Raising Lexington: Adventures In Moving
How to navigate the emotional roller coaster of leaving the only house your kids ever knew.
The movers are packing up our house even as I write this article, and the distinctive sound of tape peeling off the roll closing up boxes of memories takes me back to the day my parents moved from the only house I ever knew.
Twenty-five years in one home is a lot of time, a lot of memories and, for me, a lot of happiness. I had some time to come to terms with it, but as I walked around my childhood home I realized it wasn’t enough. I wondered if the movers knew they were packing up my life. If they knew they were unveiling the best hiding spot in the house as they moved the two blue sofas and round coffee table, and if they knew that sneaky creak in the wood floor got me into trouble on more than one late night.
Growing up, I always thought I had the best home. My best friend lived next door. There were picnics on the back porch, a hammock in the back yard and a tent that would go up for the neighborhood kids every summer. My parents took great care to leave my room as it was when I went to college and packed up my things as they moved into their new home. I never felt that my memories where being taken away. And now that it is my children’s turn to leave the only house they’ve ever known, I wanted to do the same for them.
Shelter them from the storm, but not the fun:
Our new house hunt started over a year ago and I knew it would take a while, so I decided to leave them out of this stage. The last thing I wanted was for them to endure the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with finding a house you like only to realize it isn’t for you, or to be outbid by another buyer. This happened to us twice, but the third time was a charm. My daughter was old enough to know something was up, so while we did hide most of the turmoil of house hunting we did share some of the fun: Open houses. My kids became experts at this Sunday ritual. They knew not to play with any toys that might be out, not to run in the house and not to declare your love for the bright pink little girl’s room that “is perfect for me, Mom." This part of the house hunting process my kids could handle and rarely asked about the particular house again. Now, all this would have changed if we had visited a house with a killer structure in the back yard or a perfect finished basement play room.
Give them some control:
Once our house was ready to be put on the market, I included the kids in deciding which toys would be temporarily packed away so others could see the house as they would have it -- not piled high in toys, games and art supplies. They liked this process very much, as it gave them some control in a chaotic time. I did this again when it came time to move into a temporary apartment. The kids were each given a big toy bag and allowed to fill it with all of their favorite toys and books. I made an art kit with a small bin. I suggested they draw on the boxes I had already packed, which thrilled them. The movers got a kick out of it too. My daughter grabbed a piece of the white packing paper, put it on the art desk and instructed her younger brother to go through each marker to make sure it was working and throw out the ones that did not. The image of them working together to get this task done delights me and once again reminds me that kids are resilient and, given the chance, can be excellent helpers.
Next came the hardest part of the move for me: The showings. At any moment the phone would ring with a request to see the house. I did my best to keep them during the day, while the kids were at school. But there were several times when someone wanted to see it after dinner. My kids go to bed admittedly early, so there were times I had to deny a showing. My realtor wasn’t too pleased with me, but I did cave when it was a second showing. One particular post-dinner showing turned into a little adventure when I packed the kids into the car in their PJs and drove down the street to hang out in the car listening to loud music. I got this moment on video and have watched it several times to remind myself of my kids' flexibility. Fortunately, our home sold in record time and the home-showing dance came to a quick end.
Focus on the future but admit the past:
I think this tip is as much for me as it is for the kids. I take a walk down memory lane several times a day and realizing we were selling the home my kids took their first steps in, said their first words in and finally mastered potty training in, was hard. It was a great house and I wondered if those memories would come in the new house. I didn’t admit this little fear to anyone. I instead talked about all of the great things our new house has in store for us. I asked the kids how they wanted to design their new bedrooms. I asked them where we would plant the vegetable garden. And I started planning play dates with close friends. On our last day at the house, my daughter saw the movers arrive and they asked her if she would miss such a great house and the water works started. I acknowledged their sentiment not to minimize her obvious sadness and turned her frown upside down with talk of purple bedroom walls and swing sets with monkey bars in the backyard.
Now it is moving day and, to make matters more complicated, the house we bought isn’t ready for a month. So we are staying at dear old Mom’s while she is away. The more people I tell of this amazing offer from my Mom, the more admit they have done the same. Maybe moving back in with your parents is a rite of passage. My kids are thrilled to be living in the city for a month and I am thrilled to be mortgage free for a month.
So, this chapter of our moving adventure is over. We sold our house, bought a new house and packed up all of our memories. The next chapter will be later this summer, when we can move out of Mom’s house into our new home and start making new memories, finding new hiding places and making sure there is that certain creak in the floor that will signal my child’s return home.