What’s It Really Like?

The last few blog posts have been lots of pretty pictures and not much of the real nitty gritty of what life is like on this journey into the unknown. I don’t want to pretend like it’s just an endless summer for us, every day a paradise… it’s not. It’s hard work, it’s intense, and it’s full of emotional swings across the pendulum of my capacity to experience life.

The adjustment from our lives back home – the space, the privacy, the stability, the access to community – still challenges me almost every day. Sometimes I’ll drift home to Boulder and lie on the couch looking out the window at the pine trees in the backyard with the window open, kids off at school, a quiet calm in the air, and I’ll take some deep breaths and feel homesick. Other times I’ll yearn for a good conversation over dinner with a friend, laughing together and relating stories within a context of our relationship that could only have been created over years of time together.

I feel a tension between the little picture and the big picture. The little picture is dust and mud and bees getting into our caravan, and an endless parade of strange faces peering into our lives – which often serve as a canvas for me to project my insecurities (they don’t like us, they think we’re bad parents, they think we’re weird, etc).

The little picture is hitting a pole at a gas station and tearing off the back corner of our caravan and spending hours trying to find a local shop to fix it, and it’s trying to accurately translate “oil change” into French so I can get the van serviced – something so banal back home, but surprisingly challenging to get done over here. It’s getting annoyed at the campground dish-cleaning faucets that only turn on for 5 seconds and spit out lukewarm water while trying to wash up for six people, and it’s holding my breath while emptying the toilet cassette every few days.

It’s also trying to entertain Kiran every day and reeling him in from wandering off a cliff or into traffic, counting down the minutes until his nap time or bed time. It’s getting the kids to settle down each night – bedtime is now around 10:30, leaving little adult-only time. Or cleaning the crumbs off my bed in the van for the thousandth time, or not having enough clean plates to serve breakfast with, or maneuvering our massive double-axle caravan into a tiny right-angled campsite (I’ve become a master at that!).

The little picture isn’t all bumps and grumps though. It’s also lying in the back of the van with the back door open, drinking coffee and looking out at the gentle waves of the Mediterannean, watching sailboats bob on their moorings, feeling the breeze and the sun on my skin (as I’m doing right now). It’s getting to a new spot and exploring our latest playground, finding old stone stairs down a cliff and finding a secret beach at the bottom, with water as clear as air licking the perfect sand. It’s lying back on a lounge chair at a pool reading a book while the kids splash and jump and slide, or eating fresh mussels in a delicious butter sauce at the campground restaurant.

The big picture, on the other hand, is like floating – sometimes aloft, in the clouds, smooth and light. Other times into the abyss, untethered and scared and lonely. It’s contacting the possibility that what we are doing together as a family will reverberate decades – maybe generations – into the future, erasing the limits of what’s possible for our kids in their own lives, and passing the seed of possibility down to their own kids, and on and on. It’s the pioneer spirit of staking a claim in the ground and pronouncing that this land – this life – is mine to live. It’s the exhilaration of exploring uncharted territory, finding untold treasures, and bringing them home to decorate the living room of our spirit selves.

The big picture also feels like honoring every step it’s taken to deliver us to this path, knowing how many stars had to align just right to make this dream come true. I’ve felt the presence of my dad, who died sixteen years ago, more on this trip than ever before. I’ve thought about the lives of my ancestors, all of whom were born here in Europe, and the pioneering journeys they took to create possibilities for themselves and their families, and feeling their protective gaze over us.

The big picture is full of unanswered questions – Why are we doing this? Are we robbing our kids of a sense of stability or are we helping them adapt to an increasingly interwoven global society? What will they think of this in 20 or 30 years? Will I have regrets? Did I run away from something, can I ever really escape? What unknown fear is this trip really being motivated by – boredom, insignificance, being known too well…? The questions ping around my mind on the long drives between campsites and when the chirping birds wake me up before dawn.

The six of us… we love and we fight. We scream and we cuddle. Joli and I have each totally lost our shit at times, unable to stop the anger or frustration from bubbling over. There are no rooms to run to, no doors to slam, no places to put kids into time-out, hardly a corner to curl up in and have a good cry without the whole caravan being a part of it. There are no friends to lean on or call to give us some comfort and perspective, and the constant exposure to strange cultures, places, languages and faces sometimes feels like drifting in outer space.

Yet we persevere. The access to comfort, health, recovery is Presence, as it’s always been. Getting out of defensive postures, dropping the need to be right, not trying to control, to ease up and listen and contact the current of connection that brings us back into alignment. So far, there hasn’t been an incident that wasn’t eased within a few hours, though we’ve been thoroughly tested.

Once, we were driving back to a campground from a big mineral springs complex high in the Pyrenees and stopped by a boulangerie to get some bread for the ride. Aliya saw some Kinder chocolate eggs on the shelf and wanted one. I said No and she said Please and I said No again and she said Please! and I said No as forcefully but quietly as I could because there were other people in the store and I didn’t want to make a scene. She went out to the van to ask the other parent who was also a No, and then she just totally lost it. For the next hour, she screamed, hit us and her siblings, said things like “You’re the worst mommy in the world!” and moaned and sobbed as we drove up and over one of the spectacular passes high up in the Pyrenees – a common juxtaposition on this trip.

In this situation and others like it, I think we have two choices – anger/tension or compassion/relaxation. Things shifted right away when Joli worked through her anger and frustration and reached out with a compassionate hand and voice. She secretly recorded the blowout so we could watch it later and talk about what happened. The kids test us, push us, need us for the most menial things like finding jammies or a stuffy that are almost always right next to them.

I notice a lot more about the kids now that I spend so much time with them. The girls play a lot together and leave Nikko out so he wants to be with us, and I get frustrated with his clinging, then sad knowing that someday it will be gone forever. Aliya just lost both her front top teeth and her new grown-up teeth make her look a lot older, and I realize how fast this time is going. Kiran is saying his first words and watches everything we do with his big blue eyes. He’s got a lot of energy; sometimes we call him Monster K. The other day he was supposed to be taking a nap in his crib. I was outside and heard a loud thud but didn’t think much of it until I went inside a few minutes later to find his crib knocked over, the curtain that separates his room ripped down, and him wandering around the caravan babbling to himself.

There’s a good chunk of down time. We read and browse the internet (when we have functioning service) and the kids play and watch stuff. On the days we allow them to watch Netflix, they watch the worst crap imaginable, and we tangle with the trust them or control them dilemma – do we tell them what they can and can’t watch/do/see/play with, or do we trust their resilience and resourcefulness and support them in making their own choices? What prepares them most effectively for someday going out on their own? I don’t know.

They watch Kiran for five euros an hour – we think this teaches them responsibility and how finances work. But then they can’t wait to spend their money on useless junk that ends up cluttering the caravan, where space is at a high premium. Do we tell them what they can and can’t buy, hopefully imbuing in them a sense of value and self-control? Or do we honor their right to spend their money however they want, hopefully imbuing in them a sense of dignity and self-authorship? I don’t know.

Other moments that come to me now, as I think about what it’s really like…

Seeing and feeling the sun after five straight days of gray skies and steady rain – I’ve never in my life spent so much time exposed to the elements day after day, and my mood is fused to the mood of the weather. Rain makes mud and soaks the edges of our enclosed outdoor awning space, and it creates huge buckets of water on top of the awning that come down in torrential waterfalls. I can feel the whole campground dampened, literally and spiritually, as people on vacation hunker down and sip tea and wait it out, hoping for a break. When the sun comes, it’s like being born again.

Joli and I leaving the kids with a walkie-talkie after Kiran goes to sleep for the night and eating at the usually excellent campground restaurants and getting some precious time to ourselves. We drink copious amounts of local wine and sit across from each other, and spend this time face to face, processing our lives and talking about the possibilities ahead. Should we take the ferry to Mallorca or stay on the mainland and head toward Valencia? Should we use our United Airlines points to fly somewhere warm over the winter, or fly one-way to Bangkok when our caravan trip feels complete? Interestingly, there is hardly any talk of going home to Colorado.

Meeting people along the way, knowing we’ll only have a few days together, and the tingles I get on my skin when they reflect how excited, awed, impressed, or inspired they are by what we’re doing. A lot of the time, we only skim the surface of human connection – maybe a short hello with our new neighbors when we pull into a new campground, or a Bonjour at the local store to get eggs and milk, or a polite chat with the campground proprietors in broken French or Spanish. But sometimes it goes deep fast. One woman in Cornwall who camped in a tent next to us with her young son told me, “You’re really having an impact on people, you know.” She was moved to tears when hearing about us and our journey, and I felt tears too. Whenever someone sees beyond the surface, that this isn’t some kind of chill vacation or retirement or escape or easy ride, when they get what it’s taken and continues to take to make this experience happen, I feel seen and recognized.

Hearing the kids saying “Woah, look at that!” or “Wow, that is so cool!” almost every day, exploring the school-without-walls around them, pointing, smiling, asking a million questions, running towards something, getting scared, getting confident, and at the end of the day calling our caravan Home. When I get out of parent mode, it’s pretty special that I get to witness this formative time in their lives, and tag along and share in their wide-eyed wonder of the world.

Warm morning croissant runs with Kiran… beach sand that doesn’t stick to my skin… the sound of waves lulling me to sleep… the voices of eight different languages all mingling together under common stars… touching a stone that was put up 5,000 years ago and hasn’t moved since… descending the same castle steps that Joan of Arc stepped down centuries ago… finding out-of-the-way coffee roasters and picking up freshly roasted beans to feed one of the few habits we’ve brought over from home… learning the European way of doing dishes (fill up the sink with soapy water, soak, scrub, drip, dry)… the little touches of our home – a table lamp, a sound system, baby toys, a shoe rack, a favorite mug, cereal boxes on the shelf, fuzzy blankets… and so many more moments that make every day worth savoring, noticing, and appreciating.

So that’s what it’s really like for us here in the Kestano Caravan, magical and mundane and everything in between. Sending you all big love and warm hugs – thanks for being on this ride with us!

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11 Responses

  1. Tawny September 30, 2015 / 9:49 pm

    My favorite share to date…I can feel you and appreciate the fullness of your experiences!
    Sending you so much respect and a warm tawny hug!!!!

    • ryelkestano@gmail.com October 7, 2015 / 7:36 pm

      Thanks Tawny, much appreciated. I miss your hugs! Hope you’re doing well, sending much love from the Spanish coast.

  2. Francesca September 30, 2015 / 10:16 pm

    Love, love, love this…

  3. Gérard October 1, 2015 / 12:27 pm

    Ryle et Joli,

    Thanks for sharing the very personal and touching insights you guys are living!

    Bon courage.
    Gérard et Marianne

    • ryelkestano@gmail.com October 7, 2015 / 7:37 pm

      Thanks Gerard! I’m still working on the aerial video, will get that to you soon, I promise!

  4. Paul Kortman October 1, 2015 / 6:46 pm

    Wow, you nailed it with this post. Thanks to your story we’ve bought radios (arriving today) and will be trying to get away in the evenings for walks ourselves. Looking forward to having that time together again!

    Thanks for explaining this challenging way of looking at life, we trade parts of life for other parts of life, it’s not all positive, but it’s a choice we’ve made!

    • ryelkestano@gmail.com October 7, 2015 / 7:36 pm

      Thanks Paul, I really appreciate your comment. Enjoy those walkie talkies, total game-changers!

  5. Deena Kestenbaum October 2, 2015 / 10:54 am

    Ryel, you write so lucidly and candidly, I feel that I am able to follow both your
    interior and exterior journey.

    This piece called to mind my years of wanderlust where I felt I could pack up my children and dog overnight and relocate anywhere.
    And, strangely, now I am so rooted to home and place and community, that travelling
    makes me oddly anxious.

    Thinking of you all and sending you fat hugs

    • ryelkestano@gmail.com October 7, 2015 / 7:35 pm

      Hi Deena, thanks so much for your comment. Your sojourn in Italy with your kids was a big inspiration to me in considering this adventure, so thanks for being a pioneer in proving what’s possible with little kids and extended travel. I’m glad that you’re following along with us! We’re loving Spain so far (especially Barcelona – what a fantastic city!)

  6. Melinda January 5, 2016 / 11:18 am

    Fantastic! Reading this resonates so much with me and the experiences we had on our trip around Australia with our kids. People looking in on a trip like this only see the ‘holiday’ parts, not the blood, mud and tears which go along with those blissful moments. Thanks for the great read!

  7. Viktoriia June 18, 2016 / 9:06 pm

    Thank you for this post! Your family inspires me. Now we are on our 1-month trip to Norway with our three kids and I know almost everything you wrote about. But I can’t stop dreaming about caravan and non-stop trip. Thanks again!

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