Camping – The American Dream – Jeannette’s Story

This morning, I opened a website inquiry in my email that contained quite a story, one that mirrors many other stories like it in the nation even my own family.  I read in fascination the progression of her life to date and marveled at what she and her family have accomplished.  The future customer’s name is Jeannette. The picture is of her and her family experiencing their first snowfall. Following is her story in the words she sent our website:

“Hello, my name is Jeannette.  I am a work from home mom of two.  My husband Eddy and I have married going on 8 years this year.  We both grew up in Miami, Florida and decided to move out of the hustle and bustle of the big city last year.  Our kids are feral, wild, sweet and loving kiddos that crave adventure, so we moved to the Midwest.  Yes – Omaha, Nebraska.  We laugh and call ourselves the only Cubans in the Midwest.

We moved for a slower paced and more economical life.  We are, as many Americans are, a paycheck to paycheck family.  Here is some background on us.  Both my husband’s and my parents immigrated from Cuba around the time of the Castro revolution.  Our parents were children then and the decision to leave home, comfort, culture and family was all on the shoulders of our grandparents. Our grandfathers were military men and the regime take over meant they would be exiled or murdered. My father came to this country at 5 years old through the Catholic Pedro Pan movement. It was a movement put together by the Catholic Church whose mission was to remove young boys from the island before they were taken by the regime and turned into soldiers. My father in law was brought to this country in the trunk of a car.  Our families persevered, managed to learn the language, get jobs, provide and set roots. Our grandfathers went from high ranking military officials to janitors and grocery store clerks.

Fast forward two generations and here we are. I am the first person in our family to graduate college. My husband, who learned very young that he had a learning disability, became the second high school graduate in his family. Something neither set of parents could accomplish. I became a high school teacher after graduating and gave it all up to move to Omaha and stay at home with my youngest. Something I never knew I wanted until I had children.

Living in bumper to bumper traffic, the commute, the long hours and only seeing my kids for a few hours was a life I knew I hated. Miami life is, paying $1500 in rent for a 2/2 apartment in a bad neighborhood. My husband had a pretty good job working for a luxury cruise line. He worked in the corporate offices and was lucky enough to be approved to transfer to Omaha.

Now let’s s get to our reality. As children of immigrant parents, we are not a part of the generation (we are both in our mid/late 30s) that received a car on our 16th birthday, a college fund, a savings for a house, a house! No college fund meant student loans for me, no matter how hard I tried (while working fulltime and being a fulltime student) scholarships were far and few. My husband went into the work field at 14. His father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when my husband was 7. My father in law was a fighter, optimistic, loving and the funniest man I have ever met. His will for life stretched his 6 months to live to 20+ years. Life with a disabled parent wasn’t easy, so my husband got a job the first chance he had and began to help the family. When he graduated high school, he knew that college was not for him. He worked hard at not letting his learning disability get in the way of a good job. He worked in warehouses with cargo when he was younger and it motivated him to find a way to work in an office environment. After many call center jobs and learning the ropes in travel, he found his niche in corporate travel.

We met while working at a cruise line office, even though it may sound that our pasts were connected, we didn’t meet until we were in our 20’s. We dated, got engaged, married and our daughter arrived 8 months after our wedding. We talked about the future, visualized the life we wanted with house, cars and vacations. It never once occurred that the American Dream for us might never happen. I had my daughter summer after graduating with my Bachelors and went to work right after. At first the only job I could find was an aid to children with disabilities. It was for Miami county public schools and it paid a whopping $8.50 an hour. The position was only available part time so I took it. My husband had been let go from his job and was working wherever and however. I will admit there were times where the electricity would be cut off and trips to social security to apply for food stamps (which always got denied) was our reality. We managed. Our family is not in a financial position to lend money, so we never had that cushion of asking my parents for help. That safety net does exist for us. Both my parents are on disability and on a fixed income. The check comes on the 1st and by the 15th it’s gone. So not only were we trying to provide for ourselves but it is our custom to take care of our parents as well.

Here I was, holding a bachelor’s degree making minimum wage. How could this be? My husband is a fighter just like his dad was and after many setbacks he landed the job he has now. I eventually found a teaching position at my old high school. Our life improved and we decided to grow our family. After a heart breaking miscarriage, my son arrived 2 years ago. My heart was full but something still didn’t seem right. Miami is a city of many different classes, privilege next to poverty, and middle class next to the filthy rich. We were stuck. Our total family income was around $85k a year and we still couldn’t manage to wiggle ourselves into the American Dream that had been painted for us. We couldn’t see how those hopeful talks of a big house with a yard and two cars and family vacations could become our reality. Our friends that were home owners were either gifted down payments for their wedding or given family homes. Our families were never home owners.  It is tough to own a home when you live paycheck to paycheck.

By the time I turned 30 I hit what I called a 30 year crisis. I became depressed and it all hit me at once. This definition of success and where we should be by this age was never going to happen to us. I hated going to work, a job I dreamt about since I was 17, because it meant I wouldn’t be able to  see my kids wake up, I would not be able to take my daughter to school, I would not watch my son grow up. I would pick them up, sit in traffic, get home by 6pm or 7pm only to put them to bed and do it all over again. I hated the feeling of waiting for Friday only to dread Saturday because it meant Sunday was the last day I could be with my family. After many tears and some soul searching we knew we needed to redefine what our future was going to look like. We knew we needed to define what the American Dream was for us.

We were always minimal people never wanting too many things. I was never the girl that loved shopping nor was my husband the guy that wasted money on useless things. We started to research, specifically Instagram! We found a world of families that had sold it all and moved in to RV’s, campers, trailers and even vans. They were fulltime traveling families and I wanted in. It was like clouds had parted and light shined down while angels sang. This is it. This is our American Dream, our future. I researched everything I could about fulltime RVing.

Now, I should fill you in on something. We have never been camping, been inside an RV and pretty much never left Florida. We did get our Disney trips in and since my husband was working for a cruise line, we got to travel on a discount. But there was nothing to compare what it would be like to live in a moving home. I knew we needed to find out how to make money while traveling. Since I am a certified teacher, I quit my brick and mortar teaching job and transition to working from home. All I need is Wi-Fi and a laptop and I can work form anywhere. My husband’s job has a corporate office in Omaha and the cost of living is less than half than it is in Miami. He requested a transfer and it was approved.

Since I am at home with my toddler, my work has transitioned to part time which means that our income is now at about 55-60k a year. We knew we needed to save money to get a truck and a travel trailer. After a year and a half of saving and side jobs, we did it. We got ourselves a truck! We became proud owners of a 2018 Silverado 2500. Coming from bad credit due to our move and situation, we had to give more of a downpayment than expected which really put a dent on our savings. We bought the truck a month before moving to Omaha.

So let’s just say we didn’t know if we were going to be able to afford the move. But we did it. We moved. We have been living in Omaha for 6 months now. It’s been pretty great experiencing seasons besides summer. We have visited State parks and are planning to go tent camping. The move to the Midwest has really given us more family time, adventures, nature and overall less stress. Although life here is cheaper and slower, we are finding ourselves still managing to keep up. We have not been able to fly my parents out to be with their grandkids because we are still catching up from the move. The move here was supposed to catapult us closer to the RV dream and although our quality of life has gotten better, we still are stuck. We started planning this new life for ourselves 3 years ago. We called it our 5 year plan. The plan was to hit the road by spring 2021 and visit as many National Parks as we could that first year of traveling. We have researched, talked to fulltime RV families, subscribed to Trailer Life magazine, been to RV shows and are keeping a journal about our future. There is nothing I think about more everyday (besides my children) than this life. The days, months and years keep passing and we are exactly where we were. Struggling to stay afloat but fighting every day to give a quality life to my children. I want to show them how beautiful this country is. I want to be with them as much as I can. I want them to see hands on all the beautiful places this land has and meet all the wonderful people that live in it.

We keep working, keep trying to save and provide. So you may be asking, if you haven’t already, why I am sending you this [really long] letter. The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s more therapeutic for me than anything, maybe it’s a grain of sand of hope that we reach that fantasy.  Congratulations Martos family you have won a million dollars – kind of like wishing you won the lottery. You buy the ticket and have talks about what you would do with the money. It feels good at the time to dream of a possible shift in life.

So here is me wishing that this letter is my lottery ticket. Perhaps someone reads it and changes our lives forever or maybe someone has a laugh and is inspired. Wherever the wind takes my story, that is where it’s meant to be. In the meantime, our story of hard work, love and family will keep evolving and growing. May whoever reads this letter find solace in that we are all doing the best we can, and that’s ok.”

My response to her is below:

Jeannette,

 Thank you so much for visiting our website and for sharing your fascinating story.  You dream of full timing in an RV is one that nearly everyone I know has.  Some accomplish this, others, just live the dream on weekends and vacations.  Before you embark on this huge undertaking, I would recommend buying a small camper to use on the weekends with the family.  It will give you a chance to learn about camping firsthand, and is a great opportunity to explore the great state of Nebraska and surrounding areas.  Start small.  Many families think that they have to dive into the deep end of the pool, but I have found it better to start in the shallow end and work up.  There are so many areas that are in the Omaha metro area or within just a few hour’s drive.

 

 

There are many things to consider when making a decision as life changing as this, and you don’t want to run into something, spend the money and then regret it later.  Rebuild your credit, take the kids on day trips to city and state parks.  Make picnics, bring their bicycles and just have a beautiful day in nature without all the cacophony of city life.  Our daughter is nearly 30 years old, and some of her dearest memories are of camping.  One Easter weekend, we camped locally, and I stayed up late to hide Easter eggs all around our campsite for her to find in the morning. I filled the eggs with spare change from the car console.  We didn’t have much money then, but she will never forget that weekend, and we were just camping in Bellevue, not some exotic spot.  The most important thing for her was time with us with no distractions, no matter how little time we had.

 Camping is about making memories more than the grand adventure.  Some of the campers we took out were small fold downs, small travel trailers and the such.  We would go to Adventureland in Des Moines every year from the time she was 2 and camp in their campground.  It is connected to the park, so if it got too hot during the day, or if she started getting cranky, we would walk back to the camper, make lunch and take naps.  We would then go back to the park for a few hours after the heat of the day, and just walk around or ride the rides.

 There are so many adventures out there.  Don’t get locked into full time camping, and miss other opportunities.  Also, if you have any questions or just need a little advice, I would be more than happy to help out.  I would also like to ask you if I could share your story on our blog.  I found it fascinating and very similar to my family’s story in places. If you would prefer to not share, I would recommend that you find a way to get that story out there.  You may want to even want to think about starting your own blog.  I think it would be something that you could get a readership on, and I know a couple of people who might be able to help you get on the road. 

 Thank you again, and welcome to Omaha.  

Here is Jeannette’s response. 

“Hello Nancy.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. To be honest I am in a bit of a shock that someone took the time to write back. When I decided to write down our story that morning, something had come over me. All my feelings were bottled up and needed an outlet. I started to write and couldn’t stop. When I was done I felt great and I knew I needed to share it. I am happy that you connected with my story and in turn shared a memory with me. It is a nice reminder to be in the moment and make the best of it. I hope I can give my children as many of those memories as I can. 

 We are loving Omaha so far. Although this being our first winter (ever) it has been a learning process. We’re still in the wonderment phase when it snows; it’s absolutely beautiful. We have been lucky to have made some pretty amazing friends this short time we’ve been here and we were gifted a year pass to the state parks. We love it. We visit Mahoney often for the kids and have visited Platt and Two Rivers. Some friends have invited us to Palisades in South Dakota for our first official camping experience. 

 I am happy to say that come these next few months we will have officially paid off all our credit cards. It’s something that we have been working hard on and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Any purchase, no matter the size, is always a scary thing for me. A life of digging out of holes has conditioned me to set goals and put on blinders. But, I am open to all possible moments I can create memories with my family. We have looked at renting campers in the past but it has always been too expensive.

 

Thank you for considering my story for your blog. Of course you can absolutely share it. I have been wanting to start a blog for some time but to be honest I wasn’t ready to share something that personal to me and my family. We did open an instagram account called bumper2bumper_living. It’s a name my husband and I came up with one day to document our travels. I hope to have a travel blog documenting what it’s like to live, teach and work while traveling in a camper. 

 Any help you can offer to guide me would be amazing. Thank you again for sharing your time with me. I wanted to add a picture of us so you had faces to the story. 

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