I grew up in one home and one town. I never moved until I went to college and then it was out of my parents’ house. I had one room. Everything was familiar. In general, I thought that moving for a kid seemed pretty terrible, and hoped for my daughter she wouldn’t have to do the same. When my girl was born, I knew that her dad and I wanted to relocate to a new home as we were living in a townhouse, but we would all do it together. That was the plan. A move together to another bigger, permanent home. I was in love with the good old American dream that may come with a picket fence … or a wooden one … or not.
But the best-laid plans are just that … laid out, but don’t always happen.
My ex-husband and I separated when our daughter was three. For a year, she and I lived together in the marital home. She had the same room, same preschool and all was familiar. But because my ex was not there, it often felt like we were living with a ghost. My daughter would pick up what used to be “his washcloth” and say, “This was daddy’s … when he lived here.” When he would come to pick her up, he would walk in the house like he still lived there, straightening things methodically like he always did until things were perfect. It felt to me as if his spirit and being were still there. I’d see things of his in the closet … and it was okay, but sort of strange because he wasn’t there.
When my ex had to sign the house over to the bank so it wouldn’t foreclose, we told our daughter that she and I would have to move. (In about seventy days, but I didn’t tell her that.) It was going to be fast.
“Are we moving to New York?” she asked me, excited at the idea.
No, I told her … that wasn’t in the plan. She wasn’t impressed. This three-year old girl had big visions.
About three weeks later, we found our next “home.”
We found a nice condo in an area I was familiar with near where I grew up, and thankfully, we had nice neighbors surrounding us. My ex and a friend of his had helped me move even, probably because he felt bad that he had to eject us from the home, and so quickly. Still, it made the transition easier. My daughter took the move pretty well because other than her home with me, everything else was the same in her life. Her dad was still in the same living situation too, which helped. From time to time, she lashed out about the divorce, but the move wasn’t a factor in this, making me feel better. The divorce was the ultimate catalyst for her difficult emotions.
The good news was she and I were also close to friends and family, and I was a little closer to work, but it was still far. My industry is local to a certain area. I was fully aware of that fact and had pondered living closer to work opportunities when I found this place, but I guess deep down inside, I was scared to go somewhere unfamiliar even if it was in the same state. I was already starting over by getting a divorce, a full-time job and becoming a single mom … I wasn’t quite ready for a whole “do-over.”
But after a year of our new place, I had been made a contractor at my place of employment, and realized that I really needed to make more money if I wanted to survive this whole divorce intact … and that meant being closer to job opportunities.
I was struggling, but living somewhere familiar and comforting. I had taken on the divorce, but I didn’t think I had what it took to uproot myself until I faced myself with some hard facts:
As much as I liked where we were living and even liked the school district she was slated for, I knew I had to position myself better so I could provide for my daughter and me. I gritted my teeth in preparation for getting out of my comfort zone, and went through the process of moving. Again. I had to move past my own bullsh*t fears and get stuff done.
Except for this time, I was moving without anyone’s help … just movers who I paid for. And the day before I moved us, I was so sick I had a last-minute emergency endoscopy. In fact, I had spent the entire month looking for a new place, then signing her up for school, dealing with my ex, and packing our place up … sick with stress and losing weight, something I didn’t need to lose.
READ MORE: Dancing My Way Through Single Motherhood
This move was huge. A new place. No help. I was sick. Life felt really out of control, but also exciting. I was terrified, sick to my stomach (literally) and also pretty proud that finally, I was doing it.
Sure, I wasn’t moving out of the country or out of state, but I was making a big change for the greater good. One that I should have done sooner, but I couldn’t. The lesson there was that simply there is a time for everything and everything in its time. The time was now.
I gritted my teeth in preparation for getting out of my comfort zone, and went through the process of moving. Again. I had to move past my own bullsh*t fears and get stuff done.
My daughter had a tough year after the move. So many things changed in her life in addition to my move, (her dad moved too, his soon-to-be wife moved in with him, etc.) and it was hard on her. I felt awful and my ex wasn’t helping matters, and for a long time I felt guilty. And angry at many things involving my ex.
Still, there were the voices of friends and family telling me: Dads don’t feel bad when they have to uproot their families in order to work and provide. Why should you?
And that was a good question: Why should I feel so bad?
When I stopped feeling guilty and took a look at the facts again, I let go of the guilt and anger … and this new, confident person emerged. Someone I hadn’t yet met. It was like I was another person. Me, but so much stronger and more level-headed. And happy.
The facts were:
Almost two years later, this is home to us. I struggle financially, but this is home and I have learned to take it day by day.
And while I used to think that moving was the worst thing for my daughter, I now think that later on in life, she will be more resilient and adaptable than other kids her age.
Will this be our last home? I don’t know. And for a while after we got here, my daughter asked me often when we were moving again, as if it were a game, but that stopped.
When I talk to my daughter about her “homes,” she’s divided them in her memory in such specific ways.
Her first home was so happy because mommy didn’t work much and she loved the big yard outside our front door. Her second home was so happy because she loved the neighbors and the mall nearby. This home is so happy because she loves the house, our neighbor, community and her friends. Yet with each “home,” she also presented the unique challenges each place or space in time brought to our lives.
And isn’t that like life? Each chapter has its highlights and downsides, but in the end, we grow continuously and become more and more who we are supposed to be.
For me, that American dream isn’t the same. I’ve stopped idealizing homeownership and instead, just honor wherever I am in time that makes me feel good. That feels loving and warm, like home.
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