Moving house and freaking out

“How do you cope with change?” is one of those stock questions you tend to get asked in job interviews and a good answer usually goes along the lines of “Change is part of everyday life and you have to embrace the positives and the challenges” etc. etc.

I’ve given those answers in interviews before and, on the whole, I generally believe in them. However, if someone had stopped me in the street and asked me the same thing during the last week in October, the first thing I’d have said (apart from “Sorry, who are you and why are you asking me random questions?” or “Please let go of my coat”) would have been “Well, I’m currently handling change VERY, VERY BADLY”.

We moved house just over a month ago.

I had lived in Dorking for over ten years and – with my old family home long since sold – it had become my adopted home in more ways than one, ever since I moved there in the spring of 2006. I had a one-bedroom flat near the centre of town for those first five years and I met my wife just over a year afterwards. We got married in 2009 and then we moved into what is now our old house in the summer of 2011. In all honesty, for most of the time I was never really that fond of the house and I kept telling myself that it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else once we had (hopefully) started a family.

By the end of our time there though, I had genuinely come to see it as home and had even embraced its little quirks. For instance, there was something strangely comforting in the winter about the smell of the dehumidifier that we needed in the bedroom because of the slight damp problem, whilst decorating the place for Halloween became less of a job because the vast numbers of spiders that lived in the roof of the conservatory did a pretty good job of it themselves. Even the cracked bathtub casing that had been there since before we moved in became less of an annoyance and more of a routine topic of conversation (“we’ll replace the whole thing eventually”). We never did.

Mainly though, I came to warm to it because of the memories it will always hold. It was the first place we bought both of our children home to. It was the place where they had their first birthdays, first Christmases and where they grew up to become the lovely little people that we have now. On the week that we moved out, I thought about the fact that the person buying our house would probably, as one of their first jobs, take down the wallpaper that had adorned Millie’s bedroom since just before she was born and my heart broke a little.

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But the truth was, we needed to move. There were now four of us and we’d outgrown the house. We’d simply run out of space and it didn’t seem fair for Millie to have to share a room with Henry’s grumpiness every single morning (she once tried to sing him back to sleep with the angriest version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that I’m ever likely to hear). On the flipside, Henry probably didn’t appreciate Millie’s lack of spatial awareness and blatant disregard of what constitutes speaking in a ‘little voice’ on those occasions when he was actually trying to sleep.

Another consideration was that our new neighbours for the final year of us living there were pretty rude and inconsiderate – I’m actually being diplomatic here, partly because I don’t want to come across as intolerant and partly because both of my parents read this and don’t like me swearing. Essentially, they’d moved in an starting renovating their kitchen the very same week we bought Henry home from the hospital, not letting us know when they were planning to do the work, which always coincided with those precious few moments of sleep that my wife was desperately hoping to have. The neighbourly relations deteriorated over the next few months. Key moments included their bathroom renovation (maybe they had a cracked bathtub casing as well) which we only found out about when they started hammering on the walls one Saturday morning, which also placed their new ‘power shower’ on the adjoining wall next to Millie’s room and subsequently reverberated loudly every time they turned it on. Then there were the late, loud drunken parties and the obligatory parking issues…but I digress.

Having made the decision, it was easy to be swept up in the initial excitement about finding a new house. We didn’t look at many but there was one house that we both agreed on and I can’t emphasise in writing how much of a surprise this was to me at the time. We accepted an offer on our house in June and put in a successful bid for our new place shortly after. Then, as is often the case with these things, the process dragged on and on. Henry was too young to be aware of anything going on – he was just happy smearing pieces of soggy biscuit over everything we were trying to pack – but Millie was understandably unsettled about it all. She had a pretty good idea about what was happening, having watched the (seemingly countless) episodes of Topsy and Tim that involved the family moving to a new house one street away, without any hitches or problems whatsoever. For realism, I would have preferred at least one scene where the Dad gesticulates loudly because he can’t find the packing tape and bubble wrap.

So, we were worried about how Millie would transition. One of the first things we did once we were in was to make sure that her bedroom was set up for her, so that she would at least have her bed, toys and clothes in her new room as her ‘constants’ in order to make it all seem less scary.

As it turns out, it wasn’t her that struggled with the change, it was me.

After the adrenaline rush of moving day itself, I can’t really describe what happened other than to say I pretty much froze. I was hit by the panic that I’d moved far away from everybody and everything that I knew. In many ways, it was irrational as my mum was only 15-20 minutes further away than she had been, whilst at least three or four of my closest friends are slightly nearer (in terms of travel time, if not distance). Even so, for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to walk the length of the new garden, let alone summon the energy to unpack and move furniture. I felt totally lost and adrift, I couldn’t eat and was unable to think clearly or focus on even the simplest of tasks. Prior to the move, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I’d feel remotely this way (other than getting sad when I ordered our final takeaway from Red Chilli on our last night in Dorking).

My lethargy was the polar opposite to my wife, who could have set Olympic records in nesting, so furious was her mindset to get the house looking as much like ‘ours’ as possible. It’s to her immense credit that we’ve made a great deal of progress on the house since moving day and for that, I am very grateful.

In the moments when I’m being kinder to myself, I remember that, in the last few months, I’ve left a job that I loved (one of the ironic downsides of contracting is finding somewhere you really want to stay, but are unable to) as well as having left my adopted home town after over a decade there. Friends and family have spoken to have largely reassured me that it’s normal and all part of being human, all of which has helped make me feel a bit better.

So, it’s been a weird few weeks but, on an upbeat note, the children have settled in surprisingly easily, they have a bigger space to play in and their own bedrooms. Plus, Christmas is coming and we now have an actual fireplace to hang our Christmas stockings on, as opposed to tying them onto the stair bannisters with random pieces of string.

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I’ve also managed to write something on here for the first time in 10 months. It’s going to take me a while, but maybe I can start to embrace the positives of change after all…