Turning, Turning: Days Three and Four of a Family RV Trip

SImple Gifts-Lyrics-inspirationalIn the context of this song, which I refuse to believe it’s merely instructional and lacking poetry (see last week’s post), simplicity is defined relative to shame. According to the author, we’ll know we’ve gained true simplicity when we can bow and bend without shame, so we can infer, conversely, that to not bow and bend – to be rigid, inflexible, uncompromising – is shameful. It is the bowing, the bending, and the turning that lead us down the right path.

This may have been a popular point of view in 1848 when it was written, but in today’s world (or maybe just in my world) this is a pretty radical idea. We just elected Donald Trump – the Master of My Way or the Highway – as our President, for god’s sake. If that isn’t indicative of our feelings about flexibility and compromise, I don’t know what is!

But when I really think about it, the illusion that I have control, that I need to plan and map out every detail of my future – whether that’s the next two hours or the next 10 years – brings a lot of complication to my life. When everything has to fit into my neat and tidy roadmap, there’s very little margin for error. Setting rigid and uncompromising plans with very little ability to control my environment and circumstances is a recipe for failure; it’s unwise and illogical. There aren’t many things more shameful than that.

In order to “come round right”, we have to turn and turn and turn. Repeating the word “turn” gives the listener a sense of perpetuity; turning as a lifestyle, as opposed to an occasional corrective action. Moreover, while coming round right may be the eventual outcome, it’s actually the turning that will be our delight. The more flexible we are, the simpler and more delightful life becomes. What a lovely idea.

The second half of our trip was an exercise in turning – both the lifestyle kind and the corrective kind.

Day Three

We wake up to another gorgeous day in Santa Barbara with a clear view of the ocean from our campsite.

With the exception of my daughter’s angry episode yesterday, my kids seem happy. The usual spats – when they do occur – are impotent and over before I have to intervene. They’re competing a little less and enjoying each other a little more every day. Before the trip, we were like a balloon with too much air, stretched thin. Apply any additional pressure and we would pop. Now, we’ve leaked a little air and we are buoyant and pliable.

I am content except for one nagging problem, which is that the RV didn’t come equipped with a broom. For all the rig’s efficiency and practicality, I’m shocked this detail was overlooked. The market at El Capitan has some lovely, locally produced Pinot’s and I buy two of them, but no brooms.

el capitan canyon-hike-sky
Last hike in Santa Barbara
hike-santa barbara-ocean mesa
Freshly showered and ready for more

We take one last hike before packing up. Although the skies are crystal clear, the forecast is predicting rain and as I let my eyes feast on the panoramic view of Santa Barbara from the top of our hill, I wonder if our trip has already peaked. What on earth will we do stuck inside this RV for the next two days and nights? But I turn from the thought and it doesn’t linger long. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Any port in a storm
Resting peacefully

We bid adieu to Ocean Mesa and start to head north towards Pismo. With the slides in, the RV feels smaller even than I remember. The squeaks of rattling plastic increase as we pick up speed on the freeway. The actual driving part of this trip is definitely the least enjoyable. But we don’t have far to go, so I put some country music on for the driver and I distract myself by playing games with the kids in the back (always while facing forward so that I don’t get car sick.)

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I did very little research before planning our trip. A couple of google searches on RV parks in Pismo turned up two campsites with decent Yelp reviews and I called them both. The first site I called was booked, so I made a reservation at the second – Pismo Sands RV Park.

Even before we arrive at Pismo Sands, we know we in for a different experience than the one we just had. Waze tells us we’re getting close to the site and I double check the address to make sure I entered it correctly, because this place is flat, flat, flat, and feels very far from the beach. My husband and I both breath a sigh of relief when I realize – thank god! – I entered the wrong address. But our relief is short-lived when Waze proclaims our correct destination is only 200 feet ahead on the same street.

Not sure which year….

My husband’s face says, “what is going on in my wife’s head that she thought this would be a good place for us to stay?” (Pismo and Malibu, our next destination, were mine to plan. Santa Barbara was his.) But to his credit, he says nothing and as there’s nothing to be done about it now, we shift ourselves into “good attitude” mode.

Pismo Sands RV Park is everything I imagined an RV Park would be before starting our trip. It meets all the expectations I had before entering Ocean Mesa, which means it falls well below the new expectations I have formed since.

At least the sky is lovely!

Pismo Sands is a big, flat parking lot. In the center are two buildings – a business office and the bathrooms – with a small, fenced-in, kidney-shaped pool in between them. There is a small patch of grass and a wooden play structure made to look like a pirate ship.

Our campsite is a 15 to 20 foot wide parking spot, smack dab in the middle of the lot, across from the bathrooms. We wedge our RV in between two others and as we start to settle in, I feel as though I’ve just walked into a stranger’s living room and started undressing. Our very presence feels invasive. But our neighbors, who are seated around a small table, playing cards and chatting amicably, are unfazed and, in fact, when my husband starts to struggle with the water hook up, the men offer to lend a hand. When the deed is finally done, my husband offers them beers and the mood shifts from awkward to warm and familiar.

It’s worth noting that this is something both RV campsites have in common: our fellow campers are friendly, helpful, nice people. The employees, too, are attentive, gracious hosts, quick to lend a hand or provide a service when they can. Being a decent, helpful person seems to be a prerequisite to become an RV-camping regular.

We learn from our neighbors that the beach is about two miles away, but there’s a bike path nearby that will lead us there. We have an hour or so to kill before it’s time for dinner and there’s still no rain, so we strap on our helmets, put the dog in the child’s seat on the back of my bike, and hit the road.

Pismo beach is beautiful. The sun is setting, the waves are moderately sized and roll in in a steady, almost hypnotic rhythm. Cars, trucks, and RV’s of every shape and size are driving on the sand in an organized fashion – something I’ve never witnessed before – which gives off a celebratory vibe, as if everyone’s heading to the same big party.

Horses run across Pismo Beach
Partners in crime for life
Sun sinking low

We don’t have much time to speculate before we need to start heading back. The bike path is unlit and heavily pock-marked by muddy puddles, so it might be problematic to travel on once the sun goes down.

As we are making our way across the sand towards the bikes, however, my five year old gets sand in his eye. This child – our youngest – has lived in a perpetual state of being over-tired, over-stimulated, and (in his mind) under-resourced for the job of keeping up with his sister and brother. He is so eager to belong and keep pace with the older kids around him, and the slightest speed bump can unnerve him. So when he starts to complain that he has sand in his eye, we all know some unpleasantness is coming.

Crying it out

As the sun sinks lower and lower in the sky, my son’s fit gains energy. He is screaming, angry, convinced he has gone blind, sure we’ll have to remove the eye, and he is weaving a very dark scenario (he is nothing if not articulate.) He is Hamlet in an antic disposition. Our options are to wait it out or start walking, since we have to get both him and his bike back to the campsite.

Encouraged by the newfound patience I exercised with my daughter yesterday, I am Long-Suffering mom once again. The ticking of the sundial has no power over me. I encourage him to keep crying since the tears will flush the sand out of his eye and this prescription is a salve.

Eventually, he announces gamely that he might be able to ride his bike. The rest of my family, who are annoyed, tired, hungry, and anxious to get back to the campsite, are inspired by his little show of bravery and we band together in support of him. Taking a page out of my husband’s book, I remind my older kids that a team is only as strong as it’s weakest member and we slow down for the One-Eyed Hamlet, praising him for his exceptional ability to overcome obstacles.

The attention is like water on dry ground and we are bolstered by our own successful assuagement of his fears. What could have been a miserable journey home for all of us has become the highlight of the trip. We had teetered on the edge of misery, but turned towards peace. My little family was tested and we passed, together.

A fireside game of Clue

Later, we play Clue and make s’mores around the fire pit. When the boys leave to shower, my daughter entertains me by wrapping her blanket around herself and taking laps around the RV park under the stars. Random, stubborn fits of rage aside, she is a cheerful, fun girl and I wonder what she’ll be like in college. I feel slightly jealous of her future friends, knowing how much they will laugh with her and wishing I could be one of them, enjoying her as a peer.

Day Four

The rain came down hard in the night, with a funny sound like tiny suction cups scampering across the roof. I slept poorly for the first time all trip and need an extra cup of coffee to come to life.

We ride our bikes back to the path to see if a penny we left on the train tracks is still there and, if it is, in what state. The penny is gone, so we head back to the RV, shrink it, and drive it up to Pismo State Beach.

We take our final bike ride of the trip along the boardwalk, through the sand dunes, and past a campground where several RV’s are parked 50 or so feet apart from one another. The campsite is so close to the beach that it’s practically on the sand. I make a mental note to plan our next RV trip better. Forgoing hook-ups and relying on the generator opens up a whole host of possible sites to visit; places, in fact, that are only available overnight to RV’s.

Pismo-train tracks-penny
Searching for the penny we left behind



Three little monkeys sitting in a tree….


Sand dunes on Pismo Beach



It rains the entire way from Pismo to Malibu. The kids are restless and start a tickle war that ends in bruises and tears, but also genuine contrition. Their swift and sincere reconciliation is different and I wonder if it’s a happy consequence of our confinement.

I haven’t been to Malibu in a long time – and have never come at it from the north end – and the extreme wealth clashes with the town’s once-a-hippy, always-a-hippy vibe in a way I haven’t noticed before. It’s a quirky city, sunk inside a misty, moldy marine layer. It’s not exactly charming, yet there’s something very appealing about it that I can’t quite name; a sleepy, dreamy, slightly haunting quality that makes the rest of Los Angeles feel much farther away then it actually is.

Keeping good company in the passenger seat
The entrance at our final destination

The Malibu RV Park is the Love Child of Ocean Mesa and Pismo Sands. Like Pismo Sands, it’s spartan and simple, but it’s location on a steep hillside offers spectacular views that rival those of Ocean Mesa. It also has a market stocked with brooms, which thrills me to no end.

Once again, we settle in right before sunset with just enough time to hike down to the ocean before dinner. The beach is cold and damp, but the ocean waves are strong and bracing.

A view of the sunset from our campsite
Last hike of the trip




malibu-happy new year-sand

When we return, I start dinner and now it’s my turn to fall apart. Three children request three different meals and, after declaring their wishes, all four of my travel mates sit impatiently and expectantly, to watch me prepare said dinners on a 16” square parcel of countertop. I am frustrated and annoyed. I feel tired and inadequate. Like my daughter two days prior and my son yesterday, I unravel disgracefully. Long-suffering mom has been replaced by Bitchy, Resentful, Make Your Own Damn Dinner mom. I feel the tantrum rising and suddenly the Valley of Love and Delight might as well be Mars for how far away it seems.

Unlike at home, however, I have no where to go. I can’t storm away to clear my head. There are no doors to slam to vent my anger. If I raise my voice, there’s a park full of lovely, vacationing people nearby who will have to hear it. I feel like I’m stuck inside a mouse trap. I want to throw something, but I can’t risk breaking something I need and there’s no room to throw it anyway.

I have no choice but to deal with my feelings while standing in that tiny little kitchen, my family’s eyes upon me. They have to endure the sad, undignified scene of my poorly-restrained tantrum, and I have to endure being watched in my unflattering, undignified state. I eventually find my bearings and have the good sense to reduce the menu options to two. I feel slightly ashamed for my outburst and say so, along with an apology, and my family forgives me. I am humbled and chagrined, but I also feel loved.

Laying in bed, it’s quiet enough for me to hear everyone breathing, including the dog. I open the back window and hear quiet, comforting sounds: waves crashing, a t.v. playing nearby, a woman laughing, a dog barking. The world seems temporary and fragile, and I fall asleep with this thought in my mind.

What will I remember from the trip? A dimpled finger writing a name in the sand. A gleeful girl riding her bike under the stars. A determined youth sprinting up a hillside. A pair of strong, steady hands on the wheel of the rig. A stubborn girl and a moment of turning towards acceptance. A beer offered to a stranger. A sweet young boy trying hard to keep up with his siblings and needing instead for his siblings to slow down.

A stolen moment of quiet


My little family is imperfect. We get on each others nerves and lose patience with each other. My children compete with one another and can be selfish and unkind. My husband and I argue and sometimes place being right above being loving. But there is great love here.

Over the last four days, I’ve witnessed many small gestures of real tenderness, gentleness, and care: The look in my youngest son’s eyes when he gazes adoringly at his big brother while they team up to play Clue. The way my daughter curls into my husband’s side for warmth by the campfire. My oldest son’s offer to help me clean the RV. A coveted seat given up freely. The last piece of candy offered to another. An apology spoken from the heart. Sometimes I have to look hard to see the love, but it’s here.

We are turning, turning; trying to come down right. We are bowing and bending again and again towards what we know to be loving and good; growing with every turn. We turn away and we turn back again. We don’t always find it, but we’re always searching hopefully for the valley of love and delight.

Tomorrow we will return home. I will have piles and piles of laundry to wash and the kids will return to their iPads and gaming systems. The stress of work, homework, and our respective responsibilities will gradually return. But we set out for an adventure and we had one. We submitted ourselves to this trip with no plan and loosely-formed expectations, and we are better for having done it.

We received simple gifts and we delighted in them.

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