Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Moving Day

We moved again on Sunday. Since the first of July of last year, we've played musical houses, moving about a dozen times. Each time we have to pack up all the crap we brought the first time, try to organize it in some sensible fashion, and then cram it into some vehicle (or several vehicles, serially) to get it to some place we've chosen, essentially at random, and often sight-unseen. We now have developed almost a ritual, or at least a satisfactory division of labor, to balance our own family see-saw of chaos and order.

This one was a relatively easy and close move. We packed a few bags and boxes, threw them into our car and my father in law's car, and drove fifteen minutes from their house to a rental house we had actually already seen. Everyone spoke English. There were no trains or airplanes. My mother-in-law even watched the kids while we unpacked their little tshirts and novels and toothbrushes. Now, as I am writing this, everything we own is once again in its appointed place, and neither of us had to shout at anyone to get it there.

Most of our moves were not so sanguine. The very first one caused no end of angst and pain and family-wide distress as we downsized from an entire Brownstone into six cardboard boxes and about duffel bags. Each one since then has gotten progressively simpler, but I still sometimes have terror-stricken flashbacks to the moment that the TGV pulled into the train station in Paris as we were heading back to the U.S. At that moment, we had two children, four regular bags and five elephant-sized ones, and two bad backs between us. We had three minutes -- four at best -- to use those bad backs to get everything off the train.

You don't mess around with the TGV. It arrives on time, and leaves a few minutes later, no matter what group of American idiots is still fussing with heavy baggage. Very unfortunately, our seats were up on the top level of a very full train, which meant that we had had to haul our enormous bags up a flight of stairs. We had thought that we would move some of our bags downstairs as we approached Paris, but by the time we got up to do so, the smarter Parisians had already clotted up the space between our bags and the doors.

As soon as the train doors opened and the line of French people ahead of us started spilling out onto the platform, we began dragging several of the larger bags down the stairs with us. We shooed the girls out onto the crowded platform, forbade them to move from the bags, and then Bill went back inside to rescue the rest of the luggage. I stood blocking open the door of the train, which is something I never do in normal circumstances.

I know that I've maligned the French seven ways to Dimanche in this blog, but I have to credit the two incredibly sweet fellow passengers who realized what a pickle we were in: two Frenchmen on the train -- they themselves with luggage -- got moving to evacuate all our bags, firemen-style.

At the same time that these nice French guys helped us out, two older-lady American tourists stood yelling at us. I'm serious: yelling at us that they were worried about our kids standing there, while we tried desperately to move all those insanely huge bags and end up with all four of us on the same side of the closing doors. Once I realized that they were offering criticism rather than help, I added to the chaos by yelling back at them while throwing bags in and out and using my body as a doorstop.

It was quite a picture: all those Americans yelling, Abigail and Grace frozen in their spaces on my command, and a bucket brigade of smartly dressed Continentals chucking our bags onto the platform. Bill and his human-being-sized backpack came spilling out last, just as the doors slid shut and the train sped its away towards Belgium. After thanking the nice French guys, we just stood there for a minute, panting and cursing our bad backs and the buttinski Americans who shouted at us. Immediate crisis averted, we gathered up our stuff, only to realize that once again, the French had failed to install an elevator where it was most needed.

So in contrast, this was a much less anxiety-ridden situation. We spent the first part of the day, Father's Day, morning lounging around the breakfast table, then tried to cram everything we own (everything that is not in storage, in the dusty Brooklyn apartment, in my parents' house, or still stuffed in a closet at Bill's parents house) into bags and then into our big fat Toyota for one of the shortest trips we've made so far -- just ten miles north of Hanover to Lyme.

I tend to really like unpacking. It's deeply satisfying to put things in their places. In fact, this was actually how I generally played as a child. I'm a sorter, and the idea of taking a whole bunch of disorder and turning it into order feels like fun to me. The house we have rented for the summer is perfect for an unpacking game: it's fairly made of closets and shelves and empty spaces to fill. Unlike the other places we have rented and borrowed this year, this one is short on charm and long on good old bloated American-style convenience. Everything is new. Everything is labeled. Everything works. And while there may be that icky-looking textured sand paint on the ceiling, and the landlord won't let us wear shoes inside or bring our dog, it's also located smack in the middle of a lush pine forest, not even a mile from the town beach on Post Pond.

So tonight, after we finally got the girls to doze off, Bill and I sat together on the deck. We drank a French red wine that Toni and Bud found in Brooklyn, and which tasted pretty much exactly like the kind we liked back there. We looked up at the moon and thought about the solstice. We listened to the frogs down in the marshland below our house, as they beat out the multi-note tattoo of their giant amphibian orgy.

A little over half a moon hung in the sky, just high enough so that we could see it over the trees. The night was deep, deep blue, with the last of the setting solstice sun glowing in the west behind the houses, between the pines. Once again, we find ourselves nowhere in particular, and somehow right at home.


  1. So fun to read your account of the family adventures! I am new so will be going back a bit to read it all up to now. Great education for the whole family!

  2. My husband and I don't travel as well together as you and Bill. As I read through your account of being on the train and unloading all your bags, I think I might have thrown off all the bags and stayed on the train myself! But that's just me. And, yes - I admit it: there are times when I would let him keep the kids, too...

  3. Seven ways to Dimanche ... Love it! And you are so right. You don't mess around with the TGV!