.
That's the place — if we could find it again — where we could shut out the world and reconnect as a new childless, or more correctly — as much as I hate the term — empty nest couple. A more stable and smarter version of what once was.
I was not that fearless young girl anymore, not by a long shot. Motherhood knocked her right out of me. Fear was my constant companion. I feared for my children's safety, but my concerns went way beyond any normal mommy protection instincts of diseases, injuries, accidents, afflictions, or tornadoes in Tennessee and hurricanes in the Caribbean. No, I took it to the level of solar wind and magnetic storms. I stressed about the prospect of massive meteor strikes, volcanic eruptions, and tectonic shifts in the earth's crust. What if the world spun wildly off its axis? I anguished over nuclear annihilation and possible alien invasion. Was Soylent Green really people? It got to where I was even afraid of zombies terrorizing the neighborhood. I was a big sloppy mess of fears.
Then, for the first time, I started to fear the world's perception of me. I not only needed to be the best mother in the world — I was terror stricken that I wouldn't be perceived as such. I was mortified by every mistake I made, beat myself up when things didn't go right, and I replayed anything that could possibly be seen by the outside world as less-than-perfect child rearing over and over in my head.
The more I reflected on these things, the more I realized that I had some serious issues to deal with. This had to happen soon if we were going to abandon our island home and wander the world.
So, in an attempt to alleviate my apprehension for the unknown and scary, I decided to take a self-defense course. I saw huge growth potential there. I wanted to be able to protect myself from what lurked in the dark alleys of my mind.
My friend (and The Boy's biology teacher) Kate was on board with me, which was great because when Kate gets on board about something, she gets balls-out on board. Kate's husband, a karate guy (and The Boy's chemistry teacher), knew of a class at his dojo, so he signed us up.
Beautiful, slight, middle-aged Alda was our class instructor. My first reaction was gimme a break, even I could kick her butt. How can this woman teach me to be brave?
We started off with some breathing exercises, and Alda explained that the first line of defense for any woman is to run away. This made perfect sense to me — by nature I'm not a hitter; I'm a runner. We worked on body awareness, muscle memory, and strengthening exercises. We talked about trusting our instincts and keeping our cool. That was good, that was very me. I could do that.
But that Alda chick was a wily one. As the class progressed, I learned some surprising (and slightly disturbing) things about myself.
At one point I found myself looking down at Kate in stunned confusion after throwing her to the mat in a rapist-repelling maneuver. The objective of this exercise was to learn to use the momentum of the defensive maneuver to spring to our feet and run like crazy women.
Running was not what my adrenaline-charged brain and body wanted to do at all, though. What I wanted to do was rush at my fictitious rapist and kick him in the face. How dare he treat me like a victim! Luckily for Kate, I decided that kicking her in the face was not a nice thing to do. I do have manners, after all.
Being the pacifist (wimp) that I am, I was in total shock that I could have such a violent reaction to a circumstance that would normally turn me into a puddle of melted Jell-O. This was not the growth I had expected, and I didn't know I had it in me. It rocked.
My confidence grew. Maybe I could try new things and step outside of my comfort zone. And knowing how to kick a little butt couldn't hurt if the need should arise.
On the drive home, I resolved to begin a project I'd been putting off for a while. Rockin' my new confident self, I strutted into the house, a woman on a mission.
I dug out a desk calendar and a red magic marker; the time had come to officially commence the countdown. I wrote cheery notes to myself on each day of the week leading up to June 8, The Boy's Dreaded Graduation Day.
"Keep your chin up!"
"Thirty days 'til freedom!"
"Your ovaries may be dead, but you're not!"
I deserved this dirty little secret. I'd spent a quarter of a century raising The Spawn. I'd gotten all three of the buggers to maturity alive and relatively unscathed — it was high time I started celebrating a job well done. A new and exciting chapter in my life was about to begin, and by God, I was going to look forward to it — with as little guilt as possible. I'm a fairly guilt-based person. I was raised Catholic, so it's in my DNA.
For The Boy's sake (and to avoid horrified looks from house guests), I would keep the calendar under the mattress and yank it out first thing every morning to cross off another day, like a jailbird awaiting parole.
It occurred to me that this new outlook would not make me impervious to emotional milestones along the way. I glanced over at The Boy's graduation announcement, emblazoned with his cap and gown photo. My heart almost stopped when I saw it. I had spent many moments in the privacy of the bedroom staring at it and bawling, wondering how my baby got so big.
Learning from prior graduation debacles, I knew that it paid to plan ahead if I wanted to avoid public emotional outbursts. The Piglet and Decibel might never forgive me for the coyote-like howling from the coveted front row aisle seat at their graduation ceremonies. So I markered in "Convince Dr. Feelgood to write happy pill prescription" on June 1 and "Sleep like the dead" on the boxes for June 5, 6, and 7. I added to the June 8 box:
Do not sit in the vicinity of these people
1) Other mothers graduating their youngest child
2) Single mothers graduating their only child
The school community at large would thank me (I'm kind of notorious).
I wrote in similar notes for The Boy's last Tuesday with us, the last macaroni and cheese dinner, his last dentist appointment, and, of course, the last time he'll throw off his shoes and socks in the middle of the living room floor (another June 7).
As I knelt down next to the bed to tuck my crutch safely into its hiding place, I prayed that my newfound resolve would hold.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Going Gypsy"
Copyright © 2015 David and Veronica James.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Life after Kids,
2 Fear Conquering,
3 When Hurricanes Blow,
4 Generic Midwestern Directional University,
5 Sixteen Boxes,
6 Empty Nest Egg,
7 Fear Conquering and Writing a Will,
8 Sardinia Has the Best Donkey,
9 Sweat Equity,
10 Fear Conquering and Snow Skiing,
13 Mama Loves a Ball of Paint,
14 We're Too Old for This Crap,
15 The Plan Is No Plans,
16 Helicopter Mom, You Are Grounded,
17 Home, Home on the Strange,
18 A Little-Talked-About Sign of Aging,
19 Help! There's No One to Eat the Leftovers,
20 The Blowup,
21 THE Talk,
22 Lessons Learned in a Walmart Parking Lot,
23 Fear Conquering and White-Water Rafting,
24 Balls to the Wall,
25 50 @ 50,
26 No Home for the Holidays,
27 Grandchildish Behavior,
29 Now What?,
30 Admitting I Have a Problem Is the First Step,
31 Mexican Therapy,
About the Authors,