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This week I was asked to write about the experience of moving house with children. Luckily the memories are not too distant so the experience is quite fresh in my mind in all its gory detail.
I had been dreaming of moving for ever or more precisely ever since our second child was born. The commute into work had been becoming exhausting, I felt uneasy that both my partner and I were an hour away if anything bad happened – more if the transport broke down – and the house was getting cramped. When our third child was born the dreams became increasingly desperate. I was rushing all over the place trying to drop one child at the childminders, one at a nursery and another at school plus get to work on time. My carefully woven emergency back-up plan – my mum – was in constant use and we had three girls crammed into one small room. It didn’t help that my work situation was very stressful. I watched all those moving abroad programmes and daydreamed about living in an orchard in southern Spain. I started scouring the jobs pages, convinced that a perfect job anywhere would lead me to paradise. Nothing came up. The problem was my perfect job with three young children was working at home and those sort of jobs weren’t widely advertised at the time.
Anyway, we began to think more realistically. Where could we live that was affordable, near somewhere we both could find jobs, near someone we knew [even vaguely, for babysitting purposes] and near an airport which has cheap flights to Spain – my partner’s family live in Spain. We tried a few places we thought were kind of like London, but less full-on, but unfortunately they were way too expensive. In the meantime, desperate to leave a job and commute which was making me feel ill, I needed a break even if we couldn’t afford it really. I found a part-time job just outside London – 10 minutes up the road by car. It was part-time and you could bring the kids in if you had a childcare problem. We had our house valued after a long chat with a mortgage broker – the first of several. On one memorable occasion we spent three hours discussing mortgages with the kids there as we had no babysitter. I think the mortgage broker was quite happy when we left. We would have signed ANYTHING at that point. We looked at some houses as near to our home as we could afford [ie about half an hour’s drive away]. We were given seven houses to view one Sunday. Again the kids came too – perhaps not the best decision. Some of the houses were really nicely done up with stripped pine and pale carpets… We were exhausted as we came to the last one. It didn’t look promising. We went inside and it was like a Tardis and beautifully done up. No need for any DIY – hurray. It was ideal for the girls. A big garden, three bedrooms and in a quiet cul de sac. The top window looked onto fields. It seemed so peaceful and spacious compared with where we were living.
But what about leaving all our friends behind and the whole childcare package? The house was in a village. I asked the local council about childminders. There was only one registered. There were no holiday playschemes and the school had no after school clubs. I panicked. Then there was the fact that we were moving into a fairly white area after having lived in a very multicultural one. I was worried about racism at the school – my children are mixed race. I visited the school, checked it out on the Ofsted site and asked about their policies on bullying and racism. They were very reassuring, but I was still worried. And then there was the money. The house was slightly more expensive than our old house and our income had gone down, plus travel fees for my partner who works in London had increased. I had a last minute panic and wanted to pull out, but by then we were probably in too deep. The moving process dragged on for months, which didn’t help. Our roof started leaking, our cat got fleas – the man buying our house kept visiting. We were terrified he would pull out after being attacked by fleas and rained on inside. In the end we were given one week to exchange and complete. We thought we would have to hire a van and move ourselves at one point – not easy with three kids. But in the end we found a removal firm and everything went fine. The last morning my daughter had an open morning at her school. It was a good way to get the children out of the house while the removers went in. But it was very emotional. I was crying my eyes out. I loved that school! The staff were fantastic and I was sad for my daughter leaving all her friends.
Anyway, as soon as we arrived at the new house all my doubts disappeared. The house was beautiful. Everything worked. Even the removal men were impressed. We immediately made friends with the neighbours who all had children. A family with three girls near our girls’ ages live across the road and practically moved in. Everyone was very welcoming. My partner raves about the friendly bus drivers. It was the last week of summer term and I decided not to move my daughter and instead commuted every day into London to take her to school so she could start with the new term. Her other sister was also starting school. My eldest daughter was very nervous no-one would like her, but after the first day she was fine and one term on, they both love the school. We are still near enough to her old friends to invite them over for sleepovers at weekends or in the holidays. Since I arrived I have been looking around for more work and found a job-share in Cambridge which is an hour’s drive away. My mum is near enough to be able to do childcare for one of the days I am in Cambridge and my partner works four days so he can do the other day. I have also built up freelance work from home.
I still haven’t got any local babysitters. I don’t feel I know anyone well enough to ask them to babysit three children or pick people up after school. Building a local support network takes time. I had a birthday party for my eldest daughter and invited her friends round to try to get to know the parents and have signed them up to various local activities. Holidays are still tough and I am very reliant on my mum, which I know can’t go on. We haven’t made many local friends ourselves, apart from children, but people are very friendly and helpful and I am sure that eventually we will. Even so, we hardly go out at the moment due to finances and sheer exhaustion. All in all, I think it was a good move and one that we would have had to make at some time or other. Better to get it over with at an earlier age rather than when the girls are teenagers…