By Gregory Keer
Driving home one night in June, I made a fatal mistake. I mentioned to my wife that if she wanted to rekindle her hobby of looking for a bigger house I would not object.
“You’re sure about this,” she asked, her long-simmering passion for home hunting rising within her.
I paused. A summer of playing with the kids, going on impromptu road trips – of keeping a balanced budget – all raced through my mind before I said, “I’m absolutely terrified, but now may be a good time to do this.”
There are occasions on which it is painfully evident that I am not a smart man. This was definitely one of them. If having a pregnant wife (whose hormones were understandably yet aggressively imbalanced), a 2-1/2-year-old heading to preschool, a 6-year-old preparing for first grade, and my own new teaching gig on the horizon made it a good time to move, then I was living a life straight out of a Steve Martin movie.
Still, the house we had spent the last five years in was directly across from a busy shopping center, and traffic on our street was increasing each day. Burger-joint trash was constantly strewn on our front lawn and there were no safe paths for our kids to ride bikes. We never got to know our neighbors because few hung around outside for many reasons, not the least of which were the two suspected bomb threats (complete with middle-of-the-night police evacuations) in the shopping center parking lot. It was time.
In midsummer, we found the right house. Situated in a less expensive neighborhood with quieter streets and loads of young families, we were drawn to the remodeled ’50s residence as a place that could be our home forever. Aside from all the family pluses, there was a detached office, where I would be able to write and dream in complete independence.
But leaving our first home was hard. Part of it was because we spent countless hours packing and throwing away half a houseful of crap we forgot we had. Wendy and I tried to keep bickering to a minimum, but there’s something about her apparently essential two-dozen black handbags and my three tons of ancient CDs that inspired language I hope our children never hear again.
What made the experience especially rigorous were the kids. With so much boxing to do, we struggled with wanting to play with them and trying to get them out of the way so we could finish. We felt tidal waves of guilt as we observed Benjamin (6) and Jacob (almost 3) watch their precious living space shrunk down into brown packages and blue recycling bins.
This was a house of much expansion and many firsts. Benjamin had his first birthday party in our furniture-less living room and took his initial steps on the backyard patio. Jacob came home from the delivery room to a house full of big-brother-tested corners and passages. He joined Benjamin in their first bunk beds and co-headlined scores of summer barbeques and holiday feasts.
We left that house with full yet heavy hearts. Benjamin and Jacob seemed mostly fine during discussions about leaving and we didn’t pack their room until the last moment.
But none of us felt happy about the grueling 10-hour move, with its frantic last-minute box stuffing, smashed door frames and extra moving-company charges. Our kids watched us stumble around for weeks afterward, half-dressed and half-fed, as we searched for our toiletries and their essentials. We bordered on insanity as we scrambled for Pull-Ups® hiding in a box of sweaters, missing checkbooks and keys, and Lego® pieces strewn in garbage bags mistakenly marked for donation.
In all the chaos, Benjamin became a world-class contrarian. We’d ask, “What do you like about the new neighborhood?” and he’d say, “Nothing.” Most of his other protests over his food choices, activity schedule and little brother were normal kid stuff, but their nonstop nature was not.
For Jacob, his recent potty-training success transformed into an obsession with the toilet. He’d say, “I have to poopie,” several times in an hour. It drove us crazy as he would sit on the throne and either do nothing or poop a small amount at a time. He, like Benjamin, was looking for control in a world that had been turned inside out by the parents he trusted to give him consistency and security.
Gradually, though, our children are smiling more than tantruming. Benjamin now wants all his friends to see his new pad and ride bikes down the smooth sidewalks. Jacob spends more time dancing in front of the living room window than hunching over the porcelain. Wendy and I are also calming down, letting go of the frustrations of living out of boxes and drilling too many holes in walls while installing medicine cabinets.
I now sit in my office, typing in peace, my dog at my feet, Benjamin’s just completed homework to my right, Jacob’s spare pacifiers to my left. I do think about our old house, full of memories I am grateful to have. But I am also thankful for this opportunity to grow in a new house. Wherever I live, though, I have my family. With them, I am blissfully at home.
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Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of two boys. He can be reached at Gregory@familymanonline.com or through his Web site, www.familymanonline.com.