Nomad Trade-Offs: One Day, Two Ways

nomad trade-offs

You’re a middle class stay-at-home Mom. What is a typical spring day like for you, at home and on the road? What are the nomad trade-offs? It’s interesting to me to compare the benefits and difficulties of both lives–the trade-offs, habit changes, and general trends. This is my entirely personal comparison of the ups and downs of both, one day in two ways.

Anytown USA, 7:00 AM: Your toddler clambers onto the bed, his high-pitched stream of questions scattering the warm threads of your dream. Your husband gets up and takes the toddler for his morning poop as you sink gratefully back into the comforter. The boys will watch one episode of Mickey Mouse Club House, both of them looking forward to the participatory hot dog dance. Then they will shower and wake you up so your husband can go off to work. Your free time is at night, so you stay up late and sleep in, preferring to shower later while your husband’s at work.

Tropical Island, 7:00 AM: The toddler clambers onto the bed and you begin answering the high-pitched stream of questions immediately–the tropical sun and birdsong makes it hard to cling to sleep. You take the toddler for his morning poop and put an episode of Mickey Mouse Club House on the iPad. Because you wake up earlier here, you have time to cook some breakfast. You can also afford morning daycare in this low cost country, which means you will have some time to work in the morning. All three of you must be showered, dressed, sun screened, and bug sprayed before you leave the house.

Anytown USA, 9:00 AM: Your husband packs his bag while you bundle the toddler into the car seat, and you drop off your husband at work. You all kiss goodbye, and you stop for a latte before heading back home. You and the toddler regard one another. You may take him to one of the five playgrounds within a 15 minute drive. You may get out the coloring books if he really wants to, but you prefer to get him out of the house and run him like a greyhound. You may take him to the grocery store to shop for dinner, or go visit a friend, as long as you keep an eye on his energy pressure gauge. It creeps. It will blow if you ask him to still still for too long. In any case, you have options. Even if you can’t afford daycare, you have a vehicle, you have free playgrounds and malls to explore, you have lattes, and you are grateful for these things.

Tropical Island, 9:00 AM: You and your husband pack your bags, and you all strap on your helmets. Your husband backs up the little 125cc bike until it’s facing the road, your toddler climbs up to stand between his knees, and you swing yourself onto the back. You ride for three minutes, enjoying the breeze before the day gets hot and still. You arrive at the daycare and walk your son in, greeting the lovely Russian woman, the lovely Hungarian woman, and the lovely Thai woman. The toddler says a quiet, stoic goodbye, and you drive back the way you came, to the empty cafe where you work. It’s run by a friendly grizzled Dutchman and is a few feet from the beach. You don’t have lattes or a lot of choices for food, but you do have a few hours to yourself while the ladies are reading your son stories and running him and the other kids like greyhounds, and your husband is now working on his own [freelance/consulting/ecommerce] business, happy that he can set his own hours, and you are grateful for these things.

Anytown USA, 12:00 PM: The toddler’s mood is destabilizing, and you are looking forward to nap time. You get through with a quiet hour on the couch watching/singing nursery rhyme videos, or if he’s particularly grumpy, watching his favorite movie. You try to get him to eat something, and put him down for a nap. You say the little prayer, exchange an I Love You and an OveYou, and go take your blessed shower. The water is hot, the floor warm, and the towel fluffy. You apply lotions ritualistically, and savor the feeling of being clean, of walking to your closet and picking out a nice outfit and putting yourself together, of making yourself a little lunch and sitting down with a book. He’ll sleep for one or two hours, which doesn’t feel like enough time to start any serious creative effort. You’ll most likely read, clean up the morning’s mess, and bask in the silence.

Tropical Island, 12:00 PM: The toddler’s mood is destabilizing, and the ladies are probably looking forward to you picking him up for nap time. You are losing a little momentum after three hours of good work. You and your husband work mostly in companionable silence. You’re sticky and uncomfortable–the chairs aren’t great and air-conditioning is nonexistant. You reminisce about what it felt like to be clean. You’re tired of the five outfits worn on an endless rotation, and you’ve pretty much stopped wearing makeup. You’re fine with this, but you do feel a little…unkempt. You drink your cold coffee, order lunch, and before you know it your husband has left to pick up the toddler. They sail toward you from the road, the toddler calling “Mama!” You spend a magic ten minutes obeying his play orders, “Mama swing right there!” (in the hammock), “Mama baba sit right here!” (at the table), “Baba drink water!” (but only with a cup), and you love it. You eat lunch together, and take him home for his nap. The three of you say the little prayer, and exchange your two I Love Yous for his two OveYous.

Anytown USA, 2:00 PM: The toddler wakes up, and you regard one another. It’s cold today and you were out all morning, so you decide to try to finish up the housework while he plays with his toys on the floor. There’s the dishwasher to load and unload, the vast counter to tidy up and scrub, and the groceries waiting for someone to make a dinner out of them. You do get this done, but it takes right up until 5:00, as you attend to the toddler’s various needs in between tasks. You and the toddler are getting tired of one another’s demands, his for attention and yours for patience. But the dinner smells good, and by the time your husband comes home at 7:00 it’s finished, the kitchen clean, the toddler hanging onto sanity for dear life but instantly revived by the long awaited sight of his father. You missed him too, and he missed you, and he raves about the dinner, partly because it’s edible and he’s hungry, and partly because you like cooking and he knows it. By this time your husband is exhausted from work, but also wants to see his son and give you a break. You rest on the couch while he spends a few minutes roaring and giggling with the toddler, trying to stop thinking about work, trying to be present. The night is lamplit, your house is cozy, and you both look forward to an evening to yourselves.

Tropical Island, 2:00 PM: The toddler is asleep, and you’ve spent the last hour reading. What you really wanted to do was take a siesta (what a practical cultural agreement), but the heat of the day was more of a phrase than a real consideration where you grew up, and you were acculturated to think that napping without a good reason is lazy, so you stave off the nap despite the heat and despite the torpor induced by your not quite nutritious diet. At 3:00 pm you know the toddler will wake up soon (your husband has gone back to the Dutchman’s cafe already), and you try to get some tidying done. You do not get this done before the toddler wakes up, because doing a load of laundry is more involved here, and because taking a mop to the lizard droppings along the wall (lizards stay well hidden but leave trails of dry evidence), is something you’re saving for the weekend, along with washing away the mysterious little cocoon looking things that accumulate on the bathroom wall. At least your counter is tiny, and dishes have to be done as they’re dirtied, so it’s really only the laundry and tidying you have to worry about. The toddler wakes up happy. He’s gotten play time with other babies, and now he’s excited to play with you. You don’t have any toys he can play with, but because you had a free morning do you have energy to indulge him in play you don’t really enjoy, like letting him jump on you (your hair manages to get pulled no matter what you do), and pile pillows on top of you, and chasing him under tables even though it hurts your knees a little. By 5:00 PM your husband has come home from down the road, and takes the toddler with him to the store to get your usual dinner, a rotisserie chicken and some mangoes. You’re a little tired of eating the same things, but you’re also tired of local fare by now, and at least everything is cheap. The apartment isn’t really set up for cooking. When they get back from the store you’ve still got two hours before bed, so you watch a movie and eat dinner together.

Anytown USA, 8:00 PM: Your husbands put the toddler to sleep. When he comes back to the living room, you are torn between the need to see and talk to and sit with your husband, and the need to express yourself creatively, to be an adult, to be very selfish with this precious little time.  Sometimes the two of you clash over this problem of your husband being tired from work and you being a 24/7 mom. So some nights you talk with your husband after the toddler’s asleep, and other nights you go to the gym, listening to angry songs and using defiance to thwart your ample diet and your latte habit. If you go to the gym, being completely alone with your headphones is your favorite part. If you stay home with your husband, the intellectual companionship and affection is your favorite part. You try to forge a delicate balance each week: enough time with your husband, enough time with your child, enough time with yourself. You are proud of yourself when you can also make time later in the evening to work, to do something creative with the TV on in the background.

Tropical Island, 8:00 PM: You both put the toddler to sleep, and then talk about your work over a cup of coffee on the porch. Because of the working time you had in the morning and the day you spent together, this evening time isn’t as fraught with the urgency of balancing competing priorities. You feel a little tired and annoyed by the mosquitos and the fact that it’s 85 degrees in the dark. You can’t remember the last time you went to a gym, and although you’re not gaining weight because the food options are less convenient, you do feel a little sluggish and unhealthy in general. You never know whether your next destination is going to be a walking city or not, whether the grocery stores will be nearby, whether this tiny wardrobe you’ve chosen will be sufficient for the seasons, whether there’s a good daycare you trust, and the unpredictability of all this is wearing. Regardless, the coffee is stimulating and you go back inside and get out your laptop to work, the useless fan on in the background.

Anytown USA, 8:15 PM: You get a diet coke and a snack out of the fridge.

Tropical Island, 8:15 PM:You make a cup of instant coffee, and wish there were a snack you felt like eating in the fridge. You’re tired of carrots and red bean cakes.

Anytown USA, 9:00 PM: You change into one of your clean, soft pairs of sweats and favorite fluffy socks.

Tropical Island, 9:00 PM:  You are in some degree of sticky nakedness, and absentmindedly peel your leg off the couch. You wait to go the bathroom until you can’t hold it anymore, because the floor is still wet from the last shower and those cocoony things creep you out. You really should clean them up tomorrow.

Anytown USA, 9:30 PM: You are in the zone, doing something creative or mentally stimulating. This may last for the whole night, or you may be distracted by your TV, your pets, or the thing you bought from Amazon that came in the mail today. It’s a little harder to stick to your discipline knowing that you only have a couple hours a day while other people have the entire day at their disposal.

Tropical Island, 9:30 PM: You are in the zone, doing some good work, building on what you did this morning. This lasts for most of the night. You may catch up on news or find other distractions, but because you view yourself as a “working” mother with 7 hours a day to devote to work, you get excited about making progress, and working requires less discipline.

Anytown USA, 11:30 PM: You are back out of the zone, but still enjoying some light media. You’ve had time with your husband, time to do whatever you wanted, and time to relax and zone out. You’re content. At midnight you will pry yourself off the couch for the promise of your comfortable bed, and a deep springtime sleep in a bedroom that offers the deep satisfaction of being yours and no one else’s.

Tropical Island, 11:30 PM: You are back out of the zone and thinking about enjoying some light media, but you know that the sunlight and the call of the Dutchman’s cafe will wake you early tomorrow, so you go to the rented nondescript bedroom, and sleep in the deep satisfaction of a strange life that is yours and no one else’s.

When I compare these two days, it’s clear to me that it’s my family is what makes life meaningful, regardless of the lifestyle. Both days can be great days. It’s over the long term–how much meaningful work we both get to do, how much truly enjoyable time we spend together and with our son, how much personal freedom we have, that the nomad lifestyle seems to offer more.

This is obviously a very particular example, from our very particular viewpoint and situation. Our nomad trade-offs are that daily life is less convenient, less comfortable, and less predictable as we change locations, but in return we get more balance and freedom. I’d love to know what the nomad trade-offs are for other families, what you miss and whether, for you, the trade-offs are worth it.

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