Category Archives: moving

Newbie

We decided to put Zachary in kindergarten in the new town, even though he had been in Pre-K in Los Angeles.  He was bored in his old preschool, plus we thought that it was best to minimize the transitions over the next year.  So, his first day of kindergarten, rather than being a proud September milestone, was the last day of November, just four days after we arrived in this very small town.

We took him to the school playground to play over the weekend, for all the good that did.  He kept telling us, “I want to get to school so that it will be over with.”  Just the attitude we wanted from our five-year-old.

I had that first morning all planned out.  I would take the double stroller so that the younger two kids could sit while I took care of delivering Zachary to his teacher.  I brought along apples – my favorite method of crown control.  I thought through exactly what I would pack in his bag and what I would dress him in.

However, the unfortunate fact is that parents simply cannot absorb their children’s anxiety for them.  The first day of kindergarten in a brand-new place with kids who already know each other is terrifying.  There is no way around that.

We went in a few minutes before drop-off to meet his teacher, a long-term substitute who, it turns out, was starting on the same day as Zachary because the regular teacher is out on maternity leave.  Then we went outside to line up with the other kids.

Zach – my brave little guy – stuck close to me.  I turned the stroller so that he could talk to his siblings, thereby giving him a face-saving activity in case all the other kids were checking him out.  He chattered to me, clearly trying to make conversation so that he would seem cool in front of his new classmates.  They are five; they have yet to learn that talking to one’s mother is not exactly the height of cool.

Then, it was time for him to line up.  He stood between two boys.  “This is the line for kindergarten,” the boy behind him said.

“I’m going into kindergarten,” Zach replied.

“How old are you?” the child challenged.

“I’m five.” He held up the fingers, because accompanying hand gestures put everyone at ease.

The boy in front stood right in front of Zach, his chest almost pressed against the poor kid’s face.  “I’m taller than you are.”

Having gone to a Jewish preschool, Zachary has been spared the knowledge that he is very, very short for his age.  In that moment, the first interaction he had with his future classmates, he was forced to come to terms with his diminutive stature and at the same time find a face-saving response.  The other mothers weren’t even aware of the conversation, but my stomach was sinking.  Just then, the teacher stepped out and waved in the kids.

As he ran into the school with the line, Zach called out, “That’s because I only eat bread!”

A few minutes later, when I had to pop into the room to pick up his epipen, he was sitting in the back of the group, looking so anxious that I was certain he was about to vomit all over the classroom floor.  Yet, when I picked him up that afternoon, both he and his teacher said he had a great day.  Apparently, a little girl with glasses had taken him under her wing and pointed out every single feature of the school.

Of course, when we got home, he had to replay the entire “I’m taller than you are” conversation.  “I told them it’s because I only eat bread.”

“Well, what did they say in response?”

“Nothing.  They couldn’t respond to that.  That’s why it was a good answer,” he replied.

You know what?  I think this kid is going to be OK.

Unclear on the concept

“I am NOT wearing a coat,” Zachary exclaimed.  “I am NOT cold.”

“Dude, that’s because you’re inside,” I explained.  To my child, this was faulty logic.  If it is warm enough inside, it is most likely warm outside.  Welcome to the reasoning of the five-year-old transplant from Southern California.  He complains bitterly about wearing a coat in the car or even to go outside.

His brother, on the other hand, has embraced cold-weather fashion.  Having inherited Zach’s old pink mittens from London, Benjamin insists upon putting them on every time he leaves the house, even in the middle of a mild afternoon.  He also wants a hat, a coat, and – if we would allow it – his snow boots.

Lilah, wisely, has figured out that a coat means she gets to go outside.  So she has stopped fighting it.  But the hats?  She is pissed about the hats.  And mittens restrict her thumb access, so you can probably figure out how well those go over.

Imagine my surprise when – the second day of school – Zachary informed me that he had worn his coat all morning.  “You wore it all day?” I asked, glancing up at the teacher.

She shrugged.  “We asked him several times if he wanted to take it off.”

“It’s cozy,” Zach explained.  So, let me get this straight.  He won’t wear a coat in the car, bitches about it outside, and yet wears it all morning in a public school that is comfortably heated to something just under tropical.

I think my kids are a little confused by the move.

The other thing that seems to be causing trouble is this whole multi-level house thing.  Having lived in a little ranch house, they think the tiny three-floor rental is a goddamned palace.  A dangerous palace, however, as they keep tumbling down the stairs.  I have provided them with slippers, but they seem to think those work better as weapons than as protection for their feet.

Zachary scored the best room in the entire house – the attic.  Seriously, if there were a way to get the king-sized bed up there, I would totally switch rooms with him.  He is delighted to have his own space, and he has meticulously laid out trinkets, toys, and books on perfect angles.  Unfortunately, he is also totally freaked out by being up there alone.  Both boys, in fact, seem to be terrified of being on a different floor by themselves.  Like twenty-something women on their way to a restaurant bathroom, they require company every time they go upstairs to get something.  Which can be awfully complicated as they inevitably get into a fight and end up falling down the stairs once again.

It’s all so confusing to them.  The kids pull out their umbrellas at every chance in the house, but then they drag those umbrellas behind them, upside down, in the rain.  Benjamin, having learned from his teachers that December has started and snow will be arriving, keeps asking, “It’s December yet?  Is it snowing out?”  Since he is looking out the window and there is clearly no snow falling, the only thing we can determine is he has absolutely no idea what he’s looking for.

I’ll bet you can guess which book I read eight times today.

Where they have to take you in

The kids and I have been staying with my in-laws for eleven days now while J finished up at his Los Angeles job and a truck with all our worldly belongings traveled across the country.  J is now up in New Jersey, meeting with movers, registering for school, waiting for the cable guy, visiting the DMV, and generally being useful.  He will drive down to meet up with us either late today or early tomorrow, which means he’ll be traveling just before Thanksgiving along with 97% of the other vehicles on the West Coast.

All I can say about how staying with my in-laws is going is that we are damned lucky they haven’t thrown us out yet.  The house is filled with all sorts of exotic accents that are irresistible to my children.  Like stairs.  Lilah, not used to having stairs around, is obsessed with climbing yet not necessarily particularly skilled at the return route.  Fortunately, her grandfather took it upon himself to give her some tutelage on how to descend the steps, somewhat alleviating my anxiety.

Another fancy touch they have here is the toilet paper.  At child-level.  We don’t really keep toilet paper anyplace children can reach it in our house, so all three of my kids think it is some sort of newfangled toy.  At one point, Benjamin and Zachary removed all the paper from all three rolls of paper in the powder room and also emptied the box of tissues, while at the same time their sister was upstairs diligently unraveling another two rolls of paper in the hall bathroom.

Slightly more unusual is the laundry chute.  I, myself, think it is kind of cool.  The boys cannot get over it.  There is a lid they can lift plus a hole they can throw things in.  It’s basically begging for experimentation in the laws of gravity.  We have learned thus far that a box of diaper wipes does clog the chute while board books and sippy cups slide right on down.  Envelopes with paid bills in them only get stuck in the chute if inserted after the box of diaper wipes, whereupon my mother-in-law spends an hour-and-a-half trying to find the envelope she knows she left sitting on her bed.

Unfortunately, because we have so diligently enforced “yellow let mellow” in our own house, flushing the toilet is also a novelty.  So, Benjamin decided to test the mettle of the toilet by flushing down his toothbrush.  Plumbers are much more expensive on Saturdays, in case you were wondering.

He is lost, my Benjamin.  He cannot understand fully that he is going to a normal place with a normal school and lots of nice children.  He just does not have the cognitive ability to comprehend that the world is not flat, and we are not about to jump off the edge.  All he knows is he has been ripped out of one place, is only temporarily in this other place, and there is a big void in front of him into which he is about to be shoved with absolutely no warning.  So, while Zachary verbalizes his anxiety and Lilah suddenly learns how to talk and walk, Benjamin acts out.  We have swept up one glass and one bowl, loosened all the light bulbs in his bedroom, and – it goes without saying – revoked all unsupervised toothbrushing privileges.

This Thanksgiving, I will be grateful for many things.  We are back on the East Coast.  We will be heading up to our new home on Friday.  The kids will be starting school on Monday.  Our family is entering a new situation that could really improve our quality of life.

Mostly, however, I will be grateful that J’s parents haven’t thrown us out on our asses.

EST

We spent last week in an empty house, sleeping on borrowed air mattresses.  I say “we,” but my husband was away on business – the last such obligation for the old job – so it was me and the three kids in a house pretty much devoid of belongings, save a couple of sippy cups.  To make matters more complicated, there was no school on Wednesday.  Too much of a wimp to face an entire day alone with three kids in a completely empty house, I took all three to Day Out With Thomas.  We had a blast.  I looked around for the t-shirt that said “I survived Day Out With Thomas alone with three small kids,” but I couldn’t find one.  Apparently, I’m the first to make it out alive.

Lilah felt it the most.  She’s at that age when she is exploring things, but there were no Things to explore.  Plus, Benjamin was alleviating his boredom by punching and sitting on her.  I tried to give him time-outs, but where the hell was I supposed to sit him?  In the middle of the living room floor?  I tried the empty closet.

“Close the door,” he commanded as I turned to walk away.

“No.  I am not going to shut you in the closet.”

“Why not?” he wanted to know.

“Because it’s dark and scary in the closet with the door closed.”

“Close the door,” he repeated.  I stood outside the closet as he opened and shut the door from inside, turning the only possible method of discipline into a game.  I guess at least he found something to entertain himself.

The airport hotel Friday night was only marginally better, mostly because J was there.  We were awfully relieved to get to the airport on Saturday.  We rushed through security and made a potty break.  While J went to buy the water we’d need for the flight, I had the boys play a running game that we do before every flight to get the wiggles out.  They did fine with running and touching a sign down the hall.  Then I told them to run around a group of chairs three times.  I forgot to give Benjamin the crucial instruction to look ahead of him while he ran.  Which is how, on the second go-round, he ran straight into the corner of a public telephone.

Head wounds bleed a lot, as we have discovered on several previous occasions with this child.  But we had 20 minutes before our flight.  The flight we were taking to move a family of five across the country.  If the child wasn’t vomiting and there were no bones sticking out, we were getting on the damned plane.  We scored a Band-Aid from the woman at the gate and figured we’d deal with it when we landed.

Five hours later, he had definitely bled through the Band-Aid.  My father-in-law bought us a new Band-Aid as we made our way towards baggage claim, while my mother-in-law emailed a plastic surgeon she knows.  Two hours later, we were in the ER, getting Benjamin’s head sewn back together by a top-notch plastic surgeon.

So, here we are – bunking with relatives while our stuff travels across the country and waiting for Benjamin’s head to heal.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When moving sucks even more

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.  It actually started the night before when J vomited rather spectacularly.  Then, round about one in the morning, Benjamin proceeded to vomit all over his bed, which would not be so bad if that weren’t a mere seven hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive and pack our house up.  (Yes, I am aware that people who have someone else packing up their shit for them do not get to complain about moving, but please, read on.)

So, Benjamin was home from school yesterday while J staggered onto a plane for his business trip and Zachary – oh He of the Magnificent Immune System – sauntered off to preschool.  Our au pair, Cleo, came along to take Lilah to Gymboree, then promptly threw up in the Gymboree bathroom, which I guess makes it a good thing we’re not going back to that particular one.

The day unraveled from there.

Cleo took a long nap.  Given that Benjamin had lost about six hours of sleep the night before, I had him take an afternoon nap.  He woke up grumpy, which was not helped by the fact that I had to dump him into Cleo’s arms so I could go pick up Zachary.  When I came home, forty-five minutes later, he was still crying for me.  I had to carry all thirty-five pounds of him around the house with me while checking to make sure the movers got everything.  He finally let me put him down on his bed, only to start screaming again when Cleo came into the room.

Cleo took Lilah and Zachary to the library to get a few books to tide us over, as most of ours were by this time packed up.  I took Benjamin with me to rent the car I’ll need when my own car is loaded onto the moving van tomorrow.  As we walked, I told him, “When we get home, I’ll leave you with Cleo and take Lilah and Zachary to the grocery to get peanut butter, jam, diaper wipes, and Cheerios.”

“I want to go with you!”

“Benjamin, I need you to stay with Cleo.  I am not taking three children with me to the grocery store.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”  Suffice it to say I ended up taking three kids to the grocery store.

I know kids say things and misinterpret.  But Benjamin is not like that.  He has never accused an adult of hurting him.  He is very verbal and explained exactly what had happened.  When he was crying, Cleo, frustrated or vindictive or whatever, squeezed his arm hard.  And maybe that could happen accidentally.  Except we believed her when she told us it was accidental three weeks ago when she hurt Zachary.

We had suspected something was off about this girl shortly after she came to stay with us in mid-September.  By the time she grabbed Zachary so roughly that she left a mark, we knew that we would be moving in a few weeks.  Rather than fire her on the spot, we chose to believe her when she said he had been going crazy and was falling off the stool when she grabbed him.

We chose to believe her because it was convenient to us.

When I caught her on her cell phone, ignoring Lilah for forty-five minutes, we chose to believe it was an isolated incident, in part because the phone records supported that but also in part because it was convenient for us.  When, over the past week, she three times lied to us about what she was doing when out with Lilah, we figured that she’d be gone in a few days.

But, then.  “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

When I came back from the grocery, I emailed the agency that I wanted Cleo out by the next morning.  I then told her that the conditions under which she would be allowed to stay the night were that she was to stay in her room, which is detached from the rest of the house.  She could come in to use the facilities once the kids were in bed, although she decided not to do that.

I don’t think she was regularly beating the children.  I think she got frustrated and crossed a line far too frequently.  The scariest part is that she didn’t even know what the kids were talking about, putting on her most innocent fact when I confronted her.

Or maybe the scariest part was that we gave her the benefit of the doubt when she should have been out a month ago.

The next four days are going to be very, very hard.  All of our stuff is leaving tomorrow, but we are not flying out till Saturday.  We will be in an empty house with borrowed air mattresses.  I have borrowed a neighbor’s babysitter for a few hours this afternoon so I can get the boys from school and take Zachary to his final therapy session.  The kids are off school on Wednesday, and if I cannot find a babysitter to join us, it will be just me and all three kids at Day Out With Thomas down in OC.  So be it.

By Saturday night, we will be with the grandparents in D.C., and in a few weeks the move will be over.  We will be in a small rented house in New Jersey.  The kids will be in their new schools.  And we will not have a new au pair.  We will not have a new nanny.

“I think we need a better au pair,” Zachary said.

“We’re not getting another au pair,” I told him.  “I will be taking care of you guys all the time.  We’ll have a housekeeper who can help out by staying with Lilah during her nap, but I’ll be taking care of you.”

“Will you still be publishing books?” he asked, because bless the kid he actually believes I am a successful writer.

“Yes,” I told him.  “I’ll write when I get the time.”

It is late, and I feel nauseous.  Perhaps it is because I have not gotten enough sleep lately.  Or perhaps I am the next to get this stomach bug.  Or maybe it’s because I keep hearing my baby saying to me, “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.

Oh, the places we’ll go

Once upon a time, I was certain of many things.  I knew that cheerleaders were vapid and soulless.  I knew that I did not need money to be happy.  I knew that meat was murder, Republicans were evil, and religion was the opiate of the masses.  I knew that I wanted to live in a funky urban area with a diverse population plus access to the opera and jazz clubs.

Tonight, I know much less than I did when I was young and unencumbered.  Having children throws my values into deep relief.  As we try to narrow down possible places to live in New Jersey, we stumble up against our beliefs.  I mean, sure, I still value intellectual pursuits and diverse populations.  But I also want good schools.  Now, of course, the measure of schools is completely subjective.  For some people, quality schools may be about learning to value folks of all hues while for others it is all about class size or test scores.

What I know is that we want to live among good people.  And what the fuck does that mean, exactly?  It means that we prefer not to reside in the state penitentiary, I guess, although I suspect there are lots of good folks there, too.

So, we want a town with good schools and good people.  Fantastic.  That clears everything right up.

“You may not want a small town,” a friend warned.  “People can be awfully provincial.”  You know what?  Most of the people we know in big cities are provincial, too.  A spit-shine doesn’t do much to hide the fact that snobbery is the flip side of hickness.

What we have learned with all this moving is that there are no simple answers about people or places.  There are smart cheerleaders who read Kafka, and even the ones who don’t have plenty to offer.  Money is not the root of all evil.  There are people who believe in God who are deeply thoughtful and reflective and intelligent and have just come to a different conclusion than I have.  People are people.  There are lots of trappings, but ultimately, everyone is pretty much ghettoized by life.  And they all have something to offer.

Where am I going with this ramble?  Well, the movers are probably coming next week, and we don’t know where we want to rent in New Jersey.  Do we want the interesting town close to New York with the diverse population and the larger class sizes?  Or do we want the small, almost rural town farther out that gives us plenty of space to garden but only has white people in it?  And if we pick the diverse town just for its diversity, are we in essence using the people of color for their ethnicity?  We just don’t know.

So, we’ll close our eyes and leap and if we don’t like where we land, we’ll make a change at the end of the school year when it comes time to buy a home.  If experience serves as a guide, we will find interesting, good people no matter where we go.  The people will be narrow in some way or another no matter where we go.  We will regret the loss of something no matter where we go.

Now excuse me while I go hyperventilate about the movers who are coming next week.

We’ve been sort of busy

            A year ago, we were nearing the end of our two-year stint in London.  We had rented out the dream house we owned in Philadelphia because we knew the London thing was of finite duration.  We were set to leave in late March 2008 to return to our house, our friends, and the preschool we had signed up for in Philly.

            And then the decision finally came down the line just before Christmas day.  We would be moving to Los Angeles.

            So, a year ago, we were wrapping our heads around a rather sizable shift in our plans.  Instead of returning to the familiar, a mere two hours away from J’s parents, we would be moving to a city I had only ever seen for 36 hours, a nation away from our children’s closest relatives.

            A year ago, we were definitely only having two children.  We had given away all our baby stuff as soon as Benjamin was done with it because we had no plans of a third.

            Here I sit, our bonus baby zonked out in my arms, in Los Angeles.  Between last year’s Boxing Day and this one is packed a frantic preschool search from the other side of the world, temporary housing, finding a new home, making friends, learning an entirely new city, Benjamin starting preschool, and one very surprising pink line.

            I hit a low sometime in the middle of it.  The boys have been stretched and pulled.  But, we are surviving all the changes, and don’t think for a moment that I don’t realize how totally and absurdly lucky we are.

            A year ago, I had no idea what to expect from 2008.  I certainly never expected it to be this beautiful.