Thinking of kids when moving

#272 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 1996, Hills Newspapers

Moving really isn’t kid stuff

Recently I was talking to a mother on the phone who wants to buy a larger house. In the background I could hear one of her children. “I’m not moving,” the child said with some feeling. “I’m staying here.”

Another mother sighed as she told us what happened when she took her six-year-old to see the wonderful house she was going to buy.

Excited about showing it off, especially the playhouse in the back yard, she couldn’t believe her daughter’s reaction: “This is a dumb house. Let’s go home.”

And the playhouse? “It’s not big enough,” said the little girl.

We heard about a two-year-old who said in the midst of moving, “OK, mommy, this is your house. I want to go back to my house.”

Kids like things the way they are. Seldom do they understand their parents’ motives which frequently include moving because “It’ll be better for the kids.”

Parents stretch time and money to get better schools, a bedroom for everyone, a big yard. “Look, Jeannie,” they say, “You’ll have your own bedroom and a swing in the back yard, too.”

Jeannie answers, “I don’t care. I like our old house.”

This week I was talking to the mother of teenagers who moved from Berkeley to Marin two years ago. The kids are doing fine now, she told me. The older child, an optimistic sort, seemed to take moving in his stride. He made new friends right away and found a new group.

It was a different experience for her younger son who, she says, “doesn’t like change.” He missed his friends, his old school, his regular routine. He went to his new school every day but did not socialize. Other kids would invite him to go places, attend parties, but for a year after the move, he refused. It wasn’t until he joined a soccer team and became involved in team activities that he became comfortable with his new surroundings.

Once we helped a single mom sell her charming old house in Oakland and buy a smaller, less appealing house in Albany, a town she had chosen for the schools. Her boys, ages about five and nine at the time, weren’t happy about the anticipated move. The older boy’s best friend lived a couple of doors away and they were devastated at the thought of being separated.

Our client, overwhelmed with all that is involved in getting a house ready for sale, packing and looking for a new house while continuing to work and parent, still managed to find the time to search for a rental in Albany for her son’s friend and his mother. She knew how valuable her son’s friendship was and she knew how much easier it would be for him to weather the change with his friend still close.

We liked and respected this woman very much. She set her goals, then did what had to be done to accomplish them. And she helped her children through the transition in every way she could.

My own children were six and seven years old when we bought our house. A few weeks before the move, I wrote in my journal that Nick, my oldest, “is particularly pleased about moving.” He talked about having his own room with his things in it. He wanted to know what color his walls would be painted and he asked if he could have bunk beds so friends could stay overnight.

When my daughter Annie said she’d be scared sleeping in her new room alone, Nick told her not to worry because “You’ll be halfway between my room and mom’s. Besides, you’ll have two bathrooms to choose from.”

The first night in our house the children were tucked into their new beds in their own rooms. Half an hour went by quietly. Then Nick got up and asked Annie if she’d sleep in his room. She hurried in.

For months after that there were few nights when any of us had uninterrupted sleep. One of the kids would wake up saying, “I can’t sleep alone.” I’d cajole, threaten and offer sympathy but it went on.

I wrote down one pre-bedtime plea: “If I get scared out of my daylights, really scared in the night, and I get up and hear the cats under the house and it’s really an emergency, can I sleep on your bedroom floor?”

Because I will do almost anything for sleep in the middle of the night, there were a number of times that both kids slept by my bedside.

Having the house torn up was unsettling for me, but maybe more so for the kids. One day Nick asked me if we were going to “destroy the rest of the house.” I laughed just a little laugh and asked if he thought that was what we were doing.

“Yeah,” he said, “The front porch is already gone and you’ve wrecked the kitchen. I guess the bedrooms are next.”

One morning Nick got up very full of a nightmare he’d had. The details were long and full of blood and gore. Annie and I squirmed as we listened until the end. He finished the story with “Then I got to go home.” And Annie, my optimistic one, added brightly, “Well, a happy ending.”

An occasional nightmare was not the only sign of stress in my children as we remodeled and they started a new school. But was the stress from moving? Some of what was true for each of them must have been a reflection of who they are.

People are different; they react in different ways. For most of us, change is hard. Even anticipating change can be difficult. Before we moved, I asked myself if I should double the monthly housing costs, take on a remodeling project, send my children to a new school. I wondered if the benefits would outweigh the costs.

I certainly hoped they would and I believe now that they did.

But even now – almost eight years later – Annie sometimes says she’d like to go back to the old house. She grouses that we bought a house without an upstairs. When she buys a house, she says, it’s going to have two stories – like houses should.

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