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We recently packed up our brood; three kids and the family dog and moved ‘internationally’. Alright, so internationally makes it sound far more exotic than it was, we moved from Chicago to Toronto; while culturally they are very similar, it is a move that is not without its immigration headaches. But alas, that is a story for another day.
What concerned me the most was how my two older children would adjust to their new surroundings. While children are generally very adaptable, there are anxieties and stressors of having their entire world flipped upside down.
I have long been a proponent of change, both for myself and for my kids. There is something very liberating about change and a fresh start. I moved around quite a bit as a child, living in 3 different countries before I was 10. My family settled in Toronto just in time for my high school years and has stayed here ever since. My love of change sent me packing to the west coast and the midwest of the United States for a total of another 10 years. But my high school and university years in Ontario gave me a chance to establish roots in Toronto and I have been drawn back here every time I’ve been away. So for me, moving to Toronto was a no brainer. My family however, was taking a big plunge. My husband is a Texan/North Carolinian native (southern United States) and my kids were all born in Chicago so I felt an enormous amount of pressure to make sure everyone LOVED it here.
I have heard it mentioned a few times, that it takes children 6 months to feel settled in a new location and it can take adults anywhere from a year to 18 months to feel a connection to their new surroundings. So I took that information as a starting point and thought we’ll all just take it one day at a time.
Leading up to our move we talked about it a lot with the kids. They had been to Toronto before so that helped. They asked a lot of questions and I probably over-answered them all trying to sort through a very abstract topic for them. A big focus was who was going to celebrate their birthday in Chicago and who was going to celebrate theirs in Toronto, funny how that is a big way to measure time in the mind of a 4 or 5 year old.
Packing up and moving day were all very exciting as was the last day of school. They are young enough that they loved the special things that their classes did for them and I don’t think quite grasped the fact that they would not be back in school come Monday. Their teachers’ were great, and talked a lot about keeping in touch through Twitter and Skype both of which are used in the classroom. As an activity for my kindergartener, I went into his classroom and had an envelope for each child, stamped and addressed to my son at our new address in Canada. I asked them to have their parents write their return address on it and drop it in the mail. Upon receipt of a letter my son writes a letter back to his friend in Chicago. It is great because what child doesn’t like to receive mail? Plus, it’s a nice way to stay connected to old friends especially for early readers and writers.
Fast forward to moving into our new house, I really wanted to make sure the kids rooms were all set up before we moved in so they were excited about their new home. The rest of the house was put on hold and their rooms were done first. I felt like if they had happy spaces to move into then it would be an easier transition for them. Its tough to say whether it had any impact but everyone was excited about their rooms and it all went smoothly, so we’ll just say that it worked.
I gave them a week off to settle in Toronto before jumping into their new schools. I’m not sure who had more anxiety the night before the first day of their new schools, them or me. We talked a lot about how they were feeling. Everyone was nervous and that was ok. I told them that a lot of the nerves were coming from not knowing what to expect but their new teachers would tell them what to do and if they weren’t sure, to just ask. The teachers are there to help you, I said. Day 1 pick-up and my son met a friend with the same name and were instantly buddies and my daughter had a good enough day.
Now, as parents you know the second day is always harder than the first, because now they know what they are getting into. Day 2, could not have been smoother. All week long the same thing happened; they just slipped right into their new program without batting an eye. I’ve tried to do a number of playdates to help them make new friends and we have done some new activities here that they hadn’t done in Chicago so that has made it fun.
While they have adjusted well they still desperately miss their old friends and that is hard. It takes time to meet close friends. I know they will and in the meantime we talk a lot about their old friends (only when they bring them up) and write them notes and try to Facetime them when we can.
The kids are fortunate because they have each other to play with and I now see how moving around helped my brother, sister and I become as close as we are now.
Moving is no easy feat but kids are so resilient and I got to see first-hand just how adaptable they can be. I’m not eager to move again anytime soon but I feel like if we need to we’ll all be ok and if anything, it will only help my kids form a stronger bond with each other.