Pine Trees and Potato Bugs

For the first 10 years of my life, my family moved annually. My dad was a video game salesman in the early days when Space Invaders and Asteroids ruled the arcade, and business was flush. In the ’70s and early ’80s, video game companies sprung up like weeds, only to die much quicker, usually in a blazing trail of glory beset with embezzlement and greed. So my dad chased the business and job stability. We packed up and traveled between Illinois and California for the most part, but had a stint in Colorado for a glorious year or two.


I remember snippets. The mustard-colored counters of the Elk Grove Village kitchen, teensy-flowered bedroom curtains in Buffalo Grove fuzzed over with dust, a snowed in pine tree blocking the front window in Denver. These years later, I still “see” the pale skinny kid across the street from one of our houses who’d sit in his scuffed Big Wheel munching an entire stick of melting butter he held in his bare hands.


There’s more. The revolving schools, an older girl teaching me to swing from the monkey bars, Mrs. Ashton meeting with my mom to tell her I showed promise as a writer, being cast as the farmer’s wife in the school play and hoping Kenny McMullen would be the farmer. The map of San Bernardino I drew by hand. The potato bug giving birth in our driveway, and the dozens of roiling specks that poured from her belly.


But what I don’t remember, what I can’t pull from my memory at all, are the images of moving boxes, bubble wrap, empty cabinets. I cannot recall the moves themselves. Not a detail. My mind reel simply fast forwards to being in each house.


So now, now that I’m the parent and responsible for settling my kids into a new neighborhood, enrolling them in school, and stocking the empty cabinets, I wonder how I never noticed the “work” of a move as a child. That, and I have to think my parents were made of cast iron. Especially my mom, who corralled four kids while singlehandedly packing up each house because my dad traveled two weeks each month. It just couldn’t have been easy. No. That sounds wrong. It had to have been nearly impossible.


In comparison, we have it better. But here are The Rock and I. On Week 2 of moving into our new place. Up early, down late, countless trips back and forth, and we are still not done. There’s a refrigerator to unload, a pantry to restock, a garage to clear. The new house needs putting together, and tender loving care, not to mention the kids. We’re all exhausted, not just a little cranky, and quite dirty.


It all feels so much, so very very much. But there’s so much more it could be. Four kids? Don’t think I could do it without a cadre of babysitters. By myself? Wouldn’t even attempt it. On another, greater level, while we’re wishing for sleep and cursing the misplacement of our underwear, there are people without homes and without pantries. This realization negates the temporary discomfort of blood, sweat and tears. (And there’ve been all three this past week.)


In the midst of it all, I find myself wondering what the kids will remember from this time. Admonitions to “sit still a while longer?” Terse conversations regarding where the sofa table should go? The smell of tired armpits as we snuggle them to sleep? My truest hope is that like me, when they look back, they won’t remember the parental concerns of the Atlas van and “Fragile” written in red on boxes, but rather the oft-visiting lizard in the backyard, and the striped curtains in the playroom. Also? Eventually? That they are lucky to have the freedom to move, the roof to shelter, and the cast iron parents.


Who smell.


12 thoughts on “Pine Trees and Potato Bugs

  1. This news gave me a huge relief.
    I have moved more times than I wish as well, and hope that it has no negative effects on my daughter. I always tried to make her room a priority etc, but it took so much hard work, especially when I was single. Hang in there :)

  2. The excitement of the lizard, the new neighborhood, the enchanting and delightful foreign-but-soon-to-be-familiar nooks and crannies will fill their memories. They won’t remember the crankiness or anything negative. It’ll be a time of wonder and exploration.

    Did it a few times myself as a kid and those are some of my favorite memories, even though my parents swear it was hell on earth.

  3. We’ve had our share of moves, most fun and adventurous, some heart breaking. The kids will remember the love in the house. And maybe, the smelly armpits….

  4. I am right there with you- but the lizard is a water beetle and the movers spoke Japanese.

    I suck as a parent of a newly transitioned child! Tonight we went to dinner with the new base Chaplin and his wife. While enjoying her Mongolian BBQ, Grace informs the table that she is moving back home to live with the Grandmother as soon as I buy her a debit card.

    So don’t be hurt when I do not offer any advice.

  5. Well writ–I recall the packing, but not until I moved myself did I appreciate what my mom in particular went through every time my dad followed his next promotion. It does explain why I have NO memorabilia from my childhood, however.

  6. Long-time lurker, first time poster. You’re right to focus on what’s important…not the move itself, but that you have a home to move into! Last year, one of my neighbors moved away. Their house went into forclosure and they were forced to leave. By chance, I happen to look out one of my windows at the precise moment when they loaded up that last sofa-size picture and box from their home. They locked the doors behind them. Loaded up their 3 kids in the SUV and their 2 dogs in the front seat of the moving truck with the dad. And they drove off. I have no idea where they went. And haven’t seen them since. But witnessing that moment really hit hard for me. I no longer curse the cheap ceramic tiles on my kitchen counter. (Though I still dream about the granite countertops I want.) Or the yellowing linoleum in my laundry room. Because at least we still have a home. And you do too! Good luck to you on your move.

  7. I have moved no less than 25 times in the last 15 years and it’s the memories of those moves that prevents me from sticking a FOR SALE sign on my home – despite the fact that I hate our neighborhood and really want to move back to Cape Elizabeth.

    We didn’t move often at all whilst I was growing up, but I’ve moved more in my 40 years than a sane person should ever have to.

    Having said all that, once again you’ve drawn a beautiful mental picture for me. I envy you that talent.

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