My first big move
“Mom, when are we going home?” My older sister asked a few days after our birthday in 2000. I had just turned 7-years-old.
My mom had taken us to see a Creed concert in Las Vegas, and we were sitting in our grandmother’s living room after having decided to visit family in California at the end of our long trip. I remember with particular clarity how we felt when our mom showed us the packed suitcases in the trunk, announcing that she had a big surprise for our birthday. We felt like the luckiest kids in the world, going all the way across four different states on a road trip in the middle of the school year.
“We live here now,” was all she said. No real explanation, no hint of remorse. Mom explained to us that we were going to stay in East Menlo Park, that we would share the three-bedroom house with five of our cousins, our aunt, and our grandma. There would be no saying goodbye to friends, no going back to Colorado for any of our clothes or toys. All I had was my favorite teddy bear and the clothes my mom had packed for me.
“What about school?” One of us offered.
“I’ll go down to Belle Haven and enroll you tomorrow.”
She said it like she hadn’t really considered this before now; like it was all a part of the adventure.
This began a long trend of transience. Overall I went to 12 different schools by the time I graduated high school and lived in 10 different cities. My sister and teddy bear were my steadfast companions throughout every move. Over time I got used to moving, affirming the belief as I entered each apartment that nothing was a certainty. I learned to adapt quickly. Our family often made jokes about our most infamous transitions.
Over 14 years later, I’m just beginning to realize the impact it had on me.
Need for security
In particular, my needs for security and comfort seemed be different than most kids. I spent so much time thinking I had to pretend those needs didn’t exist, just because I couldn’t satisfy them the same way other children could.
But those needs are not negligible. Entire careers are built upon concepts like outreach, membership, even workplace ergonomics. In many ways, the concept of belonging and comfort subsists in every culture, every human institution.
What I never knew was that there were others like me, people who had spent their childhood whizzing about from place to place without ever really knowing where they were finally going to land. I never understood how badly I wanted to settle down, to find at least a semi-permanent home.
College was a godsend for me. When I moved into the dorms I discovered the idea of making whatever space I was in ‘home’. I knew I couldn’t control how I fit into the world around me when I stepped outside, but when I was in my room I could make it mine!
It’s called a security blanket
I think sometimes feeling at home can just simply be the matter of feeling like you belong there. When you don’t have family around to ease that transition that can seem like a wholly impossible task. You can’t control that. You can’t control things outside of your control. But there are things that can help.
A familiar object can help ease a transition by reminding you of a time when you felt more secure. If these objects travel with you, the object in and of itself becomes its own stability, something you can count on being there wherever you go. I had a bear. Parents do this all the time with security blankets. You can tape personalized photos to the walls or hang a purse over your bedframe that you bought at your favorite farmer’s market. Be proud of where you’ve come from and don’t forget about the people who got you there.
You can also personalize your space so that no matter where you are, it feels like you. Sew your own curtains. Paint your favorite color and build your own ottoman. I have found that doing small things or finding ways to make a space personal and familiar makes all the difference.
Above all else, have support. Call your grandma, join a church. More important than any stuff you have are the relationships you cherish. My older sister has moved with me to every city I’ve lived in, and I can’t imagine having done it without her.