Thursday, May 6, 2010

Home (Babble)

(Mona, Aden and Quinn posing with our new headstone address marker.  We are so ready for Halloween!)

We’ve had a long, unusual transition from the old house to the new one.  This process has been out of the norm, so little of the typical advice about moving with kids applied, but maybe there is something in how our situation unfolded that could be useful to someone else, so I thought I’d share how it went.

Right after Ian got deployed in the fall, the house across the street from us went up for sale.  Not only does it have much more room, but it’s beautiful and I’ve always loved it and I knew we’d be happier and more comfortable there.  My husband agreed from afar to find a way to make that happen, and many power of attorney signatures later we closed on the new house at the end of January.  We started working on it and moving things over at the beginning of February.  (It’s now May, and although we are finally living in the new house, I still have some things to move over from the old one when when I find the time.)

Physically the move has been tedious.  It stretched out through snow storms, rain storms and a few really warm days.  There were spurts of big activity where volunteers would help bring the more massive things across the street, but a great deal of it was just me walking things over one at a time, usually in the dark.  The rule was anytime any of us crossed the street to the new house we had to bring something, and once it was there it didn’t come back.  (The kids had to think carefully about which toys to bring if they had to come along with me for an afternoon while I was painting or unpacking things.)

In some ways it would have been much easier to box everything at once and just have it all go to the new house in a day, and even though we just moved across the street we could have hired people to do that and had it over with.  But in our case I think that would have been the wrong way to go.  It was good to have time to remodel things a little without having to live in the mess or work around the schedules of the people doing the improvements.  And as easy as it is to think of a move primarily in terms of hauling and organizing objects, my biggest concerns were all about the emotional impact it was going to have on my kids, specifically Aden.

There are times I tell people that I don’t understand what Aden is thinking when she does certain things, but the truth is I wish I didn’t understand as well as I do.  I see so much of myself in her, and how her creative and sensitive nature can make some things in life harder.  I remember how complicated it was to be a kid, even when you have everything that matters like a familiy that loves you and a safe, comfortable home.  The down side (if it can be called that) to a nice life is that it makes change hard to tolerate.  It’s painful to watch good things end.

I knew Aden was going to have the hardest transition to make.  I’m sad to leave our old home, too, but I also knew how much happier I was going to be in the new one.  I started talking to her about the idea of moving the night we got the call from the neighbors that they were putting their house on the market.  I told the kids at dinner that our friends were moving and that daddy and I might buy their house.  There were a lot of tears, and part of me wondered if it was a good idea to even talk about it before we knew anything for sure, but I knew if it did happen I needed to give Aden a lot of time to adjust so the earlier we started that the better.

I brought up the idea of the move regularly, and Aden would cry and come to me with what seemed to her to be logical arguments against it.  I would refute her arguments and give her hugs, and on less patient days tell her I didn’t want to hear about it.  She had a long time to get it out of her system and I think that helped.  When the closing date was set and things were certain Aden told me that we couldn’t move unless we all agreed.  I told her not in this case.  We may all have to agree on what movie to watch on Friday Night Movie Night, but really big things were up to me and her dad.  I told her what house we lived in was about my life, not hers, and that she had to trust that I would make decisions that would work for her too, but that I needed to live in a house that made me happy and the job of being a mom easier.  I reminded her that someday when she grew up she would have her own house and she would understand why her kids didn’t get to decide that for her.  And who knew?  Maybe if she really wanted, she could buy the house across the street back one day and we’d be neighbors.  That idea cheered her up.

After that there were very few tears.  We spent so many months where the kids got to explore every inch of the new house before we ever spent the night that there was nothing unfamiliar about it.  They knew its smells and its creaks and its best corners for hide and seek.  They had established where they liked to play with what toys and they had dropped many things down the laundry chute.  They had helped paint their own rooms, we’d eaten pizza several times at the new dining room table and ice cream in the breakfast nook, and had many hunts for chocolate eggs all over the living room.  It wasn’t foreign even if it wasn’t really home.  Every day after school we’d pull up to our intersection and I would ask, “Which house?” and about half the time they’d pick the old one, and the other half the new.  For weeks the two places were fairly interchangable, the determining factor usually being if they were hungry because all the food was at the old house.

One interesting thing about the slow motion move was that you could feel the shift from house to home.  The old house was home for a long time, and the new house was like an echo chamber.  As more things moved over the two houses balanced out for awhile, but then the house we were living in became stranger and the new one started sounding more normal.  Things started to look more familiar in the new house as it filled with our things, and the old house became more uncomfortable.  We were living in a space that had whole rooms with nothing in them and our footfalls would reverberate as we walked past.  We were sleeping on the floor for a month and a half and the kids had almost no toys.  While Ian was home on leave he moved the televisions and had our phone service shifted over.

By the time we spent the night in the new house, there was really nothing to miss in the old one.  It still held nice memories, but it wasn’t homey.  It was just a house.  The kids objected to leaving it more out of habit or in theory.  It was obvious they were ready to go be reunited with their things across the street and lead lives uninterrupted by having to evacuate frequently because of realtors doing house showings.

My last concern was getting them over the hump of the first night.  The first night in a new place is hard, so I promised the kids we would bake a giant pink cupcake to eat for breakfast the first morning there.  I figured if they woke up excited about a giant pink cupcake they wouldn’t focus on too much else.  We baked it the night before, they got to decorate it with vanilla frosting and every sprinkle we owned, and they went to bed buzzing about how in the morning they were going to get to eat it.  Worked great.  I didn’t hear one peep about how weird it was waking up in a new room, just about how cool it was to have cake for breakfast.  After that, their rooms were just their rooms, the kitchen was just the kitchen, and as long as the television works in the new family room they have no complaints.  I’m sure they could have handled a sudden move if we’d had to do it, but I’m glad I was able to make it a more subtle process.  They have enough disruption in their lives with their dad away, so that the move didn’t feel traumatic was important to me.
(Not a prize winning confection to be sure, but it sure was sweet.)

I’m so grateful that Ian was home on leave in April so we could all spend the first night in the new house together.  We got to buy a grill for him to cook on and use to make smores with the kids (and then the next day buy a cover for so it can sit on the deck until he gets back from Iraq because I won’t be using it).  I got his input on areas of the house that interest him, which has been helpful while picking out furniture and figuring out where things go.  But most of all thanks to his time here it’s now his home too.  When he comes back he’ll be coming home, and not to something completely new.  It was sad dismantling the home we’d made together without him.  It felt wrong.  Having him participate in the move even a little restored my sense of us doing this as a family again, and it’s made a big difference.

Another thing that has made this move less typical was buying a house from friends.  Having known this house and its previous owners for so long has meant that for quite awhile I felt like a bit of an imposter here.  Quinn called it “Paul and Melissa’s House” until just a couple of weeks ago.  Upstairs felt like ours first because we’d never spent any time there before we moved in so we only really know what it’s like our way.  Downstairs its harder not to picture how it used to be and to make it our own.  Every time we change something I wonder about what our friends would think, even though they would certainly understand that it’s our house now and we use it differently than they did.  Time will fix that, I know, but it’s still interesting. 

When I started sitting on the front porch steps once the weather warmed up, I felt out of place.  But after we moved our porch swing over from the other house the experience on the new porch changed.  We were using it in a way the neighbors hadn’t, so it didn’t compare anymore.  Little by little we’re claiming the whole house.  (Although, frankly, Mona claimed the whole thing for herself months ago, so this is strictly my problem.)

And I have to state what a huge role food plays in making a house into a home.  Baking that giant cupcake did more than provide a distraction for the next morning.  It made the house smell yummy and gave us a chance to create something together in the new place.  Since the food moved over, no one has asked to go back and visit the old house across the street, even though it’s still ours until the end of the month.

I can pinpoint the first moment the new house felt completely right to me, and I could sense it click into place as our home.  The Monday after we got back from our trip to New York, Ian and I moved the last of the things from the girls’ room over while they were in school.  We also moved over the rest of the kitchen things, including the food.  The plan was for Ian to pick the girls up from school and take them straight to violin lessons while I stayed home and made spinach quiche for dinner.  I was having fun seeing what cooking was like with counter space to use when I heard everyone come home early through the front door.  Turns out I’d forgotten that I’d cancelled that lesson before our trip because I knew they wouldn’t have had time to practice for it (smart plan–too bad I couldn’t remember it), so Ian just brought everyone straight home when I wasn’t expecting it.  I heard Mona noisily toss off her shoes in the front room and bound upstairs to play.  Ian was telling Aden she needed to get moving on her homework before she even thought about getting on her bike or turning on the TV.  She responded, “Oookay,” in a bored voice as if she heard her dad say that every day.  They both came into the sunny kitchen and Aden plopped into a chair in the breakfast nook and opened her backpack–again, is if it happened every day just like that.  Ian started explaining to me about the cancelled lesson and I think started to tend to the dishes while I cooked.  Quinn was chattering on and on while running about.  The house felt so alive with activity and it was so amazing to have all of us together as a family that I remember clearly having a flash of deja vu but from the future.  I knew this was what the routine would feel like one day, even though at that moment it was new.

The thing about that home feeling is that when it happens it feels as if it has always been that way.  It’s a lot like becoming a family.  Before you have kids its a big mystery how that will work and what life will be like.  Then you bring that first child home and everything is different, and you can’t imagine life any other way.  It just feels as if it always was.  When a home is right it feels like an extension of your family.  That’s why it’s such a lovely compliment when people stay with us and they say they feel at home.  It’s like saying we’ve made them feel included in our family, not just in our house.  Few things make me prouder.

It’s good to be home.

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