Six Things I Learned in the Camper

My family has spent the last 20 Days living in our camper. My husband was given the opportunity to work out of town and we followed him with our new travel trailer to a lovely campground outside of Alexandria. As we prepare today to get back to our normal routine I’ve already been thinking about what’s next for us.

We don’t really know for sure, my husband and I both realized that we haven’t missed anything about our house. This is causing us to question what we want to do, where we want to live and why we didn’t know this sooner. I’ve been asking my kids what their favorite part of camping has been and contemplating what I’ve learned. In an effort to organize my thoughts, today I am sharing my top ten lessons from a short-stint on the road.

1 Flowers grow in ditches too. I will admit that I missed my garden quite a bit. Being away when the peonies and iris were blooming loud made me a teensy bit sad, but lots of wildflowers grow in this state. Snapdragons, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lady Slipper, Daisy…As I spent time wandering in state parks and campgrounds alike I realized how amazing the ditches could be. It was a reminder that my lovely, cultivated garden at home was not the only beautiful place and that I should get out and experience somewhere else.

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2 Fresh air first. When we are at home, I wake up, let the dog out, make coffee, attempt to sit in some quiet until some tiny comes upstairs. While we were away I woke, started the coffee and took the dog out. We would walk out to a grassy field and she would roll around in the dew. There is something to that. Breathing in the early morning air, watching the sun climb into the sky, listening to birds. It is a different kind of peace than what I get from sitting here, typing out my thoughts. This morning as I write, my doors are thrown open wide, Cardinals are chirping to one another, the Summer breeze is gentle and I breathe in the newness of the day.

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3 Swimming makes most days good. When I asked my littles what their favorite thing about camping was, they all answered “Swimming!!”. Thankfully we have a pool in our yard at home as well, but I must admit I was surprised by this. I mean, we did some pretty good stuff out there. Being in the pool made them all smile though. It seems almost too simple. Being able to bike to the pool only made it better. We gave our littles extra freedom while we were away and I know that helped them enjoy the time. While they weren’t allowed to swim alone, they were allowed to be at the park and in the fields without us. We even let the tiny bike around alone during the week when the campground wasn’t full. There is so much to be gained from even a little independence.

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4 Math is better, done at a picnic table. Okay, so we didn’t do a ton of formal school while we were away, but I did get the kids to sit down a few times with their math books. I found the sunshine and fresh air did distract them a bit, but really who can be irritated while sitting under a clear, blue sky? It was good to remember too, how much they learn while we aren’t doing school. Both of them learned how to empty tanks, helped hitch the trailer to the truck, and assisted with meals. They were left in charge of the tiny and were required to look after the dog. Life skills are important too, and a valuable piece of homeschooling to be sure. One of my main goals for my littlest girl this Summer, was for her to master her bike without training wheels. I knew she would be so much happier once she could do it by herself. Within three days of us leaving home she exceeded my expectations of her ability and left me wondering what I should “teach” the girl next.

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5 Shared space. While we did have some spacial requirements for our camper; a bunk for each little, an outdoor kitchen… It is still a small space. You can pretty much count on someone else always being in the room with you. I’ll admit that I was more than a little concerned about how this would go. As it turns out kids can sleep through me making coffee when I’m only seven steps away from their beds. They can climb into their bunks and ignore each other as if they were in separate rooms. We can, and did, go outside where there is plenty of room for each of us. The shared space helped us all respect each other. I’ll admit there were issues and instances to manage, but I don’t believe anyone really needed more square footage to spread out in. I really do like having my people so close, and so I am very thankful that they didn’t all hate it.

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6 Bedtime is still hard. Here I will admit defeat. My tiny girl does not sleep well, she never has and I can not seem to help her. It is just her and we deal with it as best we can. I was silently optimistic that the combination of hours of outside time and being in the same room with her siblings would help her to sleep better while we were away. I was wrong. Every night was a fight to get her to bed, keep her asleep, and keep her in her bed. This is really only one of two complaints I had about our experience and I was quickly frustrated by our bedtime routine. I know that while she may never sleep through the night, at some point she will be able to deal with it without needing me. I trust that a day will come when she lays down in her bed and just falls asleep, no songs or stories, or back rubs required. I am certain that we will eventually get to a point where she sleeps restfully, instead of the tossing and turning restlessness that is her every night…someone tell me this will one day occur!

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There are more lessons, more thoughts swirling around my brain. While I don’t believe we will be living full time in our camper just yet, I am hopeful that our eyes have been opened to something new. A different way we could live happily. Last night my tiny cried herself to sleep on our deck, she still woke a few times through the night but it was nice to not fight her to sleep. This morning I sat outside for a bit with my coffee and my people after we woke up. The clear, cool air reminding me of what I want to do with my every day. I think I might just go pick some flowers from my yard to remind me in the hectic moments that there is peace that is out there if I’ll keep looking for it.

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Nature’s Beauty

This ones mostly visual friends. We’ve seen a lot of beautiful things over the last few days and as usual I took a few mediocre pictures. It’s easy to see the loveliness of creation when you’re focused on it. Easy to notice the small when you’re looking. The trick I need to figure out is how to do so in the midst of the crazy.

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I’ll leave you with one more. As a camping family we sometimes have to sneak into Caribou Coffee, and plug in, because the WiFi at the park is not so awesome. These babies are enjoying a treat and some updates on all of the devices. Sometimes the purchased silence of technology and a coffee are as good as all of the ditch flowers out there…almost.

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Throwing Sand

So there’s this kid in the sandbox with my kids right now. He’s chucking sand all over the place. His mother has come by to yell at him several times, but he keeps on. I don’t really care. My kids have voices to tell the kid to stop if they don’t like it and feet to walk away if he won’t stop. Here’s what I’m wondering; why do we tell them to stop?

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There is always a parent telling a child “don’t throw sand!”, “don’t splash in the pool!”, “don’t climb up the slide!!”. Why? Why can’t they do those things? There are opportunities to teach respect here. If someone wants to come down the slide, make way for them. Wearing new tennies? Take them off before you stomp in the mud for heavens sake! Don’t throw sand at other people-especially if they ask you not to. It’s the unthought-out “don’t…” that gets me.

Do we even have a reason? It seems like some momma somewhere in 1972 uttered these statements and we’ve all latched on to them. How many of us actually care if our kids run up the slide? Who decided that slides were only for going down? Maybe they’re actually ramps for going up? Why do the parents get to say? Didn’t we all do these same things as kids?

Or at least, didn’t we want to?

I think I might go tell that kids mom that it’s okay. If my people take issue, they know how to handle it. Let’s just let the kids be already.

I wonder how many unnecessary boundaries we’re building for these kids. I wonder how all of our “no’s” and “don’t do that’s” negatively affect these kids. By telling them no all of the time are we teaching them that they can’t do things? Or that they can’t do things by themselves? By limiting a slides purpose are we narrowing their creative minds? I catch myself a lot. I use “does that feel safe to you?” now, instead of a frantically shouted, “don’t climb so high!!”

We were walking together the other evening and my husband told our kids to stay out of the muddy puddles. I giggled to myself because I’d been thinking so much about the “NO!”. I could understand that he didn’t want them to get muddy because we’re living in our camper and it’s new and he doesn’t want it to be destroyed. To be fair, these are realistic concerns, my littles and I wreck stuff, we just do. It’s in our nature it would seem. Through our experiences and our play and our learning; things just break. His concern over muddy feet is justified.

I mentioned that we have a hose and can rinse the people before we let them in. While he may have still felt that they should stay out of the mud, he did relax about it and was playing along with them.

At the lake with friends recently, someone threw a handful of soppy-wet sand at my teeny. She didn’t like it at all. I almost told the kid to stop throwing sand, but I caught myself. Instead I asked if she was okay and helped her tell the boy that she didn’t want sand thrown at her. Then the two of them sat and tossed handfuls of sand into the water for several minutes laughing happily together. She might have missed out on the fun if I had simply yelled at the boy.

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I am working on giving these kids more independence, more freedom. It’s one of my biggest learning goals for them this Summer. I want them to trust that they can do stuff-hard stuff. Biking without training wheels, talking with the lady at the counter to check out the paddle-boats without mom, telling that kid that you were next…by doing these things that end in fun I can see that they are learning to trust their abilities. They are learning that they really are able.

With luck, and some effort, these people will go into their Autumn activities a bit more confident. They will trust that they can do some of the more difficult math problems, spell longer words, read thicker books! Because they take these months to practice out there in real life-without me constantly telling them “NO!!”-I think they’ll have bigger successes.

I ended up not talking to that mom, she walked away though. She went over to make some lunch and our kids played together for half of an hour or more. No one got sand in their eyes, no one cried. After a little while they took their bodies over to the monkey bars and worked together to get across. It was hard, they had to use team-work, and be patient. It was fun and they were learning, and we didn’t even break anything!

 

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What Next?

The last few days have been kinda intense around here. See, we’re loading up to haul our lives out of here for a few weeks. We bought a camper recently and have the opportunity to try out the “living in it” thing over the next month. That’s only one small piece of the crazy that has been our day to day though.

On Saturday our oldest daughter graduated from high school. This kid is awesome, she has a skill set that I never will possess. I truly am hopeful that she’ll use it for good, because if she does? This kid’ll make people think, she’ll make them question what they know to be true and she’ll probably do it wearing super fancy shoes (wink wink). This was a life event that we have waited for and wondered about and tried not to worry over for years. It’s great that she did it, but we all find ourselves asking; “so…now what?”.

On top of running away in our camper, and setting a girl off on her adult path, our oldest son is moving back in for a few months. We had suspicions that he would be home this Summer, but it was a surprise when he actually called and said he’d be bringing boxes by over the weekend. I left him with a nearly empty fridge and an Aldi gift card …maybe if I’d had more than a day to prep I could’ve done better…maybe. Hopefully he’ll be alright, I mean, he’s been living “on his own” for a couple of years now, he should be good, right?

I read a post today which talked about how abnormal life paths are celebrated-once they have succeeded, but sanity is questioned when a person actually sets out on something counter-cultural. When I read it I felt as if someone on the outside understood a tiny piece of what I feel inside. I was thinking about it in the truck today though, and I wondered about my graduated girl. Am I showing her that it’s okay to not do what everyone else does? Does she know we’ve got her back if she does some wild, crazy, insane thing and fails spectacularly? How do you tell a kid that? How do you live your own life as an example of that?

When you choose to do something different, some people will judge you harshly, but quietly. A few will live vicariously through you. Some will look at you with a blank stare and say; “I’m sorry. You want to what?!?”. So far I’m okay with that, I wonder if I helped build a girl who would be able to deal with those kinds of looks, those kinds of questioning glares. As I think about that this morning, I realize that it probably isn’t just my responsibility to do that for her. Optimistically I laid a foundation. Hopefully she has other people in her life who would be willing to show her a little of their own wild dreams so that she knows that there are those who are (nearly) as wacky as me. So she sees that it is a good thing. I know that my own life experiences created me, and that she will have vastly different experiences, but I pray what she goes through shapes her into someone who is not afraid to do what she loves or what is in her deepest heart. There is little control for me to grab at in this stage of her life, it’s all on her.

While I am a little afraid of what she will have to go through to become the woman she wants to be, I am proud already, of the woman she is. I’m sure that by knowing my own crazy, she will see some tiny piece of her own path and be better able to follow it. How much more so will living my one wild life affect my littles? Will they start following their hearts freely all the more? Will they choose something more steady for themselves as they grow? As always, it is impossible to know what will come. I’m really excited to see where each of them will go, what they will do, how they will succeed.

So we’ve started out. We’ve latched on to a small piece of crazy and we are trying to live there. I have realistic expectations, I don’t anticipate all of the day to day getting much easier. There will be different challenges and new opportunities for us to grow. Some things will be harder, there may be one or two that are easier, but I know uprooting people is never easy. I’ll take the successes that come. I’ll be grateful for the little things. I’ll watch for the moments where we learn something hard.

As the sun rises on this day I am simply thankful to be out here. Following the dreams and plans my heart has hoped for. Hoping now that the people I love can understand-at least a little bit-why we are where we’re at. What’s next? Who knows?! I think I’ll start with a cup of coffee and let my heart wander a bit.

 

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After Winter…Or, The Day We Bought a Camper

 

After all of my months of whining and complaining I feel it only fair to y’all who’ve stuck with me that I write something positive. Optimistically we have finally, FINALLY, met the end of this long winter! I know it seems silly to some of you, but this season broke me in new ways which I have recounted endlessly over the past few months, if you missed those posts, here and here are two for you to commiserate with.

Yesterday my littles and I were outside for the entire day, Friday we spent a few hours at  a park with our homeschool co-op. Today, once the sun rises high and the chill blows out with the wind, we’ll be back out there, digging into the dirt to find the depth of the frost. Moving compost, wondering over the warmth of the sun, which mere days ago seemed to give off a feeble heat at best. It’s about time. I am so grateful for the return of spring-like temperatures, and as I anxiously await the first rainstorm of the year, I realize that I have found my smile again.

Over this winter as I wondered how I would make it through, how I could hold-out until the weather turned, I proposed this off-the-wall idea to my husband. It was something that had been bouncing around in my head for quite some time but really seemed unrealistic. I had thought about roadschooling our littles, but with older children, a house, a yard, a need for full time income and insurance, more…getting the eff out of this frigid state seemed far-fetched. Nah, it seemed completely insane. One day I did it though, I actually said out loud; “What if we bought a camper?”.

 

My sweet husband has made many jokes about living in a camper. He has questioned my desire and where it comes from. He may indeed, think I’ve lost my damn mind, though he’s never said that exact thing. Instead, he picked up the search. He started researching, took us all to look at travel trailers, learned about how much weight his truck could haul. He has made my crazy dream a possibility by backing a thirty-five-foot trailer into our suburban driveway. We have our first outing planned in two weeks and I can not wait! While we are only hauling across town to figure out what we don’t know I feel like it is the first step down the right path.

So new adventures will begin. I realize all too well that camping costs money, while there are free places to stay mostly we are going to have to get creative if there are extensive trips in our future, and I hope that there are. I don’t want to have a camper solely for Summertime getaways. No, what I want is to have a camper so that I can get away to the Summer when Winter is in full force here. One of the more difficult tasks on our list proved to be finding a place that would stay plowed out so that we could hook up and drive South in January. How to do that though is more difficult than just finding an accessible storage facility, perhaps I’ll have to figure out how to write a blog that earns me a few bucks each month, though my understanding of how that works is pretty limited. Plus, I’m guessing a few more people would actually have to read what I have to say, and my opinions are definitely not for everyone.

I’ve claimed the gypsy spirit many times in my writing and I suppose it’s never been more true than in this new direction laid before me. We now have the means to go. To just go, like, anywhere. Over the next several months we hope not only to perfect our abilities to set up and enjoy camp. I will learn how to pull and back up our trailer so that I can go adventuring by myself if there is a desire to do so. We will not only master working together to level the trailer, but we will find a balance that works for us and our littles, we will work out all of the kinks. More than that though I hope to hear my inner voice clearly, to listen not just to my own spirit, but to the whispers that God has put in my soul. To hear, to pray, to follow His leading more closely. I think I am in a good mental place to do that now and I have no doubt that the physical places we are led to will allow the vision God has for us to be seen with fresh eyes.

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This seems a lot like running away. I hear it as I reread what I’ve written. If you’ve hung around my blog long enough though (for an example, read here), you’ll know that something I do well is wandering, my peace is found not only with dirt under my nails, but also with the road humming beneath my wheels. I choose to not see it as running from home, but rather, running to it. I don’t look at it as avoiding my life, but more fully living it. I know what everyone tells you; get married, work hard, buy a house, make some babies…those things are good and they are what we are supposed to be striving toward. I don’t think we’re all cut out for that though. Some of us, maybe, aren’t meant to stay in one place for all of our days.

I’d be a liar if I told you I didn’t long for a garden every day that I didn’t have one. A piece of earth to create on is something I could not live happily without, there was always this sadness when I thought about the plants I walked away from all of those years ago. Even now, while I have lilies and roses and cosmos again, I can still see the pumpkin patch and smell the earth in the flower beds that I dug. I can still remember planting seeds on Spring evenings. I can still feel the sweat from hauling water and pulling weeds on hot Summer mornings. These memories won’t leave me, they sometimes ask me where I went and why I didn’t take them along…is that crazy? Some of you may not get it, I’m thankful to love a man who does, or at least a man who trusts me enough to let me be a teensy bit crazy.

What do I do with that? Can I walk away from a yard full of five summers of hard work? Can I give this garden to someone else, knowing full well that I won’t have one for who knows how long? Can I even be happy without a place to call my own? I don’t have those answers today. Because today the weather is warm, my feet are dirty and my heart is full, it’s difficult to walk away from it in the Summer. Winter winds will blow again though. When they do, they will force me indoors to snuggle with my family, feeling the weight of their immense chill deep in my bones. As much as I want to forget that Winter exists, I must use it as my motivation this Summer. My reminder that all cities have gardens, that I can dig in the earth and leave it more beautiful no matter where we go. There is a freedom in thinking about making more of creation a little better, instead of simply my own small square of it.

Of course there are other concerns, things to consider if we are really and truly going to drive away. Those major decisions can wait though. For today, for this season, I only want to get out and explore, to decide if we can live together in such a small space peacefully. To see if we could possibly enjoy each other enough to go about life in this wild and somewhat unheard of way. I feel the call to it, to this one wild and crazy life. I will listen carefully and move slowly, knowing in the very deepest part of me that there is no destination in this life,  believing that there is only the journey.

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