SMOOTH SAILING AHEAD
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
-Louisa May Alcott
Every human harbors dreams of things they wish they could do. Some of those things are actually doable with some applied preparation and perspiration. Running a 5K, taking a bucket list trip, or getting a handle on your finances or health. Some bigger dreams, however, fall into a category with the dreaded, “someday” label. They get put there because life has obligations and responsibilities that take precedent over dreams. Some dreamers fall into complacency and their dream dies, but some nurture that dream and do things to keep the little flame from going out. Jea Santovasco (pronounced Gia), a Girl Camper who was born and raised in Brooklyn, fell into the second category. She kept her dream of one day owning a travel trailer and traveling at will alive while making a Herculean effort to raise three children on her own.
The dream of one day owning and traveling in her own “tiny house” on wheels was “on hold” while Jea raised her three children.
At age 39, Jea left a husband whose verbal and emotional abuse turned physical and began to trickle down to their 7 and 8 year old children. With a six week old infant in her arms and her two older children in tow, she left the marriage with nothing but what fit into her car. Years of unpaid child support left her in the unenviable position of being the sole supporter of her family. She decided she could cry, or she could make it an adventure. She took the attitude that she and her children were on an adventure. Not having anyone to rely on, she worked as a secretary and then a real estate appraiser. When the real estate market crashed and the appraisal industry slowed, she got side jobs driving for Fed Ex and as a medical records clerk. Money was tight, but her children did not feel deprived because she found every opportunity for free fun, like concerts in the park, picnics, and family game nights. Jea recalls that one of the low points was swallowing her pride to ask for “waived fee” educational and entertainment opportunities for her children. Somehow, with gall and guts, she found a way for them to participate in all the sporting activities, from karate and tennis to T-ball and hockey.
Jea’s family circa 2000
Living in NJ and without any help from her family, Jea took care of her children with laser focus. Social activities for her were being able to chat a few minutes with a fellow mom at school events. She made her children and their formation her top priority. No girl’s nights out or dating. She was focused on raising children who valued the things money couldn’t buy. That was a good thing because money was something she had none of. When money was needed and there was none to be found, she put the necessities on a credit card with the hope that she could pay it off when her ex was located and she could collect some of the 106 thousand dollars in back support he owed her. When he was apprehended and jailed for nonsupport, the judge made him turn over the $50 in his pocket and promise to begin making regular payments. He promised, turned over the $50, and disappeared again for years. Living without was the norm for Jea. A splurge was an item one of the children needed more than one of the others needed something.
Through it all, Jea managed to create a home of very happy and resilient children. Without cable television to distract them, they excelled academically. Her daughter Jude is an expert in the area of naturopathic medicine and healing. Happy and independent, she is in the process of founding a holistic healing center in the Pacific Northwest. Jea’s son, Jay Austin, graduated in two years’ time with his bachelor’s degree and completed his MBA in one year. He is twenty six years old and works for the Federal government. He writes a highly read blog on the tiny house movement (jayaustin.info) and was a co-founder in the first tiny house neighborhood in Washington D.C. Vacation time will find him traveling the country and world learning about how people live. Her youngest son Dillon is taking time before completing his education to explore the country and find his niche. He is traveling without a cell phone or credit card! The fierce determination their mother modeled while raising them has obviously been replicated in them. As they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
Jea and her son Jay Austin, the Tiny House blogger.
Finding herself an empty nester after so many years of working so hard, Jea resurrected her dream of owning a travel trailer and being able to pick up and go whenever she had the time. The first hurdle though was a financial one. She was carrying debt from all her years as a single mother. She made a plan to work herself out of that hole. For 24 months she took every job she could get as an appraiser. She worked 20 hour days, sometimes sleeping from 2AM – 6 AM and then starting her day all over again. When she was too tired to keep her eyes open she took 20-minute naps and set the alarm to wake herself up and continue working. At the end of that time period she had paid off all of her debt with the exception of her mortgage and SAVED $11,500; a King’s ransom to someone who had raised her children hand to mouth.
She wanted to get herself in a position to purchase a 14’ trailer. Since Jea was not a camper and had never owned or pulled a trailer, she did her homework by studying manufacturers, floor plans and towing weights. She read reviews and went to chat rooms gathering all the information she could to make an informed choice. With a seizure prone Labrador retriever named Rocky as a travel companion, she knew what she needed to be safe and comfortable. She chose a 14’ long KZ Sportsmen Classic.
Rocky, the traveling Lab, on a recent trip to Acadia, Maine.
Rocky loves the nomadic life!
Her “practice run” was a trip to Missouri to visit her daughter. In order to save on hotels she always drove the 22-hour trip without stopping. With her trailer in tow now she is able to stop at roadside rest areas and continue the journey the next day. She began camping alone on weekends at campgrounds near her home and figuring out how to work everything. She made the purchase of a solar energy system so that boon docking and dry camping could be more comfortable. Her system allows her to run everything except the air conditioner and also to make use of cheaper state parks with no hook ups. Searching Meet Up sites for like-minded women she came upon my Meet Up site, “Camp like a Girl”, and messaged me. I invited her to join us for a weekend in the Adirondacks and began chatting online with her. I am continually amazed at the resilient and brave women God puts in my path. I have already learned so much from Jea and been inspired by not her “can do,” but her “must do” attitude. Living life without a safety net has not made her bitter or hardened, it has made her strong and grateful. Her unshakable belief that God would pull her through has given her peace as her children branch out on their unconventional but happy lives. It is now her turn to smell the roses and make time for fun. She knows how to sail through life’s storms and is now looking forward to calmer seas and adventures with Rocky and all of her new friends. I am happy and grateful to be circling my wagon near hers.
Jea discovered the many Girl Camper groups and is having fun with her comrades! Here she and Rocky visit with Sister on the Fly, Mary Morey on a recent trip to Lake Luzerne, NY.
Some well-deserved down time with Rocky in Acadia, Maine.
Kayaking the Delaware River in New Jersey
To read Janine’s blog, click here.