Let’s make it suck less.
It’s been one week since The Dream Catcher thundered back up my driveway for the first time since July. Baxter, Laney, and I tumbled out of the van into the darkness of our yard, and Seth opened the back door of the house to let us in.
The home I hadn’t set foot in for 15 weeks smelled strange, and it was weirdly immaculate. We’d rented to an Airbnb guest for the weekend, a source of revenue to fund our adventures. An unfamiliar floral aroma greeted me—someone else’s laundry detergent? Seth explained that our long-term guests in August may have spilled some. I immediately noticed that the lid to the recycling bin was missing, and a squeaky-clean bottle of Dawn had replaced the well-worn Palmolive dish soap bottle I’d kept on my sink since I bought the house in 2008. I’d been refilling that old bottle for fifteen years; it came from the apartment I’d rented while I waited to move into my new house. A guest had taken this historical artifact out with the trash while I’d been driving through Alaska.
I’d already been grumpy about coming home, and losing that piece of nostalgia pushed me over the edge. I stomped upstairs, collapsed on my king-sized bed, and refused to unload the van. Two weeks earlier, I’d been anticipating a warm winter on the beach in Baja, so being thrust into the cold and gloom of a New Hampshire November flipped the switch on my seasonal depression. I felt all the familiar anxiety about returning to small-town life that propelled me to leave last summer, unsure if or when I would return.
I woke up miserable the next few mornings. The stress of van life and 14,000 miles of driving had worn me out. My limbs were concrete pilings. I was coming off a cocktail of psychiatric medications that I’d started two weeks earlier in the hopes of alleviating my anxiety, but the pills had left me comatose every day until noon. Finally the doctor told me to stop the meds until my follow-up appointment a month later.
Unexpectedly trading van life for everyday life (and having Wi-Fi for the first time in months) meant there were suddenly a million things to catch up on. Instead of cruising through the national parks of Utah, I spent the second week of November lying in bed paying bills and wading through email. My concrete legs refused to go outside, protesting the cold, gray days that were pitch black by 5 o’clock. When I left the house to drive to an appointment, I looked at the measly mountains I’d once thought were majestic and whispered, “I hate you!” I wanted to be back in Alaska, where glaciers spilled from the surrounding peaks as I camped by the ocean. I wanted to be on my way to Baja, doing desert trail runs with my dogs at sunset. I did not want to be here, in New Hampshire, in November.
Yet I knew that here is where I had to be, for the foreseeable future. Here is the state where, after six months of classes and questionnaires, home studies and background checks, Seth and I were finally approved to adopt a child from foster care. Here is where the boy they matched us with was waiting to meet us, though he didn’t know it yet. Here is the only place where I would have a chance of fulfilling my dream of becoming a mom.
The days I waited to meet this boy were agonizing. Should I get excited? What if he was not like they said he was during the Zoom call that convinced me to abandon my adventure and come home? Did I have the time, money, or energy to turn around and retrace the 2,000 miles I’d driven to meet him? I didn’t unpack the van. If our meeting with the boy didn’t go as we hoped, I needed a quick escape.
But it did. Our first date with our son went better than I could have imagined. I fell in love. Which leaves me here, in New Hampshire, in November, with its gray skies, icy trails, and daily barrage of rain, snow, and hail. I still haven’t unpacked the van (we plugged a space heater in last week to keep my year’s supply of shampoo from freezing). The house that was immaculate seven days ago is strewn with Amazon boxes, unopened mail, un-put-away groceries, unwashed laundry, heaps of shoes, and a tornado of dog toys.
Today I decided that I don’t care. Last week I left the dirty clothes on the kitchen floor because I was depressed, but today I’m stepping over them because I’ve got better things to do. I’m writing. I’m snuggling my dogs. I’m sitting on a cushy chair in my fuzzy pink jammies drinking a cup of tea and eating a warm bowl of soup. I’m mitigating the suck of winter with all the cozy things.
And I’m finding things to look forward to: the adoption, of course. Seeing our boy again. The book I want to write about my Alaska road trip. The essay collection I plan to publish from my Liz Explores blog. The adventures I will have with my son. The first big snowstorm, when Seth will build a luge in the front yard and the three of us will take turns sliding down it in our snow tubes and launching off the snowbank into the road.
I’m adjusting to the idea of winter—a season when sitting in front of a keyboard doesn’t trigger FOMO like it would on a warm summer day. I’m finally caught up on sleep and waking up at a respectable hour. I’m running with the dogs, even when it’s gross out. I’m patient with the process and biding my time until I can load my family into the van and set our GPS for the national parks.
My first thought when I got home from my trip was: why does anyone stay here year-round? Why have we not collectively engineered a society where we can migrate with the seasons? I too easily forget how long I’ve waited to make that life possible; how rare it is to be able to escape the geographical limitations of jobs and schools; what a privilege it is to have time and money to travel; how few people would choose to live in a van, sleeping at rest areas and Walmart parking lots. Most people are stuck where they are for most of the year, and they learn to suck it up and make the most of it when the weather gets bad.
I’m not the only writer reflecting on the shitty shift of seasons.
shared “46 things learnt about surviving winter.” writes about “Trying to find an appreciation for winter.”
shared the discussion prompt, “How do you cope with the dark winter months?”
Andreminds us, “It’s okay if you hate this time of year.”
These are all fabulous essays by fabulous writers, and I’ll share previews below so you can check them out.
I’d love to hear from you, dear readers:
How do you survive the least-desirable times of year where you live? Would you escape if you could, or have you learned to appreciate all the seasons?
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Since this week is Thanksgiving in the U.S., I want to thank you all for your support this year by offering a free 30-day all-access pass to my Inner Circle, so you can read my most personal writing. I’m not sharing my adoption stories publicly, so if you want to read about the zoom call that brought me home and my first date with my son, grab your free trial and enjoy:
I hope that once you read those stories, you’ll want to read more. You can choose to contribute $36/year or $5/month once the free trial is over, and you may cancel anytime. Each of these essays takes 10-12 hours to write, edit, format, and share, and my paying subscribers make it possible for me to keep doing this work. To date, 34 of my 225 subscribers have joined the Inner Circle, and I’m so grateful for each and every one of you! I hope these numbers will continue to grow so I can keep bringing you stories that are “raw and relatable,” according to one reader. My favorite kind of writing is REAL!
Be sure to grab your free 30-day all-access pass by Monday, November 27th, 2023, and get caught up on my most personal stories:
Then check out these excellent pieces exploring the theme of why winter sucks, and how to make it suck less:
Happy Thanksgiving, and happy reading! May these pieces give you something to cozy up with on a gray November day.
How do you survive the least-desirable time of year where you live? Would you escape if you could, or have you learned to appreciate all the seasons?
Subscribe today to get your free 30-day all-access pass and read my most personal stories (offer expires Monday, November 27, 2023):