Friday, July 24, 2015

When Moving Kids, Ignore the Advice

That's right. The best piece of moving advice is to not listen to moving advice.

As if we’re not guilt-ridden enough when we move our families, we’re sure to do it wrong, no matter how much advice we seek out. I decided after the third time that I had to move a child in high school, I wasn’t going to be winning any parent of the year awards anytime soon.

I wanted to turn to my kids and say, “Hey, this isn’t my idea, you know. It’s all his fault!” and then point dramatically to their dad, who was, incidentally, gliding through our moves like an Olympic figure skater. He was smoothly adjusting to a new job, making eight new friends a day at work without any embarrassing cafeteria incidents, and he could put his hands on all of his ties, which was itself a miracle, because I couldn’t find a single bra except the bright red one that was two cup sizes too big.

The kids had nothing in school colors, nothing for the current weather, all the wrong notebooks, and were having a hard time keeping up with the movie theme days, pajama days, and Dr. Seuss celebration days, without doing it wrong. In fact, they and I were all struggling with doing it wrong. The local customs and culture were a mystery to us. We kept doing it the Illinois way in New Jersey, the New Jersey way in Kentucky, and the Kentucky way in Florida. We were always one state behind. The only way to catch up would be to quickly move back to a place where we had lived previously. And that wasn’t likely, because I couldn’t hear the word move without crying.

If you Google moving children you will see a lot of serious stuff. Men and women wearing suits, peering down over one shoulder, expressions of concern with a hint of optimism. Their names have strings of letters after them, proving that they are stupidly smart and qualified. At least one guy will have a stethoscope around his neck. All will be wearing glasses. So, of course, we trust them when they tell us how to move our kids.

I used to follow their every affected-accent word, until I moved my own children four or five times, and then started to develop my own set of tips. You know, tips that are based in real life with real parents and real kids.

The problem was the conflicting advice. From the beginning of the moving process, the Decision Phase, I kept hearing contradictions. Ask a simple question - like Should I move my kids in the middle of the school year or should I wait until summer? - and you get a schizophrenic answer.

“it is always best for moving during the summer period to start the children in school during the beginning of a new school year . . .” ~ Top Moving Companies, Guide to Moving Families

“By moving a child during the school year, you are enabling them to be immediately introduced to other children their own age. . . Schools help to facilitate introductions to other kids and activities as opposed to leaving that up to parents and children while in an empty neighborhood during a summer move.” ~ MSI Mobility, When’s the Best Time to Move With School-Aged Children?

“Summer represents a natural period of transition between grades and the perfect time to adjust to new surroundings and meet new friends. . . How could this not be preferable to leaving in the middle of things and coming in the middle of things?” ~ Ask Dr. Gayle, Best Time in the School Year for Children to Move? 

“(M)oving during the school year is usually much better for kids than at the beginning of summer, when they're more likely to be isolated and alone for weeks.” ~ Chicago Tribune, The ABCs of Home Moves During the School Year

“Experts agree that it's better to move during the summer.” ~ Great Schools, Necessary Moves: A Moving Survival Guide for Families Relocating in Tough Times.

The experts should settle this debate with a tug-of-war, a series of three-legged races or something equally entertaining for the rest of us.

Based on the nine moves I orchestrated with my family, I would offer the following real-life advice on when to move school-age kids:
  1. Ask the kids. Don’t get their hopes up that you’ll follow their wishes, but knowing what they would rather do will help you in your list of pros and cons.
  2. Make a list of pros and cons. (Duh.) Waiting for the school year to be over might separate your family for a while and that is a “con” that has to be weighed. As is the possibility of your kids spending the summer with no friends yet and nothing to do.
  3. Take into consideration credits that your child might lose if they transfer to a new school district mid-year. If she’s got a half year of German under her belt, but her new school only offers Spanish and Swahili, find out how a mid-year switch will affect her course credits.
  4. If you decide to move in the summer, get your kids signed up for some kind of day camp or class that will get them the social interaction they need to make their adjustment smooth.
  5. And if you choose to make the move during the school year, march yourself right into that guidance counselor’s office and be sure your child’s transition is taken seriously and he’s treated right.
  6. Know, that no matter which way you go, it will be wrong on some level. There is guilt in your future, so just start dealing with it now. You’re in good company.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Men Who Move and the Women Who Tolerate Them

A friend who is getting ready to move halfway across the country sent me a text the other day, asking for advice. "What can I do to make this move easier on my wife and kids?" My response was: "Unfortunately for you, my answer is too long for a text. I'll answer you in e-book form. Watch Amazon in the next six weeks."

All kidding aside, I could write a short book on how a guy who is relocating his family because of his job could be ever so helpful to his wife, who, nine times out of ten, is bearing the brunt of the work involved. You're the one dealing with a new job, but she's the one whose work just centupled. 

Short of writing another book, I jotted down some of the basics of treating your spouse and children right when putting them through the moving process. You can't make all the pain go away, but you can help in some small ways.  

Don’t give your wife all the responsibility to make decisions and then second-guess them

The bulk of the work - from making decisions to carrying them out and cleaning up after them - will be on her. You’ll be off to your own set of problems with your new job. Let her make the decisions (if she wants to) but don’t come in after the fact and put in your two cents and veto what she did. She’s smart and she’s not going to screw this up. (And if she's not smart, what were you thinking marrying her and asking her to have your children?) So if she chooses a school for the kids based on all the research and visits and recommendations, it’s probably the best decision and you should just stay out of it.

Just give her a big pile of money. Really, just load it on. Despite what every philosopher has said since ancient times, money can so buy happiness

If your relo package is anything like ours have been, there’s a lot of money involved. Give it to your wife. All of it. On one of our moves, my husband scrimped and saved on the temporary living and we ended up with a bunch of money at the end of it. We decided together how to spend it, but I got my way and that’s how it should be. Even though he was the one who was cooking spaghetti in a little pan on the stove in his crappy little apartment every night. And she’ll probably want to spend it on something like nice bedspreads and curtains for the kids’ rooms, which isn’t so bad.

Tell her she looks pretty even with that bald spot where a runaway piece of strapping tape got stuck to her hair

This is probably sexist, but I’ll say it anyway. As I got closer and closer to the low point of my moves, just hearing someone say that I was doing a great job even if it wasn’t true went a long way in getting me to the finish line. “Wow, you’d never know you’re in the middle of a move! You look great!” was all it took for me to get a second wind and give me a boost of adrenaline to finish packing the kitchen. Encouraging words go a long way. And sometimes a person doesn’t have anyone else to hear that from, other than her husband. 

Admit that it’s your fault that her life sucks right now

I don’t care if it makes you feel guilty. Say out loud that if it wasn’t for you and your stupid career, she wouldn’t have to be going through all this and making all the sacrifices she’s making. Acknowledge all that she’s giving up and taking on, and repeat it often. You can’t overdo this. In fact, consider taping a couple key sentences - "I suck and you're a beautiful princess" and "You have every right to be mad at me until the next move" - and use them as her iPhone alarm wake-up. 

Do not make her cook. I repeat. Do not make her cook. There are perfectly fine restaurants within driving distance.

Starting, oh, now, and continuing through three months into your new house. Consider it a part of the moving expenses.

Don’t lord your posh temporary corporate relo housing situation over her. 

You’re in a sleek bachelor pad and she’s living in a house that is alternately unlivable because it has to be show-ready for the real estate market and unlivable because it’s being packed up. This is not fair so you should shut up about your cool apartment. When we were moving from Cleveland to DC and I had a 4-year-old and was pregnant, I went to DC on a house-hunting trip. My husband was living in Georgetown in an apartment made of brick, chrome and leather. I was living in a house where I couldn’t find anything except Fisher Price toys. When I arrived at his temp apartment, my husband said, “Isn’t this great?” I was so jealous, I almost smacked him and wet my pants out of spite.

Don’t underestimate the adjustment to a new home, neighborhood, town, state and proximity to an Ikea

Moving is hard. For some reason it seems harder for the non-working spouse than for the working spouse, even though you will have new job adjustments to deal with. The adjustments for your wife and the kids are more varied and pervasive and less focused. Going into it, you think you know what the adjustments are going to be and then when you get there, you realize there’s no Trader Joe’s, and other things you took for granted in your old place. When we moved from New Jersey to Kentucky, one of the kids’ friends said, “What beach will you go to?”  My kids just stared. Up until then we had forgotten that we loved being within a few hours drive of a beach. 

Don’t tell them, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” It won’t make them believe it; it will just make them resent you for not acknowledging what they’re going through. 

If you want to make your wife happy, make the kids happy, and vice versa

All things flow through the mother. And that's not just some bullshit Bahá'í  saying. If you want to make the kids happy, give them a happy mom. And if you want to make the mom happy, make sure the kids don’t have reason to bitch, because they’re going to bitch to her. So if your wife decides that in order for the kids to be happy in their new home they need an in-ground swimming pool, get them a pool. Regardless of the fact that swim season in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is 45 minutes long.  Agree to the schools, lessons, bedroom room colors, and number of days they get to skip school during the transition.

Even if your kids are outgoing and confident, moving can be brutal. I can’t overemphasize the importance of their first day of school in the new school. Give them anything they want for months as a reward for surviving it. 

I sent my friend this in an email and he responded: "So basically, what you're saying is, 'shut up, open wallet.' She already got a Kate Spade moving gift."

Oh yeah, I forgot the last piece of advice:

Buy her a Kate Spade moving gift


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Evolution of the Kitchen

I don't know about you, but in all of my dream houses, the kitchen is where I spend the bulk of my fantasy life. The kitchen of my dreams has top-of-the-line appliances, a wine refrigerator, a TV, a desk and an upholstered chair with a really good reading lamp. It has an offshoot with a big project table and supply cabinets. It's bigger than my first apartment and would have so much storage, I'd have a drawer just for corkscrews.

In other words, if some sexist jerk told me to stay in the kitchen where I belong, I would gladly do it. After I smacked him and made myself a stiff cocktail.
I'm not alone in my kitchen-obsessed dream world. According to a recent article in REALTOR Magazine,  more homeowners are seeing their kitchens as so much more than just a place to cook. They want their kitchens to be a family gathering place, a perfect spot for casual entertaining, and the hub of the house.

This trend has been growing for some years. The American kitchen went from being a strictly utilitarian place to cook food to being elegant enough to also house a china cabinet, to having furniture comfortable enough to make you never want to leave.

For me and my many moves, my kitchens got bigger and more family friendly every time we relocated, until I found myself with a kitchen that had it all, but was chopped up and disjointed. From there, I moved into a house with the opposite - a  kitchen that was smack dab in the middle of a wide open floor plan. It had no real beginning or end, but flowed right into the rooms around it.

Depending on your family and lifestyle, you may want to jump on the bandwagon and make your kitchen the centerpiece of your home, where your family comes together, where your children do their homework, where you do your projects, and where guests gather. .
You can have that kitchen without breaking the bank and without uprooting and upgrading. There are so many ways you can transform your kitchen from the cooking place to the everything place in your home.


Create a soft, comfortable corner

This doesn't require carpet or overstuffed furniture. A few well placed pillows on a bench with warm lighting will make you and your family members want to cozy up in the kitchen, or just get out of the hustle-and-bustle without ever leaving the room.


Focus on seating

If you truly want your family and guests to gather in the kitchen, be sure there is enough seating. This doesn't mean you have to have a chair for every person. Stools, benches, kitchen table chairs that can be pulled out to be more accessible - all of these will put out the welcome mat.


Make the room more welcoming

A kitchen can be overwhelming with hard, shiny surfaces. Upholstered chair seats, throw pillows, soft patterned window treatments and other textiles can make your kitchen a place you want to be.


Think about what you want to DO in the kitchen

I never "got" the idea of having a loveseat in the kitchen until I realized that I really preferred leafing through recipes while sprawled out on a couch. I get it now!

My dream of having a separate project table in the kitchen never came to pass, but I did make sure I had a kitchen table that could withstand sewing projects, the kids' art projects, and Christmas - which in our house involves making ornaments, addressing hundreds of cards, baking tons of gifts, and building a gingerbread house.

Many parents want their children to do their homework in the kitchen, so they can keep an eye on and a hand in. If that's you, set up your kitchen so your little ones and teenagers can study how they prefer.


Don't forget about the primary purpose: cooking!

No matter how far it evolves, the kitchen has something going for it that no other room has: Food! The smell of fresh baked bread, spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove, or fresh herbs growing on the countertop - are the reason party guests will instinctively be drawn to the kitchen at any sized party in any sized home.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.