Next Tuesday, the kids will gear up and head to the bus to start a fresh new year of school.
For seven Septembers now, I’ve started the month in a complete panic, expecting everything to go wrong, mentally counting how many ways that I am not prepared. I’ve worried about forms and school lunches and uniforms and school supplies. I’ve struggled with who the new teachers might be and how my kids will react. I worried about the other kids at school and some of the not so nice things that sometimes come out of the mouths in front of my kids, some targeted and others completely random. I have been a bowl of jelly at the end of practically every summer.
Until this year.
This is the first year that I’ve ever been this relaxed about the start of school. And it was so different and so new that I didn’t even know how to put my finger on it. I kept trying to sort out what was terribly wrong, why I was feeling anxious about, well, not having anything to feel anxious about. And then it hit me: I have this feeling that everything is going to be okay.
And this is the part where I feel a little guilty.
You see, last year, in a fit of completely inexplicable inertia, I proposed a move. My husband and I had discussed a move for a number of years – and by discussed, I mean argued about, generally – and had always pushed it to the back on our “to really, really talk about some other day” list. But this year, things were different.
To begin with, I was tired. I was tired of things being so hard. Due to an odd sequence of events, our office leased was terminated after eight years and our building was completely demolished – not so much as rubble remains – within months so that it can be made into something much more alluring than a 1800s Gothic Empire stone building: something with neon lights and strip mall architecture and all of the charm of a Taco Bell or a KFC.
After unsuccessfully attempting to secure two leases locally – one of which was with a case of a man with more money (thanks to his father) than sense who couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag and the other a sublease that turned into something of a bidding war (no thank you) – we opted for the sure thing: office space in the suburbs owned by my father-in-law. It was a win-win. He needed a tenant and we needed a space. And there was no funny business, no weird options, no crazy lease terms. We signed a lease and moved in within the space of a couple of weeks.
The downside was that it extended our commute. A lot. Gone were the days of walking to the office from my home. It was a now full on commute on the dreaded Schuylkill Expressway with road rage, gas prices and traffic jams. Not at all pleasant.
We toyed with moving a little closer but couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger. School had already started. We were invested in our community, having lived in the same house for nearly 15 years. The kids were not on board with moving, as we had briefly discussed the idea before. It was settled, it seemed. We had a life, a routine.
But deep down, I wanted out. I felt suffocated and sad and beaten. I didn’t want to drive on the Schuylkill to work anymore. I didn’t want to have to accept the scratch marks on my car anymore as the price for parking on the street. I didn’t want to deal with surly customer service in exchange for culture (whatever that meant). I didn’t look forward to volunteering several hours per week in my child’s school because there weren’t enough aides or reaching into my pocket – yet again – to buy supplies for the classrooms, only to be belittled by other parents for doing so. It wasn’t the life that I wanted.
And so, one day, when I ran across an ad for a farmhouse in Chester County, I knew that I had to see it. I also knew that my husband would balk on principal. It would be, he would say, too expensive, too much of a stretch, too much of a change – and not the right time to do it. So I didn’t take him with me. I piled the kids into the car one day and, without making an appointment, I intended to simply drive by. Only I couldn’t just drive by.
It was, in a word, perfect. I sat in the driveway and looked at it and I knew. I knew this was where I wanted to be.
I waited for the whining in the back of the car.
“What is this place?” My oldest daughter asked the first question.
I decided to be honest, so I told her, “It’s a house I’m thinking about it. I was thinking maybe we could move.”
I braced myself. Kate, of all of my kids, was the one who had been the most vocal in years past about not wanting to move. It made sense. She had the most history in the old house. She had spent her entire life in that house, taken her first steps there, had her first birthday party there, experienced her first Christmas there.
Which is why I wasn’t prepared for her next words. “I like it,” she said. “Can we live here?”
And as crazy and surreal as it all seems, we went from that conversation to move in at our new home in less than a month.
We started at the new school the day we moved: October 22. It was a Monday. We slept over at my in-laws since the old house was completely packed. I dropped the kids off at school and drove to the old house to help the movers get everything together for the new house. It was an incredibly long day. And it was also the best day.
This year, the kids will be returning to the new school. It’s not so much the new school as their real school now. They are a bit nervous – as am I – but it’s about the things kids should be nervous about: new haircuts and what to wear, whether the backpack choice was exactly the right one. But all of that other stuff? It’s a distant memory.
On some level, I feel a little guilt. And that’s bizarre, right? But it’s true. For awhile I carried this feeling around that it was wrong to be happy about leaving. I felt conflicted because I didn’t want to make it seem like I resented my old life or that it had been a waste: nothing could be further from the truth. For all that there were things that were tough, I did love my old house and my friends and the life that I had created in my old neighborhood. And leaving wasn’t a reflection on them, but on me: I need to move on. I needed to find my new space.
I did find my new space. Nearly a year later, I don’t regret any of it. I still feel a little guilty – as if you’d expect anything different from a middle child from the South. I couldn’t have much more of a guilt gene if I tried. I always want everyone to be happy. And I loathe the idea that someone would interpret something I did as any sort of negative commentary about their own lifestyle.
But this move, it was really all about me (and my family).
And as the start of school creeps closer, I am filled with hope and good thoughts for the coming year. I can’t ever remember feeling this way.