Four walls and a roof

I hate moving.

Moving is one of my least favorite activities because when you’re married to Carla, moving means painting. I hate painting.

Our new home, less than a mile from our current residence in Lilburn.
Our new home, less than a mile from our current residence in Lilburn.

When we first got married we lived in an apartment with vaulted ceilings. Because of her need for color and beauty, she insisted we paint the rooms, forfeiting our security deposit and spending hours painting huge walls. Thus the pattern was established for our marriage.

A year later when we bought our first home, she walked in and pronounced with enthusiasm “This is perfect! We can move in right now!” Little did I know that by “perfect” she meant that I would take a week of vacation to paint every room in the house.

By the time we moved into our current home in Lilburn 11 years ago, I was on to her little scheme. Plus, we were moving for my job, and I was traveling more. Carla did most of the painting herself, so my complaining was really more of just rehashing old inconveniences rather than a current set of circumstances.

This time, though, is not just about the anticipated lower back pain, stirring up dust and pollen to provoke allergies and taking time off work to become physically exhausted for a week straight. This time, there is an emotional pain that underlies the entire process.

As much as I like to put on a façade of stoicism about changing houses, I really have grown attached to our house. We brought our oldest to this house when he was just 2, and we added two more sons here. It’s the only house they have really known.

At some point before we purchased our current house, the previous owners converted the garage into a large room that we use as our playroom. We live in this room more than any other room in the house. I will miss this room and the laughter and tears and conversations it has held. Carla’s colorful paint scheme and cheery window treatments have turned the room into a space for imagination and bonding. Along with the fingerprints, thousands of pushpin holes and furniture marks, there is a coating of love on these walls that can only come from 11 years of being a family together in it.

I wrote a novel in this house – at this very desk I’m writing this blog now. Yes, I know, I need to finish the re-write, but the spot I tuned into the mental channel to get the essential story that became my book happened right here in this house.

Carla and I figured out how to be married in this house. We had been husband and wife only six years when we moved, and we were still sorting out the issues that beset young married couples. Our relationship has only grown stronger and sweeter in our time together in this house.

We have celebrated 10 Christmases in this house, lovingly decorating inside and out each year. All our decorations have a place, and the boys know those traditions. I will miss sitting in my living room with a cup of decaf talking with Carla in the twinkling glow of the lit Christmas tree on cold December nights as we make our lists and travel plans. And of course, I will miss the Christmas mornings in that living room, strategically tucked around the corner from the stairs where for years we’ve forced the boys to pause for photos while Nanny and Poppy get in position to enjoy the scene.

I will miss the dining room or breakfast room, which we used to call it back before we converted the dining room into a guest room, because of all the conversations and laughter we’ve had in that room. I will not miss the tortured cries at having to eat vegetables, but something tells me that will be coming with us to our new eating space.

For the past six years, we have welcomed the young adults of Parkway Baptist Church into our home once a month for Second Sunday. That is truly an incredible time in which we get to extend hospitality to friends who share good food, life’s journey and the presence of Christ. Our cozy living room has been a suitable context for much meaningful dialogue on what really matters.

Our current home in 2003 when we moved in.
Our current home in 2003 when we moved in.

Perhaps more than the inside, I will fondly remember the hours I have spent taming the lawn: mowing, trimming, blowing, pruning, raking, digging and spreading. Yard work is therapeutic, and I’ve left a lot of stress and anxiety out in that yard.

We’re moving less than a mile away. We’re not leaving friendships behind because we will be able to visit and see our friends and neighbors as much as we like. We’re not changing school districts, so the boys will not have to navigate that transition. We’re not painting anything… yet … and this house we’re moving into is a lovingly maintained, beloved home sold by a family who is facing similar sentiments of loss and grief as they leave the place they built and raised a daughter in.

I hate moving, but if I have to move, I’m glad it’s this house and it’s at this time in our lives. We will make new memories there. We will bond even more tightly as a family, especially as Mama gets to spend more time with us in our daily routines. And I’m sure at some point there will be painting.

It’s amazing how attached you can get to a place in 11 years and how much stuff you can accumulate. I’m just glad you don’t have to pack memories. We would need a bigger truck.

Have you ever left behind a house that you loved? Do you like moving and move frequently? Share your favorite home memories in a comment below. It will do us all some good to share our homesickness.

On the move

As I dipped a scoop of chocolate ice cream onto a sugar cone, it hit me: the Normans really are moving.

A Sunday afternoon ice cream party for our friends appeared to be a typical Southern backyard get-together. Children played. Adults talked. Everybody ate. But what I hadn’t really thought about as we prepared for the festivities was that the Normans were moving away.

Insert “change” cliché here.

for sale sign
Signs like these spring up in lawns around our neighborhood every spring and summer like flowering weeds.

There are so many I won’t even attempt to supply one, but any of them will work to express the cultural phenomenon of transition that has come to characterize life in the New South.

Carla and I are feeling the disorientation of relationships transitioning as several friends are moving away from the Atlanta area this summer. We’ve had summers like this before, and in our nine-plus years in the Atlanta suburbs, we have said goodbye to dozens of good friends.

This time through the cycle, though, I can’t help but notice how these transitions reflect the culture of the New South. As this economy spurts and stalls, folks have to move to advance in their careers or, in some cases, just keep their jobs. Plus, some folks land jobs after prolonged periods of unemployment and have to move.

The effect of all this moving is that relationships tend to be more temporary, more seasonal.

Rebecca, Michelle and Carla
No more coffees, no more Easter Sunday lunches, no more commiserating about husbands for Rebecca, Michelle and Carla. Michelle Norman, center, is moving to Greece this summer, breaking up this trio.

Long gone are the days when you started with a company after you finished your education and retired from that organization 40 years later. We all know intuitively that changing jobs, even changing careers, is part of the fabric of our lives these days, but it takes a toll on our relationships.

Yes, we can now stay connected with friends through Facebook, but what is lost is the interaction. The cookouts, the play dates, the church suppers, the celebrations of new births and graduations as well as support during medical or personal crises. Our kids don’t get to grow up together, and they see and feel firsthand the emotional pangs of letting go.

I remember making a huge transition from Dallas-Fort Worth to central Florida as a 12-year-old. It was traumatic, but it was a change I embraced at the time. I think it helped me have a sense of independence and possibility, so that when it came time to go off to college, I was better prepared emotionally to begin to separate from my parents and live on my own.

Maybe all of our transitions help our children cope with change, but I fear that it’s teaching them to be cautious in their relationships. They are learning subconsciously to not form deep attachments because they’ll only be hurt or disappointed.

It’s too much of a generalization to say that all relationships in the New South are only at a surface level, but I do think it’s much more likely now than 30 or 40 years ago.

Matt Norman
Everyone was all smiles at the going away party for Matt, foregound, and Michelle, background, but now that they’re gone so is a part of us.

I celebrate the transitions my friends have been able to make over the past few years and will make in the months to come. The Normans have been trying to move to Greece for at least two years, and the relocation represents the fulfillment of a dream and a calling. I’m genuinely happy for them.

But I can’t help but feel a little diminished each time we lose the close connection with a family that we once spent time with. Yes, we can visit, and they can come back here to visit, but over time, those visits become impractical and the busyness of life takes over.

Rather than give into shallowness, here are my three strategies for enjoying friendships in the New South:

First, enjoy your friends while you can. Invest in other people deeply. Eat together often. Get together. Play. Laugh. Don’t count the cost or worry about the future. Be present for each other and enjoy each other while you can. You don’t know how long it will last, so don’t take the relationship for granted.

Second, do what you have to do. Don’t let your friendships hold you in limbo if an opportunity arises that you need to pursue. Sometimes, a better thing requires a move. Go for it. You can continue to invest in your friends – although in a different way – from a distance, and you will discover new friends.

Third, talk to your kids about transitions. Don’t leave them to process these grief experiences alone.  They can learn from other people’s transitions as well as their own and begin to prepare for their inevitable life transitions.

So as we all say “goodbye” with greater frequency, take time to savor your friendships. Celebrate the successes and new opportunities your friends experience. And keep putting yourself out there, investing in people and relationships.

New or old, the South just isn’t the same without a sense of community.

Have you had to make a transition recently? How did you handle it? What did you do to help your kids weather the move? Share your thoughts in a comment below.