Empty Nest Antidote: A Full Life
They are the anti-empty nesters. When David and Veronica James' last child left for college, they metaphorically stripped down to their underwear and did a happy dance. Job done; case closed; new life chapter about to be written.
Today, they are best-known as the Gypsy Nesters -- the married-for-almost-three-decades couple who gave up their brick-and-mortar home for a virtual home on the road. They are semi-retired boomers who roam the globe full-time, approaching each day as an adventure and celebrating the freedom of being unshackled from the responsibilities of parenthood.
Their motto: Our only plan is to not have a plan.
The Jameses see themselves as both an inspiration to boomers who contemplate emulating their wanderlust lifestyle, as well as those who prefer to live the life vicariously through them. They have just one bug-a-boo and write about it frequently on their Gypsy Nester blog: They think Empty Nest Syndrome is a crippling mindset that prevents parents from rejoicing in their success of having raised children to be self-sufficient adults and blinds them to the vision of how much fun the post-parenting years can be.
“I don’t want to sound like we told our kids ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’,” said David James. “But good parenting means preparing your kids to stake out a life of their own and then letting them do just that,” his wife Veronica adds. They finish each other’s sentences a lot.
When the youngest of the Jameses’ three kids left for college in 2008, the pair hit the road. At first it was intended to be just a road trip to see friends and family they hadn't seen in a while, something to clear the cobwebs and mark the turning point in their lives together where they would be a couple alone again. They bought a beat-up old RV in an eBay auction for $3,000 -- expecting it to last maybe six months -- and set out for adventure. More than three years and 50,000 road warrior miles later, they are still living the good life as wanderers.
"Each day is a surprise, even to us.” They even say that in unison.
David, in his mid-50s, and Veronica, “younger but I’m not saying by how much,” rely on income from what they call “smart investments” and the fact that frugal living has always come naturally. They lived modestly and never got into debt and now they still aren’t staying in five-star resorts. But they don’t experience deprivation either. They eat at local eateries, not fancy restaurants and given the limitations of their space, carry with them just what they need. Some nights are spent in casino or Wal-Mart parking lots, both pretty hospitable to road warriors who live in their vehicles.
The freedom that their lifestyle provides them is priceless, they say. For the first few years on the road, they followed the weather. Mexico in the winter and when that got too hot, head up to Canada. Another winter spent in Florida, some time in California. David, a musician and songwriter, gets an annual gig that takes them to Europe, so they roam there for a while. For a spell, they explored Central America. Unhurried, each moment savored, lingering long enough to cherish and not too long for boredom or impatience to set it.
Actually, about the only thing they grow impatient with these days are empty nesters who whine. Not that they believe their lifestyle is right for everyone, "but still," says Veronica, "you just have to ask yourself, 'why aren't these people embracing life more?'"
They maintain their blog, gypsynester.com, and devote a lot of discussion not just to life on the road, but life without adult children acting as anchors. They take to task “helicopter” parents who insist on doing everything for their children. (That’s helicopter, as in hovering.) And in a boomer version of "people can only take advantage of you with your permission," they take a harsh stand toward parents who allow adult children to move back home and play video games in the basement all day. "How do they think that's 'helping' their kids?" asks David. In the Jameses' world, adult children who treat their parents like an ATM machine deserve a special circle in Dante's hell. "They drain their parents and leave them high and dry for their own retirement; not good," says Veronica.
But mostly what they simply don't get are parents who mourn the time when adult children leave home.
From one of David’s blog posts: "When Veronica and I began to think about our lives after raising kids, one of the first things we did was Google 'empty nesters.' We wanted to see if anyone else was looking at this the same way that we were. With a feeling of 'isn't it great that the kids have moved out and we'll have life to ourselves again?' To be untethered and free. To wander the globe. To be GypsyNesters instead of empty-nesters.
"But no, just about everything we could find was lamenting how terrible it is that the kids aren't around anymore. A lot of self-help, self-absorption and self-pity. Even worse, the biggest item on the first page we clicked into was an enormous ad for an Alzheimer's patch."
The Jameses three kids, now 27, 25 and 21, are all self-supporting and employed, living on their own. "What we did was instill in them a sense of personal responsibility," says Veronica. She doesn't anticipate any of them boomeranging back home, in no small part because there is no longer a home to come back to.
The Jameses maintain a Michigan address -- one of their income properties -- for legal purposes, to have an address for their drivers' licenses and insurance. But home is wherever the pair park for the night. They spent Christmas in New York, where both daughters live, and their son flew in from Michigan.
Right now, they are following the Mississippi blues trail. Just because they can.