Ten years ago, my husband came up with a dream. He would build himself a truck, born from his own imagination and travel around the country in it. This dream had kept him going through the long, demanding years of medical school, residency, and fellowship. It had been his messiah, his glowing light. If he could only make it through the grueling process of becoming a doctor, he would then reward himself by living in his truck.
Admittedly though, when he dreamt up travelling throughout the country, climbing big rocks and rafting big rivers, sleeping under the stars and meeting fellow explorers, his dream had not included the presence of a high-spirited, little 13 month old human. But when Canyon, our son, came along, my husband didn’t hesitate. I didn’t expect him to. We would do the journey anyway.
Which brings us to where we are today, just a few weeks into our journey of living in a camper van with our toddler, travelling around the country in any which way we please.
You maybe have seen our pictures, we probably look very happy in all of them.
I once read an article that argued that social media has a way of making us feel completely inadequate about our lives because “everyone else always looks so happy.” People don’t tend to post the nitty gritty of their lives for all the world to see. One generally doesn’t hear about the tedious, or the dismissive or the down right ugly parts of other people’s journeys. You only see the beautiful. Since most of us don’t tend to have “only beautiful” lives, this has a way of making us feel inferior.
Allow me to not perpetuate this pattern. I don’t want to mislead you with the big, happy smiles of our family adventurously hiking mountains and lazily flowing down canyon lined rivers. Before you decide to quite your jobs, pack up your stuff and move into an RV with your own beautiful toddler, I want to tell you what it’s really like…from the inside out.
It is often. Really. Very. Hard.
I mean this literally and figuratively. The sleeping space of our RV is a double mattress comprised of several different uncomfortable, allergen infused cushions that often separate causing the sleeper to fall into deep, hard crevices. Said sleeper cannot sit up, let alone role over, especially when sharing the space with two other sleepers. The space is quite literally netted in, an element of the arrangement my husband and I added ourselves in order to keep baby from rolling out.
A few nights ago at three o’clock in the morning my husband and I laid in this space while our 13 month old son shrieked, screamed, and clawed at us for several hours. Our baby sleep training techniques that had so beautifully worked in our 1,700 square foot, three bedroom home had become hopelessly obsolete since we had moved into our less than 100 square foot camper. Although this night was a particularly hard night, it was in no way entirely out of the norm of the past few weeks.
It is safe to say that in moments such as these I really wonder what we were thinking by undertaking such a crazy experience with such a little person. I think even my husband wonders this from time to time. Sure, if it was just him and I this would be easy, but with this screaming, often cranky, unpredictable human?
Another time, rowing down the Colorado river, winds at 40 mph, we sang roughly 100 renditions of “row, row, row your boat,” to our toddler as he screamed and shrieked and screamed some more.
At almost every moment either my husband or I is on complete, total, undistracted baby duty. Gone are the days of allowing our son some freedom to play in a room by himself. Now that his environment consists of spaces such as the middle of the forest, the edge of a cliff, the cactus strewn dessert, or the side of a raging river, the ability to take our eyes off our kiddo, even for a second, has totally diminished.
Sometimes I wonder if we are adventurer “has-beens” that won’t accept that our life has to be different because we have a kid. Are we intentionally inflicting deliberate toddler torture on ourselves? Despite the comments of “Wow! Your family is so cool,” and “Boy, you guys are amazing!” We don’t see many other people rushing to move into a truck with their toddler and there is likely a reason for that.
So yes, this has been really hard. But we are doing it anyway,
…and it isn’t all bad. It isn’t even mostly bad.
There are redeeming moments.
In fact, right now is one of them. As I write this I am sitting on the bank of an isolated beach on one of the countries largest bodies of water, Lake Powell, Arizona. The sun is glistening off the surrounding canyons, casting soft glowing hues of red, purples and grays all over the horizon. Smooth rocks decorate the tide of the clearest water I have ever seen. I’m sitting, wrapped in a blanket watching Canyon as he toddles around the sand, naked, as he has been most of the day. He is playing with Legos, he is splashing in the cool, lake water with unabashed glee, he is filling buckets, and shoes, and coolers (and anything else he can find) with sand. He checks in with me from time to time but in this moment, he is marvelously content.
And then there is my husband. I can feel that slowly, he is beginning to let go of the past 12 years of stress. A few nights ago, under the soft glow of our camper lights, I saw my husband pick up a book and read for pleasure, the first time I’ve seen him calm enough to do this in 3 ½ years.
I watch him work on his raft, a $300 spur of the moment purchase we made out of the front yard of a retired fisherman back in Denver. He has ingenuously repaired and crafted the boat into a masterpiece, complete with a hammock and a canopy and as I write, he putters around the boat, his feet splashing in the tide.
Earlier today we took a long boat ride on the lake and Canyon and I watched as he free climbed a cliff and dove into the crystal clear water below him. We ate peanut butter apples and fed each other honey yogurt, laughing about the chaos of our life together. Canyon squawked a bit, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. I finally convince myself, after days of chickening out, to jump into the cool water and I swim after the boat while Canyon points at me, a grin clear from ear to ear. I float on my back and watch the cliffs sparkle above me. When we return to shore, I make us a dinner of pasta and canned tuna fish and we watch the sun set while we drink boxed wine and feed Canyon pasta noodles and chocolate covered Acai berries.
We are completely together. No distractions. No agenda. No place to be. We are just here, living out of our RV, being a family and living out my husband’s dream. It is an awesome moment and it makes the not so awesome moments seem worth it. When it’s time for Canyon to go to sleep he points to the truck.
After only a few weeks, he already knows that this is his home.