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Single Van Life Mom Shares Tragic Thanksgiving In A Van With Son

Being a single mom celebrating the Holidays while living in a van can be rough or very rewarding. Last year (2019) on Thanksgiving, I felt like I let my son down. I was feeling embarrassed but Carter handled the unexpected events so well. I was embarrassed because I believed that he was too young to understand the consequences of some unexpected tragic news along and the challenges of me being a single mother. No matter what...I’ll never forget this wide eyed van life child looking at me and saying… “It’s ok mommy.” 😯😃

A week prior, we were #vanlife camping happily at Big Basin Redwoods State Park for a week. It was so serene and family friendly! It felt like we were bears tucked far away in the mountains. We had a designated camping spot without electric, WiFi, cell service or worries. We had everything we needed and the situation was so perfect and peaceful. 

Eventually, we started running out of firewood and the campground had some but I didn’t feel comfortable paying $8 a bundle because we were still pinching financially wherever we could if we had alternatives. I.e cheaper firewood in town. We strategically used the last of the firewood to cook dinner at night and we used the coals to make hot cocoa. 

The following morning, it was checkout day and I wanted to stay longer but it was getting cold and all I wanted was a hot bath! Not a shower! A bath! 🛁  After camping outdoors and hovering over a continuous fire, I felt covered in dirt and soot. I really wanted to soak, lather and exfoliate then I wanted to stretch out in a big bed. 🥰 “Endless hot water” and a big bed are a total luxury for a van lifer. We appreciate it rarely beats the scenic destinations we can rest and relax in for free! So every now and then we book a place primarily to use the big bathroom. Lol 

I’m super selective about what Airbnb’s or hotel we stay in because 1. I have a free moving hotel place to sleep at for free! 

2. I only book hotels to have access to certain amenities. I.e.. Pet friendly, free parking, free breakfast, must have a tub, pool, hot tub, gym or a lounge to work or go on a date in. 😆😂 (Shhhhh! More on that later.)

3. Last but most importantly, great customer service is everything! I don’t want to pay for a gross room nor to deal with nasty attitudes. I read reviews! 

Rates in California are high and It took me about 3 hours to find and get to a good hotel that fit our budget. It had all the amenities we could look forward to that made me feel like the total cost was worth the 3 days we’d spend there while it poured down freezing rain. I felt that the rain was another reason to justify my investment! I didn’t want to be in the van all day and we couldn’t drive far from the area yet to escape the rain.

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It was now the day before we’d check out of our hotel on Thanksgiving and spend it was some friends. Typically we’d spend Thanksgiving with family but regardless, being a single mom has its challenges during the holidays that no one talks about. (I will talk more about this soon in a separate blog.) 

Thankfully we have made beautiful friends all around the world and we were near a family we had met up with many times and we wanted to build a deeper relationship with them while we were in their town. This also was a rare case that the family is black and had a son Carter’s age and by surprise, the kid was also his virtual classmate! We have a diverse community but we and rarely ran into other black families that homeschool. 

Everything was going great at the hotel as we refreshed ourselves and stayed out of the rain until some devastating news broke the day before we’d check out of the hotel on Thanksgiving to celebrate with them. The father of their family passed away at their home. 🤯😭 We all couldn’t believe it. We had just been celebrating Halloween together and so on and everything seemed to have been going great! 

I was faced with explaining this to my son and trying to be a supportive friend. We were told that Thanksgiving would resume at another one of their relatives home and that we were still welcomed to attend. I felt conflicted about what to do but I also didn’t want to bail on a friend that was now a single mom with a young boy that could probably use some positive vibes from his only son Carter. Well, on the day of Thanksgiving we didn’t hear from the family at all. 🙁 I called, texted and nothing. We didn’t even have an address to drive to. Now what? We extended our checkout time, ate brunch at the hotel and did some giveaways on social media. All with a great attitude of course! 

It started getting later and darker and we still hadn’t heard back from our friends. The feeling of uncertainty was weighing on me. I felt the pressures of creating a memorable Thanksgiving for my child and the ruling facts were that hotel room rates went up and we wanted to eat a Thanksgiving Dinner. I pondered, “Where can I at least buy a cooked comfort meal that would wash my worries away?”

I came up with an idea that would be my way of turning the day upside down! Occasionally throughout our full time travels we volunteer at homeless shelters. Its something private and special for us to do whenever we have time. It’s a very humbling experience especially for a child that only has memories of a fancier lifestyle and never lacking basic necessities to then donating it all and living in an old van. We only travel with the basics combined with some essential gear for work and school. We didn’t have a ton of money but the freedom made us feel rich and volunteering kept us humble! 

We serve hot meals to the homeless and also eat with them. Carter loves it and so does my heart. So I figured, why not do it on Thanksgiving Day!? I researched and drove around looking for a homeless shelter that we could volunteer at. Unfortunately, It was 5PM and everything had closed! Now what? Even the fast food restaurants and grocery stores were closed. 

We went to a Walgreens to grab food and I drove to a nearby laundromat. For Thanksgiving dinner, we ate ramen and Taki’s in the van while waiting for our laundry. Carter’s attitude was normal! He was alive and excited playing with his BeyBlade toys and eating his Nongshim ramen and Takis! It was definitely a holiday for him because I rarely allowed him to eat those processed chips. 

Meanwhile, I was trying to mask my emotions in front of him and wondering, what is his father going to think about this? Carter’s dad's side of the family did Thanksgiving the traditional way in the hood with big mama. (If you know, you know!) Thanksgiving at Big Mama’s is always the best! But when you’re an ex and you or the other person has a girlfriend/boyfriend, you’re a little less in the picture with respect. My mom and dad’s family is more scattered across the U.S and everyone does their own thing. I was also silently grieving the loss of my father that same year and a heartbreak with my ex fiancé. I felt selfish, guilty for not being with family and jealous of everyone on social media posting pictures of their families crowded around a beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner table. 

Also feeling abandoned yet understanding about what was beyond my control, I was so embarrassed but my son’s reaction kept me together. 😌  I felt like I failed but I realized that it was another hidden beautiful reminder. Young kids do not worry about what to do next. We can really learn a lot from observing them! They accept what happened and seem to get over most things much faster than adults do. At the end of the day, kids are going to be happy regardless if they feel safe, have shelter, food and their favorite toy or video game. So we put on music in our van and we beybladed together until my insecurities turned into laughter outside the laundromat. 

I hope that in sharing this transparent story that it inspires someone to find the beauty within unexpected situations that lead us to feeling alone and in a pool of uncertainty. Make the best out of it and keep living. 🙏🏽😊 These are the moments that slow us down and remind us to be present and alive which is the best priceless experience in this lifetime. 

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