When the Stress of Moving Becomes Too Much to Ignore

Tonight, as water gushed out of the ceiling of my parents’ kitchen and living room, I hit my breaking point.

Cosmo assesses the damage the morning after

Cosmo assesses the damage the morning after

As I try to organize my thoughts to tell you the story of how I got where I am, the sound of water dripping into the dozen pots and pans and bowls I have strewn around the house keeps distracting me back to the latest disaster.

The past month has been one of the most stressful periods of my entire life. I keep trying to re-orient myself in gratitude: We have our health. We have our health. I know that’s everything. So I’ve held it together. I’ve just kept going.

But I need a fucking break.

We’re in the middle of moving from Brooklyn, NY back to our hometown of Washington, DC. We’re staying at my parents’ house in Maryland for a week as we wait for our new house to be ready. Right now, our former home in Brooklyn — our first home with our daughter, Ali, the place we brought her home to from the hospital — sits empty. The only inhabitants are tufts of dog hair unearthed from beneath furniture, and the few houseplants we decided not to bother bringing with us. It’s probably hot as hell in there — we didn’t install the A/C units this year. Why bother; we were leaving. There were some hot days, but we barreled through, turned on the fan.

(Drip. Drip.)

After agonizing over the decision for years, this past winter we finally decided to move home. We wanted — want — to be closer to our core community as we raise our daughter. We love the people of DC, but the place never felt right to us when we lived here before… we felt, always, like fish out of water. NYC felt right, on one level, but wrong on another. It’s like you have chemistry with a place, and chemistry with people, and I wonder if anyone gets to have it all… ah, there it is. “Having it all”… I should institute a drinking game on this blog, where every time I utter that phrase, we all take a shot.

For now, I’ll settle for a glug of this red wine that Jordan is forcing me to drink. He wouldn’t usually have to persuade me, but I’ve been drinking more than usual for this past week, as a coping mechanism, so now my acid reflux is acting up…so I wasn’t planning on drinking tonight, but, I need something to take this stress level down into the realm of manageability. 

Meanwhile, I have a toddler. Did I mention that? So my stress is pretty much at a heightened level, period, always. When she’s upset, it skyrockets. When she’s happy, it’s still there, hiding behind the curtains, shyly, trying to proactively worry away any future calamity, embarrassed at its neurosis but there, nonetheless.

This is motherhood.

You add moving to the mix, let alone an interstate move, and that stress isn’t just hiding behind the curtains, it’s tearing them up, setting them on fire. But I’ve been a cool customer — no, really. As much as it’s within my ability to be cool, I have been cool. I recently co-hosted a marketing workshop for creative women in Brooklyn and all throughout the planning, my partner, Colleen, kept saying, “If this is too much on top of your move, it’s not too late to call it off,” and I said, “no, it’s great, let’s keep going,” because I was so glad to have something OTHER than the move to focus on…an alternate, constructive outlet. It kept me on an even keel. It was when the workshop was over that I started unraveling. Became scatter-brained. Confronted things.

Then the house we’d found to rent in DC fell through, and we were heartbroken, because that was our house, and didn’t they know that? Sigh. Keep it together. Focus on the positive. The universe must have its reasons…

We found another house, from afar, with my dad and our friend/realtor giving us tours of the place on FaceTime, me trying to imagine, via virtual connection, if this would be a nice home for Ali. Yes, I decided, and Jordan agreed, it was fine, it was good enough, it would do, and we hustled to submit our application, and the property management company sat on it for a week — word came that the staff was “depleted” after a wedding (?!).

It was two weeks until we had to be out of our Brooklyn place, and we were starting to freak out: We needed a lease! We needed them to confirm our move-in date! But: We have our health. We have our health.

We hired movers, hoping that the dates we guessed at would be right (or that the movers would be nice about changing them). The first moving company we spoke to gave us a quote that gave us heart palpitations, visions of our already dwindling bank account (moving is expensive, hadn’t you heard?) dwindling all the way down the drain, and sucking us along with it, all the way to debtor’s prison; luckily, another company came in a few thousand dollars lower.

Phew.

After teasing us with a move date of May 29th, then June 1st, the property management company finally got back to us to confirm a move date of June 6th. No no no no. My parents would be out of town then, and so would Jordan’s. No one would be there to watch Ali or Cosmo, our 15-year-old dog, on moving day. Grandparents were free EVERY SINGLE DAY *until* June 6th. No more Mr. Nice Guy (Woman). I called the property manager and went into full-on hysterical mother mode. I begged and pleaded and invoked the Geriatric Dog clause, too, and someone over there had a heart, and we were granted a move date of June 3rd. 

Relief.

Then the ceiling of our Brooklyn apartment caved in, but don’t worry, it was just the bathroom, and as I look back over the past month, this feels more like an amusing side note, than a true source of angst. Which should tell you something.

We got our lease, finally, and a “property management handbook,” which said we could pick up our keys a day before we moved in. “Great,” I thought – “Jordan and I can actually see the place before we move in, decide where to put our furniture.” “Sorry,” the property managers said — because they were accelerating their process to accommodate an earlier move-in date, that provision didn’t apply to us. They needed time to clean, paint and tend to repairs. “Ok,” I said, “well if you’ll be at the house anyway, doing all that stuff, can we just make a time to come by and see the house while you’re there?”

“Sorry,” the answer came back. “But we have no plans to be at the house.” 

What the?! Or, as Seth and Amy would say...”Really?!”

But still, my friends…still, I held it together. I was stressed, but I kept perspective. Jordan hates moving, and he hates change, and he loves NYC, and this was so hard for him, and I was strong. Positive. Organized. 

(Drip….drip.)

The movers came. We drove to DC. On our way through the Holland Tunnel, Ali, prone to car sickness, puked. She puked again later on the side of I95. We comforted her. We took deep breaths. Then we regretted the deep breaths, because the car smelled like puke. 

We pulled into my parents’ house and I will tell you, it was like arriving in heaven. The house was clean and spacious and comfortable and familiar. They weren’t in it — in a classic case of bad timing, they were in Maine for the summer — but it still felt like they were here, supporting us, just by virtue of being in this space.

Then today, after a particularly rough day of parenting (the volatility of my toddler’s moods leave me feeling like I’m in an abusive relationship, sometimes), just as we were putting her to bed, water began pouring through the ceiling of my parents’ kitchen. And then their living room.

And then I fucking lost it.

Jordan shut off the water to the house. We frantically found every towel, every pot, every pan, every bowl. We called my parents in Maine. My dad called plumbers. No one was free on a Sunday night, of course. 

As this was happening, Ali was having a pronounced case of insomnia. Because, of course. It was nearly 10pm when she finally fell asleep — poor girl, new environment, wondering what’s going on, mom and dad trying to keep it together, be honest enough to avoid fakey-fakey but fake enough to keep her feeling reassured. And the low level stress that had been haunting me for months, about how this transition to a new town and a new life was going to affect our family, it just broke me. I snapped. Scarier than crying, I just shut down. I could feel myself going into a sad, still place inside myself.

The other day when I picked Ali up from her Brooklyn daycare for the last time, Marta, one of the caregivers there, opened the door, her eyes wet. She loves Ali in a special way, calls her her “cookie,” has always loved her, even when Ali was still in the baby room, and then when she moved into the big-kid room, that love grew deeper.

One by one my daughter’s friends gave her hugs goodbye. “Bye, Ali.” I wept, quickly, and then pulled myself together and in a cheerful voice said, “Ok, here we go!”

Drip.

She lights me up and weighs me down. She is why I do everything. I just want to fast forward to the part where her new room is set up, and she loves it; where it’s our first weekend together as a family in our new home and we’re establishing our new rituals together. To the fall, when she starts her new school, and life can become normal again. Toddlers aren’t the only ones who thrive on routine.

This in-between time is killing me. Patience has never been my strong suit. I hate not knowing if her moods are about being a toddler or about being off kilter from all this change. I want to be sensitive to her without projecting my own bullshit. I want to be kind and gentle with myself. And did I mention Jordan somehow fucked up his neck in the middle of all this, and his wrist, and his throat is hurting, and he is trying so hard to be strong and jolly, but when he hurts, I hurt, I can’t help it. 

I am like my mother, feeling everybody’s pain, and it doesn’t help, it only depletes me. I cannot absorb or worry away my family’s pain, but how do you empathize within boundaries? I don’t know how, when it comes to Ali, or Jordan. 

Meanwhile Cosmo just naps agreeably in the corner, god bless him. 

I know that in the overall scheme of things, this is just a move. No one is dying, nothing truly calamitous has happened. I wish I were more resilient. I wish it all just rolled off me. 

It’s not rolling. 

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