We hadn’t been vigilant about keeping it from her and yet we hadn’t sat our 5 year-old daughter down for a straightforward discussion about our impending move. We’d decided that until it was more certain and we were closer to our date of departure, it didn’t make sense to push her off some emotional cliff. If she was going to be fearful and anxious and angry, why not keep her somewhat blissfully unaware and let her enjoy her final months among her friends and familiar routines.
While I made a conscious decision to put off the inevitable (in a way protecting her from the emotional roller coaster that I’d been feeling), I didn’t keep from talking about the move openly within her earshot. There have been lots of conversations about our progress on the move. Our friends are curious and supportive and it feels really good to talk about this exciting and insane thing we’re doing.
Most of these conversations have happened in her presence and so of course, she picked up on it. She’s perceptive. (Actually, in retrospect, I think I was hoping that the idea would burrow down into her unconscious and then without realizing it, she would miraculously embrace it. I know. One can hope, right?)
One time this fall, a friend’s sister-in-law said to me as we were huddled together with Thora and her best friend picking burrs out of her friend’s coat, “So, you’re moving to New Zealand?!?” Without missing a beat, Thora looked up at me and said, “Where are we moving?” Gahhh. Back then it was ridiculously early. There was no way I was going to be straight forward and honest. And so instead I was evasive. “We’ll talk about it later,” I said.
But later never came. So amidst all these quiet conversations, the phrases have been floating to her from other rooms and across playgrounds. Much of it has drifted past her. But clearly, like the pollen that is currently coating the cars and sidewalks, at some point, the gist of it has landed on her.
The other day, when she asked about a neighborhood friend whose family was located here for a year-long teaching job, I told her that the friend had moved to a new town, something that she kind of knew would happen but still seemed like a surprise. I seized the moment and said, “Isn’t Saskia lucky, to get to go on a big adventure and see a new part of the world? What would you think if we were to do that one day?”And just like the teenager she seems to be, she said, “I know we’re moving. You don’t need to say it that way.”
“Uh, oh, right. No, of course you know.”
And then just a couple weekends ago, when she was coloring with her grandma, in a private conversation that my step-mom told me about later that day, she said, “You know we’re moving?” Her grandma said, “Oh really? Where?” And she said the heartbreaking, “I don’t know. My parents won’t tell me.”
Gahhh! That’s when I knew that we needed to give her more information. So later that weekend, at one point we were over by the computer and she was trying to get my attention and began tugging on the photos of my “Gisborne Inspiration Wall.” And so I said, “Do you know what these photos are of?” She didn’t answer and was kind of ignoring me. “They’re of New Zealand, of the town where we’re going to move. Aren’t they beautiful?” And she had an entirely unpredictable response, but one that was totally fitting with her willful personality. “I don’t want you to tell me!”
Okay… so like most things with her, she needs to come to it on her own terms. I’ve initiated only one other “talk” in the past 10 days or so. As we were heading out and I was knealing in front of her, helping her with a stubborn zipper, I said, “You know about this move to New Zealand? Well, if you ever have any questions, if you want Dad or me to tell you about it, you just ask,” and that freed her up a little. She said something totally unpredictable, but yet totally fitting with her personality: “Mom, I’m really upset that you threw away something that I wanted to bring to New Zealand. [I’ve been doing some purging and she’s now making the connection about why that is happening.] You know those wall stickers that match my bed spread? [She’s referring to the IKEA wall decals that I bought over a year ago and that we never got around to putting up in her room and were still in the original packaging.] I really wanted to take those with me to decorate my room.”
I appealed to her love of everything “fancy.” “You know what? When we get to New Zealand, we’ll be able to get new things to decorate your room.”
Her face positively beamed.