Scary Day

Shortly after we snapped the pic above, we were assaulted by a local mentally ill woman. We had gone to a local beach to pack up the rig for our next leg of the journey. I had parked at this same beach a couple of times before finding it a good spot to use. The waves and fresh air seemed to aid in the bizarrely exact process of figuring out just where that last can of dog food is going to fit.

After walking the dog and exploring the beach we had returned and were stacking boxes next to the side doors. The back doors of were also open with the step stool set between making getting in and out much easier.

I had been concerned that we might block traffic since the doors and stool did stick out a bit. An inexperienced driver in a big vehicle might have a problem so I was aware and listening for big engines, or even a “hello” yell.

Instead I heard the sound of our sturdy metal and wood stool being hurled across the parking lot.  A torrent of verbal abuse came in accompaniment. My thoughts of this being a case of road rage swiftly faded as the rant became so vile and profanity laden I was dumbstruck for a moment.

Lord knows I cuss but this was something entirely different.

Refocusing on just what the hell was happening, (this was only the first 3 seconds or so,) I looked for the source of the ruckus and found a deeply weather-beaten face contorted into a roaring maw. Whatever monsters this woman was seeing in place of us filled her with more anger than one body could hold. The wrath oozed from her pores and nearly had a scent. It was horrific to witness.

One of my personal mottos is; I fight well but I don’t fight crazy. Had she simply been an angry driver, freaking out that I was blocking the way. I would likely have been able to handle it. The look on her face told me immediately that there was no recourse. None of the three D’s were going to work here. (Deescalate, Defuse, Defend.) There was nobody present to parley with; the part that was running things only saw demons.

Realizing that I was dealing with stone cold nuts,  I ordered Ducky to get in the van, call 911 & lock the doors. This came out something like, “In NOW, Call 911, lock doors, GO.”

I blocked her bodily as she was working her way around me to get to him. She was talking to him in a wheedling tone, “Oh no honey you don’t have to do that…” I tried to make eye contact and give her the back off vibe but there was nothing I could make eye contact with. I felt the presence of danger and realized this was a fight I couldn’t win.

About ten to fifteen seconds had passed at this point. People were walking their dogs, gulls were keening, and fierce winds buffeted us. There were palm trees above us, outlined by famous SoCal blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

Surreal doesn’t begin to cover it.

After a bit of misdirection I hopped in the van, taking over the call and giving up on the fantasy of grabbing the rest of our things outside. I wanted my stool. I was obsessed with my stool. Then I saw her lunge. Okay, forget the stool.

Once I was in, she paced near the van like a tiger. After a few final declarations, “Yeah, you call the police, you call them, I AM THE POLICE!!” she moved a little further away. We could see her shredding papers, cackling and hooting while blessedly out of earshot.

Dispatch was a little slow, the area falls under harbor patrol jurisdiction and it took a little explaining that we were actually IN the van and couldn’t leave because our stuff was all over. “Do you want us to send someone out?” UM YEAH YA THINK? “Yes, please, that would be great.” Is what I recall actually saying.

After what seemed like forever I was able to open the doors and grab the rest of our things. Harbor Patrol eventually showed up and took down a report. They sounded like they knew who she was and that made me a little sad. I say eventually but it was likely only a few minutes. Time gets sticky when we’re under duress.

Ducky handled it like a trooper. While driving away, we talked about how mental illness works, and how it affects so many of us. We spoke about how being members of the neurodivergent community ourselves we sympathise and respect the sufferer while also understanding that there are boundaries that are not to be messed with. He said he wondered who or what she saw when she looked at us. We agreed it’s probably best we don’t know.

He didn’t fall apart until we got home.

Earlier tonight I got separate calls from both the Harbor Patrol & the local PD. The woman has been arrested and is in jail. They wanted to know if any of our property was damaged and I told them, no, our vehicle is a tank and the stepstool is hospital grade.

I got off the last call with a big sigh of relief.

Tomorrow we leave for San Simeon. We will finish packing in the morning, (bleah) get a later start than I want, (of course,) gripe and fight and argue and eventually get to our campsite.

Then we will make a fire. We will buy firewood for three days, get the pots and pans out, cook over the open flames and look at the stars. The waves will lull us to sleep, the fresh air will awaken our senses and we will talk quietly into the night.

*******

I know this is my first blog post in a while, there are many in the shoot, but I have had trouble producing. This one sort of burst forth. I feel it’s important to mention that in spite of my mocking tone, I don’t feel many degrees removed from those who suffer so horrifically from mental illness. As someone who has racked up enough frequent flyer miles in psych wards to fly to London, I often find myself bemused when I run into someone so out of control. I use a lot of humor to combat this. Our illness is sneaky and a liar and sometimes the only way to shame a liar is to tell the truth in mocking tone. I think that’s why so many comedians have such huge amounts of followers. They’re the only ones telling the truth these days.

 

 

 

Sunrise At Anza-Borrego

I set an alarm for just before sunrise. I’d envisioned us rolling out of the van, bundled in layers, setting up our folding chairs and then settling in for the display. I pictured gloved hands clasping hot drinks, cheeks red with cold, noses peeking out from scarves. However, before I could share my idea, Ducky pointed out we could simply throw open the side bay doors and take in the view from there.

Brilliant child.

Huddled in our sleeping bags, me up on the bench seat and Ducky on the floor with the dog, we watched as the sky began to gently branch out with faint pale yellows. The soft rays playfully wove themselves within dull grey clouds, transforming dull eggshell sky into wakeful robin blue.

There came a burst of gold. A bridal train of bold rose accompanied the surreal glow, symbolizing a marriage of light and shadow over the desert. An unequal union: the former was clearly dominant, pushing out the latter like a shrewish housewife.

These bright shades quickly faded to a dusky pink, tangerine and sunflower hues gentling into smoke and ivory. The atmosphere again settled to dun and the landscape faded to a winter palette of olive and brown. Not a hint remained of the show we had witnessed.

Ducky went back to sleep. I stayed awake, determined to get coffee using the last few gasps of my propane-fueled mini stove. There was much pleading. “Come on just get the water to a boil and then die!”

My instant coffee was prepared with semi-hot water, questionably spoiling milk, and buckets of raw sugar to mask the taste.

I sat at our table (what would turn out to be the second of three separate campsites during our stay,) and watched as a jackrabbit hopped by barely six feet away.

He paused in front of me, and we had a moment. “Are you a predator?” “Yes. But a fat, lazy, industrialized one.” He clearly considered me harmless and hopped away languorously.

After he moved out to sight, there came a moment here of near-perfect stillness. The only sound I could hear was from a bloke making his morning brew a few sites away. I glanced over and he nodded, clearly not interested in breaking the silence either.

This was a necessary hour.

I need nature as much as my daily medication. They are equal partners in the dance that helps me remain myself. I had been aching and soul-weary. Now I am refreshed and renewed. Would that all days could begin this way.

Tidepool day

I am watching Ducky hurl himself across rocks. He is trying to beat an incoming tide while on a quest to identify the large mass of scurrying creatures that are fleeing in his wake. I’m not sure if this behavior would be approved by naturalists of old, and I’m enjoying the mental image of men in full Victorian garb trying to keep up with my jeans-clad son.

There are sea stars the size of dinner plates in rich hues of maroon and orange. The former ones are hard to see nestled beneath their brightly colored siblings. The anemones here are also larger than life: touch-tank specimens have nothing on them. Their long stalks jut out from the rocks like tree trunks with leaves made of sticky, fern green tentacles. Sinuous strands cling gently to our explorative fingers when we reach into the cool saltwater. We are seeking connection amongst these elegant ambassadors of the sea.

I hear a yell and suddenly my boy is off like a shot, carrying our large hiking pole above his head like a spear. He is running to impale whatever beast has been sent from the depths of his extensive imagination. I wonder if other kids his age still play these kinds of games.

Times like these I have none of the doubts that often assail me about what we are doing. Homeschooling is so clearly the answer for a kid like this. How could I ever think otherwise?

I can no longer picture him sitting in a classroom, being beat down for his enthusiasm, told to “sit down, keep quiet, and learn.” I know that’s no good for him and am no longer sure that’s good for most children. This feels odd to admit because I used to be anti-homeschooling.

Ask the me of last year and I would have said it was completely ineffective way to educate. That it was populated by a community made of the privileged. I pictured nothing but anti-vaxxers, born again Christians, and confused hippies.

I loved being involved in our school. While not a full-on PTA, fundraising, show-up-to-every-event-volunteering parent, I did do my fair share and loved the community I had sort of found. It was a tenebrous experience for me due to the fact that many of the more involved parents were SAHM’s and I was a very busy single mother with then as yet undiagnosed disabilities.

Those disabilities affected my son from both directions. Affecting my ability to parent along with my genetics which handed him a stew-pot of mental health challenges.

The sky is turning coral with streaks of gold and dolphins play in the surf while Ducky tackles seaweed underfoot wearing slippery shoes. My alphabet-soup-of-labels child is safe within his “nature cocoon”- a space that nurtures him as well as I do. Perhaps better.

I am getting cold but don’t want to pull him back to camp, where the dog, campfire and dinner await. I want to watch him bounce about, his arms waving frantically when he calls me over to see the next great discovery.

This is homeschooling. The thought comes from nowhere, ephemeral and strange. Up until now I have only been identifying the classic work as school. English and math, grammar and Spanish. These are “school” in my mind.  Moments of running and playing on the beach might stretch into the area of “field trips” to me, but somehow not School. This, in spite of my constant complaint about how kids his age need to move more. That sitting in a classroom lined up like assembly line wasn’t going to teach them anything but how to conform. That they need to go outdoors, run, navigate pocket knives and trees, and bugs.

How did I let myself remain so divergent? I have no idea how I wasn’t able to see both side and suspect it has something to do with my overwhelming literalism. I am often hamstrung by that.

It’s time to go back to camp. I need to stoke the fire, wrestle the huge iron grate over it, go fetch water from the pipe, and attempt to make Mac’n’cheese. It’s pretty much all Ducky will eat these days which suits me fine. Our footprints in the sand are the only ones present and we comment on that while we make our way back. We hear a sound and freeze watching a rabbit hop into view, the brave little bunny refusing to move until the last of a fresh green snack is done.

The campsite is deserted. After cooking we settle in with nature books identifying birds, shells, and plants found during the day. The full moon rises over us, waves crash nearby, our fire is crackling and popping.

I take a deep breath and look around.

This is our school.

Safety Pin Nation

Ah, the safety pins.  I fear I am late to the party since this has been trending on Facebook for more than three weeks which means it’s likely doing its anticipated swan dive into online obscurity.

The last time I wore one of  these was back in the day when they were called “friendship pins.” We children all had bloody pinpricks on our fingertips from decorating them properly.  The beads were tiny and the bars sharp, after all. However, like many other innocent items, they are now shouldering the weight of representation. This creates an opportunity to become iconic:  

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Alive and well after decades.

Or forgotten:

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Pretty much dead on arrival.

Although the time for this discussion seems to be passing, I find myself still somewhat on the fence. When I first planned on writing about this, I asked my friends for their thoughts. I received a lot of passionate replies, most of which boiled down to two stances:

Some folks love them and feel that it’s a way to express solidarity. As one person stated, “it’s not about a trend or ‘look at me I’m part of this.’ For me it’s a silent protest to go along with my very vocal [ones.]”

Some folks hate them, claiming they are only out there to “make white people feel better” and calling them the latest in “slacktavism.”

One major media outlet was so bifurcated about the issue they had posts both praising and denouncing it literally from one day to the next.

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Editing by Janus.

My feelings were further complicated when I was at an event last week and was offered and encouraged to wear a one. When I declined, I got a vibe I really did not like. It was as if these total strangers suddenly felt they were on shaky ground with me.

What supportive, liberal, forward thinking “NWL*” would turn down such an item after all?

What I wanted to tell the people thrusting the pin at me was that I was still working through my feelings about these particular objects. That I initially loved the idea of them, but feared that they might lead to more harm than good.  I worried abusers could wear one to be put into an even better position to bully. That trendsters might wear one and not understand the responsibility that came with it. That someone with limited abilities/spoons might put one on and find themselves a target.

Instead, I walked away feeling confused and thrown. I was at a convention and was rushing off to the next shiny and really didn’t have time to reflect. I did however observe and mentally record my thoughts for the rest of the weekend.

Seeing these bright slivers of metal on the breasts of people I know well absolutely warmed my heart. The ones who clearly recognize what it means to put a pin on. The ones who understand the import of what they are doing. The ones who know what possible actions they are offering to undertake should push come to shove.

The strangers I saw wearing them left me with the impression I have of ALL strangers. “I will wait and see what you bring to the space we are in before thinking anything else about you.” The careful neutrality of my reaction taught me a lot about how these might not be generating the intended space that is wished for.

It seems like this is one of the many causes of the month that seem to germinate in the liberal world. They are birthed, trend for a bit, fade away, and then there is a new way to declare oneself an ally.

Personally, I feel it’s best to simply BE an ally, to the best of one’s ability, quietly, without fanfare, one day at a time.

That’s just me.

After much self reflection, the thought of wearing one myself is out. I don’t want someone judging me by whether or not I wear a pin. I want them to judge me by my actions. If I see someone in trouble I will speak up, step in, shout out, etc. if I am unable to do any of these things, I will still do what I can.

I do miss friendship pins though. Maybe I’ll buy some beads and risk pinpricks again. Instead of a plain pin, I will decorate them in rainbow hues and favorite colors and give them away to my friends. In doing so I’ll be letting them know I honor them, that I support them, and yes, that given an opportunity will stand in front of them to protect them from harm.

They are my people after all.

*Nice White Lady- often applied to me, not how I self-identify.

On Christmas

The holidays used to infuse me with joy, cheer, and bliss. I would decorate my home making sure to have scents, sweets, and sights all carefully balanced around the season.

This will be our first holiday in the rig, and though I celebrate our vagabond life, it’s times like this one can feel put out in the cold. Not having a home wasn’t really a choice and though we’ve adapted with enthusiasm, it feels strange to be in such a different space.

Perhaps because I no longer identify with the religious and spiritual aspects of the season it’s a bit of a double whammy- having both home and childlike beliefs absent creates new open space which isn’t necessarily bad, but isn’t entirely comfortable either.

I have always believed in seeking light in dark times and right now it feels hard to do so.

I am just not feeling it this year. Every time I see Christmas lights it’s a shock to my system, and part of me goes, “Oh yes, that.” They do not bring cheer, nor dread, nor any of the past feelings that I have experienced. I am just… neutral.

I truly just want -and plan to- go back to a place where we have no reception, a roaring fire, and the sounds of the waves.  A time of stillness and quiet is what my soul is craving. Not the hustle-bustle of crazy Christmas shoppers, the rather overwhelming sights and sounds that feel like they are pounding their way into my skull, and absent the seemingly overwhelming demands of the season.

The only thing I am looking forward to is it all being over. The lights put away and stored, the trees no longer glimmering out of windows, the carols silenced, and the merchandising done. I am feeling quite Grinch-ish it seems.

For Ducky’s sake I’m not being a complete grump. The rig is being decorated. We have decals and lights and I am in the process of finding the world’s smallest tree. (I’m open to suggestions here.)

I am excited that the small amount of room available has cut through the “gimmies” that past years have brought on. Ducky’s understanding of our new life has led to his making only one small request. This hits me as both lovely and unusual; it’s like chewing on a new food and not being sure if I like it yet. My only regret is that there are so many things I would like to buy for others; I truly love giving gifts and very much miss being able to do so.

I know that I am not alone in struggling through the winter. I have always said that the reason there are so many celebrations that focus on light is due to the fact that we need that in the season of short days and long nights.

Being out in the rig is good because it forces the maximum hours of sunlight the day has to offer- there is no sleeping in when the sun beckons.

So, I will write to you from there and let you know about the sound of the birds, the smell of the ocean, and the crackling of the fire. The wind will blow through the trees. We will likely see woodrats and deer, maybe a bobcat or two, and definitely hawks. We also plan to go see the Elephant seals who are pupping and battling right now.

We will come to the end of the year celebrating the glory of nature and find our light there. That doesn’t sound too bad, come to think of it.

Dear Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

My name is Declan West. I am 11 years old and live and travel around the U.S. in a 17 foot van with my mom & my poodle Princess.

Last week I went to a campsite with no phone or internet reception. When my mom and I left we turned on the radio and found out who won the election. I was really upset. I know I have to respect the position but I feel like I can’t respect him. I told my mom, “He hasn’t done anything yet; it’s what he has said that scares me.” She suggested I write to you.

I watched the first presidential debate and Mr. Trump was very rude, he interrupted and interjected while Secretary Clinton was speaking. Going off of what I have heard, he thinks that LGBTQ folk and Mexicans are bad. My Popsie is an American of Mexican descent, so I am scared that he is going to get deported. I identify as queer and I hope I don’t have to pretend that I am straight.

Please do something, anything, to protect the people.

Besides those issues, please try and protect the national parks. I spent my birthday in August at the Grand Canyon and have visited many parks over the summer. I am a nature boy and I want to collect every junior ranger badge from every state and national park. Please don’t let Mr. Trump sell these national treasures off to rich people so they ruin them and replace them with things like oil rigs and resorts. They need to be left alone, not turned into something that we already have enough of.

I hope you get this letter in time otherwise it would be really awkward. Please take this letter into consideration and try to do something about my requests.

Sincerely, Declan aka Ducky

Picture Day for Homeschoolers

I remember the stress picture day used to cause. The very notice used to send me into a flapping tizzy, often dealt with by my completely forgetting about it until the day before… or after. There were at least two years when Ducky went off to school in regular clothes. Ironically enough, those ended up being far better pictures than the ones where I freaked out over putting together a perfect outfit.

Today I went online and plugged in my ten minute reservation to show up in a town a few miles north. We will have pictures taken and posted online for family to peruse and purchase. That’s it. Sweet and simple. 

This is the best idea ever” I thought when I read the invite “Homeschoolers have picture days, who knew?”

We are still brand spanking new to this world of homeschooling, a world that I swore I would never set foot in. I was also, for the record, never going to be a single mom, never going to be a vagabond, never going to medicate my child, and was also never going to “go casual” (wearing nothing but tees and jeans.)

Yeah. You know what they say. I’m not going to say it. I’m just not.

*whisper from the crowd, “Never say never…”*

Sigh.

Teaching at home was something I felt I would not ever be able to do, “We can’t spend that much time together, we will kill each other.” “I can’t be his teacher, I dropped out in the fifth grade.” “I can’t teach math.” “I can’t teach English.” “I can’t afford it.” “I don’t have time.” “I don’t have the self-discipline.” “I am way too scared I will fail him.”

Many of these fears are still present. However, financial woes are greatly lessened when one only needs pay for gas and food. I am also now afforded the luxury of time and therefore am able to give more of myself. The school we have enrolled in helps us get supplies with the state allotted amount of funding Ducky’s entitled to. A brick and mortar school would have claimed these funds and then pooled them as resources for all their students. Now, with the approximately $2200 hundred we get annually I am able to personally tailor programs and curriculum to suit his exact needs.

Our journey seems much brighter than before. For all the times I’ve had to say “No” to points of interest, I can now say “Yes.” Field trips are covered, as are music lessons, sports, summer camps and of course textbooks, online programs, and science kits.

I am in heaven.

Today Ducky has worked on Math, Spanish, Language Arts, & is about to go do “P.E.” with me (walking along the beach for at least 5,000 steps. We will likely play PokemonGo and discuss the pros and cons of desalination for drought conditions. ) I have gone over his draft for his English report (he will have to submit a report every week on anything from articles read online, to books, to field trips.) I am also searching for the best math textbook for sixth graders.

I think this is the most involved I’ve ever been in my child’s education. I have an honest to god syllabus! I have a daily schedule! I have 10,000 emails from the wonderful program we have selected and am about to curl up in the fetal position!

Okay, so it’s a little overwhelming too.

I am taking deep breaths.

I’m also contacting his teacher near daily- oh, yes, we get a teacher, did I mention? She is a rock star and I am giddy at the thought of having guidance from a degreed instructor. I am also slowly exploring which textbooks I will actually need vs. the ones that we want.

But first I am going to hit the van’s teeny tiny closet and pull out Ducky’s lone collared shirt. I will take him for a haircut this afternoon and maybe even let him get lightning bolt fades on the side. We will purchase gel, practice spikes (or perhaps even a fauxhawk,) and talk about background colors.

After all, it is picture day on Friday.