Many people who convert a bus, van or trailer, have young kids – or at least kids whom you do not want to be handling a power tool unsupervised. When we started our bus conversion, Simone was only 5 years old and Max 2-1/2. I didn’t have to worry about feeding them breast milk, but I did have to fret about entertaining them during the long days of construction. We preferred that they be occupied for long stretches of time, but their attention span was as short as they were.
In the first month of the conversion, we parked the bus at the 8-acre farm of Michael’s Uncle Frankie. This was ideal for the gutting of the bus because we had space to dump all the parts eventually going to the dump and the parts we were reusing. Was it ideal for the kids? We thought it had its perks!
As former city-dwellers, our only contact with chickens and goats was in books or at a local petting zoo. At Uncle Frankie’s, the kids took on the chore of feeding the chickens every morning. The goats didn’t need to be fed, but they did need to be moved to different pastures around the homestead. Simone and Max sometimes rode on the tractor bed while Uncle Frankie traveled from one goat to the other, tying them to different posts with tall grass. If we didn’t have family around to help us with entertaining the kids, we might have had a harder time.
Other exciting things that happened at the farm were the birth of a new litter of kittens, climbing the barn’s loft, collecting eggs, washing said eggs, discovering swallowtail nests, and learning about the pecking order of roosters. The last experience actually elicited a sad emotion in us. The kids and I did not know that one rooster in a flock will be singled out as the “weakest” and will thus be the punching bag for the rest. The one at the farm bore so many scars & bleeding wounds. He had lost so many feathers that he looked as if he were on the verge of death.
Bus Conversion and potty training can be tricky. If your child is self sufficient, you needn’t worry. If they’re still in diapers or pull-ups, it’s not ideal but you know you have an amount of time free to work before you have to pause and change a diaper. If you are potty training a toddler, the process might disrupt the construction a bit. At a moment’s notice, your toddler will scream, “Peeeee, I need to pee!” If you’re in the middle of cutting a board of plywood lengthwise, do you kill the table saw switch or do you let your kid pee in his pants for the second time that day?
This doesn’t mean that one should forgo the training nor the conversion – it’s just another task you’ll have to deal with on top of all the others. But isn’t that how life goes? It doesn’t hand you completed goals on a silver platter. So knowing that it might be difficult to potty train and do construction, you can prepare yourself mentally and with some tricks.
Place a potty chair outside
When kids have a bowel movement, many times they don’t tell you until the shizz is about to go down! Instead of having to scramble inside the house or apartment to get to the throne, bring the toilet outside. We found our older daughter preferred this method instead of using the bathroom inside.
Have multiple bags of wet-wipes
Many parents may already sprinkle their house with wet wipes in every room. This becomes very important not only with potty training but with dirt in general. By placing a wet wipe holder near the outdoor potty, we gained a little bit of time not having to help with hygiene.
Time Your Intensive Tasks
Right before you and your partner engage in putting up the new 5mm ply ceiling, make sure your child has just visited the toilet.
Entertaining Your Kids in 10 Easy Ways
You need not buy a lot of toys to occupy children’s time. Bring them outside to join in the construction fun!
- I let the kids mimic us by buying them little construction tool toys that made sounds and moved parts.
- Get a scrap piece of wood and place different screws with different heads around the board. Give them screwdrivers with the corresponding bits and you’ve bought yourself about 30 minutes.
- If you’re more confident of their usage with power tools, give them a scrap piece of wood and a power drill.
- The short ends of 2x4s or 1x3s that cannot be used become new building blocks. Make sure you sand the edges so the kids don’t get splinters. You can also let the kids paint them, decorate them with permanent markers or just color them with chalk, which is what we did.
- Bigger scraps of wood can become the fulcrum of a see-saw.
- If you have a small incline in your yard, scrap 1/4″ ply becomes a ramp for scooters, skateboards or roller skates!
- Enlist the kids to paint huge fields of material. If a project doesn’t need accuracy nor masking tape, kids enthusiastically brush paint wood. Teach older kids to properly spray self-etching primer on metal fabrications.
- Make a swing! Again with the scrap piece of wood and thick rope, you can put together a swing hanging from a tree.
- Boxes delivered to your house contain equipment or tools for your bus. Save these boxes before you send them to recycling. Kids use them to make houses, forts, push carts, hats, and/or armor out of them. They also serve as a sturdy surface onto which you can paint scrap pieces of wood.
- Give them a camera. Let your kids snap photos of you building their future tiny home. You don’t always have the time to chronicle your journey, but they might. Their perspective also gives you a window into how they see the experience.
When all else fails, Netflix can babysit. I’ll admit that we would plop the kids in front of the TV and let them watch episode after episode of “My Big, Big Friend.” Sometimes fatigue overcomes you or the weather is too hot & humid to let any child outside to play.
Honestly, we fed the kids a lot of fast food during our bus conversion. It’s hard to make home-cooked meals while your husband works a full-time job and you’re left during the day to sand, paint, and spec equipment. It’s even harder when both parents work and the conversion is subjected to nights and weekends. When you can, throw in any kind of nutritious fruit or veggies that the kids can munch on.
My kids are such connoisseurs of chicken nuggets that they can tell you their preference for the best chain. But we tried to get some nutrition in by giving them strawberries, blueberries and apples. Edamame and peanuts gave them protein. Carrots, peas and corn provided more vitamins and minerals. Frozen peas have actually become a hit with the kids. Out of hunger one afternoon, they hunted for something to eat and found the little green orbs. They found it delightful to pop the frozen spheres in their mouth. I’m not saying all kids will like it, but the unusual can become a godsend.
The Kids Are Alright … I Think
I can’t say for sure that converting a bus and living in it full-time has benefited our family. Who knows if it affects our children negatively and they need a therapist in their young adulthood to sort through their childhood experiences?
The austerity we provide and think gives them the ability to exercise imagination may leave them with low self-esteem. The nomadic lifestyle may be give them more longing for stable friendships than the joy of adventure. The time we spent building a home for the family may have stolen time for playing with the kids. If we were wrong in choosing this endeavor then I can honestly say I’ll be surprised. It has brought our family closer and the kids are more adventurous than Michael and I were as kids in the 70s. My gut says we did the right thing in converting the bus and living a tiny life with our tiny humans.