July 28, 2013
I just moved. In hindsight, I underprepared.
There was the forgot-to-reserve-my-building's-freight-elevator thing. Which resulted in the reschedule-the-movers-at-the-last-minute thing.
And I didn't really pack with what you'd call a strategy. We're still missing most of my daughter's shoes. My son performed his camp recital in pajamas.
I kept telling myself the details would fall into place. Or not. I didn't really care, to be honest. My kids were so unequivocally delighted to leave our cramped high-rise for a house with a patch of grass and their own bedrooms that I let a singular goal — inhabiting this new home — take up all my head space.
Shortly after we bought the house, my daughter mounted a campaign to move in before the previous owners vacated. My son told me all he wanted for his August birthday was to live in our new house.
So here's what I really underprepared for: the sobbing.
The first night we all slept in the new house — after gleeful squeals at their new rooms, backyard gymnastics, sidewalk roller skating and laughter-filled porch swinging — they both went to bed in tears.
Sobbing for their old life. In the condo they couldn't wait to leave.
I could relate, of course. Loving a new place doesn't mean you don't long for the old place. That's true whether the old place is an actual, physical dwelling or a place in time, shaped by memories and nostalgia.
I know this.
The tears still caught me off guard. I forget that my kids' feelings are complicated. They love stuff (Legos, pillow fights). They hate stuff (mosquitoes, bedtime).
They don't really do ambivalent.
The house would fall into the love category. And that would be that.
Except that it's not.
As I lay in my daughter's bed that teary night, I recalled a piece of advice from Adele Faber, the famed child psychologist and co-author of "Siblings Without Rivalry" (W.W. Norton).
I interviewed Faber once for a story about kids adjusting to a new baby. She told me about a dad and his toddler son. The boy wanted his dad to send the baby back. Too loud, too needy, too small to play. The dad listened patiently.
"So you wish he were old enough to play with you?" he finally asked.
"Yeah," the son answered. "But sometimes he holds my finger."
The dad answered, "It seems like maybe you have two feelings. Sometimes you wish he'd just go away and never come back. And sometimes you kind of like having him around. I'm glad you told me."
"What a gift that dad gave his son," Faber told me. "The understanding that you can have two completely contradictory feelings at the same time, and each can be real and legitimate."
What a gift, indeed. And what a thing to remember when our kids' reactions leave us baffled.
So I resisted the urge to remind my daughter how many days and ways she begged to move even sooner than we did. I didn't bring up my son's birthday wish or his countless pleas for his own room — a boy's room, where his Ninja Turtles would no longer suffer the indignity of sharing shelf space with American Girl dolls.
I stopped myself from saying all the stupid things that popped into my head, which were mostly variations on "You said you wanted this!" and, even more cringe-worthy, "Do you know how hard I worked at this?"
Because the truth is they do want this, even in the moments they don't. And they don't need to know how hard I worked. They need to know I love them — under any roof and any circumstances and with any number of contradictory feelings shooting out of their little mouths.
And when I ran out of ways to say all of that, I resorted to another line from that dad, a line I'll be pulling out of my back pocket a lot in these coming weeks of chaos and clutter and, inevitably, crying.
"I'm glad you told me."
And I am.
Loving a new place doesn't mean you don't long for the old place.
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