I Want to Van Go…gh

by Jennifer Isenhart

I have a strong desire to travel in life and for art. I always have had.

I enjoy seeing new scenes, new people, having new experiences. It feels so freeing to not see the same mundane, closed in buildings I see in my city.

As a person of meager means, though, I know camping will be the economic way to do this and I am more than fine with this. Camping was truly one of the only ways we had vacations as kids and we loved it.

Unfortunately, I married a man that doesn’t like to travel and also hates camping. My husband and I are polar opposites in just about everything. However, I was still determined to get him to travel with me.

Years ago, I was looking up buying campers…dreamily. I am kind of zany in a way that even though I can’t buy things, I plan what I want and believe one day I will have it.

I dream. I dream big.

Well, my father-in-law got me a camper for my birthday a few years back. I was so excited. Only thing was, we didn’t have a vehicle to pull it. That was my next goal, but before I could achieve it, my father-in-law sold the camper a year later.

I was devastated because in my mind an air conditioned camper was the only way my husband would travel with me and it was also a blow to me for my art business because I wanted to eventually use it to travel to art shows, too.

I understood, but I was still upset.

For the next few years, I continued to work my two jobs (16-19 hour days just to make ends meet) while creating art, but it was getting increasingly harder create because of the time constraints of working so much. I was desperate still for travel regardless. I was drowning in the mundane of working on my feet between 4 walls every ounce of my days for almost two decades. Seldom having days off, hardly seeing my family, and friends. Who had time for friends when my kids barely saw me as it is.

So, eventually, we took a couple short family trips and I got in a 3 day girl’s trip. Each trip was more than appreciated and we had a lot of fun, but I still I yearned for more. I missed my camper and I still wanted to create and be able to travel to the art fairs around the country. I still wanted to see the views. I wanted to…finally…live.

I am not talking about skirting my responsibilities. I don’t avoid my responsibilities. In fact, I drown myself and have lost my identity in the process of taking care of my responsibilities. I spent 15 years being the sole provider for my older kids, during my marriage to their father, and especially as a single mother. Without going into detail, I was cleaning up a lot of their father’s financial messes and eventually filed fraud against him when it was evident we were no longer together. Then, he and his mother refused to watch his kids to get back at me, so I had to get all day daycare and I had to pay for that as well. Meanwhile, I was sick and the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was at this time. Still, I worked 16-19 hour days waiting tables, working retail 6-7 days a week because I had no other options that I could see at that time. There wasn’t dating. There were few friends. I hardly saw my family. I was drowning, getting sicker, and feeling alone.

I have a lot of forgiveness and empathy in me because I know that I also need forgiveness and empathy in return. So, one day I reached out to an ex-boyfriend who had treated me horribly in high school on myspace. Yep, myspace. He was receptive, he and I could still hold a good conversation, etc. Anyway, several years later, we were married with a child.

This husband had messed up his back while he was in the military and has had a double spinal fusion since we’ve been together, so he struggles with pain and is on disability. Not military disability, that’s a whole other thing altogether, but disability nonetheless.

Meaning, I am still the breadwinner, but now, I have help raising my kid this time around and I wasn’t dealing with my signature being forged on loans and bounced checks, he wasn’t completely emptying out the bank accounts when I could barely keep our kids fed, he wasn’t getting our cars repossessed in the middle of the night, I wasn’t having to bail him out of jail constantly just so I had a babysitter when I worked 2-3 jobs, he wasn’t getting my bank accounts closed or my wages garnished. Most of all, I didn’t have to feel the guilt of leaving my child with people that are just trying to get paid and were indifferent to my children. A mother’s guilt is real and it never goes away. Even though, I knew I was doing what I had to do, I still dwell on this guilt because this life affected my older children tremendously and this was not the childhood I ever wanted to give them.

In just the last couple years, due to a friend advocating for me because of my strong work ethic and the struggle I had gone through, I was given a job that made my work/life/art balance more attainable. No longer, after a couple decades almost nonstop, was I working 16-19 hour days just to go to bed when I got home and roll out of bed to go to work again with little time for family, regretfully most of all, with little time for my kids.

I didn’t work like that because I wanted to, I worked like that because I had to and I needed a f%cking break. Excuse the language, but I can’t emphasize this enough.

I wish I had found this job years earlier when my kids were being raised by daycare, my world was crumbling, and I was barely surviving, but I will take what I can get. Though my older two children didn’t get the best of their mother, my youngest can.

Now, I have more time for art. I have more time for travel. I have more time to live. I especially have more time for my family.

However, I don’t have that camper any longer, but I still look up options for campers all of the time.

Which brought me to the camper van movement.

I was on my typical YOUTUBE binge in the mornings when video after video of these vans turned into rv campers played. I was blown away. Typical Gen-Xer, I am late to everything it seems. How had I not seen this before?

Could this be attainable? Could I travel for my art, see new scenes, be with my family, and still…possibly…afford it?

Problem # 1,RV prices are ridiculous and I have no idea how the boomers have been able to afford theirs.

Problem #2, some campers need to be pulled by a truck or suv of some sort.

The solution to these dilemmas could very well be a renovated van.

A van, though, converted into a place to stay on vacation or travel for art shows…I might be able to somehow do this…maybe.

I get hair-brained ideas all the time, never to be produced, but the camper thing has never subsided in me. The idea of making an income with art while watching my children grow up never evaded me.

One day, and soon, I am sure, I will have a van fixed up and my youngest, and hopefully, all my children, and I can enjoy life together traveling, selling art, and…finally…just living life.

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