I can tell you right now, I LOVED what I learned from this home tour. It’s like nothing I’ve really seen — although it did remind me a tiny bit of my adventurous friends at Blue Lily! — and it will most likely open your eyes to a way of living with kids you may never have considered. At least, it did for me.
Laura has a thoughtfulness and humility that just drew me right in, and I hope you feel the same way. She makes such a positive, community-strong case for her unique way of living as it applies to her and her family, so-much-so that it prompted me to stop and consider the housing trends and plans we’ve all been following as a society. Could I ever live in a Vandura with six kids? Probably not. But there’s so much more to this tour than that fact. So much more. You’ll see.
Hi everyone! I’m Laura. Our family is comprised of me, my partner Jeff, and our 21-month old son Henry. We are full-time musicians who play in the indie pop band Ok Vancouver Ok. We spend up to half of each year on tour driving, flying, and taking trains around the world to play concerts.
When we are not on the road we call Vancouver, Canada home. I was born and raised in this beautiful city and feel excited to watch Henry grow up here. In addition to being in a band, I work as an assistant and contributor for the award-winning Eco-parenting website The Green Mama. In between drumming and breastfeeding, I am toiling away on my laptop trying to research environmentally conscious alternatives to the often toxic trappings of parenthood.
An unconventional fact about our life is that we live in a roomy 1982 GMC Vandura that we have converted into a tiny home on wheels. We bought it on Valentine’s day last year and gut renovated it right away. The van had already been stripped of its original interior and had an after-market raised roof and cool vertical windows. The previous owners were unable to finish the renovation they had planned, and sold it to us in pretty rough shape. It was a rusty, moldy, blank slate. For 1200 Canadian dollars we figured we could gamble on it, and with some time and TLC our investment paid off.
Vans aren’t built to live in; they have little to no insulation and are filled with synthetic materials like plastic and foam. This is an indoor air quality nightmare! Our first order of business was to detoxify, insulate, and build out the interior with wood. We also laid down a new floor and built a raised platform in the back.
For me, the height of the bed platform is crucial to van-dwelling success. It needs to be high enough from the floor to provide ample storage beneath — this is where our clothes, kitchen supplies, spare tire, camping equipment, and musical instruments live — but enough headroom above so that you can sit comfortably on the bed. We were able to get the van organized for living in only a few weeks thanks to the help of my father, who happens to be a carpenter with lots of expertise and tools.
Our van doesn’t have many things that traditional homes do. We don’t have a kitchen, electricity, a shower, a toilet, running water, storage, or heat. This means that we need to take more effort to accomplish daily tasks. Some issues, like washing clothes have a simple solution like a laundromat. Other problems, like going pee at 4:00 am, need to have more creative solutions. People are often astonished that we exist without WiFi or a place to recharge our electronics more than the fact that we live in Canada with no heat! (Don’t worry, Vancouver has a mild climate like Seattle and rarely experiences freezing weather!)
Our family eats a plant-based diet with lots of raw elements, so refrigeration and cooking isn’t as much of a concern as it would be with a more animal intensive eating plan. In the winter we can keep fresh food on hand in our cool Canadian climate for a few days, and in the summer we tend to only buy what we will eat for the day. We get to try lots of great restaurants around the world when we are traveling, and have become pros at eating out with a toddler. (Go at non-peak times, order as soon as you sit down, pay before your food comes, and get the heck out of there as soon as you are done!)
Sometimes we need to get very innovative with our home-cooked meals. I have found myself making organic nut butter with my Vitamix in a gas station restroom, or pre-soaking grains on a long haul drive so we can have sprouted quinoa for dinner in the green room. My Julienne peeler is my most coveted tool; zucchini noodles in a flash!
Living in the van and traveling a lot has the unexpected advantage of helping me be really diligent with toilet learning and elimination communication. Not dealing with diapers and accidents is really incentivized when you don’t have access to laundry! I am proud to say that at 21 months, Henry is nearly out of his cloth diapers and has no problems asking to go poo in a punk bar in Berlin or on the side of the Interstate in California.
We began living in our first van long before Henry was on the scene. It was 2010. We camperized our Ford Windstar Minivan to go on a seven-month music tour around North America. We removed the bench seats to make space for our instruments and amplifiers, and built a platform we could use as a makeshift bed.
When we returned to Vancouver after our trip, the housing market had shifted because of the 2010 Winter Olympics, development, and demand. We had the hardest time finding a new rental — let alone an affordable rental — so we just kept on living in the van. Since then we have renovated three vans and never looked back!
It is hard for me to discern if we fell into our lifestyle, chose to live this way, or were forced due to the extreme housing crisis our region is facing. I think many will agree our lives are a complicated mixture of circumstance and choice. When faced with limited affordable housing stock, I chose to embrace living in a less conventional way. The tradeoff of living in our van has allowed us to stay close to family and friends, have less hours spent at work and more time available to be with our son, keep pursuing our careers and passions, travel the world, and save money for Henry’s future.
Living in a van has also instilled more empathy in us for those who are currently marginalized with regards to housing. Vancouver has a large visibly homeless population concentrated in a single neighborhood. There is constant dialogue about this issue and its resolution.
Outwardly I appear to be traditionally housed and am therefore privy to conversations about ‘homeless people’ that make me feel ill. When people say that they hate rainy days because ‘the homeless loiter in cafe’s and make it smell bad’ my response is often sobering.
I think that we need to rethink The North American Dream we have been fed. It is not sustainable emotionally or environmentally to all strive for single family homes in the suburbs. The notion that success is reached when every family member has their own bedroom, in suite laundry, many bathrooms, and a big yard with an emerald green lawn is simply outdated. My take is that we are on the verge of a new reality and there are many examples of alternate norms around the world that we can look to. Extended families living in one home, dwelling in one-room buildings, having public baths, and not using electricity are all totally acceptable in other cultures. Why is it so hard to adopt some of these ideas in our own?
It’s also worth stating that this is not my dream home. Ideally I would be living in a cabin-like home I built out of trees I felled myself on a gorgeous island in the Pacific Northwest. I would be growing all sorts of heirloom vegetables and homeschooling my pack of smart and spunky offspring. We’d have a big happy dog and an orchard. Living in our Vandura is a stepping stone on the long path of our life, and for right now it has been a magical moment.
Last year we were away for seven months on tour. We got to drive from coast to coast across Canada. All the way down to Los Angeles and over to Europe. When we travel, we are accompanied by our amazing bassist. She is an important part of Henry’s life and an indispensable asset to our modern family. Sometimes I wonder how I would be able to survive each day without having a ‘second mama’ on hand?!
When we are on tour, every day looks different. We usually wake up and hit the road right away to make our way to the next city. We plan our path so we don’t have to drive more than five hours a day so that Henry doesn’t have to endure long durations strapped into a car seat. We stop often to let him go to the bathroom and stretch his legs. We eat lots of snacks and listen to music and talk and do crafts.
When we arrive in the new city for the show it’s usually lots of looking at maps — we don’t have GPS or smart phones — and trying to sort out parking. We load in and sound check around dinner time each day. This can be stressful. Everyone is weary from the drive and then there’s the task of getting to the gig, then we have to meet new people and old friends, carry heavy equipment, liaise with the sound person and other performers, and set up everything to make a great concert later that evening. Then we eat dinner and get psyched for the night.
Henry usually goes to bed between 8:00 and 10:00 pm. In North America, we bring a nanny with us. Lots of the venues are 21+ or unsuitable for children so we need to have someone there who can take care of him and put him to sleep while we work. But in Europe there are different laws and we are actually able to bring Henry into all of the shows.
On this past tour I would strap him onto my back in an Ergo carrier with his sound silencing headphones and he would sleep through our concerts! I found it is actually easier for me to have him right there with me. I can hear his heartbeat and he can hear mine. We both feel calm and contented knowing each other is happy. It has also made me an excellent and adaptable drummer!
After the show is over we go to bed! This is usually arranged by the person who booked us. Our accommodation is anything from living room floors to apartments atop the venue to bed and breakfasts to swanky hotels. After living in a van with no amenities, a couch with a toilet down the hall feels pretty deluxe! On our days off I would always elect to go camping versus staying in a hotel. We don’t sleep in the van very often when we are on tour. On long tours we try to play shows every day for a few weeks and then take some time off in a favorite city or in a place where we have friends or relatives to visit.
Touring is actually a tricky way to get to know a place! We are usually driving during business hours and miss out on daylight, museums, and attractions. We only see the night life and get glimpses into certain enclaves. Taking days off lets us experience the other side of the cities we play.
When we are back in Vancouver, our days have a much more predictable rhythm. Each day ends up revolving around the seasons. In the summer our baths usually happen in bodies of water. In the winter we tend to go to bed earlier, just like the sun. We take advantage of public amenities like swimming pools, the library, community centre craft drop-ins, and free events. I do my freelance writing from cafes. We enjoy a slow pace, and have more money and time to give to local businesses and events.
I make our van feel like home with beautiful bedding, strategic minimalism, and lots of plants!
Since over 50% of our living space is a bed, I make sure that it is cozy and beautiful. I have hand quilted many blankets since becoming a van dweller. I love the methodical and tedious nature of collecting little scraps of fabric from thrift stores and giving them new life by stitching them together. A queen sized blanket can take me months to complete. It is the perfect electricity-free hobby.
Minimalism is also key for living in a very small space. I have found out that I actually don’t like objects as much as I thought I did! I feel most at home when everything is streamlined and in its place. This can be tricky with a toddler. I am ruthless about passing on items we no longer need. Sometimes it feels like we are giving Henry’s toys, books, and too-small shoes away the second he outgrows them.
Let’s just say The Marie Kondo movement was not an a-ha moment for us! We’ve been living that truth for years. My whole wardrobe fits into a suitcase and nothing needs ironing or special washing.
Having plants inside the space helps purify the indoor air and makes it feel like a real home! It’s also fun to drive around with a potted plant on the dash. Makes me smile every time.
The only thing I truly miss from a life indoors is the ease of entertaining. I love to cook and bake and feed everyone I love. Having long meals with great wine and tasty snacks is something that we can achieve in the summer at beaches and parks, but in the winter it is hard to invite people over.
I also miss having my own garden. The wait lists for community plots in Vancouver are insane! And our touring schedule usually means that we are out of town for either planting, tending, or harvest. One day when I ‘retire’ I will have the garden of my dreams.
Our house doesn’t feel too small for us. The van is like our bedroom and the rest of the world is just a very long hallway away. We get to spend so much more time experiencing people, places, and things!
We feel really blessed to spend our days in Vancouver parked in a diverse and open-minded neighborhood close to the city centre. Our neighbors (both those that live in traditional houses and those that live in vans) are so welcoming and accommodating of our somewhat unique housing strategy. We also have a great extended network of bands, promoters, artists, and fans all around the world.
We currently live within driving distance of Henry’s four grandparents and three great-grandparents. We couldn’t ask for more intergenerational support. It is so wonderful to give him the gift of their involvement in his life.
It can be alienating and isolating to be a new mom. Everything is unfamiliar and it seems that the world wasn’t designed for crying newborns, leaky breasts, and diaper blowouts. A simple trip to the market becomes the event of the day and many mothers end up inside their homes, alone. Being a mom who is traveling with her baby and living in very small space means that I am always out and about, confronting society with my breast milk covered reality. I have found some amazing solidarity and community in this circumstance.
I see living in a van at this stage in Henry’s life as a decision that comes with both positives and negatives. That being said, I can’t think of a version of my life that wouldn’t come without some concessions. Right now I am taking each day as it comes. Our debt-free, freelance situation has left us able to evolve. I don’t worry too much about how living in a van will impact Henry as he grows because I am confident that we will reshape our lifestyle to meet his needs.
Just as parents switch schools when they find out about their child’s new learning challenges, I am ready to make necessary adjustments to give Henry the best life. My maternal Grandmother lost her husband when her kids were very young. I always keep her advice to live in the moment and not take things for granted with me. I feel grateful to have a partner with me that feels the same way and I am excited that we are building this life together.
When I found out I was pregnant I was…you guessed it…on tour! We were in Switzerland when I finally took a pregnancy test, but I had known in my heart for a few weeks that I was most likely expecting. I even bought folic acid at a chemist in Serbia and began taking them just in case. I knew that I would have to seriously reorganize my priorities and rearrange my plans to accommodate this new being. And I began to realize that it wouldn’t be as simple as setting up a crib in the guest bedroom. I became acutely aware of the fact that I had no idea who this person would end up being and therefore couldn’t really plan for what was to come.
I often joke it’s like choosing a roommate for the next 18 years (at least) without even bothering to interview them. Would the baby be fussy? Shy? Outgoing? Big? Small? Would he or she have a physical challenge? Would my labour be complicated?! What about breastfeeding?! I surrendered all my expectations and opened up to the possibility that this could be the end of my life on the road. I was totally ready to become this baby’s mom through all the ups, downs, and transformations.
Lucky for us, Henry has been a happy healthy baby from day one. I was playing concerts right up until my due date and began again a few months after he was born. He is very outgoing, social, and adaptable. He LOVES the drums and singing into the microphone. At 21 months, he is now able to tell the difference between certain cables and instruments. He is a treat to watch at shows. He is so authentic in his joy! I hope he maintains his enthusiasm forever. So far he seems to have no issues with our lifestyle, and on the contrary manages to thrive in our somewhat unconventional tour schedule.
I know that I can’t expect him to vividly remember all of the amazing moments and places he has seen in his first 21 months of life. But everything I have read on the topic of parenting has stressed that although kids don’t remember exact details from the first three years of life, the experiences in this window shape who they are forever. I want Henry to remember that I loved never having to spend a day apart from one another. I want him to know that home isn’t a building, but rather the feeling of being safe and supported by people that love you. I want him to keep his open heart, mind, and free spirit.
I am not sure what I hope he remembers about me as a mother. In a way, I hope he sees a side of me that I don’t even know about! I have an image of myself as a strong and confident artist who is trying to fill the mom-shaped hole in my music community. I would love to have him shatter my notion of myself with a surprising answer. I believe that children are here to teach us just as much as we are meant to teach them.
I wish that someone had told me that these is no right way to mother. I am just 21 months into my lifelong adventure as a parent and I have already received my fair share of condemnation and criticism. I have also found myself turning the tables to judge other parents.
By standing on a stage night after night, I am putting myself in a position to be photographed, videotaped, and critiqued. There is rampant sexism in the entertainment industry and I had been desensitized to people forgetting to focus on my musical abilities in favor of commenting on my weight, outfit, hairstyle, and personality. However, I was unprepared for how bringing Henry into my life and my work would open the door for criticism on my ability to parent and raise a healthy child.
In a digital age where it is so easy to comment on others’ lives, I am trying to reflect on the power of words and the homogenized face of normalcy perpetuated by the media. There are so many diverse and wonderful ways to be an excellent parent. I want to hear a chorus of strong radical mamas speaking openly about success and failures. We need to end the erasure of the ‘unconventional’ narrative. I wish that someone had told me sooner that the only way to achieve this is to be authentic and share with one another.
Where do I start? First, I’d like to thank Laura for her fresh perspective. It was glorious. Second, this: “On this past tour I would strap him onto my back in an Ergo carrier with his sound silencing headphones and he would sleep through our concerts! I found it is actually easier for me to have him right there with me. I can hear his heartbeat and he can hear mine. We both feel calm and contented knowing each other is happy.” Talk about bringing your baby to work! Again, pretty glorious, right?
There’s almost too much to love in this one. But I can’t forget to mention her hopes that her Henry will shatter her notion of herself with a surprising answer. I had never really considered this concept, have you? It’s kind of life-changing.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.
117 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Laura House”
I have found the most interesting and unexpected aspect of motherhood to be exactly what Laura talks about in wanting her son to tell her something about herself that she finds surprising. My oldest is 16 and she teaches me about myself all the time. I think I’m doing one thing and her reaction shows me something else entirely. I find my preconceived notions of myself and my kids challenged regularly and it’s wonderful!
I think that Laura is a genius! What an amazing perspective! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and creativity, and inspiring many of us to examine our own choices! What a beautiful family.
Wow, loved this tour!! Thank you for sharing Laura. How awesome to be able to work with your baby so close! I’m looking forward to seeing myself from a new perspective too, once I have kids. So interesting to think about.
I’m loving the range of experiences shown on Design Mom lately, Gabby! Great work.
I can understand alternative lifestyles, smaller homes, and multi-generational living, but making food for your family in a gas station bathroom and not knowing where you could urinate in the middle of the night seems so unsettling to me. This post threw me for a loop.
I feel the same way as you Patty. I want to say so much more, but I am still stunned by this post! And yes making food in a gas station restroom almost seems to go against the whole non toxic , environmental way of life!
I wan’t boiling toilet water to make our gluten free ramen noodles ! I was using electricity to quickly blend organic peanuts. Maybe we need to reconsider why there aren’t more public electrical outlets in places other than restrooms?
“I wasn’t boiling toilet water to make our gluten free ramen noodles !”
This made me laugh out loud!
I love this question. Bravo, Laura, for challenging yourself and others to think more deeply and critically about the world in which we live and all of the expectations and norms we encounter.
I love love loved this tour and admire this mama so much. I lived in a VW bus in Hawaii for a year and it was amazingly freeing. Now I have 4 kids and live in one of those “lovely” suburban houses with a lawn and I mostly hate it. It is always wonderful to read or hear about a mama who is being true to herself. What better example for her children than that?
This is an incredible read. I loved this line “I think many will agree our lives are a complicated mixture of circumstance and choice.” It sums up so much. I love having a window into her unique experiences and seeing how her son and family is thriving.
What an inspiring story! We’re considering living in an unconventional way as well, but I’ve found the possibility somewhat daunting with our 22 month old, but Laura’s story gives has given me a boost of confidence!
I actually found this one pretty off-putting. There is a major difference between living in a van because you have no other alternative and living in a van because you see it as part of a hipster lifestyle. Plus, my guess is as your child gets older and wants some degree of privacy (which starts happening by age 6 or 7 in my experience) he will not be thrilled with his accommodations.
And Laura noted that their lives will change in response to Henry’s needs….
I don’t think you need to worry about Henry’s future privacy needs. I thought Laura was quite clear about being willing to change as her child’s needs change. She says, “I don’t worry too much about how living in a van will impact Henry as he grows because I am confident that we will reshape our lifestyle to meet his needs.”
I love this.
I agree with Patty; making food in a gas station bathroom sounds hard. I can’t even use a gas station bathroom for its intended purpose!
Barbara and Patty, I can appreciate your reaction, but what I love about this site is that it’s a place to consider how we “design” our lives as mothers. How lucky that someone whose choices might be so different from mine or yours would put herself in the vulnerable position of sharing her life. These comments felt mean spirited to me. I value the starkly different perspective and feel it would be a loss to silence it by criticism or judgment. Thanks for considering.
Thanks for your consideration of my feelings Elizabeth, it was a bit nerve wracking to share such an intimate glimpse into my life.
I know that not everyone gets the ‘pleasure’ of using public restrooms as much as I do, and would like to state for the record that most of them are really well maintained and very tidy! In fact, they are often MUCH more pleasant than some of the private toilets I have used in the homes of friends and family.
Maintaining public restrooms is probably one of the most thankless jobs out there! Big ups to all the folks out there doing this work. And also thank you to everyone who remembers that public restrooms are to be shared by everyone and should be left as clean as they were found.
Speaking of clean public restrooms, the cleanest ones I’ve ever seen are at Brigham Young University. When I first went into one I was like “whoa! so clean in here!” Come to find out, the college students themselves do a lot of the custodial work on campus. It’s good motivation to keep a restroom clean when you know your roommate is going to be sanitizing it later!
Such an interesting story. Honestly I would not want to live this way and I found myself judging Laura and her husband. If my sister were living this lifestyle I would not approve and would worry but as I think about it more I wonder “why am I so put off by this?” In truth they’re only denying their child space, and since when is providing a child with a set amount of space within the confines of four walls the definition of good/ bad parenting. Although I would not want this lifestyle and would not choose it for my loved ones it has really made me rethink as to why that is my position. I think the most important thing is that this is a choice, the same way it is a choice to buy/ rent a traditional home and it is a choice that Laura and her husband can change if it no longer suits their needs. I think it is amazing that we can judge them for living this lifestyle and in the same breath judge wealthy parents for providing for their children in excess. Since when does everyone else get to decide what is “just right” for someone else’s children/ family. At the end of the post I found myself reassured by Laura’s story – If I were to find myself in need with a family I could make it work with less, and make it work well (maybe even better?) with less. This has inspired me to be less afraid to take chances and not let the “What if” hold me back. Also, why is it less terrible to live in tiny spaces in NY at exorbitant prices and not in a van? This has been eye-opening. Thank you Laura for sharing your story and thank you Design Mom for choosing to share stories like this that challenge our every day choices.
I found myself having the same thoughts re: choice of living in a tiny house or apartment, and the core difference I’ve landed on is that van life affords no predictable access to running water, electricity and toilet facilities. And not being able to stand up straight. So, Laura is one tough and creative woman to make this work for her family!
This just goes to show the varied lifestyles of this world!! What works for one would not work for another, right? Viv e la difference!
That being said, a toddler going poo “on the side of the interstate in California” borders on reprehensible. IMHO.
When your toddler has to poo, he has to poo! And depending on the highway, you can definitely be 40 minutes away from the closest restroom here in California. My traditional house dwelling preschoolers have definitely relieved themselves in nature. Ideal? No. But much more ideal than cleaning a car seat.
CeeBee – I’m with you. When he’s gotta go – you gotta stop!! We have definitely done this too – and we are living that “North American Dream” with a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs and a crushing California mortgage. I would not, myself, poop on the side of the freeway, but my potty-learning 2-year-old? You’d better believe it.
I live in Virginia, in a suburb of Washington DC, in a lovely house in a nice neighborhood by a lake, and I’ve still had to pull off on a major interstate for an emergency potty break with a toilet-training toddler on the way home from daycare. If they aren’t in a diaper and you don’t want a blow out in your carseat, what else are you going to do? Mind you, she didn’t like the experience and learned to go before we get in the car. Win-win!
Listen-I am the most conservative, suburban person ever-pretty much the antithesis of Laura’s life-but when my kids were young and we were on some long car trips I found myself on the side of an interstate with a toddler on a potty seat more than once. I would hardly describe this bordering on “reprehensible”.
Laura, if you’re reading this, you’re amazing! You’re dedication to your son is obvious. Congratulations on making a non-traditional lifestyle work for you and your family.
I noticed Laura nursing her son while he is in his car seat, presumably while the car is moving. I did this too with my daughter, but have since learned how dangerous it is: http://thecarseatlady.com/no-nursing-while-the-car-is-moving/
Not coming from a place of judgment, just wanting to share because when you know better you do better.
The car was definitely not moving! I had strapped him in and was nursing him so that we could begin driving again and he could nap as we drove… I hate nursing him ALMOST to sleep, then having to fumble with buckles in the seat.
I can’t believe that this post is being critiqued as showing “awful,” “reprehensible” modes of living when the Living with Kids posts that show wasteful renovations or resource-intensive commuting lifestyles garner nothing but positive commentary.
I’m shocked that living a thoughtful, well-intentioned life would cause this kind of judgment. Is convention and familiarity worth so much?
Thanks for an inspiring look at another way to live with kids, Laura.
Thanks so much your your kind words Megan.
I say each to their own..but I love having our own home (1716 sq ft) for our 5 kids. A warm, safe haven to come home to. Personally I would find it hard to not have a shower daily. I realize we are very spoiled in the US but my husband works very hard at his own business to provide for us. If you can mentally/physically live in a van I really am impressed! I think few people would be able to, especially those of us with large families.
I loved this one, I loved how flexible she is. So many times people that do something different like this are defensive and aggressive about it. She seems so even and able to see her own judgement of others as well as their judgement of her. And able to admit that this likely wont go on forever but what an awesome way to spend a few unforgettable years with a young family!
I think this is my favorite Living with Kids post, not because it’s a life style I espouse or identify with, but because Laura is so thoughtful about the way her family’s life connects to the rest of humanity, and because she is so skilled in extending her creativity as an artist into the creative way her family lives on a daily basis. I also love that she is not proselytizing, but simply finding a way to live her values, including placing her son’s well-being at the center. Bravo!
I think this is the most amazing and genuinely thought provoking Living With Kids post, EVER.
Thank you for helping rethink my norms and values. I underwent a year long home renovation while caring for a toddler and pregnant with my second child. We had to live in many unconventional ways and unconventional places over the course of the year-long renovation. I never felt judged by others, probably because everyone knew we’d eventually move into a nice lovely home and live conventionally again. But now I suspect I would have been looked down upon had we not had an end goal that others found acceptable. It’s sad, because I felt that while our living circumstances in that year were at times not ideal, I think it was amazing for my son as we were always together and it forced me to be so present for him without all the distractions of conventional material surroundings. It was probably by best year of parenting.
What I do know is that at the end of the day, children are okay if they have a stable environment with their family. That environment may look different for different people. But that’s okay, the definitions of “home” look different for people all over the world and clearly modern western life doesn’t have any exclusive ability to create happy, healthy families. We needn’t be so myopic.
And pooping on the side of the interstate….it happens. Just like vomiting ends on the side of the interstate from those of us with carsickness. Just like my young son has needed to pee (always an emergency!) and had to go on the side of the interstate. It happens. The world hasn’t come to an end. But those trucker bombs…….. ugh…… don’t get me started!
This was very interesting! It isn’t the lifestyle for me, but a child actually needs very little to thrive. SORRY to all of the people who insist on “beautiful spaces” for their child. Pretty unique. The housing crisis is a very real issue. I’m glad you have found a safe solution. I imagine having a career where one is the entertainment for night life, there could be a lot of bad influences. Kudos to this mom for getting on vitamins for the pregnancy and doing the best she can with her partner. My own children are being raised with incredible privileges, but there are days when I am the enemy regardless. (That’s cause mine are pre-teen and teen.) Babies are full of boundless energy and give joy. Best of luck!
I think it is great that Laura is following her heart and living a life in a non conventional way. We are conditioned to believe large houses and an accumulation of stuff is the way to live and judge those that reject it. The welfare of her son is obviously her main priority. Would it be better if she had a massive mortgage and a storage locker full of possessions? Just think of all the experiences her family will have that the vast majority of people will never get. If we can’t embrace this way of life ourselves, embrace those that can swing it.
Laura, your exceptionally articulate description of build-from-scratch life choices was so moving to me. I love love the kind of people who are true creators — able to construct their reality from their own ingenuity and creation, instead of defaulting and doggy-paddling downstream. I feel like my own life is basically the opposite of what you described, and I am sending all my hope vibes into the universe that my kids will be lucky enough to have friends like Henry, who will ask different questions about the world and have found some super interesting answers. You have clearly put a lot of work into making a life that corresponds with your values and goals, which is something I think we all aspire to do. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your life and family with us. I kept thinking as I read your post, I’m just so grateful to live in a world that has a Laura in it!
Laura, and Gabrielle, I love this series so much and find something of value EVERY time, but this post spoke to the innermost heart of me. I am so in awe of Laura living her authentic life, even in her honesty in admitting it wasn’t her dream home. Just reading about and seeing Laura’s spirit in action has energized me and I am literally thrilled.
In Germany we have a saying, Eigentlich bin ich ganz anders, nur ich komme so selten dazu…, like, ‘the person I truly am is quite different from what you see, I just don’t show it so often.’ ….I love, love, love that Laura is being herself. Totally in awe. Sending you lots of good thoughts and warm wishes. Thank you for your thoughtfulness!
Thanks for sharing your positivity with us Dorf.
You are so blessed to call Germany home. I have had the chance to visit your gorgeous country 5 times now and look forward to our next set of tour dates there! If anyone is seeking a tidy and beautiful example of public restrooms, look no further than Germany. :)
Truth! Germany is number one in restrooms.
I am off the beaten path, but if you are in our area, please stay with us. You have my email?
I woke up thinking of your story and wondering if it is really so admirable that a young family is living in a van, rather than the log cabin they would prefer. It is your awareness and sense of agency that is so striking- at the moment the sacrifices are worth it, but you can anticipate when it might not be. I am also not living in my dream home ( despite access to superb public restrooms
Laura, I too LOVED this post because of your honest and fresh perspective on living with your son — reading your perspective was so intriguing and thought provoking! I am very grateful for your willingness to share with us all. You have enlarged my understanding and reminded me that we all have something unique to share. Thank you! May you be blessed with all you need and desire :)
Laura, this is spectacular.
Thank you for giving us a peek into your life. “The van is like our bedroom and the rest of the world is just a very long hallway away. ” What a great life attitude, and I think you’re right about this time shaping Henry, but I also think that first bit of their lives shaping us as mothers, forming our trajectory for the rest of their lives, also affects them so deeply. You’ve obviously got a rock-solid base of patience and resourcefulness that will serve you and your family well forever.
I love the picture of Henry being held aloft. I love your bright optimism about the people around you. You’re a shining star. xox
Thanks so much for your positive encouragement Jess.
We were in a mountain pass in the rockies. We stopped to nurse and have a snack and stretch and look around at the majesty that is mountains! He DESPERATELY wanted to touch the glacier fed stream. I kept telling him that it was too cold, that he wouldn’t want to touch it. Eventually we gave in and let him dip a finger in. I love looking at him in that photo, looking at his own hand, thinking “what. have. i. DONE! . . . so cold!” :)
What a memory! I love it. Having grown up in the Rockies (in Montana), I can attest to the cold coldness of that water. xox
I found this beautiful. I actually went back and read parts of it over again. I found it thought provoking. I love seeing different ways of living in this world. We are all different and we can learn so much from each. What’s right for one person may not be that way for another. But it’s not our job to judge. Thank you for letting us into your life. I will think of you and your family often. Cheers to living life!
This was very inspiring. Thank you for sharing. It was a good reminder to me as a parent that children seek connections to people and love, whatever their surroundings. The photos of your child held lovingly and surrounded by nature were just so peaceful. I am inspired by your commitment to living a life by your own values. Thank you.
I am always impressed with people who live exactly how they want to live and follow their passions even (especially!) when it falls so far outside the norm. Laura, I want to be like you in so many ways! Not necessarily living in a van, but following passions and loves for the joy and fulfillment of it, not because it’s the script that is handed to us and that we see all around us. What I envy most about your post and long for, is a greater sense of community. I had my first child in NYC and it was an incredibly social way to live especially as a first time mom… When nobody has a backyard, the park is everyones backyard! It was fantastic to see your friends and their kids on a daily basis without even planning for it. That aspect of your life really resonates with me and I miss it. Thanks for sharing your life with us.
AND I can’t wait to check out your band!
[Edited to remove rudeness.]
I think of myself as pretty liberal. But maybe I’m not as liberal as I thought, because my first reaction is that a baby should live in a dwelling with running water, a bathroom, heat, etc. Which means I’m totally ignoring whole populations across the globe that don’t have electricity or running water in their homes, yet still manage to raise happy children.
Lisa, pretty sure impressing you – or anyone – is not on Laura’s list of priorities. She’s too busy carving out a life that works for her family.
Also, I feel the entire point of Design Mom’s series is to show there is no one set definition of a “real home” and that, in fact, home is wherever your loves are. Be that a van or elsewhere.
Here’s the thing, though. How many of us remember being 21 months? Remember our house at 21 months? But feeling loved and valued is what makes a difference in a child’s life. It sounds like he is not going to bed hungry or worrying about where to sleep. We, with our nap schedules and flushing toilets, may make the mistake of putting first what should be second.
She’s also specifically stated that they will adapt their lifestyle and housing as needed to meet the needs of their child. The needs of a 21-month child are pretty simple and seem to be met just fine in their current home-on-wheels.
As a fellow Canadian, I’m proud. Love it. Nice to see some cool people challenging the status quo. Henry is getting an interesting upbringing and he’ll no doubt grow into a very interesting person.
As a suburban mom who lives in an air conditioned house with plenty of toilets and a lovely green lawn, I can echo that happiness and fulfillment doesn’t come from my convenient living situation (though of course the fact that my basic needs are met does contribute to my ability to even reflect on “happiness”). I love that Laura and her family have been able to make a conscientous and joyful life outside of the norm, side-of-the-road poops and all!
Such a starkly different life from mine, but bravo to you! I love that you’re showing your boy the world, music, love and joy. Those and the ingredients for a wonderful life indeed.
Love that your son must not be addicted to technology like so many toddlers!
I found this post super inspiring. Not how I would want to live my life but I can appreciate that other people make different choices from me and have different circumstances than me. I really hope to see more posts like these and appreciate that you are hoping to bring more diverse homes into the mix!
Thank you — this was a great post.
Truly thoughtful, beautifully written. I have 6 children in 1300 sq ft and everyone is shocked that we aren’t frantically trying to get into a bigger home. I have to be honest that I would feel a bit more frantic than does Laura without running water and a toilet (like in an RV or the like). But, I appreciate her reflection on the good parts of how they live – not the least of which is allowing them to live without debt & put away money for their future. And, being able to travel with your child – invaluable! I have appreciated the comments and discussion in response as well – even the less-than-positive ones. This post & follow up is challenging for sure – why do we do and believe what we do about our homes? Does it matter? Why is “bigger” better? Why is more so often “less”? Something to chew on for a while.
Kudos to Design Mom for showcasing someone with such a different perspective and lifestyle than many Living with Kids posts (a series I love). Laura, I absolutely love your writing, how you describe your life, and how intentional your lifestyle is. Thank you for giving us a peek into your world. And I am impressed by your very civil – and humorous – response to some of the more judgmental comments posted here (a bit unusual for Design Mom). Why we women think we should publicly state our “approval” or “disapproval” of the choices of other women we don’t even know is beyond me.
To add to the conversation here–I loved this post too. It’s so easy for each of us to imagine what we think is the ideal situation for parenting, but most often our lives don’t reflect that and we are forced to make do–and make beautiful–what we are offered. I find that most of my parenting frustrations come from that dichotomy of ‘what is’ and ‘what should be.’
It occurred to me that in although his situation is unusual, Henry is no worse off than young children who spend all day in a stroller at the mall, or a hours in a carseat going to older kids’ sports events, or watching too much tv. We are all doing our very best most of the time and our respect for each other ought to stem from that assumption. Laura, I think you are courageous and awesome!
I LOVE IT. First of all, girl, you are legitimate. You have 100% challenged me. A lot of us have convictions about the sorts of things you talked about (sustainable living, the North American dream, living in community, etc), but precious few of us actually live it out. WELL DONE. OH, and the quilts are gorgeous! Every home needs a dozen. I made my girls each quilts from thrifted floral pillow cases. The craftmanship is questionable, but the process… totally therapeutic. :)
I love the living with kids posts, and this is a favourite! This topic is close to my heart (living near Vancouver and knowing many people affected by the housing crisis, including my family).
I appreciate people who live intentionally/thoughtfully. I really enjoyed your perspective Laura, best wishes to you and your family as it evolves!
Wow! I thought this was incredibly interesting. I think you are creative, authentic and unpretentious. I admire your adaptability and frugality . Rather than throw up your hands and ask someone else to pay your way, you found a solution. Bravo to you! I admire your obvious love for your son. He is so lucky to have you! It is my firm conviction that a family can be happy no matter what circumstances they live in, if they are unified, and committed to the well-being of each other. I also know that you can have all the outward trappings of wealth, and be miserable. Your son lacks for nothing important. He has everything he needs, and I hope that never changes, no matter where you live!
I really loved this post and agree that Laura is doing her best! I loved when she said that they haven’t spent one day apart! That is so important at this young age! And many “housed mothers” don’t get to have this privilege for not every work environment allow you to take your babies along. I know, concerts doesn’t seem like the environment to do that too, but some business meetings, chemical labs, it is really not allowed. Babies, toddlers, young children are extremely adaptable and if that’s the reality he/she knows, he/she will develop his/her best in it.
Based on my own childhood, I am really not sure that because children adapt and are joyful by nature, this means it’s the best choice for them. My parents were artists too and took me everywhere with them. I was in rock concerts with cotton in my ears and without silencing headphones (for they did not exist) as a baby. I could sleep everywhere, which my parents would brag about, for so many other babies in calmer environments and routines couldn’t sleep so well. For them, it seemed great, for me it was just my reality. But the truth is that as I grew older, it wasn’t that great and I resented it, even having the most loving and happy parents I could wish for.
As a baby, toddler, or little child, you have no choice, you put all your trust in your parents and love them anyways. That doesn’t always mean that whatever seems to work is great or the best option. Even for parents living traditional life styles. Kids are still kids in far worst conditions (wars, concentrations camps, terribly ill), they will still be happy just to be alive and not complain if they don’t know other realities.
I have my own child now and I am making substantially different choices – which means putting my artistic career on hold for a while and adapting many other things of my life style. I wish my parents had done that for me too. But, who knows, maybe my child will end up resenting my choices too…
No child can do anything about the circumstances they are born into. Be it poverty or wealth…. It sounds like you inherited some artistic abilities from your parents so maybe not so bad after all.
I hear you, Julia. I think that as parents it’s quite usual to examine our own childhoods, note any dissatisfaction we experienced, and parent differently than we were parented in response.
In the home I grew up in, there was a lot of sarcasm, and it stressed me out as a kid, so I try and keep it out of our home in large quantities. I hope I’m doing the right thing, and maybe I am, but my kids will surely parent differently than I do, no matter what I do.
Another child may have loved the lifestyle your parents provided. I find it such an interesting thing to think about!
I think back to my childhood lots and often feel a pang of guilt for all the sacrifices my parents made for me and my brother. I know it wasn’t easy for my mom to take so much time out of her career to be a stay-at-home mom to us. Nor was it easy for my dad to shoulder the whole burden of providing for our family. They chose a different strategy for my childhood, and I am happy with how I ‘turned out’. I am incredibly grateful for all they have done, and are still doing for me.
I am sure that when I reflect back on my parenting I will have some moments I am proud of and others that I regret. In this way, I feel really happy that Henry will not solely be a product of my actions, but rather a beautiful mixture of the influence of the many people in his community. Family, friends, teachers, babysitters, peers, and strangers! Many of them have very different voices and opinions from my own. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think parents are only part of the equation.
I couldn’t agree more with Gabrielle and Laura! : )
Yes J, I have also developed artistic abilities, but not in the same domain…
Laura, I think what you and your family are doing is absolutely awesome. You are building the world I want to live in with my family and my kid. I love that you bring your little guy to shows, and are showing the world what motherhood looks like. I want to live in a world where people of all generations live together and make art and music together — putting your baby on your back while you drum is *exactly* what that looks like.
I also want to live in a world where lack of money or presence of family doesn’t stop people from living out their big dreams — your creativity in adapting to circumstance lets me envision exactly how that might work. Thanks so much for creating such a useful template and living a public life that makes space for other dreamers!
Love this story
Thank you Laura for sharing your story. If they’re weren’t a child involved I’d say, awesome, go you! However with a toddler I think oh dear, toddlers need consistency and providing them with a toilet and sink is the bare minimum to meet that need. Also, this makes me worry for you Laura as toddlers can be extremely stressful and if you are already challenged with needing to find an electrical outlet, sink and toilet then the challenges of toddlerhood could easily sneak up and overwhelm you.
To those readers who expressed concern, your comments are completely valid and should be welcomed. We’ve all been coming here on Tuesdays for years to see how other Moms are doing it and hopefully learn something and be inspired. To read this piece yesterday on raising a family while intentionally homeless is most unexpected. Let’s have a conversation that’s respectful but honest.
Ha! Toddlers do need consistency, but I always think that in the form of “we don’t hit people”, not in the form of “we must always use the same toilet”! Running water is a MODERN convenience, people have spent more years without it than with it. I’m sure they led full, happy lives without it. Laura does have access to it anyways, it’s just not accessible 100% of the time. Camping is a popular activity world wide. Why is it only okay as an activity, not as a lifestyle? (If that is what you would call their lifestyle?)
I think some people are missing what Laura is exchanging for always accessible modern conveniences. Your son is having an amazing upbringing and has seen more in his short life than most will see in their entire lives. Toddlers needs are very basic, and you are doing an excellent job, Laura.
I sometimes get tired of “keeping up with the Joneses” and having to have everything just so. It’s tiring and exhausting and altogether too much stuff. Thanks for sharing, Laura!
I think there is room for respectful debate, and certainly for questions. There is considerable research on the stress of homelessness on families, and what I’m curious about is there that same stress when this life is chosen, as Laura says it is an intentional choice. To not have predictable access to running water, toilets, etc. means there is considerable brainpower and energy devoted to the daily tasks of living. What kind of stress does that create? What strategies have you used to overcome this?
Second, there is a sort of legal and societal question. Globally, many people live nomadic lifestyles, but there is usually a social, legal, and cultural context that enables this practice. Laura, were you at all concerned about sharing this story? How have you managed to do this legally? Western societies aren’t necessarily set up to accommodate families living in this way. Vagrancy laws (at least in the US) limit your ability to park your home in many places. Many institutions require a permanent address (perhaps you use a P.O.Box or a family member?) What would it mean for many families to live in this way?
Breaking news @Sarah L. There are indeed much riskier things other families deal with than this. Maybe you should advocate for them! ALSO, Walmart offers free parking to campers so when she is in the STATES, she’ll be good. The rest of the time, they have a van to drive to the woods, a parking lot, dad’s driveway, or housing provided for them worldwide as they tour and provide a living for themselves. Also @ BROOK…. I don’t really feel this is an appropriate forum for bashing someone’s family. We have seen lavish lifestyles presented here and much less so…… I think it was pretty brave of this mother to be willing to put herself out there as it is for all of the other people in this series.
Thanks for your respectful questioning style Sarah L. I love a great healthy debate.
For the most part I don’t feel that much stress over the daily acquisition of basic needs. As a veteran Vancouverite I can assure you I know all of the best places to get access to the things we often take for granted. Not knowing where to get potable water or toilets or showers is also something that folks travelling for pleasure have to deal with. It is also a reality for many other moms around the world. They have to walk longer distances and make bigger scarifies to keep their families happy and healthy than I do.
I also think the relative stability of having our own Van to come home to each night helps mitigate some of the stress that other more traditionally homeless folks have to combat.
Legality always comes into play for us. So far I have visited over 25 countries and have needed to learn about customs and laws for each new place we visit. Not just as a van dweller but as a tourist and visitor. We are always very aware of the rules of the places we are passing through. You are very right about the US having strict vagrancy laws. There are certain parts of your country that I choose to no longer visit.
I think the reality is that MANY families are living this way. Even in the USA. Even if you don’t see them. If you asked the cashier at our grocery store or my yoga teacher they would not have a clue about my living situation. These ‘hidden homeless’ families can lead very stressful and challenging lives due to lack of understanding and services to support them. I think simple things like tidy public restrooms (for homeless people and housed people who just happen to be out of their homes), community gathering places, and keeping funding for things like swimming pools, libraries, and parks will help.
Also to restate what I said earlier in the article, I am not sure that our living situation can be classified as a purely intentional choice.
“It is hard for me to discern if we fell into our lifestyle, chose to live this way, or were forced due to the extreme housing crisis our region is facing. I think many will agree our lives are a complicated mixture of circumstance and choice.”
I love the irony of Laura’s last name : – )
I love the irony of people freaking out that I have to walk to a community centre to find an electrical outlet, when all the other moms with toddlers I know are frantically buying solutions to cover the 1 billion electrical outlets in their traditional homes! :) Thanks for your humour !
What openness and honesty! Well done, Laura. I think it’s brave of her to share her thoughts and life like this, especially since she’s living an alternative lifestyle that many (including myself) cannot fathom.
I’m almost always interested in the Living with Kids articles, and the glimpse into others lives it gives, but am sometime (ok, often) put off with the “I’m doing it right learn how on my blog” attitude. Seems like folks are often express here that they’ve found the best organizational system, an ideal homeschooling philosophy, or the perfect naptime policy but Laura is clear; this is just for her family right now and it’s a combination of choice and circumstance. By breaking with the narrative of “This is an ideal spot! I don’t know why everyone doesn’t living in my style urban loft/suburb/organic farm commune” Laura is expressing a real generosity of spirit and the bravery not to justify how she is raising her child.
I am curious about how you get through official paperwork without a permanent address for medical care, passports, school, etc. How have you handled it when one or more of you was ill and needed access to indoor plumbing? How did you deal with dirty diaper storage? I am truly fascinated by how your family is making it work.
Canada is a huge country and many of its residence have PO boxes and no access to healthcare or traditional schooling within hundreds of miles of their home. It is really different up here from the lower 49. You can drive for hours and see no people, places, or things. Just trees and moose :) We have an official mailing address and that has be sufficient for all of our documentation. Henry is not in school yet, and I’m sure our schooling choice will impact our future housing choices. We are lucky to live in BC which is a province with progressive and flexible schooling options. We also feel very blessed to live in a nation that prioritizes health care. For those of you wondering, we had a beautiful midwife assisted hospital birth, and it cost us zero dollars.
We have been sick since living in the van, and each time it is a new adventure! As I stated earlier we have a wonderful community of family and friends to lean on in an influenza nightmare ! I also find that on average compared to my other friends with kids we tend to get less sick. I think this might be because Henry does not attend a group daycare, and my partner does not work in a large office.
We stored the dirty cloth diapers in a galvanized steel bucket lined with a giant wet bag. The bin has a tightly sealing lid, it was bought at a farm supply store and is intended to keep grain dry and safe from hungry critters. We use Bum Genius 4.0 pocket diapers. We got 18 new diapers and were able to wash the diapers twice a week at first, and then once a week once we got going with our Infant Potty Training and Elimination Communication. I loved the pocket diapers because we could put the inserts in the dryer and only hang dry the covers. I made a coshing line in the van, and they would take about 1-4 hours to dry. Even in winter! Henry is 21 months and is almost completely potty trained. Some parents are surprised by this! Both of my grandmothers asked me what took so long, and stated that they had toilet trained all of their kids by 18 months. More proof that our current reality might not be the only way….
I wrote a piece about travelling and cloth diapers here where I go into a bit more detail about the subject:
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Laura!
I understand that Laura’s situation is a mix of circumstance and choice, but the reality is that having family living nearby, if they really needed to be housed they could be. I work with homeless people. “Homeless” is not necessarily “address-less”. There are people who have no address, but they have a roof over their heads (as a van), or living with friiends here and there, surf couching, with different relatives, which means they have a sustainable support network. This is a major difference. Most homeless people have already lived with relatives and friends and generally exhausted the possibility of being “housed” with them. They find themselves in the street for lack of any other housing possibility. It’s not only that rent it’s expensive, it’s that they have not enough income to get a place, they don’t have people to serve as insurance for them renting a place. Lacking a formal address, often they can’t find jobs (it’s a vicious circle). It’s really quite different. Laura is living as roughly (lack of water and electricity) as many poor people people, or people in other traditions and cultures, but she can walk out of it anytime she wants, it’s veeeery different. If she needs to get three part jobs to pay for a rent, she still can make it. So in this sense, even if economy is rough, it is a choice. A legitimate choice, but a choice. Homeless people often don’t have this choice.
In all honesty, this way of living doesn’t sound appealing, but I do find it fascinating. Thank you for sharing your story!
Thank you for sharing your story Laura, knowing that you would receive some criticism. I, for one, completely respect the way you are raising your child. You are raising your child with love and adventure (and music!). One day he will be proud to have been raised by two awesome, free thinking, creative parents!
I spent a small portion of my childhood living on a boat with my parents. The lifestyle was not much different then how Laura and her family are choosing to live. I look back on those days with extreme fondness and have happy memories of living so closely with my parents. We did have a very very small kitchen/galley and bathroom/head, but we lived out of an ice chest and had to shop daily. My parents both had full time jobs (my dad as an engineer and my mom as a nutritionist) and I also went to private school during this time. My parents loved living on the water and being able to try out an alternate way of living. When my younger sisters came along we moved to the suburbs and bought a big beautiful home and unfortunately that is when our family fell apart and my parents divorced. Morale of the story, it is ok to try something different as long as your children are safe, happy and loved. Sometimes the “american dream” is not all it is cracked up to be and the stresses of living that life can tear a family apart. Good for Laura and her family for living within their means and still providing a safe and loving “home” for their son. My husband and I often daydream about selling everything and hitting the road with our family. The funny thing is we have a large home, but all of us end up in only one or two rooms choosing to spend out time together not a part. And during the summer months, we are outside by the pool often camping in a tent and eating breakfast cooked on the bbq. Thank you for sharing your story Laura.