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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?!”
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.
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.
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