A few months ago, after four years of full time RVing with our family, we made the very difficult decision to settle down. Settle down. Oh man…I’m still getting used…
Oh man…I’m still getting used to the idea. I knew settling down would be hard. I didn’t know it would be this hard. Every cell in my gypsy heart still tightens when I look out the window and see the same. view. every. day.
Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books? I’ve been been wishing I could read ahead and see how different choices would affect the boys. Would they end up angry at us always wishing they had a chance to experience “normal” teenage life if we kept full timing in our RV? Or would they look back and say, “Man, my parents were great and knew what was best. I spent most of my life living in an RV seeing all these cool places!”
Alas, all we have is now. And right now a life with more routine and opportunities that come with living in community seems like the best option in our own Choose Your Own Adventure story.
We are still struggling with all the changes and if you want to hear more of our reasons for putting the jacks down on our full time RV adventure keep reading. But be warned, I’m still wrestling with my emotions and our choices and at times, I feel like I’m defending our choice from my own inner critic.
Brent and I so badly wanted to raise our oldest boys out of the box and in the slow lane of full time RVing until it was time for them to take flight on their own. We had so many ideas and plans for our family. During the first three years it seemed possible that they would grow up on the road happy and fulfilled but then they and their needs, particularly Thing 1, started to change. It was gradual but it became clear that full time RVing was no longer the best fit for our family. We were reluctant to admit it because Brent and I enjoyed our life as it was but we knew in our hearts that continuing to full time RV as a family would be…well…selfish. It wasn’t like we had to stay on the road. We weren’t following Brent’s work. We weren’t living in a RV because we were going through hard times. We were doing it because we loved the simplicity of life and it was fun. Crazy fun!
Change is hard.
For the past year, we felt the wind shifting but we were in denial. We tried to continue on course against the wind hoping that things would return to what they were. However, in the quiet of night, I knew the change I was hoping for wasn’t going to happen. In those silent moments of raw honesty with myself what I wanted, as ridiculous as it sounds, was for the older boys to quit getting older. I wanted them to stay my babies forever and shelter them from life’s hardships. Living in the RV seemed to slow down time and kept them close. Kept them safe.
Thing 1 and 2 are not the boys they were when our family decided full time RV in 2011. Every day they were and are becoming more men than boys. And every day they have ideas on how they want to live. As hard as it is for Brent and I, we must gradually let go and let them follow their own paths and those paths were limited on the road.
They wanted experiences we couldn’t easily offer them. They wanted to experience school. They wanted to take piano lessons and martial arts classes. Most of all, they wanted friends, a community, who they can spend time with regularly. They were tired of saying “see ya later” without knowing when later might be.
As much as I want it to be, life isn’t about me. (<==This kinda sucks.)
In short, we decided to stop RVing full time for love of Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Brent and I chose to put our desires on hold for a few years to launch these two amazing young men into the world from a stationary foundation because after many long talks, hard cries (on my part), and prayers we felt settling down was the most loving decision for them. Unfortunately, we can’t read ahead like in the Choose Your Own Adventure books and make a decisions on the best of two outcomes. The thing is we will never know what was the “best” for them because we can’t live two lives and compare. Maybe one day we will wish we would have stayed on the road. Maybe not. It’s impossible to know. All we can do is make the most loving decision based on our present knowledge while considering what we have learned from the past and then hope for the best in the future. In other words, I can’t control everything as much I’d like to. Damn.
When they are grown men and looking back at their childhoods, our biggest hope is that they know they were loved. An older wiser mom once told me that kids have “fuel tanks” and to make sure it’s filled with love every day because if it’s filled with love they are less likely to look for other things to fill it. Despite all our parental imperfections, baggage, and failures, we want them to know we love them “bigger than the sky times infinity”. We want them to leave home with filled love tanks. Our me-culture may tell us to do what’s best for us and “radical self love” is almost a religion these days. (BTW I’m all for “radical self love” when it’s not at the expense of others.) However, selflessness acted out with pure intentions in regard to the other may not be sexy but it is still and will always be one of the purest forms of love. And one of the hardest. Selflessness doesn’t come easy for me. I usually scoop myself the biggest bowl of ice cream. And take the biggest piece of cake. And tend towards putting my feelings above others.
Not this time.
The boys are only teenagers once (For their sake…thank God Almighty) and they both wanted more “normal” lives. We’ve tried to convince them that “normal” is overrated 🙂 but no amount of talk was going to change their minds. They wanted to experience normal for themselves.
Sure we considered the this-is-our-life-and-sorry-it’s-not-what-you-want-but-try-to-appreciate-and-learn-from-it approach. As parents we have that right to make the choices we think our best for our kids and family. The road may be “best” for Brent and I but, God willing, we have many years left as a couple to explore and experience life as we want but the older boys only have few years left as kids. They didn’t want to spend their teenage years living in an RV full time.
There are so many wonderful things about RVing full time with kids and teens but the fact of the matter is full time RV was beyond amazing when they were younger but RV life could no longer provide for their expanding needs and interests. (Disclaimer: The pursuit of the following activities is a struggle because we are fully aware these actives are a privilege that comes with being middle class and certainly not necessary for a fulfilled life but they are fun, rewarding, and teach their own lessons.)
Thing 1 isn’t just good at playing the piano. We recognized he really has a gift as a classical pianist and needed a teacher and real piano if he was going to continue to grow. He could only learn so much online with a keyboard. (Keyboards, even weighted ones, don’t have the same dynamics as grand pianos.) To not recognize and nurture this gift would cause us and him real future regret. This is a special period in life where he has the time to sit and play for hours without adult worries.
Thing 2 wanted to spend more time with kids his age, try drama, and would like to eventually take up martial arts again. We also recently discovered since we’ve been stationary, that he has a knack for art. He has been invited to take a high school drawing class as a middle schooler and he had a blast performing in his first play last weekend.
These kinds of activities are difficult to do when you pack up and move every week or two. They require a long term commitment. We could have sat still for months at a time in campgrounds but that isn’t why we bought a house with wheels. And even if we did stay put for months at a time, it wouldn’t address the real issue consistency and friendship. The boys would know that goodbye was just around the corner and that was hard for them.
Brent and I gave it our best to make full time RVing work for them as teens. We met up with road friends and family regularly. We traveled with other families when the opportunity arose. We spent two winters in the mountains snowboarding. We took Thing 1 to a music camp. We sought out opportunities for Thing 2 to pursue interests like gold panning. We let them have a say in the travel planning. We found online classes when we felt like we couldn’t meet their educational needs.
Despite our efforts, full time RVing didn’t provide the one thing they craved more than anything which was consistency. Consistent friends. Consistent activities. And even more important, consistent wi-fi. 😉
There is only one of Brent and one of me and we couldn’t and didn’t want to be peers, piano teachers, math teachers, art teachers, spiritual mentors, and parents at the same time. Not only did we feel that we needed more resources and consistency to help them grow into young men, RVing full time was losing some of its luster in their eyes. New places and new things had become mundane to them in a way. There were days they resented packing and days they rolled their eyes at the mention of visiting a national park. We tried to see our full time RV life from their perspective. They have visited every state except Hawaii, many of them multiple times. They have been to over one hundred national parks. I’ve lost count of how many museums they have visited. They’ve been to almost every major city and some of them more than once or twice or even three times. The third time to New Orleans Things 1 and 2 were leading us around the French Quarter! You might think the only thing to do in New Orleans is eat beignets. 😉
The boys certainly don’t dislike traveling (They keep reminding us we haven’t been to Hawaii and asking if there’s a chance we can go to Europe soon.) but they were developing a “been there and done that” attitude and were ready for new challenges, the challenges that come with dealing with teachers other than mom and relationships that are more face to face than virtual. Traveling full time in the RV gave them so many experiences and the life lessons are still unfolding, teaching us even now as we adapt to a stationary life, but there are lessons to learn from living in community as well.
I’ll never regret our four years of full time RVing. The education and life experiences the boys received are priceless. The memories are too numerous to count. Our relationships grew in so many ways. We squeezed every last delicious drop out of full time RVing. So far they have been the best four years of our life but I’m hopeful we will seek out new adventures and the lessons we learned we will carry into our new chapter.
The last few months of adjusting to our new life have been hard but we keep remembering that this is a season. The winds of change never stop blowing and it won’t be long until we can pack up the RV and hit the road full time again.
I remember a year or so ago Thing 1 and I were talking. He was having a hard time wanting both the adventure of RV life and the stability of being stationary. He missed our life in California but at the same time enjoyed our life of travel. It was a conversation we had often as we gauged the boys’ needs to make sure full time RVing was still working for everyone. During this one particular conversation his big brown eyes were contemplative and he asked,
“Mama, do you think someday I’ll be nostalgic for our life on the road?”
His thoughtful question made me smile and I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
Today memories may still be fresh but the bittersweet ache of nostalgia has already set in.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Love and Laughter,
Jenn and Brent
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