Living In an RV and Loving It!

 

Update: We lived in our fifth wheel for one full, spectacular year. This year my husband started residency and we had to give up our wandering ways for a more traditional lifestyle. To read about all our adventures on the road check out my travel blog here

This means we’re selling our trailer! If you’re looking for a great place to live or to camp check out our ad here.

 

2015-07-17 15.05.55I must admit, when Jake first suggested living in a fifth wheel trailer for his fourth year of med school, I was skeptical.

Really skeptical.

Three kids in 400 square feet? Living in trailer

parks?

No thank you.

Even after doing some research and realizing it was doable, I still thought it was crazy. I wanted us to be together as a family during audition rotations and this was the only way I could think to do it.

When we found a great deal on our ideal model I started to be excited. I’d read blogs of people living on the road with young families who loved it. Our trailer was nice, and we had reserved a spot at a nice RV park.

But I didn’t expect to love it. And I do!

Our home is small, with no wasted space, and lots of clever storage. It’s easy to clean, and easy to keep an eye on two rambunctious toddlers with a flair for the destructive.

Our backyard is always changing. We get to stay in places people go to for their vacation. Right now we even have a playground and a swimming pool.

We’ve also had great experiences with the people, whether they’re on vacation, or live in the parks full time. They’re friendly, but they also realize that privacy is precious and they respect ours. Honestly, we’ve had less trouble with neighbors at RV parks than we had living in townhomes.

And we get to travel. We recently drove across the country, from California to New Jersey. It was so nice having our own home with us, and our own beds to sleep in at night. I loved seeing the incredible changes in the landscape around us, and was able to visit places I’ve always wanted to see.

In fact, we’ve had so many adventures I decided they needed a blog all their own. So, if you’re interested in following the travels of the Sypher family check it out here.

Celebrating Father’s Day When Your Father Has Passed Away

I’m on my way to a big family reunion. I can’t wait to see my siblings, miss the ones who couldn’t make it, eat s’mores, and watch the kids play at the beach.

It’s going to be great.

But someone is missing. He’s kind of a key player. And with Father’s Day landing right before the festivities his absence is even more glaring.1930057_15949971837_1547_n

He’s my dad.

This isn’t my first Father’s Day without him, but last year the loss was new and raw. The cancer was fast and I lived far away. I was still processing it.

In a lot of ways I’m still processing it. I guess there’s a reason my profile picture has been a photo of me and my dad from college for over a year, but this year I’m settling in to the annual routine. The holiday will come and go with no father to call, visit, or skype. Now that my kids are old enough to draw pictures on a card there’s no where to mail them. There will be despondency and what ifs. I’ll tell my kids “Pop’s jokes” in an effort to convey who he was, but know  in my heart that it’s just not the same.

So, what do you do on a day meant to honor your one and only dad when dad’s not around to honor?

The timing of this reunion has answered that for me in a beautiful and unexpected way. You spend time with people he loved.

You build relationships with the people he would be building relationships with if he were here.

You invest in the people he poured his time, heart, and soul into (yourself Included).

And when you do this you might just find that they miss him as much as you do. You might find that the connections you make when missing your dad will heal you. Because relationships are powerful things. It’s the bond you form with people that makes it so painful when they die, but it’s also forming those bonds with others that can ease the sting of death.

So, for those of you who are missing your father this Father’s Day, call your mom. Call your stepmom. Call your siblings, and step siblings, and uncles, and aunts, and grandparents, and great grandparents. Reach out to the family friends. Read a story to his grandchildren.

Be there for them when he can’t be. It just might be the best Father’s Day present you could give.

Dear Stepmoms

Dear Stepmoms,
I know Mother’s Day often focuses on traditional mothers. Sappy poems describe the mom who carried you, birthed you, fed and clothed you. Society tends to brush past the mothers who came into a kids life a little, or a lot, later in the game. But I want to say, I appreciate you.

Let’s face it, a Stepmom’s job is tough,  and often without appreciation. Plus, there’s sometimes resentment, anger over a situation you had nothing to do with, and the pressure of developing a mother-like relationship with complete strangers of varying ages. Heather's Graduation (13)

I am not a stepmom, but I have a stepmom, and she’s fantastic.

She helped me deal with the death of my mom. She got me through my last two years of high
school. When I moved out of the house, she helped my dad surprise me with framed pictures of my mom and dad, and my huge, wonderful, combined family for my apartment. She was there for me on my wedding day, and was a huge help and support when my babies were born.

Has our relationship always been perfect? Of course not. We had to build our relationship, just like anybody else. But I’m grateful everyday that we were both willing to put in the time and effort to build our relationship to what it is today.

When my stepmom comes to visit I have a hard time introducing her to people. Calling her my mom confuses them, but I feel like the term stepmom in our society doesn’t convey our deeply personal and special relationship. And that’s sad.

It’s sad that in our society there isn’t more respect and support for moms (and dads) who step up and commit to care for and love someone else’s children. This care often comes when children (or adults) are still processing and mourning the death of their mom or divorce of their parents, when people are vulnerable and defensive. When newlyweds without families are adjusting to married life and just enjoying each other’s company, step parents are working on the peaceful integration of families, combining households, and adjusting to a new role in life that you probably never expected or prepared for. Even with couples where only one spouse has kids, that sounds overwhelming.

Yes, stepmoms have a lot of extra responsibilities and issues, and on top there are ridiculous expectations. You have to deal with people, inside and outside of the family, comparing you to the “real” mom. You have to deal with people’s expectations to treat your stepkids exactly like your own kids. You have to find the balance between being their mother without coming across as trying to replace their mother.

Hard.

Again, I’m not a stepmom. These are just things I’ve noticed in my life personally, and in society. I think it’s time for all you amazing stepmoms out there to get the recognition you deserve.

So, happy Mothers Day, stepmoms. You make a difference.

When You Have More Children Than Hands

IMG_4788

Everyone told me having a third child would be a hard transition. You’re outnumbered as a couple, and you have more children than hands when you’re on your own. I knew it would be hard, especially since my first two are still so young, but a small part of me thought, come on, it can’t be that bad. I switched to two just fine, and now I’m more experienced!

Pause to let all of you with three children chuckle.

During the early days of my pregnancy with JJ I felt confident. I had nine months to prepare myself and my toddlers for our new little angel. A little farther on I remembered that life becomes a game of survival when I’m pregnant and I began to worry. When third trimester rolled around, and jumping up to chase my boys felt like running with a bowling ball through water, I began to panic.

The first two weeks 

I was pleasantly surprised by the boys reaction to the new baby. I was afraid they might get frustrated when I couldn’t pay as much attention to them and take it out on JJ, especially when I was nursing. But from the beginning they were very gentle with him.

Instead they took it out on me. And on each other.

It wasn’t an immediate reaction. At first they were overwhelmed with all the new. Grandma came to visit, they came to see me in the hospital, we brought the baby home. Everything was so exciting they didn’t have time to act out. But after about a week they noticed that mom was spending an awful lot of time on the couch with that baby. There began to be more hitting, more whining, and lots of attempts to takeover JJ’s permanent place in my lap.

The most helpful advice I received for this time was to make one on one time with each kid. Not easy with a newborn, but so important. It’s amazing what ten minutes of reading or play time with mom does for my toddlers’ attitudes.

Three children, two hands

Dealing with these issues at home was one thing, but venturing out into the great wide world opened a whole new can of worms. This is where I could have really used an extra hand!

Two things saved my bacon. First, my ring sling and front facing carrier my sister-in-law gave me. Second, my backpack leashes for the boys. I know some people don’t approve of them, but when you have a couple of wanderers they can help keep kids safe. Plus, they come in animal shapes. My boys just love their monkey and elephant.

However, parenting tools like that will only get you so far. I quickly learned that nothing can take the place of teaching kids to follow instructions, a little something we’ve been working extra hard on around here.

Finding joy

The last three months have been a major challenge, but Baby Joy, as my sweet nephew calls JJ, has definitely lived up to his nickname.

IMG_4789At first I felt like things would never get better. I was resigned to living in a state of constant chaos. But we’ve adjusted. I’m learning how to juggle my time, resources, and sanity to keep everyone healthy, happy, and in one piece. The toddlers are learning follow instructions and wait their turn for mommy time. And baby JJ is learning to sleep. Yay!

And with all this learning we all have more time to appreciate that JJ is “so cute”, as Simon frequently points out.

 

New Baby, New Trailer, New Home

The last couple of months have brought a lot of changes to our lives. We had a baby, and moved out of our apartment into a fifth wheel trailer. Needless to say, life has changed drastically!

New Baby

Introducing Jacob Jr. (JJ for short). Bumping things up to three kids has definitely been an exhausting change. It’s hard to get two toddlers ready and out of the house. It’s harder when you have to schedule in feeding times for Junior.

2014-12-31 12.20.55

We went with a bit of an old fashioned tradition for his name. There just aren’t that many juniors around anymore. But Jake has always found strength and guidance in looking to the men he was named after, and he wanted to pass on that legacy.

New Trailer

We’ve been talking for a couple of years about living in a trailer while Jake travels around for his audition rotations, and we finally took the plunge! Just six weeks after JJ was born we drove out to Idaho to pick up our beautiful Voltage 3900 5th wheel toy hauler.Voltage 3900 This was our dream model and we got a great deal on it. Getting it down to our price range took 6 months of negotiating. I’m just glad my husband started contacting sellers when I thought it was ridiculously early.

New Home

After our quick weekend trip to pick up the trailer and babysit our niece and nephews while my sister-in-law had her fourth baby (no big deal), we came home to move out of our apartment. I had three days to finish packing, cleaning, and selling all our furniture, while Jake made a 45 minute commute to his Pediatric rotation every day. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed. Fortunately, we had some amazing family, friends, and even acquaintances willing to jump in and help. Now we are all moved into our new home and loving it!

Voltage Kitchen

Our efficient kitchen

Voltage living room

Our spacious living room

Voltage bedroom

JJ’s cozy little nook…

Voltage bathroom

…next to our cozy little bathroom

Voltage toyhauler

The boys’ room/laundry room/dining room…

Voltage toyhauler

…/patio

This family of 5 is ready to hit the road!

Being Flexible – Because People Are More Important Than Dates

This has been a busy week for our family. Not only did Jake have a solid week of testing and lectures, but it was Simon’s birthday! Although Simon actually turned 3 on Tuesday, we decided to postpone festivities until Wednesday, after Jake’s big tests were over.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had to move celebrations in deference to Jake’s education. We’ve moved birthdays, anniversaries, and even holidays. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to be flexible when you’re married to a medical student.

Or to any kind of student. Or to someone in any profession. Or if you have any kind of family at all.

I didn’t start having to change plans when I married Jake. Being on the younger end of eight kids with six step siblings, I’ve learned that doing things with family sometimes means skipping the special dates in exchange for a special day. When I was a kid we often put off our family birthday celebrations until a Saturday, so my college aged siblings could come. Then, when they started to get married and some of them had in-laws nearby, we learned to shuffle things around so they could celebrate holidays with both families. And, of course, when my dad married my step mom, I suddenly had a whole group of siblings that needed to be shared with their dad’s family.

Here are some things I’ve learned to keep in mind.

A date is just a date.

Yes, there were some Thanksgivings when we tried to fit our dinner in with everyone else’s. We would arrange it after my siblings dinners with their in-laws, and before my step siblings dinner with their dad. After two or three feasts in one day they basically had to be hauled out on stretchers. In the end we realized that the fourth Thursday of the month is not much different than the fourth Friday of the month and sometimes we just moved our Thanksgiving back a day.

Find other ways to celebrate.

Growing up, even if I didn’t have my family birthday party with presents and cake on my actual birthday, my mom would still make me special food and give me a day off from regular chores. I still felt special on my special day, and my siblings came to visit on the weekend just to celebrate me.

As a teenager, when my step siblings did Christmas morning at their dad’s house, my Dad, step Mom, my sisters, and I started going Christmas caroling at the hospital instead of opening presents. Then we’d open presents in the afternoon when the rest of the family came home. We were able to start a really meaningful tradition that we loved more than the old one.

Sometimes you can’t include everyone.

This is definitely the hardest thing about planning family events. Of course, as soon as we started singing at the hospital on Christmas morning we started wishing my step siblings could come too. When you love people you want them to be part of all the special moments.

As families grow and expand it is sometimes impossible to accommodate every schedule. Luckily, when it comes to working around Jake’s testing schedule our little family can easily shift things around, but when you’re dealing with multiple families it’s a little tougher.

So, what can you do? Adjust where you can to fit the people that you can and enjoy the time you have together. We’re big enough now that parents are no longer hosting every holiday and event. We decide who’s hosting and let that person see what peoples schedules are like and pick a date that seems to fit most. That’s really the best you can do.

Remember the purpose behind the celebration.

Whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or an anniversary, sometimes we get so caught up in the way we celebrate, that we lose focus on why we celebrate. For me holidays are about being with family, so if that’s on the same day or the same time that everyone else celebrates, or a different day entirely, being with my family is the priority.

Birthdays are about celebrating the life of someone I care about. And my birthday is about giving people the chance to celebrate my life. They love me just as much on the Saturday after my birthday as they do on my birthday, and celebrating a couple days off certainly doesn’t diminish the love I feel from them.

Rather than focusing on whether people are going to drop everything else to come and celebrate special days with us, we should focus on being grateful that we have people in our lives who want to share them with us.

People are more important than dates.

This doesn’t just mean the people you love, but the other people who love them. Whether that’s in-laws, or exes, or step families. Sometimes we have to share the people we love. And making our loved ones feel guilty for wanting to spend time with other loved ones will never accomplish anything.

Of course, sometimes it’s not about other people. Like this week, school came first. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel like school is coming before me or the kids, but that’s simply not true. We could have celebrated on Simon’s actual birthday, but then Jake would either have to miss out on the celebration, or miss out on some important studying, needlessly adding to his stress level. What would that have accomplished?

I know that everyone’s situation is different, but wherever there is family involved I think a little flexibility is always needed. Have you ever had to break tradition, so you could spend a special day with the people you love?

The Unpredictable Life of Med School Families

I’m in full blown nesting mode around here, trying to get everything ready for the baby. The main problem is, there’s not much to do. I was tempted to pull out and wash the old baby clothes a month ago, but forced myself to wait. His bed is set up. His carseat is ready to go in the car.

But when you’re a med school family there are some things you just can’t prepare for. In fact, the theme of third year seems to be that there is nothing you can prepare for. Jake will be starting a new rotation the week the baby is due. That means a new preceptor (a.k.a. person in complete control of his life for four weeks). We have no idea what his schedule will be like, how many hours a week he’ll need to work, if he’ll need to be on call at night, work weekends, or even if he’ll have Christmas off.

The general attitude among med students doing rotations is that you adapt to the general attitude of whatever preceptor you’re working with. If they say jump, you say how high. I always knew that Jake would be working 80 hour weeks, weekends, and holidays during his training to become a doctor. And so far, his schedule during third year rotations really hasn’t been that bad.

But it’s the unpredictability. It’s the fact that everything changes every four weeks, and often things can change from day to day within a rotation. This is why when you’re married to a medical student it’s important to be flexible and roll with the punches.

Even when you’re in full blown I’m-nesting-and-want-to-plan-everything-to-the-tee mode.

First Audition Application In!

Yesterday morning I sat fixated to my computer at 7:45 AM, sending reassuring texts to my husband, and waiting for the clock to tick to 8:00. He had spent the night before filling out the application, checking and double checking, making sure it was ready for me to press “submit”. Now he was almost two hours in to his work day at his surgery rotation, and it was up to me to make sure the application was submitted as soon as the submission window opened.

It’s the only audition rotation he’s applying for in the west (it’s the only D.O., O.B. residency program in the west), so we wanted to get very specific dates. We’re planning on traveling with Jake for these rotations, and the idea of driving to Pennsylvania, then back to California, then back out to Michigan, is not appealing. Plus, this site has affiliation with his school, and qualifies to count as a sub-internship, so we knew he’d be competing for a spot.

Fortunately, the submission went off without a hitch. I pressed submit at 8:01. The server didn’t crash. My computer didn’t crash. None of the disasters we had prepared for happened. And I went about the rest of my day. Now we wait and see.

It sounds melodramatic, but our entire lives for the next year (and possibly the four years of residency after that) revolve around these audition rotations. Even the small matter of getting our first or second choice dates on this application will determine whether Jake can attend our family reunions, and whether I’ll be driving a 42″ trailer by myself down to California (the thought of which terrifies me). We really can’t plan on anything for the upcoming year until we Jake’s rotations are scheduled.

Which is why today I celebrate. We may not know if we got the spot or not, but at least the application is in. At least the process has begun. And that makes me feel like, just maybe, we have a little control over our lives after all.

What to Expect in Medical School

Whenever we tell people that Jake is in medical school we generally get raised eyebrows and a “wow, that’s a long road” comment. There are lots of variations, but the idea is always the same.

What to Expect in Medical School

Stethoscope by Dr. Farouk license CC by 2.0

The one thing most people know about becoming a doctor is that it takes a long time. And they’re right. But what most people don’t know is that it’s also pretty complicated. Unlike a lot of other grad schools, medical schools don’t sit you in a traditional classroom for four years and then send you out into the world to get a job.

My elevator speech is, “well, it’s two years of traditional classroom learning (if cadavers can be considered traditional), followed by two years of clinical rotations, and then 3 to 6 years of residency, depending on what specialty you choose.” There’s optional fellowships too, but I try not to get into that.

When I’m talking to people who know me well, though, and want to know the details of our future and current lives, things get a little more complicated. So, I’m using this post to break it down by year. This what to expect, based on what I’ve seen Jake go through. Of course everyone’s experience will but different, but for anyone who’s heading to med school and wants to know generally what to expect, or who have loved ones in med school and want to know what the heck is going on in their lives (they probably don’t have time to explain it themselves), here you go.

First year

This one’s pretty basic. Traditional classroom learning with dead bodies.

You’ve taken the MCAT, spent serious money flying out to interviews, chosen which school to attend (if you were accepted to more than one), and moved to wherever it may be. Now you’re ready to start your first year of medical school. You’re given a white coat and start classes. Finally. You stick your head in the books (and cadavers) and emerge sometime next summer.

Second year

This is the second year of traditional classroom learning.

It’s a lot like the first, except you’ve found your groove. You’ve adjusted to the fact that you’re not in undergrad anymore, and have learned how to deal with the faster pace. Is there a catch? Of course! At the end of this year you get to take your first round of national boards. Yay!

Third year

This is your first year of clinical rotations.

You’ll spend four to six weeks following doctors around in different specialties. You’ll probably get some hands on experience, and plenty of reading assignments from your school and the doctor you’re working with. Depending on how the school is set up this might mean a move to a new city, or even rotating through different cities.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of tests to take throughout the year, and you’ll be preparing for your second round of boards during fourth year.

Fourth year

This is the year students do their “audition rotations”. It is the nemesis of every med school family.

You get a chance to spend four to six months (depending on the school) rotating through programs where you hope to get a residency. For most students this means traveling all over the country, at your own expense. For six months straight. The good news is, once you’re done with audition rotations you can probably choose where to do rotations the rest of the year.

Oh, and remember those boards I mentioned? As if this year wasn’t hectic enough, you get to fit those in too.

Residency

This is where doctors spend at least three years gaining experience in their specialty.

Officially, you’re a doctor, but you aren’t allowed to practice on your own, and the doctors in charge of you control your life. We haven’t gotten this far yet, so all I can say is what I’ve heard. It’s a crazy, hectic time working at least 80 hours a week. Oh, and you have two more rounds of boards.

Long journey? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Because at the end of it you’ll be able to help people and provide for your family. And pay off that mound of debt you’ve just accumulated. Hopefully.

Balancing Free Time and “Me” Time

Balancing Free Time and Me Time

Clock by ddqhu licensed under CC by-SA 2.0

Last year, while visiting my parents, I went through some boxes of old keepsakes for my Dad. Tucked in with journals and letters I found a short note from my grandparents to my parents. It said they needed to know if we’d be visiting for a certain event so they could make reservations. The note urged them to write back as soon as possible because the deadline was coming up.

I laughed a little, thinking of my Grandma writing out the note, putting it in an envelope, finding a stamp, mailing it, then anxiously waiting days for the reply. I thought of my Mom, with 5 or 6 kids at that point, receiving the note and rushing to follow those same steps.

I thought it must just be my Grandparent’s thriftiness that kept them from making a long distance phone call, but when I talked to my Dad about it he assured me it wasn’t just our family.

Phone calls were a luxury back then, he explained. Long distance charges were outrageous, and sometimes applied from one city to the next. Most people wouldn’t make an expensive phone call over something trivial like that.

That got me thinking about all the time my parents spent on things that are almost instantaneous now.

I read an article the other day made me ponder that question from a new perspective. Titled “Millennial Moms Reject ‘Good’ Parenting“, the author rises to the defense of “me” time in parenting. She points out how the media portrays the rising generation of parents as selfish and narcissistic because we insist on maintaining our individuality, but how can one take good care of children if they are not also taking good care of themselves?

I agreed with the points she made, but there was an underlying theme in her article that I found even more interesting.

The generation gap.

What makes us think we’re so different from the generation of parents before us? What makes our parents’ generation think they’re so different from us?

When I read the article I thought back to that note from my grandparents. The whole process, assuming there were stamps on hand and my Grandma didn’t have to go to the post office, probably only took ten minutes. The whole process for me would have taken one, maybe two minutes. It was eight or nine minutes of extra work for my Grandma. But those minutes add up.

If my mom needed a plumber she would sit by the phone with a phone book and call each one to compare prices.

If she wanted to get a specific present for one of us she would go to different stores to find it/compare prices. No Amazon.

She bought a ten foot telephone cord just so she could move around the kitchen a little while she was on the phone.

She wrote lengthy letters to individual relatives to keep them updated on her life (I’ve seen the lengthy replies).

She received and paid all of her bills by mail.

The post office was a regular stop when she ran errands.

She kept track of her banking transactions with a balance book. No online banking.

Maybe there are people in my generation who do things that way. I don’t.

Then there’s appliances. You may not have a new dishwasher, washer/dryer, vacuum cleaner, or microwave, but chances are it’s more efficient than what our Grandparents used (or didn’t have).

So, life was different. I think it’s understandable for them to look at our generation and roll their eyes a little.

But with the advances that make our lives easier society has found new pressures to put on people. The millennial generation doesn’t just value individuality, we expect it. Along with fulfilling the roles of father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, coworker, and friend you must also make time to set yourself apart as an individual. And the world is watching very closely to see that you do.

Finding the balance between spending your free time on others or spending it on yourself is hard, just like it was when our parents and grandparents were raising us. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to make time for exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, reading good books, earning our degrees, developing political stances, and spending time with friends. The struggle is nothing new.

Maybe rather than working so hard not to understand each other the generations could take the time to learn from each other. Maybe the older generation could use a little more “me” time. And maybe the millennials could learn to focus more on living life and less on defining themselves.

Because, in the end, what matters most is not how much time we spend scrubbing our floors, or how many pictures we post proving that we are more than our traditional roles.

Let’s take the free time all the advances of technology gives us and use it to do some good, whether that’s spending more time working, or playing, or sleeping, or just being around the people we love. Be deliberate, be thoughtful, and choose how you want to spend your time. Don’t let society choose for you.