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Moving Mayhem

Eva Amurri Martino plays with daughter Marlowe in their new home in Connecticut

As you all know, we recently moved in to our forever home. Being here, and starting to feel more settled, has really been a dream come true. All of our reasons for moving (renovating an amazing historical home! Being in the mix in downtown Westport! Living walking distance to the kids’ schools! Having HEA Studio outside the home!) have proven to be everything we wished them to be and more.  We love our house even more than we thought we would– which was already a lot! LOL. But a more challenging side of the move emerged also. For all of us in the family.  I’ve spoken a bit about the emotional challenges I faced through the displacement and ups and downs of our moving and renovation process– but I haven’t gotten much in to the serious toll it took on the kids. 

Eva Amurri Martino gets a hug from her daughter Marlowe in their new Connecticut home

When we moved in to our last home, Marlowe had just turned two, and I was pregnant with Major.  Marlowe had a really hard time the first week in our new house, but at the time I attributed it mostly to me not preparing her enough for the change– and a serious learning curve when it came to toddler emotions.  I actually felt like I learned from that process, and ended up using a lot of the tools I had learned during our move this time.  But no matter how “aware” I was of the emotional toll that uprooting my four year old and two year old could take, the outcome was still emotional mayhem that completely overtook our experience as a family for three months.  This is not an exaggeration! 

Eva Amurri Martino sits with daughter Marlowe on her lap in their new home in Connecticut

While our home was being renovated, we ended up staying in a rental property, three different hotels, and our friend’s home– within the span of three months.  The sleeping arrangements varied wildly– from each of them with their own rooms to all of us sleeping in the same room together.  We lived out of four suitcases, and changed locations every two to three weeks.  I knew going in to it that we were taking on a lot– but if I knew how much it would effect Marlowe and Major I probably would have done things differently.  For example, I didn’t want to prioritize the cost of renting a furnished home locally for the entire three months, especially since we didn’t know how long the renovation would take.  I figured we would rent a place for six weeks, see where we were at with the renovation, and then go from there as it came. BIG MISTAKE.  I see now that not having a long term plan in place, even if it overlapped a bit with our renovations on our home being finished, would have been a more calming choice for the kiddos.  But instead I ended up learning how triggered my kids could get. And for a few months I felt like I had different kids!

Eva Amurri Martino sits with her kids Marlowe and Major in their new Connecticut home

At first, the pushing buttons phase started.  My kids stopped listening to me, and began to really test their limits with both Kyle and I.  Marlowe all of a sudden sounded like an angry teenager when she wanted to do something or when she didn’t.  No matter how much I tried to talk openly and calmly with her about how she was feeling about leaving our old house, she just maintained that everything was fine and that I, or her brother, or whatever dinner I was making her eat, or school, or ANYTHING was the issue instead.  Angst to the max.  And speaking of dinner, during this time of feeling so out of control of their surroundings, every single iteration of a control issue came out in full force.  Both kids developed completely unexpected food aversions or necessities.  The kids who used to like ketchup or chicken or veggies suddenly hated them.  My perfect eaters turned in to children I had to beg to finish even a few bites.  Dinner time was always a battle.  Major would get in zones where he wouldn’t eat by himself, but also wouldn’t let anyone feed him.  There were many nights were it took literal hours to even get enough food in him that he wouldn’t wake up starving in the middle of the night. It was a fight to get them in to the bath, and then to get them to leave the bath. If that’s confusing to you, trust me, it boggled my mind.  Kind of like grandparents walking ten miles to school in their day, uphill both ways! LOL.

Eva Amurri Martino gets a hug from her daughter Marlowe in their new Connecticut home

Major also started exhibiting a lot of other control incentives, like shrieking any time he couldn’t do something by himself, even if it was an impossible task for a two year old.  Labels on clothes, bumps in socks, dirt or paint on his clothes, or even the wrong noises or loud sounds would cause an epic meltdown. The biggest issue with all of this was how obvious it was that my kids were hurting, confused, and feeling overwhelmed about our living situation. I knew they were, but since there wasn’t anything to do about it, I felt so helpless and stuck.  I ended up appeasing their behavior in any way I could because I felt so guilty– which definitely fed in to the behavior and probably made it worse. I just didn’t know what else to do– and I knew that a settled home was just around the corner.  Some day!

Eva Amurri Martino gets a hug from her daughter Marlowe in their new Connecticut home

By the time we had been displaced for two months, the feelings with the kids took a really sad turn.  All of a sudden, Marlowe and Major became really clingy to me and dependent in a way that they’ve never been.  Even as little babies! Groups of people, new people, or new activities started totally freaking them out.  For the first time in almost a year and a half, Marlowe started sobbing when I would leave her at school.  By this point, I was so emotionally depleted myself that I would get back to my car and cry too.  I was feeling such a mix of sadness, guilt, anxiety, and frustration.  Out of nowhere, Marlowe started developing a fear of germs and of vomiting.  Even though she had definitely vomited before, with little fear or fanfare, all of a sudden it terrified her. She became so scared of getting germs on her that it would come up all day, everywhere.  If she touched something that she thought was dirty, she would turn to me in a panic, “Mom! Can you wash my hands Mom? Do I have germs now?!”

Eva Amurri Martino sits with her kids Marlowe and Major in their new Connecticut home

At one point, I was staying with the kids at a local motel while Kyle was away on a work trip.  Marlowe was playing and pretending to be different animals, and looking at herself in the mirror.  All of a sudden, she licked the wall mirror– and had an epic meltdown.  She was hysterical, sobbing and just so terrified that she was now going to throw up from the germs on the mirror.  I tried everything to calm her down, but she just kept sobbing for ten, twenty, thirty, forty minutes.  I actually started to get really scared that all of this had turned a corner in to a place that would be really difficult to get back from.  I felt like a total failure as a Mom.  Finally I just said to her “I’m so sorry you’re so sad and upset. I love you, I’m here with you, and you’re going to be ok. I promise.  I’m so sorry, babe”. I held her for a long time, and finally she calmed down, lifted her little face up and said “I’m homesick Mom.”  My heart broke in to a million pieces.  And the truth was, so was I.  After that, I started cutting back on what work commitments I could, and I really made an effort to stick close to both the kiddos even if it meant disappointing people on the business side of things.  I was just so scared that I was somehow scarring these kids for life, even if the entire reason for all of this was to create a beautiful home for them that they could grow up in.  I stayed awake at night wondering how we could have made a choice with the best interest of our kids in mind, and meanwhile they were giving me every signal under the sun that our choice was effecting them negatively.  I would cry to Kyle regularly over it, and it triggered my Anxiety Disorder in a major way. 

Eva Amurri Martino's kids Marlowe and Major look into a mirror in their new home in Connecticut

When we finally moved in to our house, even though construction was far from over, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  There were still some emotional signals from the kids, but from night one, they both slept so well in their new rooms.  Marlowe even stopped being so anxious about staying in her classroom at dropoff.  Her anxiety surrounding vomiting has wound down a good amount, and her germ phobia is almost non-existent.  Major still has certain residual frustrations with needing to control his clothes and activities, but it is way less than it had been.  With every passing week, I feel more and more like my kids are getting back to their happy, balanced selves.  It was a really humbling experience to be so aware of an issue my kids were having, to be trying desperately to communicate with them about it and to reassure them, and then to watch while my fears were realized anyway.  In a way, I think it prepared me well for the years ahead as a Mom. Those years with so many emotional ups and downs, when I will just have to dig in and to find peace in not being able to fix every single thing for them. When I’ll need to love them through the discomfort– theirs and mine– remind them that I’ll never leave them, and that everything will be OK in the end.  I wish I had some sage advice to offer for anyone going through something similar with their kiddos, but honestly I feel like I learned that emotional waters are mostly unchartered with small kids.  Despite my every effort to comfort them, prepare them, and console them, our life was pretty much a shitshow for three months. Excuse my french.

Eva Amurri Martino sits with her kids Marlowe and Major in their new Connecticut home

And do you know the biggest lesson it taught me? That sometimes the effort of the Mother is not matched by the outcome.  In other words, when you see a shitshow in progress, it doesn’t mean the Mother doesn’t care or isn’t trying every single thing she can.  Sometimes life just needs to run its course, and emotions follow.  And it’s not always in our control no matter how much we wish it were.  All this to say: let’s give ourselves and each other a break.  I’m curious if any of you experienced serious emotional upheaval with your kids while moving? Please share in the comments below!

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Photographs by Julia Dags

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25 Comments

  1. Amy says:

    Yes! We went through a home renovation and move when my oldest daughter was one and it was no big deal. Fast forward to four years later when we decided to build a home and woah, my now-five-year-old and her little sister were a mess. It requires full time emotional support and reassurance 24/7. I was totally unprepared. In hindsight, I think a lot of their behavior stemmed from my own anxiety. I didn’t know how long the project was going to take and how long we were going to be in temporary living and changing schools and all that came with it. Then I put a hard finished date on the project because we needed to be out of our temporary housing and that made it even worse. Having people in and out all day long was such a trigger for them and prolonged the ability for anyone to settle in. You are not alone! We know the end result is for the benefit of the entire family but getting there is tough!

    04.30.19 Reply
  2. Alison says:

    Oh yes. A few years ago when we moved our daughter started acting out in preschool and saying the F word all the time. That was mortifying! We let her teachers know what was going on and a week or two after we moved in she was mostly back to normal. We just moved again earlier this month but just a couple of minutes down the road and it was a much smoother transition. She’s 7 now and it made such a difference now that she’s older and that we focused on all of the good things about the new house and acknowledged what we’d miss about the old house.

    04.30.19 Reply
  3. Monica says:

    Excellent, well written piece Eva! Congrats on settling in.

    04.30.19 Reply
  4. Anna says:

    We are just about to relocate from Hawaii to California, and I’m already dreading this. We originally planned on renting a short term lease while we shopped for a home, but our 1 year old has never traveled well and thrives on consistency, whereas my 4 year old has always loved it, as long as we’re with her. We got home yesterday after a weekend visit to grandparent’s house, where the toddler slept terribly every night, and the 4 year old was so excited to see our home, which is already in escrow… I think we’ll have to buy a house before we move at this point to make sure they both acclimate well. Not to mention, she needs to start kindergarten this year instead of next year because ca has an earlier birthday cutoff. 😭😭😭😭😭

    04.30.19 Reply
  5. Mallory says:

    I love this post – although I’m sorry it’s been so stressful for you! As a mental health therapist I put so much pressure on myself to do the emotional parts of parenting “right” all time. I love when you said that the effort of Mothering doesn’t always match the outcome – such a humbling reminder. Our kids teach us so much! Thanks for sharing.

    04.30.19 Reply
  6. Shea says:

    This is probably the best essay I have read of yours, and that is saying a lot! I am glad you were so honest about the move. This summer, I am moving across the country. We have just begun the packing phase, and the anxiety is already feeling overwhelming.

    04.30.19 Reply
  7. Jodi says:

    I totally know how you feel! Many moons ago, when my kids were 2 and 5, we moved out of our house the day after Christmas! First huge mistake. We were in the process of building a new house that wouldn’t be ready for 6 months. We moved in to my Dads house for almost 5 months while they were wintering in Florida then moved in to a rental for 5 weeks. This threw my daughter for a loop and among other things, had a constant urge to have to pee ALL.THE.TIME. Talk about frustrating for all involved. A visit to the doctors office confirmed it was caused by stress. The first night in our home while I was tucking my girl in to bed, she looked up to me and said “everything is alright now Mommy, were home”. Just like Marlow, my Katie was also homesick. She turned out just fine and is currently in grad school! Your kids will also be just fine Momma!

    04.30.19 Reply
  8. Christine says:

    I remember when you were posting about your plans and I was going to write the first pm in my life to a “stranger” wanting to share my experience and tell you don’t do it. It was the time when we stayed in hotels too waiting for our home to be finished, laundry at friends, eating out or again at friends… On one occasion my 4yr old was telling another kid that we are “currently homeless”. It was the most horrible time. I was so jealous of everyone with a home, kittchen, christmas decoration…and I felt so sad, empty and scared. Thinking all the time: that was a mistake. Why did we do this. We will never feel home again…When we finally moved in, the kittchen wasn’t done for another 2 month…still don’t know how we survived that…But as you said: now i am here, bringing my girl to bed, and I am more thankful for our home, then I probably would if we haven’t experienced that time. It was and will all be worth it!

    04.30.19 Reply
  9. Heather says:

    My youngest son is on the autism spectrum. Due to an abusive relationship that I was in resulting in several moves, he attended six different schools between 5th and 9th grade. Any change was a major trigger for him and I felt like a horrible mother!! I was also going through some horrible things at the time so I was literally just fighting to survive. He’s grown now and has a child by a former girlfriend. They don’t live together and the custody arrangement started allowing overnight visits for her at two. It was too disruptive for her and his heart is too tender to put her through changes that upset her. She’s 4 now. We do daytime visits and always let her know that she can stay as long as she wants but can also go back to mom whenever she’s ready. The point is… families go through things… it’s what bonds you together.

    04.30.19 Reply
  10. Julienne says:

    😭😭😭😭😭 so happy you guys are starting to settle in. What a beautiful post.

    04.30.19 Reply
  11. Keelan says:

    Military spouse over here! While we don’t have kids yet, I always feel for the families when it comes time to move. I know I don’t always handle our moves with patience and grace so I imagine trying to plan the logistics as well as comfort kids (especially those who may be too young to really process what is going on) throughout the move must be very challenging! This is a good reminder of the emotional toll big changes can have on everyone.

    04.30.19 Reply
  12. Christy says:

    I’ve read this a few times already! I love how you expose the raw, intense, family moments! I’m happy to read things are getting back to normal and pray everything will fall into place in your forever home 🙂

    04.30.19 Reply
  13. Anne-Catherine says:

    Dear Eva,

    Coming from a home where we moved a lot and had a lot of different living arrangements. I can fully under how you felt. Still feel about this whole process.
    But as my Mom remembers pretty much the same feeling as you during all the different situations. It’s not what I remember and I am pretty sure it’s going to be the same for your kids.

    I remember the time my sister and I used the pillows of the hotel room to make a fort and my Dad buying a big piece of fabric to help build the fort. I remember my Mom making us dinner in this tiny kitchen even though you could barely have one pot on the stove.
    Yes it was hard especially on our Mom, I remember being horrible and my Dad even had to come back from a business trip because of it but we haven’t been scared for life and I fully appreciate all the effort my parents made to get us where we are today.

    And the end game was your new home. And now your family can grow in it. It will be figured out it their heads and make sense of the whole situation. It did for my sister and I.
    It took a while and true, the process was not the easiest.

    04.30.19 Reply
  14. Jordan says:

    I relate to this so much, not necessarily regarding a move. My husband travels nonstop for his job. He is in and out of our home in random patterns, and my 3 year old son struggles so much with this. I am the disciplinarian, always desperately trying to maintain some order and normalcy; my husband spoils my son when he’s home out of guilt from being away. Its not easy, thats for sure. You’re so right about giving moms grace! You never know what kind of effort they are putting in at home. Xxx

    04.30.19 Reply
  15. Bre says:

    2 and 4 yo here. Under contract for a house 1,000 miles away, current house on the market (I.e showings and cleaning after work) . My job is uncertain after a successful career so I’m probably not the calmest mom. Hubby is gone M-F. Then our dog died (very old) last week really upping tantrums and being afraid to sleep and strange eating when they actually eat. i am relieved in a way as my kids are showing similar signs of stress and I was worrying I just had misbehaved kids. I was concerned and trying to get into a behavioral therapist. This helped me a lot. Perhaps I’ll chill and do a little more to try to show stability. I’ll go that route if needed but thank you, a little less worry for this mama. Great post

    04.30.19 Reply
  16. Dana says:

    Eva,
    I love this post. So beautifully written, honest and reflective.

    04.30.19 Reply
  17. L says:

    Yes! We are in the midst of renovating with our 4 year old and I’m pregnant with our second. Ever since the renovation started (which intermittently requires us to stay with family for a week at a time), my 4 year old daughter has been a wreck, exactly like you describe, right down to germ paranoia! I’ve felt like a terrible mom and have been getting so anxious about how she’ll handle the next big transition to having a sibling. I appreciate your post so much – so good to hear we are not alone in our struggle. “Mothering not matching the outcome” is the best expression I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you for this! Glad things are settling down for the Martinos!

    04.30.19 Reply
  18. Kelly says:

    My heart breaks reading your honesty in this situation. If you have any advise or tips PLEASE post them as I will need it in the future.
    So happy that the kids are getting back to themselves, which can only make you more calm and happy as their mum xxx

    04.30.19 Reply
  19. Abby says:

    I have 100% been there on that bath time craziness. My son has thrown the WORST tantrums about getting in the bath, just to freak out and bawl over getting out. You are doing a great job, mama! Thanks for sharing the hard times and being so open. ❤️ We are all in this together!

    04.30.19 Reply
  20. Jenny Walton says:

    Preach Mama!! You got this!

    04.30.19 Reply
  21. Calley says:

    Sometimes life just has to run its course and emotions follow. That is so brilliant and true. I can relate to this post in so many ways. Not with a move but a life change when my husband got laid off. It was such a hard time for not just us but the kids. Thanks for sharing.

    04.30.19 Reply
  22. Mandy says:

    This post came at the perfect moment! My kids (2&4) are currently napping – one on the floor of our hotel room (I know, but it’s the only place she would crash!!) and the other is in the big bed. We moved out yesterday and we’re spending just 4 nights here until we get into the new home. All day I’ve been wondering why my 4 yo is driving me crazy with her terrible tantrums and why she constantly rages at me. Now I know there is a light at the end of this tunnel and I hope I can be more understanding of their behavior. I can’t wait to get back into a normal pace of life!!!

    05.01.19 Reply
  23. Natasha says:

    It’s been hard for our family too. We moved three years ago for a new job for my husband. He was working second shift but his new job was 3rd. He was working 5 days a week from 9pm until whenever they got done shipping. Then we had our 3rd boy. Then he got a new job 6 months later that was supposed to be 1st shift. That lasted 3 weeks. It wasn’t so bad at first bc he was on a 2, 2, 3 schedule had a 3 day weekend every other weekend to have family time. Then his boss thought it would be good to go to 5 days week. Well that only lasted a week and a year later he has been working 3rd shift 5-7 days a week. It’s rough not having a good schedule and not having family time. My oldest two are in kindergarten and 2nd grade and we can see how it has changed their behavior at home and school. Plus, keeping them quiet when home from at 230pm until 730pm when he gets up is no fun. I am dreading summertime in 5 weeks.

    05.01.19 Reply
  24. Dara Lee says:

    We moved across the country almost 4 years ago. At the time my kids were 11, 8 and 6. For the first 5 months of our move we lived in a 2 bedroom apartment. With a dog and a cat. In all honesty that part of our move was the easiest. It was summer time so we didn’t have to deal with starting new schools yet. After we bought out house and my girls had to start school was when it really got hard! Even though we were so excited to be in our new house the stress and anxiety of being the new kid in a new school starting (for her) in the middle of the year was so so hard on my 8 year old. She literally sobbed everyday going to the bus stop. I would ask her if she wanted me to drive her to school and that just made it worse for her. She gets overwhelmed in new situations and needs extra time to adjust and for her taking the bus was easier than getting dropped off. So we would walk to the bus crying and she would get on and make it to school and once she got home she was fine and always had a good day but the next morning we would repeat! I think this happened for a good solid month! It was torture! Once she got more comfortable she settled in and has been doing great! Even with this years move to middle school! Kids are so resilient if we give them the space and time to move through what they need to to adjust and sometimes that’s crying all the way to the bus stop;)

    05.03.19 Reply
  25. Margo McNair says:

    Wow….what an emotional post! I cried, laughed…you used my favorite mom fa word of “shitshow”- and once again felt truly blessed to be one of your subscribers. I say this often, but your honesty and candidness is unsurpassed, Eva. Much love.
    Margo

    05.03.19 Reply