There was an old woman who lived in a shoe….or an RV

Seriously though some days that’s what I feel like.  As a widowed mother of six for the last 11 years sometimes being the only parent in a house full of children makes me feel extremely old and since we sold our house and moved into our RV, I often think of that nursery rhyme.  If you are familiar with the rhyme it continues…she had so many children she did not know what to do.  But why am I sharing nursery rhymes with you?  Because as we pull into RV parks and people see all my children get out and get busy, they often stare in amazement as my children competently complete all the tasks usually done by adults.  I am asked often how we manage this life on the road with only one parent so I thought perhaps today I should finally sit down and share some of what our life looks like and how we manage on the road.

First, we chose a class A diesel motorhome.  I have another blog post about why we chose what we did.  You can read that here.  I should also go back a few years to 2013.  We had an old 2001 Sportscoach Class A that was falling apart but I wanted to use it more so in 2013 I decided we would hit the road and see how we could do.  Up till that time we had only used our RV about 2-4 weeks a year and it was always going to a location we knew well at a campground with full hookups.  The first time we took our Sportscoach out alone after my husband died we were blessed as we learned how to work different systems.  I’ll have to write another article on that one as the Duggar family, yes, that Duggar family with all their children helped us so much it deserves it’s own post.  So we knew a tiny bit about our RV in 2013 when I wanted to travel more.  We found someone to house sit for us and we hit the road.  My intention was to do 6-9 months.  We left home in April 2013 and did not return until December 2013 which turned out to be the coldest winter we ever had in Texas and we had to spend December in our RV waiting for the people to move out of our house.  So we had that 9 months in 2013 to learn a lot and some of it we learned the hard way. 

I share that brief history with you so that if you are traveling with children you don’t think that your first week out your children will be able to do what mine can do.  We put our time in learning things, making mistakes and figuring it out and just when we get a system going one of my children reaches adulthood and moves out on their own adventure which forces us to re-evaluate everything we do and how we do it.  What I will be describing is what we do and how we do it.  Perhaps I can write a post some day on some of our learning experiences. 

These days, I’m traveling with 4 of my 6 children.  The oldest traveling is now 19 and the youngest is 12.  When we left home in 2015 our destination was Alaska.  At that time my oldest was with us and he was 19.  I taught him to drive the RV and he did all of our driving from Texas to and through Alaska and back to Texas again where he announced he was moving out.  I have to admit being the navigator that year was a sweet job.  It was so nice just being the planner and not having to be the driver as well.  I will admit there were some stressful times being the passenger of a 38’ RV with a 19 year old behind the wheel but as his skill improved and my confidence in him improved I learned to relax in the passenger seat.  Can you imagine a 19 year old driving a 38’ bus?  I will say more than one person did a double take when they saw him in the drivers seat.  And I will also say I was never more thankful to have him driving then when we went through Los Angeles during rush hour and he was doing the driving.  That was at least an hour of creeping traffic and I was not the one having to drive through it! 

When my oldest moved out then his brother moved up to take on his responsibilities.  His brother is 5 years younger and was just beginning his training behind the wheel when he got an opportunity for a summer job.  That summer job was in 2017 and he hasn’t returned yet.  So I’ve been stuck doing all the driving again. 

The second thing is that I made it very clear from the beginning that if we were going to travel then the children would have to do the work.  I explained to them that I have to drive, I have to plan the routes, I have to make the reservations if we have them or find places we can park if we don’t, I have to pay the bills, I have to manage so much stuff already that I am NOT going to be doing everything else.  This means that I do not hook up our toad.  I do not hook up water, electric or sewer.  I do not put fuel in the tank, I do not wash the windshield, I do not replace the washer fluid.  I do not fix things.  I do not clean things.  I do not cook things.  (This one the kids are all thankful for as I am and always have been a terrible cook.)  I also do not grocery shop although I will go to Walmart and wander around the store, I do so for a chance to stretch my legs not to find and acquire the goods. 

I also should explain here that this is not something that was new to my children either.  When my third child, first daughter was about 11 she decided she wanted to be a chef and she took over the kitchen.  And if you know her then you know that when she took over the kitchen, she TOOK OVER the kitchen.  Prior to that we did have a time when several of the children were cooking.  I have never been a foodie.  Until recently, I pretty much just ate because it was a requirement to survive and what I ate was never that important.  If it was in a box or a can I could make it.  Beyond that it just wasn’t going to happen.  I’m queen of hamburger helper and I actually like hamburger helper but I also prefer plain food so there are only 2 flavors of hamburger helper in my opinion, spaghetti or cheesy hashbrown.   So when my children wanted more than Kraft macaroni and cheese, a can of corn or beans and hamburger helper, they decided that they could cook better than mom (and most of them do).  So we tried having each child have one night of cooking per week.  This worked for a while until they all realized my oldest daughter, child number 3 would make them a complete meal while her older brothers might cook hot dogs.  Since we also had a rotation for who does the cleaning after dinner they all realized that the boys had to do way more cleaning when their sister cooked and everyone like that she made complete meals with salads, vegetables, bread and often desert.  In fact, that daughter at the age of 11 prepared a complete Thanksgiving dinner for our single friends from church and no one could believe an 11 year old could cook so well.  So it was decided that she would become the family cook and even now at 19 she still enjoys doing the cooking. 

The children have also had to do the laundry and cleaning of the house as well.  Even before my husband died, the children were doing much of the house work.  When you have a large family, you have more work that needs to be done and when you are pregnant or bringing home a new baby every other year then you quickly realize that you as mom cannot do it all.  I was blessed to learn from some great moms of large families when my kids were still young so we started with them doing chores at the age of 2.  That could be another blog post one day. 

So my children were already used to having to work.  In our house we live by the Biblical principal “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”.  If you don’t believe that’s in the Bible go look it up.  2 Thes 3:10.  It’s in there I promise.  I also have been a student of life for quite some time and I was noticing how children from larger families behaved differently than most children that come from families where they are the only child or only one of two.  I wanted to know what made the difference.  Looking into where those differences came from and looking back at history of how things used to be I concluded that responsible adults come from responsible children and the only way to teach responsibility to a child is to give them some.  So I chose a different philosophy in life.  I do not do for my children things they can do themselves.  I also believe that teaching them to work together as a team is very important and the only way I know to do that is to put them in charge of more things around the house.  That translated into putting them in charge of things on the road as well.

So now that you have the foundation of what I believe and where we were coming from this is what it looks like for us on the road.

I have planned a route, picked a spot to stop and done the driving for the day.  My fourth child, second daughter is my navigator.  She wanted the job and she does better under pressure than her older sister so she will be my copilot.  This means if something happens and I miss a turn, she has to help me get back on track.  If we were in a car, this is no big deal but in a 38’ class A towing a Tahoe and being 12’ 6” tall means that we can’t just take the next turn to correct my mistake.  We have to make sure we will fit.  This daughter has had this job now for the last 2 years or so.  She is now 16 but she’s had the job since she was 14.  We place the GPS between us on the dash so she can reach it if she needs to and she had a tablet and a phone available as well.  She knows which apps to use and how to use them and so far she hasn’t gotten us stuck anywhere.  We have had our moments with her telling me to turn on a road and me looking at the road and saying.  “NO WAY!” and her having to come up with something else.  I wish I could say that we are always kind, soft spoken and gentle, but there have been plenty of times that we have been none of those things.  But so far we’ve always made it to our destination in one piece. 

Ok.  So we’ve made it to let’s say an RV park.  We pull up to the check in and I hop out and go inside to check us in.  I still do this although there have been days I have sent one of the children to check us in if I’ve had a bad day.  But typically, I do the check in.  When I go inside to check us in, my first daughter, 3rd child gets out to unhook our toad.  This job was the oldest sons then the second oldest sons but with them gone now the girls have to do this job.  Both daughters are capable of doing this job and my third son, fifth child knows how but I don’t have the confidence yet to turn the job over to him.  So my daughter usually has the Tahoe unhooked and in gear with the tow bar stowed before I exit from the camper check in.  Yes, she’s that quick.  Most of the time we prefer to drive around the campground in the Tahoe before taking the RV in and most campgrounds have a place we can park the RV while we do this.  So we usually park the RV near the gate then I hop into the Tahoe as she drives around the park.  She knows what to look for but I like to have an idea of what I’m driving through.  We’ve had a few parks with some problems.  One had a washed out road that was difficult to drive down, one had an impossible turn and one had low hanging trees we couldn’t drive under.  If I get to see what we’ll be encountering before I drive the rig in, I’m usually much less stressed about parking.

Once we’ve picked a spot (sometimes if it’s a crowded park I will take one of the younger kids along and leave them at the spot we picked just so no one can snag it before we get back there.)  She drops me at the rig and then either follows me or leads me.  If I’m unsure which way to go, she will lead me (because she has the campground map) but if I’m confident of which way to go she’ll follow me. 

When we get to our campsite now the real fun begins.  I get to back the rig in.  I must say this one has taken us some time to get right as I had to learn to back up the RV and my children had to learn to guide me and I had to learn to trust them.  Fortunately, when my oldest son was driving and backing in I had some of the children with me as we were guiding him in so they got to learn how to help.  Depending on the hazards this may only require one child to help me or I might have 3 of them out spotting.  We’ve had places with some tight trees and I’ll have a child positioned to watch one particular tree.  But most of the time my 2nd daughter, fourth child is my guide.  She’s learned now the RV “swings” and what to watch out for and I’ve come to trust her.  There are some times I might feel more comfortable getting out and walking around looking for things I should be aware of but most of the time, she just guides me in.  This is also what makes people first take notice of us.  We get one of two reactions typically.  The first reaction is people seeing the child outside trying to guide me in and they think they need to come and help us.  Although we do appreciate their kindness and wiliness to help, we also have learned that people seem to develop their ways of communicating while backing and if you are used to working with one person sometimes the helper isn’t as helpful as they want to be.  My daughter usually finds a polite way to let them know she can handle the job.  Then we have the others.  Those who see this child get out and this woman driving and they pull out their lawn chairs to watch thinking there is going to be some entertainment in the campground today.  You know these people, you’ve probably been these people.  Some days in some campgrounds that’s the only entertainment we get is watching people park.  And we’ve definitely had our share of shows.  That one time and the last time we pulled into a campground after dark when my second son told the kind neighbor that NO he didn’t need to use his high powered 8 billion lumins spot light to help guide me that we could do this on our own…and there were two trees beside us and one in front of us that I couldn’t see and the fact that when I’m backing up in the dark I can see NOTHING.  The backup camera is completely useless.  There is no light on the sides so I can see nothing in my mirrors and my son standing there with his tiny pocket flashlight is barely a speck.  I decided after that incident that we will never park in the dark again.  To say it did not go well would be a gross understatement.  It was that incident that earned us a set of those tshirts we’ve seen, “Sorry for what I said parking the camper”. 

Now we’ve gotten to camp, unhooked the toad, found the campsite and back into it.  This is when people really start to notice us as my little people all get busy.  Once I have parked then one child comes forward and opens the control panel while another usually the youngest starts checking the slide.  We’ve discovered that “contents may shift during travel” and it is always a good idea to check the slide before moving it.  This would be one of those lessons we learned the hard way.  We do have a little fun with things.  We have to dump the air from our air ride system, so I flip that switch since it’s under the steering column.  Then the controlling child (I have several of these by the way) will put the jacks down.  This child changes and there is a current power struggle for control of this assignment.  My 2nd daughter, 4th child prefers to be the one in control here but her younger brother also wants to claim this job.  No clear victor has emerged yet.  However, the 2nd daughter has already been outside helping me back in and already walked around to make sure both slides will clear any obstacles.  So she usually puts the jacks down and then sends her brother out to check the tires.  Although we’ve seen rigs who put their jacks down and let their tires come off the ground, we prefer not to stress our jacks that much.  With 4-6 kids in the RV they tend to move more and move more aggressively than most adults do which causes more rocking of our RV so I don’t want to risk breaking something and I require that our tires be on the ground giving us more stability.  If all our jacks are down, the coach is level enough then usually the 2nd daughter will put the slide out.  As soon as she has the slides out she goes outside and hooks up the water and sewer.  In our case, we also hook up a water softener so she gets to maintain that as well.  Her doing the hookups also sometimes brings helpful adults over to offer her advise or assistance.  This annoys her greatly as she has been doing this for 2 years now and she feels insulted when offered help.  This little exercise is teaching her patience and how to respond kindly to others so it’s been good for her. 

While she’s outside doing the hookups, the two youngest are inside preparing the cabin.  Because we have 5-7 people in our 38’ class A, we have more stuff than most people who buy this type of rig.  We’ve come up with some creative ways to handle things and part of this is 3 stacking bins in the back bedroom.  There is this wasted space in the corner between the bathroom door that we don’t use and the cabinets.  The only thing there is a panel to access the breaker box so we put 3 stacking bins on top of another stacking shelf.  We can store shoes under the shelf and then use the 3 bins as needed.  Honestly, the top bin usually has my clothes for the day so I don’t have to go to the closet and then various odds and ends.  Those three baskets have served so many different purposes it’s hard to say exactly what we put them there for, but I like having them so we have them.  But when the slide comes in, the bed does as well so they cannot be there during travel.  This means whatever was in them as well as the three baskets and 1 shelf have to go onto the bed.  So my youngest daughter, 6th child is in charge of the bedroom.  She has to put everything where it belongs, clearing the bed.  My 5th child, 3rd son will either go outside and pester, er I mean help his sister with hookups or he will be working on something else inside.  His job is trash and floors.  So he will make sure all our trash is out, set up a new trashcan for us and sweep or vacuum the floors.  It seems that moving the slides in and out can create some dirt so he typically starts us off with clean floors. 

Once my 4th child, 2nd daughter has finished outside, she comes in and makes sure all the systems are set.  If the generator was running during travel she’ll shut it off, she checks everything then might set up things outside.  If we’re only in a place for a couple of nights we don’t get anything out for the outside but if we’re staying a week or more then she will pull out our patio mat, our box of chairs, maybe even string up our patio lights.  If she wants her sister to cook outside she’ll set up the grill and the stove for her.  When her brothers were with us they were in charge of what we call the basement.  When they left, she pulled everything out of the basement, sorted through it, reorganized it and now expects everyone to keep it orderly and clean.  She is definitely my child.  She even created a layout showing where everything is, laminated it and taped it to the doors so there is no excuse for anyone digging around looking for something or not putting it back where it belongs. 

Where is my 3rd child 1st daughter during all of this?  She’s usually sitting in the Tahoe.  She will park it and usually doesn’t come inside until most of the work is done.  She’s giving everyone space to get their work done at least that’s what she says. 

We can usually set up camp in 15 minutes or less.  Everyone knows their jobs and unless someone is trying to take someone else’s job, then things go smoothly.  The kids also know that no one gets to play nor eat until things are done so they usually work quickly.

We also travel with bicycles.  The big boys used to put the bikes on the Tahoe and remove them but with them gone, now my girls get to do this job as well.  My 5th child, 3rd son can get the bicycles on and off the back, but the 2 bikes that may be on the roof, he had not been able to handle, but my 4th child 2nd daughter is determined to get things done and she can get those bicycles on and off the roof by herself. 

Even though only one child is assigned the task of doing the shore connections, all of the children know how to do so.  And I have to add that once we are set up then my 3rd child 1st daughter does all of the cooking and all of the grocery shopping so she does more than her fair share.  My youngest daughter has the responsibility of dish duty and has taken over laundry as well so she has plenty to do as well.  When we have something that requires someone to be on the roof, my 4th child, 2nd daughter handles that as well.  I have to say I have never and will never climb up on the roof and I have never done our hookups nor hooked up or unhooked our toad.  All of these things have been done by the children every time for 3 ½ years.  In doing these jobs they have learned a lot.  They’ve learned how to resolve problems that occur, they’ve learned diligence in completing tasks, they’ve learned responsibility, patience, endurance, etc.  Our experience of living on the road has grown all of us in so many ways that we would not have experience had we stayed in the comfort of a sticks and bricks home. 

When it’s time to leave, they just do everything in reverse.