For the past couple of months, I took a break from writing for We Know Stuff in order to get my family settled after a big move. Big as in across an ocean big. We will be living overseas for the next few years. It’s something we have always wanted to do and when the opportunity presented itself, we had to jump on it.
Between farewells, packing, traveling, hotels and unpacking, it has been a hectic few weeks. We are dealing with a different time zone, language, customs, and foods. I knew I wanted to write about this experience for We Know Stuff , but I wasn’t sure where to start. Since this is a parenting blog, I had a hard time figuring out what I would talk about. I don’t have unique ideas on how to keep kids occupied on a plane, I didn’t think of some awesome crafty way to document our journey in a scrapbook, and I didn’t reinvent the wheel when it came to keeping us organized.
Basically, I felt like I was in survival mode. People gave me advice here and there, which mainly made me more conscious of the things I “should” be doing, on top of all the things I already felt like I was falling short of. So I guess I’m here to tell you that during a move, you won’t have everything perfect, you wont’ think of everything, you will forget something, and the whole family will get on each other’s nerves at some point. BUT (yes, I have one) you will survive and everything will be okay. If moving has taught me anything, it’s that you can survive on bare essentials for a very long time – to the point you question all of the useless crap you own. But, as a first timer, I did learn a few things:
1. Start early. This sounds cliche but I do think this saved me a lot of heartache. I started weeding things out months in advance. As soon as my kids grew out of some clothes or toys, I got those items out the door. Every weekend, I picked a section of the house to organize and just dived in. You will be amazed at the amount of junk you can find in one drawer of your house. By starting early and doing a little at a time, I was able to get rid of stuff and have a clearer picture of what needed to be moved and when. Which leads me to #2.
2. Stay organized. Yes, this seemed pretty impossible with 2 young children and some days it was. The hardest thing about this whole trip was organizing our stuff into 5 categories:
- Carry on bags (what we need at all times)
- Check in bags (what we’ll need when we get there)
- Air shipment (what we’ll need within 3 weeks)
- Sea shipment (what we could live without for 6 weeks)
- Storage (stuff we wanted to keep, but didn’t need overseas)I’m sure you got a headache just reading that. I reorganized closets and made one the “sea shipment” closet. Anything I knew we weren’t going to need for awhile, like seasonal stuff, went into that closet as soon as it could. A section of the garage became the storage area and a bedroom became the air shipment staging area. And that’s how we lived for weeks – no one had their own space and the house was divided up by time.
3. Take control of the paperwork. Ah paperwork, the bane of my existence in all realms. One would think everything would be paperless by now, but we all know that’s not the case. We had passports, medical records, school records, rental paperwork, household good shipment forms and more. I went back to my grade school roots and used a binder. A 3 inch binder with folder dividers like a seventh grader. The biggest difference was I had various envelopes to keep receipts for anything we could get reimbursed for. My rule was the binder had to be squared away by the end of the day. No stuffing notes in the front to be organized later.
4) Do your homework together. My husband and I had the opportunity to take language classes together and also listened to language CD’s. We would talk in Turkish whenever we could (even if it was just Good Morning or Goodbye) and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it brought us closer. We had a new found hobby as a couple. We also played the CD’s in the car as a family, not necessarily to teach the kids anything. We just wanted them to hear the sounds so it would be one less new thing for them when we arrived.
As for the kids, all we wanted to do was open up their eyes to different countries. I signed up for something called “Little Passports” for my 5 year old. Little Passports is a program where your child receives something in the mail each month from a different country. Yes, it’s expensive and someone more savvy than me could set something up at the library, but this is me. Plus my son had a thing for mail a few months back. It at least served as a launching point for further discussion about different countries, foods, customs and people. Even just looking at a world map was fun for all of us.
5) Toys: something old, something new. I worried a lot about how to keep my kids entertained during 10 hours of flying time, weeks in a hotel, and weeks with the bare minimum at our new house. I let each child bring a few favorites and I had new toys which I rationed out as slowly as I could to make the novelty last longer! When it comes to choosing toys, my advice would be to think about how many pieces could potentially fall to the floor of a plane or get scattered in a hotel room. One of the cool new things we got was a magnetic building set called Magformers. Other toys we packed were activity books, card games, and of course Ipads. I’m not going to deny that one!
6) Keep morale in check. My children are 6 and 4, so they aren’t quite old enough to be too sad about leaving friends, but moving is still a big change. I talked openly with my kids about my feelings about moving, good and bad. I really liked the book A Kiss Goodbye, which is about a raccoon who has to move to a new home. It was a good way for us to start talking about those feelings. I told them I was nervous too but we could help each other make new friends. I didn’t think it was over their heads to talk about feelings of apprehension and maybe fear of the unknown. In my opinion, it was better to talk about these feeling early on so they knew how to identify them later.
7) Keep some kind of routine. Our world was basically turned upside down for at least a good 3 weeks. I think even now we are still barely settling in. It was impossible to keep our same routine as back in the States, but I tried to keep some of it. Both boys had their favorite bears and I brought their favorite pillow cases. Even just a pillow case from home is enough familiarity for a child. Though we had major jet lag, I tried to keep our “one outing a day” routine. Some days it was just to the park outside our hotel, but it was something. And even though bedtime might have been at 2 am some nights due to the time change, I still tried to keep the same bedtime ritual. It was by no means perfect, but on the nights we did it I think it helped.
8) Accept the stress. This is the hard part. My husband and I would joke that as soon as the plane took off we would look at each other and say “What are we doing?!” In fact, we’d joke we’d say it during the months before the move. And at times we did. Sometimes everyone in the family just got snippy. But in the back of our minds, we knew and accepted this was going to happen. Whether it’s down the street or across the world, moving is stressful change. If you can accept that from the beginning, somehow it makes it a bit easier and you are more understanding when tempers flare.
This whole moving process has been interesting, exciting, exhausting and stressful. In the midst of all the chaos, I would think about my next We Know Stuff post. In the back of my mind I’d think “What are some tips I can give on traveling? What are some parenting lessons I’ve learned? Can I do anything crafty with our moving boxes?!” But I think the most important thing I can share is what We Know Stuff stands for – togetherness is the foundation of family life. It doesn’t matter where you move, it doesn’t matter if you have the most efficiently organized binder with everything perfectly documented.
My kids didn’t care if I had a craft planned, they just wanted my time. They wanted to know I was there for them when they were overwhelmed with everything new. They wanted to know they could talk to me about questions or fears they had about their new world. We have been living without our normal luxuries for weeks, to the point that when some of our household goods arrive, I don’t want to deal with most of it. That’s the thing about moving – it makes you realize what you REALLY need to survive. We’ve been perfectly fine because we have a roof over our head, food to eat, and we are together as a family – and that’s one of the best parenting tips I’ve ever given myself.