“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
Not long ago, our family moved to a new house. But making that decision wasn’t easy. I hesitated to pull our kids (then ages eight, six and four years old) away from the only home they had ever known. I wanted them to have as much stability and continuity as possible. Especially since my middle son is disabled, and our family spends a lot of time visiting doctors and participating in therapy appointments. But we were quickly outgrowing our space. The house we lived in wasn’t built to accommodate someone in a wheelchair, or the myriad of equipment we had scattered throughout.
We thought about expanding. We considered the various additions we could feasibly create and researched installing an elevator. We even started some small renovations by having an architect and landscaper modify the front of the house for better accessibility. But it wasn’t enough. Moving was the next reasonable decision.
To make the transition easier, we included the kids in the moving process. Since we live in a hilly area and needed a flat lot, finding a place to accommodate our needs was difficult. We waited almost three years to find the space that was just right and, after several deals fell through, my then eight-year-old daughter and I were the ones that happened upon our new home. We were driving back from a family party and ran into an open house just as it was ending. Rushing out the front door, we yelled to my husband and the boys who were waiting in the van, “You have to check this one out!”
We closed within two months.
During the weeks leading up to the move, we cleaned out anything we didn’t want to take with us. We tried to stay on task, but everywhere we went, we found more memories lurking. My daughter’s bedroom where she chose the perfect shade of pink paint and the cute owl decals we plastered on her wall. The dining room where we threw parties, hosted holidays and celebrated birthdays and other milestones. The playset my husband made for the backyard. And the steep driveway we went sledding down during winter snowstorms.
And then there was the neighborhood we were leaving. We weren’t moving far, but we would no longer cross paths with those that made up our immediate community. The familiar faces at the bus stop. The people we chatted with every time we went for a walk. The neighbor who helped shovel our driveway when my husband was in the hospital with our son. We were all struggling with the idea of leaving our familiarity and support.
Our move was scheduled during the summer when school was out for the year, which made the transition a little easier. We had a few rooms painted and the floors done to make it feel like our own. And we let the kids talk through who was getting which room, and where we wanted to place the furniture, so we all felt part of the decision making.
Once we moved in, I was worried the kids would be scared to walk around by themselves or would be uncomfortable. But pretty quickly, I heard them running up and down the stairs shouting, “I’m up here in my room!”
We were so busy that thoughts of the old house didn’t surface until fall arrived. On our way home from his first day of school, my four-year-old son asked to drive by the old neighborhood. The familiar routine must have made him remember.
We took a detour and found our way to the old street. I held my breath and watched for his reaction in my rearview mirror. He stared as we drove by. We pointed out the playset we missed and some of the changes the new owners made. But we also talked about what we like better in our new house. The conversation lasted only a few minutes, and he wasn’t nearly as affected as I anticipated.
During the lockdown this spring, my husband built a garden and a new playhouse. This time though, since the yard isn’t down a steep hill, the kids excitedly made a “wheelchair parking only” spot right next to the playground.
It’s been over two years now and we very rarely think about the old house. We’ve driven by a handful of times since then, but mostly because our babysitter lives nearby, and my son likes dropping things off in her mailbox. Occasionally, on blustery winter days, the kids miss the driveway we used to sled down. But then we laugh when we remember how difficult it was to shovel.
A few months after we moved in, my daughter was rearranging her closet. It was also the previous owner’s daughter’s room. She found this hidden on the wall, written in pencil.
1996-2018 This house means the world to me. It’s brought our family nothing but good memories, and a place to always feel loved at. Take care of it and keep it happy as it’s kept us happy. We call it Happy the House.
My daughter was so excited. She now feels a kinship to the previous owners that I luckily still keep in touch with. Clearly it wasn’t easy for them to leave their house either.
I worried so much about pulling my children from the house that made them feel comfortable and safe. But what I realized is that our home lies with the people, not the place. I know that we will carry out the previous owner’s wishes. It’s already a very happy house. We have fun reminiscing about our old home and are making lots of memories in the new one. And wherever we end up next, that will be a happy house too.