Watch any coming of age movie and you’ll see that for a kid no event is more apocalyptic than moving. (Unless you’re watching a Disney movie, and in that case the apocalyptic event happens at the moment the children are orphaned after their parents are treated like red shirts on Star Trek.)
This phenomenon was most recently featured in Pixar’s Inside Out (a movie that should come with a trigger warning for any parents who have ever moved, or are about to move, their kids 1,000 miles away from home). The plot device is nothing new, moving is the center tension in cinema from my childhood like The Goonies and Karate Kid, as well as more recent offerings like Mean Girls and Earth To Echo.
The plot in these films shows kids uprooted from a place they hold dear and planted in a scary new world with no friends, strange schools, and hostile kids. They yearn to go home, but that place is gone and they can never return.
This is on my mind because this apocalyptic fate is about to strike my family. I am not an expert on the subject of moving with kids. I am only living it in real time.
When I asked my kids, “Do you want to move?” they screamed, “Yes!” They thought of moving like going camping or to Disney World. I wouldn’t let them off that easy. “Moving is adventure…” I said. They beamed like we were like astronauts going to a new planet “Are adventures easy or hard?”
“Hard,” they answered.
Reality was sinking in. The euphoria of adventure was getting sucked out of the room. “Will you go to a school where you know lots of people or don’t know anybody?”
“We won’t know anybody,” they said. Things were getting real.
I told them it would be okay. You made friends before and we will make friends again. When things feel tough with the move you can always talk with your mom and me. Our love for you is as big and wide as all of the stars in the sky.
We’ve tried to invite them into every step of the process. We’ve showed them houses, talked about neighborhoods, and discussed schools. My nine year-old daughter is an expert in the Austin housing market. She will look at a listing and say, “That is over priced by $10,000. Or that is a screaming deal.” She is an active participant in the move.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
So I’m letting them know it’s okay to experience all of the sad feelings. It’s okay to cry the tears for your friends at a goodbye party. Don’t feel bad because you’re going to miss sleepovers at cousin’s houses. There are new things on the horizon. Different things. But they are not the same things. You will miss the old things. When you think about your childhood you will think about some of these moments in the summer you just experienced. You will smile at them as they’re all blurry and warm in the camera vaults of your mind.
We’re going to try to find a new normal right away—new memories and friends to ride bikes around the cul-de-sac with. But the unknown is the scariest of things to us human beings, which is why we post 10 million links to Facebook about how the world is nearing the end. The future seems frightening because we have no idea what it is. It has always been this way.
When you’re moving with kids all I can say is pay close attention. Ask open-ended questions and reassure them. Every day I ask my eight year-old, “How are you feeling?” and tell my six year old, “I’m so proud for being so brave and caring.”
I remember that this is uncertain for me, but for them this is all they’ve ever known. I got to bed every night and think only four more sleeps until the apocalypse, only three more sleeps until the end, only two more sleeps…
I’m about to pack our minivan and drive out onto the edge of the earth known as Austin, Texas. My prayer is, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the moving apocalypse I will fear no evil.” Because in these movies things start off so scary and difficult but by the end the characters are all stronger off and better than they ever were before.
I know that’s what will happen to us. Goonies never say die.