It did not start well.
“After I was told that we were moving I cried and I cried and I cried.” She then went on for a page and half listing out in detail all the things she hated about her new life.
“Isn’t there anything at all you like about living here?” I asked her. I knew that the move had been rough for her and she was missing her old friends. She’d spent the last few months covering any blank piece of paper with the name of her best friend from back home like a crazed obsessive. But I had hoped that she was beginning to get over it.
She thought for a few seconds. “No.”
“Come on, there must be something . . .”
She thought for a few more seconds. “I just want to go back home.”
Fast-forward a year-and-a-half, and things couldn’t be more different.
“I love our neighborhood,” she told me the other day as we made our way home from watching a movie. “I never want to leave.”
This would be great except for one small, minor, trifling little detail: I want to move back.
Don’t get me wrong. I love living here. It’s just that this was supposed to be a temporary adventure, and it’s time to start thinking about winding this adventure up. Can I really ruin my daughter’s life a second time? I know first-hand just how difficult it is to make this sort of move as a child. When I was eight, my family moved from the U.K. to California.
The four years we lived there were my own personal Vietnam. I arrived mid-way through school year, and my class was learning about the Boston Massacre. Not only did I know absolutely nothing about the Revolutionary War, but apparently I was on the bad guys’ side. As a child you don’t want to stand out, but it’s very hard to blend in when you’re the only boy who sounds like an awkward, pre-adolescent version of James Bond.
So when it came to our New York move, I was determined not to make the same mistakes my parents made. I Googled “moving with children,” consulted the experts, and followed their advice to the letter. We told my daughter right away about our plans, and gave her several months to prepare for the move. We took her on a trip to New York a few months beforehand so she could get a sense of what our new life would be like. She had a farewell sleepover party with all her old friends, and we took tons of photos of them. We hired an educational consultant to help us get our heads around the U.S. school system, and to match her to the best potential school. She even has her favorite British comic sent over every week.
Did any of this help?
The first few weeks of our move were the hardest for her. The language might be the same, but everything else was so different, the TV shows people watched, the music people liked, the way they dressed, what was “in,” even the sports. My daughter loved playing netball; she hasn’t taken to basketball in the same way. As an adult it’s exciting to live somewhere new, a life experience. For a child it’s an experience they would prefer not to live with, and the older they are the harder it becomes.
And the worst is yet to come. Glenda the Good Witch lied to Dorothy – you can never really go home, because nothing at home will be the same as when you left. Glenda lied to Dorothy – you can never really go home. If moving to California was hard, moving back was worse. I was thirteen, I liked Motley Cre and my English friends were into The Smiths. I had to relearn everything again. After years of thinking that everything would be great if we just moved back, I discovered a whole new set of problems to negotiate.
Worst of all, I’d completely lost my British accent, and people kept asking me what part of America I was from. Even now at thirty-six, no matter where I am I feel like an outsider looking in (which, to be honest, as a writer is a value-add). My sister, who was in her late teens, had an even harder time – she’d become a Valley Girl.
To my daughter it’s not going to be a homecoming. For her, home is Manhattan now. She’s a committed New Yorker (albeit with a still-intact Hermione Granger accent), and can’t comprehend why anyone would want to live out anywhere else.
So where does all this leave me? To paraphrase The Clash, should we stay or should we go? In my daughter’s eyes, wanting to move back makes me a bad dad who “just doesn’t understand.” The sad truth is, I completely understand. I remember how hard it was to move back to the U.K. when I was thirteen, but looking back now, I realize that it allowed me to spend more time with my grandparents, and deepened my friendships on both continents. As of right now, we’re planning on going back. I can only hope that before too long my daughter will start thinking of England the same way I do: as home.
Photo Credit: Grant MacDonald