Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Creating a sense of 'home' when home keeps moving

I am writing this post from my parents' home. They have lived here since the 1970s, and I have spend at least part of the holiday season between these four walls every year of my life, from my first Thanksgiving to last week's Christmas. The house has gone through a number of changes over the decades, but "home for the holidays" has always brought me to the exact same location.

So much of what I think of as "home" is fixed to that spot on the map. It's where the stockings are hung, the mountain ash is at the end of the driveway, the basement remains crowded with years of accumulated sporting equipment and the local swimming hole beckons.

My children will have a different experience. My eldest has rung in the new year in three different homes in two different cities, and it is almost certain that she'll celebrate the birth of 2011 in yet another house.

Because we can't rely on the familiarity of geography, we have tried to forge traditions that transcend physical location. In some ways, this is not a challenge, especially at the holidays. There are special seasonal foods (the ffiggy pudding I mentioned the other day) that we plan to carry through the children's lives, an annual food drive that anchors part of the holiday season and the chili pepper holiday lights.

As easy as it is to build those traditions during the holidays, maintaining a consistent sense of place has been more of a challenge after each new year dawns. How do you create an environment in, say, mid-May that will always scream "home," no matter how many successive houses you've occupied?

In this, I have less experience than many of you (yes, I'm talking about Army Brat ... as well as the the countless others for whom Washington is a transitory step), so I'm curious for feedback. What kind of traditions have you all established that go beyond the holiday?

By Brian Reid |  December 29, 2009; 7:33 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
Previous: New year, new priorities: Family first | Next: Resolutions for the new year, parenting-style


"What kind of traditions have you all established that go beyond the holiday?"

Home is where the heart is. Brian, it's all about the love - emotional support, not stuff. Are you really this shallow?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 30, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

We moved every three years when I was a kid. To this day, having a fully clean, tidy house makes me nervous--because the only times our house was ever like that were around the times of moving, and it was always a stressful time.

Easily relocated rituals--like going to the public library on Saturday mornings-- help. And finding the new, unique, fun places in your new location: maybe you don't have a (fill-in-the-blank) near your house anymore, but now you have a (fill-in-the-blank). How exciting!

Transitioning to new schools is tough, especially if you move somewhere small where all the kids have known each other since preschool. But kids are resilient and get through it.

Posted by: newslinks1 | December 30, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Everything around us screams home.

The china cabinet from my husband's aunt, in which memorabilia of several generations has been stored.

The family photos.

The art, each piece of which holds memories for us of where and why it was to become part of our home.

The kids' drawings affixed to the fridge.

The phone list tacked to the bulletin board. It has landlines and cell phones for all of our friends and family, adorned with food stains, drawings, scribbles, and handwritten updates.

The serving plates handed down from my grandmother.

The piano on which several cousins and kids have played many a song.

The blankets quilted by a beloved grandma.

Memories and family connections are all around us. No matter where or how often we move, our house is filled with the same comforting reminders.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 30, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Home is where you're wrapped safely in the arms and hearst of the ones you love. It transcends physical places and objects, though I'll second anonfornow that there are definite "home" things.

Posted by: StrollerMomma | December 30, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"Home is where the cats are." - paraphrased from Robert A Heinlein

With each move, the cats stay in the old house (locked in a bathroom, or an emptied closet) until the moving van is completely loaded. Then the cat-carriers go into the family car, and we all sympathize with them during the drive to the new house - they *hate* being in the car, and are very loud while expressing their displeasure.

At the new house, one room will be closed off. It will have a litter box, food and water. We let the cats out of their carriers in this room and keep it closed up (usually we have to put a sign on the door reminding everyone not to let the cats excape) while we unload the moving van and get the basics (beds, kitchen) set up.

Once the cats have been in their one room for a couple of days - with frequent visits from their people - we'll let them out to explore and get to know the rest of their new house. But the cats must *NOT* be allowed outside for at least two weeks, until they are settled in and know that this is their new home.

As long as the boys know where the cats are - and the cats can choose when/if to sleep on boy's beds - we all know where home is.

Heinlein had it right. It's not possible to keep a house without a cat, and "home is where the cat is."

Posted by: SueMc | December 30, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

From 1992 to 2006, I have moved 14 times (no, my husband and I are not in the military!). It was wearing on me; I got to the point where I didn't bother getting everything completely unpacked because that was usually the point where we had to REpack, we didn't bother getting to know the neighbors (especially in an apartment completx) because as soon as you got to the point where you finally got each other's names right one of you would be moving again, and at the same time if I didn't get pictures and curtains hung up within the first week of moving into a new place, I'd go bughouse until I did! To this day, I swear that if I ever write my autobiography, it's going to be titled "Seven Days. Four Rolls of Duct Tape. We're Still Counting The Boxes...."

Fortunately, our oldest was not yet in kindergarten when we moved to the house where we are now. It's nice to be able to say that we are finally in someplace permanent and are actually able to settle in and do things like plant gardens (impossible in a normal rent setting because of landlord rules, lack of yard space, or what have you) and get to know our neighbors well. I still haven't really gotten the chance to find any new "laughing places" yet (a Brer Rabbit reference from "Song of the South"), and all my old favorite haunts back where I grew up are either burned down, sold out, or razed in the name of development, so there are times I still feel a bit dislocated. However, since moving there there are times when I get flashes of memories from family vacations at my grandparents' house in South Carolina, and sometimes the sunlight will hit this area at such an angle that my mind will play tricks on me and make me think I'm down there again. That just tells me I'm finally HOME, and it's very comforting.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 30, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

I've live in 21 different houses in 36 years. 10 moves happened while living with my parents. Home is about family.

Unlike newslinks, our house was ALWAYS very clean and clutter free. You do a lot of purging when you move so you don't end up moving junk from place to place, so we didn't keep a lot of stuff around. We've been in our house 4.5 years, and I can feel the clutter accumulating, and THAT makes me uncomfortable.

Posted by: atb2 | December 31, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company