“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” —Elizabeth Stone
I have often said that my main experience of motherhood is one of having my heart cracked open, over and over again. In the main, this is a good thing; open-heartedness is better than the alternative, and I can state with absolute conviction that motherhood has made me a more patient, compassionate, and forgiving person. I know many functioning adults who evolve these qualities all on their own; apparently I had to spawn to get them.
But sometimes having a cracked-open heart hurts. And last night was one of those times.
Eleanor, my oldest kid, is not happy about us moving south. This didn’t exactly come as a surprise; she’s almost 10, and she’s at that weird tween crossroads where your friends and school life are starting to become more important than your family. My youngest, Sylvia (almost 7) is sad to be leaving Minnesota and her friends, but she’s also excited to get a new house, and be closer to Gramma and Grampa, and try new things. But for Eleanor, there is only sadness. The first thing she did when we told them about the move was cover her face with her hands and burst into tears. And declare that she wasn’t moving.
That was weeks ago, and she hasn’t changed her refrain much since. Sensing weakness, she’s tried to recruit her sister and her father to the cause (“Three against one, Mama!”); she’s offered a compromise (“I just want to move somewhere else in Minnesota“); and reiterated her original position (“Well, I’m not going”). Sometimes she’ll talk about what she wants her new room to look like, or what kind of house she wants to get, and we think maybe she’s getting used to the idea. We want her to be getting used to the idea.
So when she wanted to talk about it last night, at bedtime, after lights out (which is DEFINITELY THE BEST time to talk about fraught topics, in case you were wondering) I let her talk. And cry. And plead.
“I just don’t want to go,” she kept saying. “MN is my only home. I don’t want to leave my friends. I don’t want to leave my house.”
“I know, honey.” I said. “I’m so sorry. I know you don’t want to go.”
“I can’t leave my friends. I can’t leave Addie and Maya. I don’t even have a phone. Email and Skype aren’t enough.”
“I know, honey. It’s going to be hard. Change is hard. I’ll miss my friends, too.”
“Why can’t you just say no?! Why can’t we just stay here?! This is my only home. I don’t want to live somewhere else!”
How do I explain this to my sweet girl? How do I explain how much I need to move back to *my* home, to live where winters are brief and the air smells of living things and the accents are soft and you can buy boiled peanuts from a roadside stand? How do I make her understand that the decades I’ve spent living outside the Southeast have felt like exile? That, deep and strong as my feelings are for the people I’ve loved and the places I’ve lived, none of them has felt like home?
“Baby, you know how you feel about Minnesota?” I say. “That’s how I feel about Georgia. That’s my home. I haven’t lived there in a long time, and I need to go back.”
“I know how you feel, then,” she says, weeping. But it doesn’t make her feel any better.
The worst of it is, I know exactly how she feels. Because I was 10 years old when we moved from GA to MN. I remember the tearful farewells to our closest friends on our way out of town. And the strain of the drive north, losing our beloved cat on the way. And the foreignness of our new home city, so ethnically homogenous and bland and flat and ugly. And finding out that I had an accent. And learning how to suppress it so the kids at school could understand what I was saying. And the homesickness, sometimes so strong I could hardly stand up. I get it. And I never, ever, wanted to do that to my kid.
I know the situations aren’t completely analogous. I am not my parents and Eleanor isn’t me. The reasons for moving and the circumstances around it are different in important ways. But I don’t know how to help my girl find hope or peace with the journey we’re taking. “Think of it as an adventure,” I say. “You’re so good at making friends!” I reassure her. “It will be a fresh start!”
She remains unconvinced. “Well, I’m DEFINITELY not going, just like I’m not trying any new food. Especially in Georgia.”
(Trying new foods is an ongoing challenge, but this is a poser of a statement.) “What do you mean, especially in Georgia? They have the same foods there as they do here.”
“Yeah? LIKE WHAT?”
“Like chicken nuggets, and french fries, and mac and cheese …”
“Of course, goldfish!” (Goldfish crackers are her favorite food. Also apparently she thinks Georgia is a foreign country?)
“THEY DO NOT.”
“Honey, yes they do! They have Costco there, too. We can go there just like we do here, and get all the same things.”
“WELL THAT WILL JUST MAKE ME SAD.”
“Going to Costco will make you sad?!”
“YES. IT WILL REMIND ME OF HOME AND I WILL BE SAD. JUST GO AWAY.”
So I go away, after hugging her and telling her we can talk more about it in the morning. I go downstairs and burst into tears when Chad asks me what we were talking about. I tell him about the goldfish, and we laugh even though it was so heartbreaking at the time, and he tells me not to worry, and I stay up until 3 am doing exactly that, because there’s a crack in my heart and it’s bleeding, bleeding …
BUT. I will tell you this: We are going. And it occurs to me that the last time I did this grad-school thing, it was, in some ways, entirely too easy. I had only myself to consider, only my ambitions and preferences to fulfill, only my own shortcomings to overcome. It wasn’t much of a risk, frankly, and maybe that’s one of the reasons it didn’t work. This time around there’s more at stake – and that’s bloody scary. But despite all the emotional upheaval (and the general SUCK of packing and moving), I know in my bones this is the right thing to do. It’s not going to be easy, but we are going to find a way.
And in the meantime, if you have any suggestions for making a reluctant tween more excited about moving across the country, feel free to let me know.