Keeping Our Family Close with a Home on Wheels

Three kids and a dog sitting in a cozy room in an RV.

Hanging on one of the walls of our RV, a sign reads, “These are the good ol’ days.” A friend of mine made it, and it serves as a constant reminder to appreciate our lives as they are now. My husband, son, two daughters and I live full-time in our 2008 Keystone Fuzion Toy Hauler, currently parked in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I wish we could say it was wanderlust that set us on this journey, but our story is rooted in practicality. 

In our previous life, we lived in Bakersfield, California, where two out of every three people are employed by the oilfield industry, including my husband. He’s worked as a rig welder for the past 14 years. But in September 2018, he took a job in the booming Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico where his company had picked up some work, and had to spend four months a thousand miles away from us. 

As a rig welder, he has to go where his work takes him, and we’ve always understood that. But those four months were hard––one of the hardest times in our marriage. We liked each other a whole lot more than we’d ever realized, and missed each other more than we thought was possible. So we started talking about our options for closing the distance. Because oilfield work requires relatively frequent moves, buying or renting a home in New Mexico wasn’t a realistic option. We didn’t want to put down roots, we wanted the freedom to pack up and follow the work without needing to break a lease or coordinate selling a house. 

It dawned on us that buying an RV could work perfectly for our family. It would give us four solid walls to call home and make our own, while still being easy to pack up and move. We could settle our home in New Mexico for as long as we needed, and go anywhere we wanted after that.

Designing our new life was easy. Leaving our old life behind was hard. I’d never lived more than fifteen minutes away from my childhood home. Bakersfield is one of those small towns in America where people spend their whole lives––and if they do leave, they almost always come back. With a new home on wheels, we knew we’d be back, too, eventually. So we leaned into the possibility of our life-changing experience: the chance to show our three kids how much more there is to life and how little of the world they’d seen so far. 

We’ve homeschooled our kids for the last eight years, and our new adventure thrilled both them and us. We couldn’t help but think of all the wonderful experiences we could give them. We dreamed about all the new things they would see and do, and how those experiences would bring their education to life. We would read about history in books and then take them to visit all the incredible places they’d read about first-hand. What an incredible opportunity! 

So that’s exactly what we did. For instance, in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest, we visited Fort Stanton, the site of U.S. military operations against the Mescalero Apaches around 1855. They walked the same path as the Apaches who were held as prisoners and heard the sad story of the Apache tribe, which included the famous leader, Geronimo, who held out the longest against the U.S. government. 

Our children have their own Apache ancestry. And as they looked at the historical photos at Fort Stanton, in a way, they could see part of themselves looking back at them. It’s been one of our most memorable visits to a historical site, and hands down the most moving. Through visiting the fort, history came alive in a way that it never could through reading a textbook. 

There are so many other lessons that can’t be learned from schoolwork. Just recently, on a day trip to the tiny mountain town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, we visited a small coffee shop. The owner told us about how he and his brother had bought his father’s surveying company once upon a time, but the fast pace of surveying life had taken a toll. So they sold the business and the owner had moved to sleepy Cloudcroft to open a coffee shop instead. 

On this journey, we meet so many people living unconventional lives. These are the stories we want our kids to hear and the lessons we want them to learn; that there’s more to life than what you’re raised to expect, that any kind of life is possible if you have the right perspective. These are the kinds of adventures that make our days away from home worth it.

Even when we’re stationary and not having new adventures, the day-to-day routine of our life together is what gives our RV that sense of being home. We’ve kept some old family traditions and created new ones over the last year that help make every day special. 

My 15-year-old daughter puts together monthly tea parties. We drop everything, choose a theme, bake, make tea and sandwiches, put on some music and just party together. My 13-year-old son loves to host game nights. We’ll sit down and play a game as a family, usually UNO, and my youngest daughter dominates us all. We eat dinner together every night, making time to share details about our days. Then we’ll gather to watch our favorite TV shows as a group. 

Adventures are wonderful and exciting, but as our children get older, the most valuable thing we can give them is our time. The togetherness, unity, closeness and even the occasional bickering are all worth their weight in gold. It’s the moments we share squeezed within these four walls that draw our eyes back to that little sign with a big message: These ARE the good ol’ days. 

The O'Neill family travels in a 2008 Keystone Fuzion Toy Hauler.

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