When we bought our house 11 years ago, we had plenty of space for our family of three. The house was three bedrooms and two baths; not large, but everyone could reasonably spread out and enjoy their space. However, after taking in two foster children we became like the little old lady who lived in the shoe – we didn’t know what to do. Actually, we did; we needed a bigger house. So what did we do? We waited two more years.
It eventually dawned on us that, having outgrown our current residence, for some reason the kids refused to quit growing, despite my pleading, and that things were not getting better on their own. Since avoiding the situation wasn’t working, we tried addressing it: we made detailed lists of likes and dislikes, shopped around in various markets and wrote out our 5 to 10 year goals of where we wanted to be. Then we threw all that away and went out for pizza and a movie.
Unfortunately, we spent our entire deposit on five tickets to the cinema and had to start over. We researched, spoke with friends, looked at neighborhoods we were interested in, talked with a realtor, and, through one of those sequence of events that is difficult to retrace, we got connected with a builder in a community about an hour from where we lived. We liked him and his reputation so we signed a contract on a house he had just started.
I have heard that timing is critical in everything. Our goal was to make sure we timed our purchase and planned the move just right, and the house was scheduled to be completed in May, 2017. Fortunately we didn’t have much else going on that month, other than the adoption finalization, our biological daughter’s first year at university coming to a close, and the two younger ones finishing their year at preschool. Piece of cake.
The icing? Since we signed the contract in late March, we had 45 days to complete the mortgage process, list our current house, pack everything up in boxes in such a way that it could be found again, be ready to show the first house at a moment’s notice, close and move. All this in a family with a wife who has Multiple Sclerosis and Grave’s Disease, a daughter away at university and two children with trauma, one of whom had moved seven different times before he came to live with us at the age of 3.
At this point in the story I would normally share some of the frustrating, “we’ll laugh at this later” moments – such as the three different times our mortgage company changed their document requirements, or the two different closing dates we faced. All in all, the biggest source of stress in the entire process was the mortgage company, but we eventually got through the application and closed on the house. Emotionally, though, the most challenging aspect was preparing our two youngest for the move.
As I wrote above, our son came to our family at the age of 3 having lived seven different places – with his experience, he could have been a starred reviewer on Yelp, except that Yelp generally doesn’t review living in cars or rooms that are leased by the hour. In fact, prior to our family, the most stable residence he knew was at his biological grandmother’s house where he was exposed daily to open drug use and shared living space with a professional escort who gave new meaning to the phrase “rode hard and put away wet.” Needless to say, moves had not been the most positive experiences in his brief life.
My wife, biological daughter and I were not novices, by the way, when it came to relocating, but we were not the super saiyan level of our son. Thankfully our other daughter had not experienced the trauma of moving, but by the age of 2 she was well acquainted with the bitter taste of abandonment, having been rejected by their biological mother since being delivered at 26 weeks gestation. So her trauma was not the negative circumstances and events that surround relocating but rather that we would not take her with us and that she would be alone again.
It is nearly impossible to reason through such traumatic experiences as an adult, especially when caught in the icy grip of anxiety. If you disagree, the next time you see a combat veteran suffering from PTSD or a CSA survivor experiencing a flashback, just tell them to “get over it.” I am sure they haven’t thought of or heard that one before and will thank you profusely for your good advice.
We realized early on that the best thing for us to do was prepare the children as much as possible and expect that trauma would become our sixth family member during the process. Fortunately, while it was not entirely smooth, it was not as bad as it could have been.
What did we do to prepare our children? We made weekly visits to the new house as it was being built. We allowed them to roam through the construction site in all its stages of construction. We showed them where their rooms were going to be and let them pick their wall colors, as well as have a say in their furniture. We showed them around the new neighborhood and area and constantly reminded them that our entire family was going to move together.
One of the outside resources we used was the book “The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day”. It is a delightful story about the famous family of bears as they move from the mountains to their house in a tree. The story follows their exploits packing, saying goodbyes and moving. It was a great resource that we read to them several times. (If you or someone you know with children is planning a big move, and is taking the children with them, then I highly recommend this book. A link to order a copy for yourself is below).
All in all, the move was positive and we survived it intact. While our children will say they miss their old house every now and then, they are adjusting well to our new location and seem to be glad we there.
I am too.