Despite moving around a lot, the children stay grounded because they know home is where the family is.
MY husband Aaron and I have been married for 10 years, and we have moved seven times, four with our two darling girls, now nine and six. Aaron is a doctor in the public sector, and we have lived in big cities, tiny towns, villages, East Malaysia, West Malaysia, and even Australia.
With regards to the constant moving, some say it’s too much, some say hilarious, some say depressing and some say exciting.
We don’t think we have quite found the word for it. I think I would summarise it as “life in progress”.
The greatest joy has been filling our memory banks with irreplaceable experiences.
The greatest woe is leaving behind friends whom we may not embrace again in person.
The greatest traits we have gained are flexibility and adaptability.
We have enjoyed our every move – and with it, lots of joy at settling into a new home and lots of tears when we leave. It is probably one of the most liberating things my husband and I have done as a couple, bringing our teamwork to its maximum capacity at each move, and also discovering new skills. Leaving has always been hardest.
Aaron and I have always believed in putting our best foot forward wherever we are.
Frequently enough, we aspire to do something new together at our new locations. On the surface, it was probably the easiest thing to do – pack a meal and snacks, always ready with a mat stashed in the car and onto the roads.
In Malaysia, it was going for picnics at newly-found beaches, walks in the park, pebble throwing at the river near our house, visiting markets, spelunking, watching bird singing competitions, batik making and wayang kulit (shadow play). We have even enjoyed dikir barat led by the talented tukang karut (unbelievable – the literal translation of this would be crap talker!) talking about the rain, the colour of a woman’s sarong right up to politics and nasi dagang.
In Australia, we went for picnics, fruit picking and nature walks. We literally played in every playground we came across. We felt alive doing these things; the girls learnt heaps from these experiences and it helped us settle into our new homes. In between these outings, we simply enjoyed our new home, indulged in our hobbies and invited friends over for homemade meals.
Still, moving to a new home – even to new city in Malaysia – is a reshaping process that is not without its emotional struggles. We have ridden the waves, and feel all its highs and lows. Sometimes, the lows feel particularly hard. We grieved each move before settling in.
By now, we have become good packers, and can pack and unpack with ease, almost professionally. We part ways with our things, often having a garage sale before leaving and passing on all other things. We take those things that matter and head on to our new destination.
It isn’t the packing of things that concern me, but the packing and unpacking of our two children. It was easier when they were toddlers, when all that mattered to them were we, the parents. But as their own identity began to form, each move felt heavier.
We do our best to prepare them – often showing them maps, Googling up images, recalling positive memories we have had in the old place through photos and stories and painting up positive images of the new place we will call home. We pray for people we were about to leave behind (all with their own heartaches and many tears which are heart-warming, but also overwhelming) and grateful for the ones we will meet ahead in our new home.
We bring along things that helped the girls bridge the gap – gifts from their friends, meaningful notes, treasured items and books.
Organising our new home is of topmost importance. It isn’t so much the size or colour that matter, but turning the house into a home. We tell our girls often that each rented home is to be treated like our own, and we’d leave it better than when we moved in. We carve out spaces for them; up-playing their new rooms, creating space for their clothes, toys, books and a corner for all their personal knick-knacks. It helps give them roots.
Chores are also part of their responsibilities, and build into them a sense of unchanging productivity from one move to the next. That was my intelligent response on why I easily dish out chores – ranging from organising the shoes, sweeping the veranda, tidying the book case and game closets, and putting their own clothes away.
Then, came organising school and finding a church, both give our daughters a sense of productiveness and belonging to a larger community. As parents, we volunteer in whatever capacity we can as well as at church, and in the community. It makes a world of difference to our girls and to us.
Opening up our home and organising picnics and outings are almost like our side-occupations, and we often invite friends and our daughters’ peers from school to join us. The girls decide whom they want to invite over, and we make an effort to get to know and befriend their friends’ parents. There are days when my hubby and I giggle about how forming new friendship feels like breaking through the Great Wall of China, but we try anyway.
We know our children’s friends and families, and they know us. Once we become friends and are not listed in the cuckoo category, everyone is happy for their children to play in our home for a few hours or occasionally spend the night. Our children are also delighted at being invited and building memories with their friends’ families.
Our home is always open to all our family and friends who come to holiday or use it as a resting place. Through this, the old ones have become gold, and we have made new ones, too, from so many walks of life.
Through all over moves, one factor remained steady – the closeness we maintained with our families. For the girls, it was particularly their grandparents who have been amazing. Despite the miles, their grandparents take the trouble to call (and vice versa), Skype and write the old-fashioned way.
Close friends and family have done the same. They have come to stay and built memories with us, join the girls for important celebrations like their birthdays, school events, New Years or Christmas. We make sure we do something special when families and friends visit, and the memories are forever stamped in our hearts and heads. No photographs needed.
I don’t think they ever know how much their visits keep all our worlds connected, and I am forever grateful for it is their love that keeps all our attachments secure, particularly for our girls. The other crucial thing is making sure our daughters feel loved, a concept very different from knowing they are loved. Feeling loved mean they felt it, the whole gush of “I feel good”.
My hubby and I ensure their needs are met – in quality time, in words, in affection (one loves deep hugs, the other tickles), in meaningful gifts (a glittery pen, a brand new notebook, a flat stone to paint on) and acts of service (making them a favourite snack or meal or seeing them through something they can do by themselves anyhow.)
We know we are not filling their tanks enough when they “sound” exhausted – that usually sounds like girly-bickering and occasional tearfulness.
But what creates the most stability for our girls with each move is how my husband and I are doing. The level of our closeness transcends all things that make our house a stable home.