Jamie Kahn: Van Life

When I was young, I asked my mom what she wanted to be when she grew up and she answered me honestly. She said that she wanted to purchase a van or a camper, turn it into a home, and travel around the world in it. My reaction now makes me feel like the worst daughter in the world, as well it should. I laughed at her and thought that she was stupid. It seemed silly and unfathomable to me, as I pictured a trailer park or gypsies. My mom was neither of those things, so I assumed that she just didn’t think anything through.

Now, with the millennial age in full swing, I wish that I hadn’t been one of the many people to laugh at her. There are entire television shows dedicated to tiny houses. There are famous people on the internet, making money with every online post about living the #vanlife. They’re the people that the world admires. They’re free spirits, without all the woes and cares of a nine to five, and my mother belongs among them, I’m sure of it.

She used to say to me, “All I want in life is a bundle for a buck, and a million bucks,” which I’m sure is a phrase that she invented. Whenever asked, she would explain that it meant that she wanted to have the smallest and simplest living space possible, and lots of money to spend on experiences rather than material things. She always resented the idea of having a large house, even sometimes griping about the size of our family home in the suburbs with room for a husband, two daughters, a dog, and a cat. “It’s too much house to clean. Nobody needs that,” she said.

My mom once owned a Mazda mini-van during my childhood, which I find ironic now. She loved that thing intensely, which not many moms do. She looks back on her memories of it with fondness, treasuring its function and utility, even though she basically only used it to cart kids to and from ballet and soccer practice. We took family road trips in it, but it was far from urban camping. There was always a feeling that there was something else you could do with that van. Eventually, when I was around eleven, it crapped out and was gone forever. She exchanged it for a sedan, as that’s what you do when your children outgrow their car seats.

We sometimes watch the shows about tiny houses when they come on TV and tag each other in pictures of people traveling the world in vans or campers. I’m now convinced that my mom could see the future, and maybe if I can buy her a van one day—to use for her intended purposes—it’ll be a sufficient enough apology for my shallow judgment. If not, I’d do it anyway.

Jamie Kahn is a writer and undergraduate student. Her work has been featured in PDXX Collective, Maudlin House, Eunoia Review, LitCat, Lady! Magazine, The Claremont Review, The Unrorean, Yellow Chair Review, Fish Food Magazine, Philosophical Idiot, and Donut Factory Press. She has also written for Thought Catalog and Germ Magazine, and co-hosts The Everything Bagel podcast.