When a friend recently stressed out over a looming relocation, I wanted to offer some comfort. “Trust me,” I said, “it just takes a little bit of time and you’ll feel better. I know, because I’ve done this a few times.”
And then I asked myself the obvious question: how many times?
I came up with seven, even though in my mind it seemed like it should be even more. Number One was my move from Germany to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1991, traveling with all my earthly possessions, which were one suitcase and one bicycle. I was actually going to move to Charlottesville, Virginia, just two weeks earlier, but some maneuvering by my then boyfriend and now husband had me end up at UNC instead of UVA, and we ended up staying in North Carolina through a business school graduation, a wedding, a honeymoon, a new job, the purchase of our first house, and the birth of our first child.
Number Two was when we packed up all our belongings, which by then had grown to take up two thirds of a forty-foot container, as well as our one-year old son, and moved everything to Singapore. The added “hardship” in that case was having to sell a house (and a boat), which we’d never done before, and being dropped into a country we had never even seen. Also, having to push a baby stroller around and convincing taxi drivers to stop for a woman with stroller. And then understanding the taxi driver grumbling in a totally foreign language called Singlish.
You’d think Number Three would have been straightforward as it was the same in reverse, going back to Raleigh, North Carolina, but by then our container was pretty much full of stuff and we had grown to a family of four, with a fifth member on the way. Maybe moving during Y2K (you guys actually remember that?) was a bad omen. Our computers came through fine, but my kidneys almost didn’t. I’m just glad I survived a bad bout of the flu on some godforsaken island in the Maldives where you had to take a boat to see a doctor. I’ve never since then been able to look at pictures of the Maldives and think paradise. Hell, more likely.
Number Four started a trend of smaller hops for our family which by this time had grown to six. Smaller in distance, but not in spirit. Going from North Carolina to Waukesha, Wisconsin, feels like going from the tropics to Antarctica. Except our Antarctica featured really nice neighbors, you do have to give Wisconsin that. Nevertheless, Number Five had us fleeing after just a year to settle in the center of the Universe, pardon me, the United States. Overland Park, Kansas, is about as landlocked as you can get, but they pair this with a dusty wind, a handful of tornadoes and a few blizzards just to brighten up your day. Good thing there were some nice neighbors there too.
Number Six was another biggie, sending us to the most dangerous place on Earth aka Johannesburg, South Africa, if you were to believe everything you read online. Which was just as well because we figured in Singapore we’d already lived in the safest. Our container, by the way, at this time still somehow held most of our belongings without bursting out of its seams, although we did have to leave some stuff behind. Which weighed not nearly as heavy as what we left behind three years later when Number Seven, moving back to the States, came up. That would be our hearts. They’ve somewhat mended again here in Brentwood, Tennessee, which is a lovely place, but it just goes to show that it doesn’t get any easier the more often you do it. That last move might actually have been our hardest yet.
Packing up in South Africa (2012)
Conversely, the first move was probably the easiest. Perhaps that’s because we look back into the past with rose-tinted glasses. Or perhaps because back then we were young and nothing was hard. Or perhaps because you literally traveled with less baggage. Maybe the most important skill in life is to learn how to get rid of all the baggage you accumulate over the years so that you can get back to that spring in your step from your youth.
You really do get tired of all the packing and unpacking, but who knows, maybe one day we’ll hit the big “Surprise Me” button again and move to distant shores.