by Shelley Zoellick - 1992 (FOTR 1988-2003)
We'd been full timing only about six weeks. Our trailer, the RV way of life - everything - was brand new to us. The future was uncertain, yet exciting?
Suddenly it became a whole lot more uncertain, with the unexpected news that I was pregnant. Invariably, it seemed, in conversations with others about our nomadic lifestyle, the statement would be made, "Well, it will be okay until children come along." We had arrived. Now what were we going to do?
We were faced with a difficult dilemma - where to fit a baby, and all its accompanying paraphernalia,such as furniture sets for babies in a trailer where every square inch had already been fully utilized. Through trial and error (mostly error!) we finally achieved a workable arrangement without turning the whole trailer into a portable nursery.
Perhaps you are a parent planning an RV vacation that includes a baby, an RVing grandparent looking forward to a special visit, or even a young full timer who is also a parent. I hope some of these tips will be useful as you face the challenge of incorporating a baby into your RV lifestyle.
First of all, I want to assure you that it is possible, regardless of the reactions you may encounter from others. Babies are people too, and there is no reason why they can't enjoy RVing as much as you do. I happen to know a young mother (a fulltime RVer) who is somewhere at large with her husband and two sons, aged three and one, and another on the way. I also recently encountered a family with six children, aged 10 years to 14 months, who are presently touring the continent in a motorhome.
One of your first considerations will probably be where the 'nursery' should be located, and what you should - and shouldn't - give up in terms of space and furnishings. It is not necessary to remove large pieces of furniture, or devote most of your living quarters to the new addition. When I was in my last trimester, and the nesting instinct strong, I became a neurotic creature (my husband will eagerly attest to this). I made him remove our entire dinette section so I could set up a crib, rocking chair, dresser, changing table, wall hangings, mobile, etc., etc. Not only was this a nuisance, but we soon got tired of eating on our laps, we couldn't entertain anymore, and the ideal little nursery I had envisioned was in reality an eyesore. And what a hassle every time we moved!
I soon learned that you don't need everything pictured in the catalog to raise one tiny baby. You don't need a changing table - a changing pad on the bed works just as well. Instead of a dresser, reshuffle things and use one of the drawers or cabinets you already have. Decorations can be scaled down or eliminated. Even the crib doesn't have to be full-sized. We used a collapsible travel bed in the corner of the living room until our son was two, when he graduated to the couch. It took up a lot less space, could be quickly put away when guests came, and cost much less than a full-size crib. He never missed the mobile - he grew up watching birds and squirrels outside his window.
A baby swing can give you some peace in those early months, and may be worth the space it occupies. It was for us. Try to borrow or buy a small one that can be folded against the wall when not in use.
A good stroller is a must if you are serious about getting out with your baby. It can be hard to keep a stroller clean and dry when your home is an RV, but if you don't it will mildew and rust. One of the storage compartments under the trailer will usually suffice. I suggest looking for a stroller that is not too cumbersome and has a removable covering to make cleaning easier. A backpack is also great for walks in the outdoors, and is much more compact.
When our son began eating at the table, we bought a little plastic play chair with a tray and strapped it to our dinette seat. But now I wish we'd bought a high chair, because the cushion below is stained (not to mention the 'dry clean recommended' drapes that are constantly being pulled back by spaghetti-smeared little hands) and we have very little seating capacity for guests. I would recommend a small, easy-to-clean high chair that could be slid under the table, like the ones they provide in restaurants.
In general, when shopping for these items or deciding what to take from home, think small, portable and collapsible, if possible. Also, look for items that can do double-duty, such as a playpen/crib, or a car seat that can be used as a carrier. They even make a car seat/carrier/swing now, that would be first on my list if I was expecting a new addition.
When setting up, think about how much you will have to take down or put away each time you move. The RV life is one of simplicity, and a baby doesn't have to change that too much.
Think small when choosing toys, too, or they will soon take over your home (believe me, I know). My son seems to have just as much fun playing with his little race cars as he does his big trucks. Pick the ones that really hold your child's attention, preferably the ones that offer choices such as blocks or trucks and trailers that can be hooked together, and settle for just a few. Weed the toy box regularly, get rid of any that are broken or outgrown, and replace them with new ones. You can also 'rotate' toys once in a while - they will seem like new to your child.
An important consideration is childproofing your RV. I suggest reading up on the subject and doing a thorough job. However, here are a few ideas. Get safety latches for drawers and cabinets you don't want your baby to get into. Put medicines and household cleaners up in the highest cabinets. Turn the hot water temperature down. Buy those little plugs for electrical outlets and use them. And evaluate you electric heaters to be sure a baby cannot stick his fingers in them, or tip them over and start a fire. I think RVs offer fewer hazards than many homes, but they do make it easier for babies to climb into areas you wouldn't expect them to reach.
There are, of course, certain difficulties in RVing with a baby (although I haven't found one that was insurmountable). It can be difficult to get baby to sleep when his crib is in the corner of the living room and you don't feel like turning off the TV at eight o'clock. Our solution to this was to allow our son to adopt our schedule - going to bed around ten o'clock and getting up about seven. He napped during the day, which gave me some time to myself. But if we wanted to stay up late, or had company over, and he didn't fall asleep amid the commotion, I would take him into our bedroom and get him to sleep, then put him in his crib later. If your baby's schedule is well established and you want to leave it as is, you could try retiring early and reading or watching TV in your bedroom, or even visit outside, so he can fall asleep.
Privacy. We all need it, and it's hard to find in an RV where there's a little one crawling or toddling everywhere, or reaching all corners with his cries. It helps if you can anticipate this and work together. Perhaps you can take turns rocking the baby so you each get a chance to enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet. You can also install those little chain latches on sliding doors to avoid unwanted intrusions. You and your baby will probably need to get out more often to compensate for a small living space. Get out and enjoy the outdoors, teach your baby early to appreciate the RV way of life. Or, if the weather is bad, go to the mall or library for a while. You will be surprised how much better you will feel about everything when you get back. I spent a winter cooped up in our trailer with a small baby, wondering why I was so depressed, before I learned the necessity of regular, frequent outings, with or without my son.
Avoiding spills and stains with a baby on board is difficult, and a certain amount is unavoidable. It helps a lot if you can make sure that all eating and drinking takes place in the kitchen (I allow water and dry Cheerios in the living room), and wipe all sticky surfaces before letting him loose. Certain toys, such as crayons and paint, need to be supervised too. Particularly messy activities can be done outside if weather permits. Another thing I've learned along the way - seating your child at the end of the table affords a full view of the outside and keeps sticky hands away from the drapes, cushions and windowpanes.
With a washer and dryer, I had no difficulty using cloth diapers, except when we were on the road or boondocking. Disposable diapers win hands down when it comes to neatness and convenience, however.
I highly recommend breast-feeding, which eliminates the hassle of buying, mixing, refrigerating and warming formula, and washing bottles. We never used baby food either, just fed him directly from the table. Again, the simple life.
Whatever your situation, I recommend having a family doctor or pediatrician you can call if you have questions or worries while away from home. Keeping up on immunizations and check-ups is also important. If necessary, you can ask your doctor about getting immunizations on the road if you will be away when they are due. I managed to get our son to all of his immunizations, but we didn't make it to all of the checkups. However, our doctor understands our situation and goes out of his way to fit us in when we do pass through, and is quite willing to give me advice over the phone when we are out of state.
Our RV baby will be three in September, and is no worse for wear. Rather, he is remarkably adaptable, eager to meet new people and explore new surroundings. He even has his own road atlas!
We have survived, too.