“I feel like a misplaced person,” Mom repeats this like a mynah bird.
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She wants to go home. The confusing part is she is home.
I know the feeling.
Displacement is the norm lately in our once root-bound family.
The various members of our clan have been moving so much people think we’re in the witness protection program.
“This is just temporary,” Mom says, for the 10th time in an hour. She’s slipping, and repeats herself. “We’re going home tomorrow.”
Home is so very relative.
“I feel like a misplaced person.”
My family’s multiple moves reflect our different ages and stages. For reasons that include college, career and elder care, we’ve all pulled up stakes and are trying to figure out what constitutes home.
The house hopping began 15 months ago. My husband, our two teenage daughters and I moved out of our house in Colorado, our family home for eight years, and went in three directions. I moved with our youngest daughter to Orlando for a job; my husband stayed in Denver for his work. He flies to Florida most weekends. In August our oldest daughter went off to college in Texas. It was as if someone tossed a handgrenade into the kitchen.
At the airport, they look at us funny — a family with driver’s licenses issued in three states. We’re like a herd of nomadic cats. I used to say that the only thing I had in common with my family were a few strands of DNA and an address. Now it’s just DNA.
Then last month, in the hardest move of all, my brother and I moved our 90-year-old parents into assisted living, and out of the Southern California ranch house they have called home for more than 40 years.
“I feel like a misplaced person,” Mom says. My older daughter and I are visiting.
“I know just how you feel,” I say. Since landing in Florida I’ve moved twice. I’m thinking of putting all my furniture on springs, rollers and pogo sticks.
“But this is just temporary,” she says.
“Yes,” I say. “Everything is.”
“We’re going home tomorrow.”
“That’s true,” I say. She’ll be right here.
While I am all for nesting, moving is a fact of life, particularly for today’s modern family, which is living longer and going to greater lengths for work and school. Your turn is coming. When it does, here are some generational pointers from my family — the defacto relocation experts — on how to make a new place home:
Know what you love. And take it with you. Having personally moved twice this past year, I assure you most material belongings really don’t matter. But some do. Look around your home and ask yourself what brings you comfort, and what would break your heart to leave behind. This list should be short. But what’s left will help you define your style, your person, your sense of place. For me, it’s my French writing desk, a few paintings and a four poster bed that was my parents’ wedding bed. My parents wanted their favorite blue chairs, their blue and white dishes, and art and family photos collected over a lifetime.
Put same things the same way. While I like to change up the décor in homes where I’ve become established, in a new place recreating looks from the past is comforting. My sister-in-law recreated the top of my parents’ dresser exactly the way they had arranged it at their old home. She even hung the art around it in the same way.
Find your routine. My older daughter took a while adjusting to college life, and for the first few months wanted to move home. “At first I was shell-shocked,” she said. “But once I put in place what I needed for my baseline of happiness — a place to run, a space to study, a way to get food I liked — I felt much more comfortable and secure and able to branch out.”
See familiar faces. My parents feel better surrounded by family photos. My daughter, however, speaks for today’s youth: “We don’t need family photos. We have Facebook.”
Look at the positive. As many Army brats will tell you, moving teaches you to adapt. “Now that I know what it takes to settle in,” my college daughter says, “I’m not daunted by the fact that grad school or a future job may be in yet a different state. I don’t look forward to starting over, but know I can.”
Embrace the new. Whenever I start pining for something from my former house I refocus on what’s great about where I am. For instance, I do miss my Rocky Mountain view but my current house sits on a picturesque lake. I will miss that lovely view, too, when I move again. So my plan is to enjoy what’s wonderful about where I live right now, because, as Mom says, “This is just temporary.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.