Our childhood experiences shape the kinds of lives we want our children to live. Often we desire to make our children’s lives better and our definition of “better” is determined by our own pasts. Those desires can take a nasty turn. Far too many parents have been accused of trying to live through their children’s lives and those accusations have probably been justified. I also have been guilty of this, making sure that my little girl was signed up for the ballet lessons that I never received as a child. Right now she has six-year-old aspirations of being a ballerina teacher when she grows up. When that aspiration changes, I will gladly let her quit and move on to the next activity. Or at least, I want to believe that I will let her move on to the next activity.
I was one of those Lutheran church worker’s kids who moved around. We weren’t quite at the military level, but before I turned 18 I had lived in four states, four time zones, and five different cities/towns. The first move happened when I was one so I have no recollection of my first year of life in California, but the following three moves happened when I was nine, eleven, and sixteen. Nine wasn’t so bad. It was exciting and while I missed my old friends, I quickly made new ones. In fourth grade, girls were still nice enough to let me join their circle. But the other two moves happened right at the beginning and right in the middle of awkward adolescence. As a social introvert, I had a difficult time making positive moves towards friendship while being incredibly lonely because I desperately needed a taste of social interaction. I needed people with whom I had real connections. I also needed my old friends to remember me as I moved away. But we were all egocentric adolescents completely wrapped up in our own lives. I wanted a constant remembrance of me; they were more concerned about the here and now of their lives. I got letters and occasional phone calls (in the age of paying for long-distance phone calls by the minute), but it wasn’t the same as having them there with me.
As I headed off to college to pursue a degree in secondary education, I swore to myself that I would never do that to my own children. After all, I was going to be a high school teacher. They don’t move around, right? I wanted to get married and have a stable career. I wanted to stay in one place and be settled. I wanted my own children to be able to grow up and graduate with their best friends. I wanted my kids to see the country, but only on family vacations, not because they were being moved from one coast to the other.
But life hasn’t been that way. My husband and I made our first big move when it was clear that we weren’t happy with where we were geographically and professionally. So we moved two hours away to a different city and different jobs. Well, I moved to a different job. My husband found a job after a month of commuting back and forth on the weekends. Then, after five years in the same location, that job that he had found moved us another two hours away. I thought we had been settled. I was happy. We had friends. I loved my school. I loved our church. I had planned to watch our baby girl grow up with the children of friends who were having babies at the same time. But those roots were mostly ripped out of the ground and move we did. For five more years we tried to make the next move work, and professionally it was really good for both of us. Where we are now, our two children have friends and schools that they love. But while I made some good friendships, my roots were never planted. We had talked about the possibility of moving for years. We had talked about the different scenarios that would lead to us moving and had discussed where we would want to go if we did move. But making that decision was a different story. My husband had a good job with plenty of job security and it has become abundantly clear in the last couple of weeks just how much he is loved and admired there. I loved (and still love) the school where I have taught for the last four years. We were where we were supposed to be and I had to trust that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. And while I never felt like I was home, it also never felt like God was saying, “This is it.”
Four months ago He said it. It started as a quiet whisper and steadily grew to a shout. And so difficult decisions were made. A HUGE leap of faith taken. Suddenly I was committing the parenting crime I swore I would never commit. I was planning to move my kids away from friends, farther away from grandparents and some cousins, and away from the only life that they had ever really known. It was now or never. Our kids are four and six, just old enough to have attachments but young enough to easily make friends in nearly any situation. But that hasn’t made it an easy summer. Our daughter has said several “good-byes” to friends with play dates, time at Vacation Bible School, and repeated trips up to Michigan. Our son felt left out during those good-bye sessions which lead to tears and finally an evening with his best friend, which ended in late night tears. After they sat through the hour-long house closing session, our son dissolved into sobbing tears telling us that he didn’t want us to sell our house and he wanted us to buy it back. Both kids have moments of sadness and our son’s normally mischievous behavior has turned plain naughty. With all the moving details I have been wound even tighter than usual leading to a house with three very snappy people. I think my husband has been happy to be at work all day long over the last couple of weeks. It has not been easy to watch my own children experience many of the feelings of loss that I have experienced at various points in my life. Some days, like when my son had to say goodbye to his best friend, have been downright painful. No one wants their kids to feel pain of any kind, but I also know it is an inevitable reality of life.
During all of this I feel guilty. Guilty for looking forward to the future, guilty for wanting to move despite the disruption to our family’s life. I want this to be the end of the road for my family. My husband and I have agreed that we want to settle and find a home and make it home. And I am praying that this is it. I know that my children will forgive me. I’ve forgiven my parents (mostly) for all of the changes through my childhood. For better or worse, it made me who I am today. It made me a mother who wants stability for my children, but I also understand, as an adult, that the stability has to be there for all members of the family and change, big and small, is inevitable. What matters is how the family responds to the change.
And so my prayer over the next weeks and months and years is that we will be finding a home. That God is leading us to a place where life won’t be perfect (because life isn’t perfect) but where I can finally give my children what I have wanted to give them since they were born: a place where they can grow up and stay until they are ready to venture out on their own. The future is scary and uncertain, but maybe that is better left out of my hands. And if history does repeat itself, I am praying that we will have the same success in finding home as my parents and in-laws both had after years of moving around. My in-laws have been in their home nearly 30 years. My parents have been in their home for 20 years this summer. I pray that the next home we find will be home, for good. Or at least until my husband and I retire and he convinces me to live out of our camper full time.