If you are a mother who has suffered the special hell that is moving house with small children to keep occupied—sometimes for weeks at a time, and always with their cache of go-to toys and books firmly packed away—you deserve not only a cookie. You warrant a week’s escape at a spa in Cabo with round-the-clock attendants to mind the kiddies while a private masseuse kneads the stress out of your severely knotted back muscles. Because, sister, you’ve been through the wringer.
If you happen to be hugely (or even less noticeably) pregnant as the chaos of sorting, editing, lifting, hauling, organizing and transporting goes down, I’m making you queen for the day. Or for as long as you want to wear the crown, honey.
If your relocation involves not only new towns and states, but also swapping schools, let me just bow down right now. There’s nothing I can say to ease your particular pain, other than: I want you to have Cabo and the royal bling, with Brad Pitt thrown in for good measure. They should all be yours.
If your big move still looms ahead, here are some proven stay-sane tips from someone who’s been there—more than once. In fact, since my first child was born nearly 12 years ago, with her younger sister arriving four years later, our family has moved twice within Washington, D.C., once cross-country to Los Angeles, another house-jump to a few blocks away, and then a return cross-country back to the suburbs of New York. (Don’t me ask why. That’s another post.)
I have this moving thing down. Here are my pearls of wisdom:
1. Line up childcare. I don’t care who you recruit. Your childless adult sister who openly states she has no idea what to do with children. Your mother-in-law who rearranges your furniture when you’re not looking. Your BFF from college. Some combination of all of the above. It doesn’t matter. If they are somewhat sentient and won’t harm your kids, twist their reluctant arms and make them babysit.
Hear me now: You must get someone, anyone, to help you mind the small ones while you are conducting this stressful, messy business. This means before, during and after the move—so schedule your friends and loved ones in shifts. If you are in the process of selling and showing a house while simultaneously packing it up, making endless calls to sort out the details in another city or state, signing official papers, unearthing your necessities from cardboard boxes and wiping tears—because your kids are gutted to be leaving their friends, naturally—you are going to need assistance. Factor in the cost of hiring someone, if necessary, into the relocation budget. It’s truly that important.
2. Schedule new cable, phone, Internet, water and all other utility services now—before you move. I learned the hard way during one of the earlier moves, when I didn’t remember to do this. When you have kids, sometimes their favorite shows or Internet games are much-needed symbols of continuity. The iPad can help with this—but not if you don’t have Wi-Fi. So, the very first thing you should do after signing a new lease or mortgage is to call Verizon or Time Warner or whatever behemoth telecommunications company rules your new ‘hood and make the necessary arrangements—even if it’s months ahead. Schedule the date for the technician to arrive for one day after your move-in date. Even if the moving truck is not due to arrive for a week after the fact, and you’re still in temporary lodgings, I promise you, you will not regret it. Deal with this annoying stuff preemptively, while you can, before the cyclone of boxes arrives for you to unpack. That way, even if you don’t have a babysitter for every conceivable moment, your kids can stay safely entertained while you’re hard at work. Ditto for all utilities. If you wait until you’re in your new home to make these calls, Verizon or the electric company will inevitably tell you, “Sorry, our next available date for service is four weeks from now.” And then you, my dear, will be screwed.
3. Edit ruthlessly. This is key. You must consider your move to be an opportunity to expunge your lives of all the pointless crap you’ve needlessly collected over the years. Take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. If it’s junk, lose it. If it’s decent but undesired, donate it. If it belongs to someone else, return it. Remember, if you simply throw everything into boxes—or allow a professional packer to do so—you’re only paying more because you’re moving more. And all this extra weight follows you. You’ll soon be sorting through this mountain of crap at your new place, instead, which should be a fresh start.
4. Plan your pet’s relocation carefully. This can be one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of a long-distance move: transporting an animal. Flying our elderly dog across the country left me a quivering mess. There are so many scary stories about unsafe handling. After much research, I landed on petrelocation.com—and let me tell you, they did an amazing job. They handle pet pick up. They guarantee air-controlled holding rooms at the airport. They remain with your pet until it is loaded onto the airplane, which they ensure happens last. They only work with airlines that provide climate-controlled sections within the cargo area, which is where pets are placed (within their crates) during flights. (FYI: The vast majority of airlines don’t offer climate-controlled areas for pets.) They also called me on my cell phone throughout the travel day to provide updates and an estimated arrival time. Then a company rep drove our darling dog directly to our house at midnight—and hugged me when our family was safely, finally reunited with her.
5. Tour your new school before that first big day. Parents, always ask for a tour before the move, and without your kids. Meet the principal. Ask about assigned teachers. Find out if there are any special offerings—like lunchtime enrichment programs held on wintry days instead of recess—so you can talk up specific things for your child to get excited about. The more familiar it seems to you, the more familiar it seems to them—before they ever step foot in the building. Then, do a second run with your child or children before that big first day. Little things, like knowing exactly where to find a classroom, lunchroom or the girls’ bathroom, do so much to alleviate a child’s fears about starting somewhere new.
6. Say yes when new neighbors offer to help. During our last move, I was blown away when my new neighbors, their kids in tow, showed up when the moving trucks did and offered to entertain our girls with pizza and a movie at the town’s Cineplex a short walk away. They were moms just like me, and they felt my pain in the 90 degree heat, surrounded by a houseful of boxes and furniture flung on the lawn. I admit, I didn’t know them from Adam. But my gut said, “It’s fine!” And it was. And I am so incredibly grateful to them.
7. Power through the unpacking—you’ll thank yourself later. I’ve known families who unpack a few boxes here, a few boxes there, stretching out the transition for many weeks, months or even years. Listen to a moving pro, because I am one: Force yourself to unpack everything, immediately. The sooner you finish, the sooner your life begins—and your kids feel settled. Set up all the obvious stuff first: beds, TV/cable and bathroom necessities. Stock the fridge. And then power through those boxes like a person possessed. You can set up house in just a few days, when you put your mind to it. You’ll be so happy you did.
8. Keep lists on your smartphone. Of people, information and local services. Keep your phone handy and set for Notes mode. When you meet a neighbor, type in her name (because you will instantly forget it; you have too much running through your mind right now). As you start collecting contacts for the local plumber, electrician, dog-walker—whatever—add them to the list. Compile your growing community database as you go, and in one easy-to-access place. Before long, you won’t feel lost about where to get the kids’ hair cut, or whom to ask about private piano lessons. Don’t forget to email the list to yourself as backup, just in case.
9. Expect to feel out of sorts for about a year. It’s OK to feel weird for a while in your new setting. Why wouldn’t you? Home is a synonym for what’s familiar and comforting. When everything and everyone is new, nothing seems right. Promise your kids they will make friends—and to give it time. Tell yourself the very same thing. If you’ve left a tight-knit clan of school, work and neighborhood moms, you’re likely feeling lonely, too. In these moments of self-doubt, say these words: In a year I won’t feel like this at all. Because you won’t. Give yourself time to transition. I promise, it will happen.
10. Throw yourself a housewarming party. Easy to forget, but so important: You must celebrate your transition. It’s a big deal, and, Mama, you’ve made it through. I know it might seem like one more thing to stress over and plan. But try to keep the agita to a minimum and focus on the fun. Get some food and booze (and juice boxes for the kids), crank up some tunes, and invite all your new neighbors, colleagues and friends—and their kids, too. Get a little loose, let your hair down and get to know these people. Because you’re home. And doesn’t that feel good?