Uprooting yourself. Starting again. New beginnings. Building a community. Sounds beautiful, right? The truth is, it’s hard. Or at least doing this every two or three years is hard. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved being a Coast Guard wife. We’ve been stationed in some awesome places—Miami, San Francisco, New Orleans, and many cities in-between. Sometimes I get antsy after living in one place for too long. “Where do you think our next adventure will take us?” I’ll ask my husband. Then we’ll spend our night wondering and wishing. It’s always nerve-wracking to wait for our official orders to arrive, that moment when we find out where we’re headed and that it’s set in stone and that it might not be a place we asked for. But it’s exciting too. Our moves have involved unforgettable cross-country road trips, some crazy mishaps, new discoveries, and important life lessons. When my son was born, I figured he’d catch our travel bug, and I daydreamed about what a well-rounded, interesting person he’d grow up to be after living in so many places. But my son is his own person, and he wants to put down roots. So now I feel…guilty.
Our first move with him was easy. He was only fifteen months old, far too young to notice the difference between Florida and California, let alone understand what it meant to say such a big goodbye. The second move was harder. At age four, he still wasn’t old enough to understand what it meant to leave a place forever, but he had grown into a little person in California. He had a history there, and special friends, and favorite play spaces, and a big yard with its own cave and redwood trees. We had made memories there. And traditions. And we’d become very outdoorsy people, hiking seven miles to the Pacific Ocean every week, picking heirloom apples in the hills every fall, going on tarantula hikes in the mountains, exploring lighthouses, watching whales and sea lions, rock climbing and caving. My son was a true California kid. He was happy there. We were all happy there. None of us wanted to leave, but as Coast Guard parents, we knew what was coming.
Before we told our son we were going to move to Louisiana, we tried to prepare him. I bought him a toy moving truck, and we played moving day. He loved packing the truck with tiny boxes and dollhouse furniture. A few days later, my husband and I sat him down and told him what we knew about New Orleans—Mardi Gras, beignets, closer to Grandma in Florida—and asked if he had any questions for us. His only question was, “Can I go play now?” On moving day, my son said goodbye to our house by blowing bubbles with his bubble wand in every room. After that, he seemed content. But I wasn’t! That house was alive with memories. All the stories I’d read him, leaves we’d jumped in, baths I’d given him, dinners we’d shared, all our kisses and cuddles and laughter echoed through those empty rooms. My son knew he was saying goodbye, but I sensed he didn’t know what it meant to really say goodbye forever. Is he going to ache for this place when it registers that this move is permanent? I wondered. Was he going to ask to hike to the Pacific Ocean and cry when I told him we couldn’t? How would I make new mom friends that were as close as the ones I’d bonded with over breastfeeding and potty training? How would my son make new friends who were as close as the ones who were there with him when he was learning what it meant to be a friend, and hold a conversation, and hold hands, and eat ice cream? My travel bug was kind of gone, replaced with uncertainty and sadness.
But my son adjusted well to the move. Four-year-olds are cheery people, after all. They know how to let go and live in the moment. We first arrived in New Orleans in August, the dead of summer, when it was too hot to walk around the block, let alone climb mountains and hike canyons, both of which do not exist here. The three of us lived at the Residence Inn with our dog and our fish for several weeks while we looked for a house. We landed in historic Uptown New Orleans, walking distance from two libraries, the St. Charles streetcar line, Audubon Park, a chocolate shop, a toy store, three playgrounds, several restaurants, a natural food store, and only a block off the Mardi Gras parade route. Our neighborhood is full of children and trees and birds. But we still didn’t have a tribe. I put my son in a tiny part-time preschool and volunteered to be the room mother, just to get us out of the house. There were only seven kids in his entire class, but of those seven kids, one came from a homeschooling family, and his mother introduced me to the New Orleans homeschool community, which turned out to be the most vibrant, diverse, and welcoming group of people I’d ever met anywhere in the world. Louisianans, in general, are warm and welcoming; they make eye contact, they call you baby and they laugh a lot. The homeschooling community here is extra special, like family. We’ve made many true and supportive friends, and we’ve fallen in love with New Orleans, and my travel bug isn’t buzzing in my ear anymore. I’ve come over to my son’s way of seeing things. I’d like to put down roots. After nearly three years here, New Orleans is home. Our house, our neighborhood, our homeschool community, our friends, our traditions, our play spaces. Home.
But not really. Not forever. One year from now, we have to go again. This will be the hardest move of all.
I brace myself because even though I will be utterly jolted and totally not ready and very sad, I will need to be strong for our little boy, who has no siblings to travel alongside him, and who doesn’t yet know he will have to say goodbye to the friends he loves. He will feel so helpless and scared when we deliver the news. And when do we tell him about this inevitable end to all that he knows and loves here? Should we tell him now and give him a whole year to get used to the idea? Or will that just make him anxious? Should we tell him three months before we go? One month? Do we let him know he’s not alone and we’re sad too? Or should we put on brave faces and be positive? It’s hard to know what will make this easier.
When the Coast Guard tore me away from an amazing job at a publishing house in Miami and made us move to a polluted, wintery town in upstate New York, I wasn’t happy about it. But from that experience came my first published novel, dozens of lifelong friends, and many winter memories in Toronto, Niagara Falls, Finger Lakes Wine Country, and New York City. We didn’t want to leave. When the Coast Guard first sent us to San Francisco, I wasn’t happy about that either—who wants to be two time zones and three thousand miles away from their family and friends after becoming a new mother? But we made lifelong friends there too, and we got to ride our bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Big Sur and Monterey, hug giant redwoods and sequoias, climb to the treacherous top of Sentinel Rock, and dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t want to leave. I’m detecting a pattern.
Some things I’ve learned from our many moves in the past help me to feel that everything is going to turn out okay in the end. Places I’ve feared and dreaded ended up being beautiful and hard to say goodbye to. Adventures are almost always a good thing. Leaving one’s comfort zone is almost always a good thing. We never know what new friends and experiences are around the corner. God and the universe have a plan for us that we might not understand now but will understand later. We can choose how we react to change; we can choose to embrace it with joy. Our friends are still our friends even when we’re far apart. Everywhere we live becomes a part of us forever, and that’s a good thing. We can always go back and visit.
But it’s still hard. And scary. And exhausting. To know what’s coming. To know something will make my child sad. And to not be able to stop it. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being a mother. Those times when we can’t protect our little ones. But I can do something. I can teach him resiliency, and the art of choosing joy. I can show him how to embrace adventure. To trust in a benevolent universe. If any of you mommas out there are facing scary changes, big or small, my heart goes out to you. May we all find ways to spin the things that scare us into adventures that lift us up.