BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Oh, my. Once again we're packing boxes and saying goodbyes.
After nine years in Southern California we're about to move to Nashville, Tenn. New jobs, new house, new routines. Our last move brought us here from Connecticut. Before that, Hubby and I lived in South Carolina and Maryland. And between college and the time I met him, I'd already moved three times. So the whole let's-uproot-and-begin-a-new-adventure thing isn't new to us, and the goodbyes don't feel quite so final in this era of texting and Facebook, thank goodness. But our children are already rattled.
Son, 13, remembers Connecticut, so at least he knows there's life after a move. But he's understandably unenthused about leaving friends and having to make new ones on the other side of the country. Daughter, barely 10, has no memory of anything other than this house, this neighborhood, this life. Some days she's excited, because she'll see her grandparents more often, and because her immediate fear (that we wouldn't bring the dog with us) was allayed. Other days she's teary, secretive and uncooperative. She's a high-maintenance kid anyway, so I'm not surprised. I chalk a lot of her recent moodiness up to the turmoil that's already struck as we pack, hold yard sales and prepare the house for renters.
Lori Collins Burgan says both my kids will need extra TLC in coming weeks. She should know. She wrote "Moving with Kids" after relocating five times in seven years (yikes!). Hubby and I are savvy about the physical aspects of moving, but this time we're also dealing with our kids' reactions, which wasn't a big challenge last time because they were so young.
We instinctively understand something Burgan emphasizes in her book: the kids need
reassurance that the basic facts of our life won't change - that we are family, we love each other and that we will try to re-create much of what's positive about life here in our life there.
A few of Burgan's tips:
Give kids notebooks for collecting friends' phone numbers, email addresses and farewell messages. Asking friends to add photos, poems, song lyrics, etc., gives children portable keepsakes they can pore over later if they're homesick.
Let kids pack their most precious possessions in a backpack that travels with them on the road trip or flight.
When loading the truck, be sure boxes containing the kids' bedding, pillows and favorite toys are among the first things unloaded in the new house. It gives them the comfort of familiar items when landing in an unfamiliar place.
If possible, let the kids visit their new school before they start attending. Getting familiar with the campus (where's the cafeteria? The bathrooms?) and, even better, meeting their future teacher, alleviates some first-day anxieties. Burgan and her husband even take off from work the first day their kids start in a new school, to devote more time and attention to the morning rush and their children's reactions at the end of the day.
Throw a going-away party. Burgan recommends this for giving everyone a chance to say goodbye (and collect those numbers and journal entries). I had my own brilliant idea when we left Connecticut: I invited my friends over the day before we left to divvy up all the food, cleaning and household supplies that were open and couldn't move with us (why toss shampoo or olive oil in a landfill)? When the moving truck arrived, I invited them back with their children, who were young enough to be completely enthralled by watching movers haul things into that enormous trailer. Burgan urges another party at your new place: "Don't wait for new friends to come to you." Invite neighbors and classmates over for a we'd-like-to-get-to-know-you party.
Perhaps most importantly, don't minimize kids' grief as they leave friends and relatives behind. "Encourage your kids to express how they're feeling, and never judge what they tell you," Burgan writes. "Saying things like 'Don't worry, you'll make new friends' or 'don't feel sad' would give them the message their feelings are unacceptable," she says.
How true. After all, I have mixed feelings about the move, too, and I had far more say about it than the kids did. Hubby and I decided to relocate believing that in the long run, it will benefit all of us - professionally, financially and for the sake of being closer to extended family. That doesn't mean that on our last day here I'll skip merrily off to the airport, singing songs of joy. More likely I'll be a shaky, tearful, wrung-out wreck clutching my best friend in a death hug and obsessing over second (and third, and fourth) thoughts. That's how I left Connecticut nine years ago. We were in California seven months before I felt at home. I'm sure Nashville will feel utterly foreign and lonely for a long time, too.
But as Burgan writes, and as I've told my kids, each time I've left a place, no matter how tearfully, I've landed somewhere with its own beauty, its own wonderful friends, its own perks (climate, cuisine, culture). The fact we've lived in many places has enriched my life as much as it's complicated it. My kids don't understand that yet, of course; they're focused mostly on whether our new neighborhood's pool has a slide. But I hope someday they'll look back on this move and remember not only sorrowful goodbyes but joys that, at this moment, still lie ahead.
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