Preparing for our Third, "Mama Caravan," Tour, NEW JERSEY

"I take to the open road - healthy, free, the world before me."
--Walt Whitman Our USA National Parks Tour officially kicked off in Ohio after we celebrated the 4th of July holiday with dear friends in a small, upstate New York town. Although we had landed back in the USA a few weeks before, we needed to get our van in to see a mechanic for a check-up, as it had weathered a wet New Jersey winter alone (and outdoors ;( ) in storage, as well as for me to accomplish a few "upgrade" goals I had for our caravan. Last year, while Cee and I were camped near Heart Lake in a towering mountain valley across from the great Shasta mountain of northeastern California, I relished the vision of another mama having set up a gathering space on the rooftop of her van. With breakfast warm and in hand, that Mama led her two young children up a side ladder on their Chevy to enjoy coffee and muffins with Grandma and a bird’s eye view from above. The sight of them inspired within me a similar vision of adding an additional sleeping space to our van, via a rooftop tent that remains in place above it, as well as a piece of wood to our already existing roof rack in order to turn it into both a stargazing platform and a breakfast nook.

While we were in Ecuador, I purchased a 3-person tent, with a detachable annex room, at a discounted price on a third-party website, and had it shipped to Burt’s Mom’s house. There, the giant box took up 1/6 of her screened-in, front door entryway - for months! Too heavy and cumbersome to affix to the roof by myself (or even with just one other person), this luxury item also required the purchase of an additional roof rack, like a set of crossbars.

I have to admit, the type of puzzle that this vision of mine endeavored was something that I relied heavily on Burt to problem solve. He and I were a great team that way. I would see something and he would erect it. As well, he was a reformed Virgo who could complete tasks to near perfection – like, dishwashing and cleaning the kitchen (though he rarely did this) to being a superior stoner (when he was going through chemotherapy, he purchased multiple strains of Cannabis of which he labeled and contained each separately). Burt also had mad, ‘jack of all trade’ skills. He could change the brake pads on our Mini Cooper and build his own drone from scratch, as well as pick up a guitar or the violin and play a tune by ear. Now, it’s just me and my strengths and weaknesses and though I can get by, I really miss my man. Burt was one-of-a-kind in oh so many ways.

The Universe works in mysterious ways though. It led me to enroll the help of a mechanic named Brian whom I synchronically met after I accidentally mixed up his and my mother in law’s mailing addresses. I had to track him down to retrieve my letters and, in the process, we exchanged phone numbers. Months later, I texted Brian to inquire if he had any mechanic referrals in his area. He responded back that I was in luck because he is a master mechanic. “Wow! How fortuitous,” I thought. After my aunt helped to drop the van off at his shop, Cee and I enjoyed a few days getaway and road trip to Cape Cod with her while Brian ran a pre-trip diagnostic. Highly impressed at the quality of maintenance work I have had done on the van in order to keep it running efficiently and smoothly, Brian agreed to help me get the cumbersome tent on our roof that weekend. On a sunny, Saturday afternoon, he and I spent over six hours on this project in the front driveway of his 4-bedroom, suburban home. We failed at accomplishing my goals - even with Brian’s brawn as well as the help of his also wide-shouldered friend who had greater problem-solving skills than we did and who had stopped in to visit with Brian later that day. Cee and I had run out on our after lunch dessert with Burt's family in order to accomplish this task but as the hours ticked by with only the new set of roof racks having been installed, I began feeling anxious about getting the job done. Another goal of mine was to depart “on time,” as one of my best friends from college had taken some time off from work in anticipation of our arrival at her & her husband’s family homestead in upstate New York. On top of that, Brian only had that day to give.

Days later, with the pop-up tent taking up all of the wrong space inside of the back of our extended van, I called the tent manufacturing company to have someone stay on the line with me as he walked me through the ‘how-to’ of rooftop tent installation. Finally, I could see the puzzle! I hadn’t been able to lead Brian, or his friend, as I could not immediately envision how to install both the roof rack and the rooftop tent. If Burt were here, we would both snap our fingers and our new caravan vision would unfold in grace and ease. I probably still would have met Brian as we needed him on our journey, and Brian would probably still have helped us because he would have taken a liking to Burt. After all, Burt was just so gosh darn like-able with the way he made each person feel seen and heard. I needed to cry about missing Burt, but I didn’t understand it was these feelings that were underpinning my disappointment in failing with the tent. Instead, I choked back my pure emotion out of fear. Way off in the far recesses of my mind, old thought patterns were bouncing around in which I sought to grasp at straws about the reasons for why this part of our next van tour was not - right at this very moment - unfolding seamlessly. "I want it now, Daddy!" [said Violet in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.] “Everything comes too easy, (to me),” “Maybe I don’t deserve (this luxury),” “I have been irresponsible, and this project was too last minute,” etc. were the old tropes posturing to take up space within my bodymind. However, the quick-pull trigger on the gun of guilt just didn’t lay as heavy of a weight on my overall health and well-being as it has in the past. Still, I noticed my nervous system moving back towards a sympathetic, fight or flight response. I wasn't feeling my appetite and I was beginning to frantically rush. For me, these are two tell-tale signs of mania. Instead, I cajoled myself to slow down, relax, trust the process and believe that we would accomplish our goal(s) - elsewhere, if need be. “Just be present with your in- laws,” I reminded myself. Returning to my body, I sank to the floor and stretch-danced on the linoleum tiling as my bonus mother's hands and fingers fluttered across the black and white keys on one of the two baby grand pianos in her living room. "Enjoy bee-ing here," I breathed in as a mantra. Thus, Cee and I also took advantage of my aunt's membership at a large community pool, with diving boards, a slide, and a splash pad as well as in visiting some of my other relatives, like my cousin and my mother’s brother along with his wife of 50+ years. I harbor a lot of childhood nostalgia for visiting my relatives in New Jersey. At nine-years-old, my parents put me on a plane to fly the 3,000 miles from California there alone – without telling anyone on the plane, including the staff! Tentatively venturing off of the tarmac in the bustling airport of Chicago, I ran back onto the plane and blurted out, "Help! I am alone." Eventually arriving at my final destination, I have fond memories of being lovingly cared for while taken on summer adventures and vacations as well as being spoiled by new clothes and toys by a handful of my mother’s sisters, brothers and cousins. What a sweet privilege to be able to provide a similar experience with some of these same characters from my childhood with my son. By the time we arrived outside of Ithaca at the 80-acre homestead of one of my lifetime best friends however, I was feeling overwhelmed and emotionally stuffed from all of the intimate relations that our return to the USA brought with it. After leading a fairly isolated existence in Ecuador, in which we have lots of friends and community but we lived alone in our own casita behind a locked gate, we hit the ground running back here in the USA. We have been staying within other people’s homes, and there is almost nothing more intimate than this. (Aside from sleeping with someone...)

Intimacy is a rewarding experience, and it is also challenging. Personally, I like to watch how these others whose homes we stay within, or outside of, do things as I try my best to keep our now shared life in the ways that they seem to prefer. I also try to be present and emotionally intimate with these others, especially since Time is one of our greatest gifts. Often, I share about my first-hand experiences in life and use language, like I-statements, to demonstrate my full responsibility for my life choices, habits and behaviors.

Most people, however, don’t know how to communicate in this way – or, even how to move through life this way. So, it can be an exhausting experience to navigate relating-ship with others who are out of practice, or simply don’t see the need for themselves to develop greater skills in this arena. Oftentimes, I find these others communicate and behave more from their unconscious, shadow sides as a result. All I can do is focus on myself, however – like on how I am showing up, communicating and doing my best to be both authentic and loving. Hopefully, I am embodying a lot of-self compassion - and making Burt proud 😀 - along the way.

Cara Post-script: One of the most important elements to, or ingredients in, our Caravan - as well as these stories - is the COMMUNITY of people that support and surround it/us. Burt's cancer journey brought our tribe even closer toward us. They have been, and are, steadfast pillars of support in all the ways, in many ways and in whatever ways they can be, especially over the last few years. You can't see them, and I don't often name them, but Cee and I ride on the shoulders of them, as well as our ancestors. Just as with Brian in the story above, mine and Cee's community continues to expand as I allow myself to be guided by the hand of the Universe in order to befriend or know specific people. In result, mine and Cee's journey continues to be carried forward by the generosity of seeming strangers - people we hardly know who give of their time and/or energy to us, often even without expectation. It is in gratitude for all of us that I write. 😀

Preparing for our Third, "Mama Caravan," Tour, NEW JERSEY