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Traveling with elderly parents
Russ and Tina De Maris

Are you part of the sandwich generation? You've got grown kids--and maybe grandchildren--and older parents, both generations of which need your help? I think I know why they call it the "sandwich" generation: You're always feeling like you're in a jam.

RVing can prove a respite from some of the day-to-day pressures of being caregivers, and we appreciate our time out. But it began to sink in, our mothers, both widowed, might like a little respite, too. So we began the interesting journey into travels with our mothers-in-laws.

Short Hops and Longer Term

Our first whack at RVing with more than just the three of us (mama, papa, and the cat) began with the idea of taking both our mothers with us at the same time. Perhaps this was an energetic (and some thought completely crazy) idea. Since our mothers like each other and donít get together often, we thought itíd be a natural.

The trip was a "short hop" from Washington down to the Oregon Coast. On the way we did a roadside picnic lunch while waiting for a ferry ride across the Columbia. In addition to our fifth wheel and tow vehicle, we brought along a four-door car to make travel for everyone easier, and to use as a sight-seeing rig.

The week we spent with four folks and the cat in our 28' trailer proved up several important tips, which we'll come to. Yes, we'd do it again, but we'd make a few changes in the process.

Our second attempt at in-law outings (or was this an inning with an outlaw?) was on a smaller scale. During a winter trip to the desert southwest we invited just one of the mothers. This time, instead of transporting her with us, she flew into the nearest airport and spent two weeks with us, living in our normal winter routines.

Both experiences left us with memories, and tips to share.

Lessons Learned

Planning: This is the first secret to traveling with older ones. Do plenty of it. Take into account your parent's needs. Ours both had medical conditions to take into account.

Tina's mom had trouble moving about physically. She dearly loves the ocean, but getting her on the beach would have been an impossibility. Enter our plan to camp with a beach view. We planned this one out with limited success. The hosts at Tillicum Beach campground were kind enough to keep a "disabled friendly" site for us; unfortunately there wasn't any view.

What resulted is what we call "The Tillicum Shuffle," where you park where you can, and then get up early and case the campground, waiting for a desirable site to be vacated. Sure enough, we were able to get a fairly level, ocean-view site on the second day. This delighted everyone, because we could all see the beach, and yet not have to wrestle with the logistics of climbing down to the impossible-to-walk-on sand.

Making Adjustments: The fold-out steps on our rig are tricky enough for us. They could have proved trecherous for unsteady feet. We built a temporary but solid lower landing step out of planks and four-by-fours. We'd already added a swing out, oversized handrail with our folks in mind; both of these additions were real life savers.

Since older ones sometimes have problems staying warm, while others in the company are more comfortable in cooler temperatures, be sure to take along lap robes and blankets.

New Routines: Since both of our parents were unfamiliar with RVing, we had to teach them the new routines of conservation. Our spot on the beach was non-hookup, and there were limitations on fresh water and waste water capacity. Things home-based folks take for granted were out the window--like leaving the water turned on while brushing your teeth, or dumping rinse water between dishes. A full hookup site might be in order for a larger group.

Fortunately, both our folks figured out how to use the RV toilet in short order. Remembering to turn off lights was a little more challenging. Of course, both our parents wanted to help out with day-to-day responsibilities. All this lead to. . .

Patience: As adults, we both had developed our own independent routines. When the moms came along, we had to step back and share some of what we'd come to take as "our own." Sharing an RV galley is tough enough with your mate--add your mother-in-law and something has to give.

Tina quickly learned to clear space at the kitchen table and park the mothers there, giving them a share in meal preparation. "Even when it would have been easier, even faster for me to do it myself," she recalls, "I had to remember, 'This is their time, not mine.'"

Sleeping Logistics: It may be your rig has a 'hide a bed' stuck away in the couch. Sure, your dinette may turn into a sleeper. But the logistics of getting these temporary night-quarters ready can be a bit of a challenge.

It was Russ' job to see to it that the beds were readied each night. The thing that helped most here was coordinated effort--to make out the hide-a-bed, everyone had to clear the living room area. We found it best if one took to the bathroom to get ready for bed, while the others occupied the kitchen table. Once the living room bed was made, then bathroom occupants switched, while the others took to sitting in the living room.

Keeping Busy: While we had planned "outings" to local site-seeing spots and a couple of visits for restaurant meals, we encouraged both our in-laws to bring something to do, knitting, reading, etcetera. On the trip where we took both mothers with us, we found they tended to entertain each other. This was a bit of a relief for us, since we were able to get a little time to ourselves.

When Russ' mother came visiting for a couple of weeks, we found it a little more challenging. Fortunately, she was able to keep herself occupied, but we felt like had to provide more close attention. Family dynamics will no doubt differ for everyone, but it is something to keep in mind.

Duration: Our experiences taught us it's best to try and keep travel times short. The outbound side of our trip with both mothers along was "punctuated" by our ferry boat trip. Our return trip was straight road-miles, with a break for lunch along with way. It proved to be almost too much to try and do six hours Ďin the saddle.í

If you have the opportunity to do more than one trip with an older parent, try a close-to-home couple of days trip first, just to see how things shake out. Itíll give you a chance to work out bugs, and see how well your parent can travel--and how well you travel together. Some families find traveling together a neat experience, where others may find that the close-quarters of an RV a bit too nerve stretching for an extended vacation.

Keep Memories: Be sure to take a camera or camcorder and roll lots of film or tape. Your folks will enjoy having pictures to bring back to their minds our trips together.

Bottom Line: The most important ingredients to successful RVing with parents is patience, kindness, and remembering that it's everyone's trip. If you can keep these things in place, the inevitable problems that come up will work themselves out, leaving pleasant, refreshing memories of your time on the road.

A postscript: Since this article was written, we lost one mother-in-law to death, and the other has disappeared into the mists of dementia. How glad we were to have taken the time for our travels when we did. Don't put it off, tomorrow sometimes doesn't come.

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