A few weeks ago, I got an email from Heather Caliri, who is packing up her kids for a 5-month move to Buenos Aires. To say I am slightly jealous is an understatement — MrBigIdeas and I used to talk about taking our family to Japan for a year, but as the family grew the plan got sized-down a bit. Now we talk about Madrid. When that will happen is anybody’s guess — but reading Heather’s post about packing for her sabbatical makes me REALLY want to get up and go! Maybe this will inspire other readers? Or maybe you’ve already taken a family sabbatical? I’d love to hear about it in the comments if you have … or will …
In the meantime, here’s Heather’s take:
In a week, our family will move to my parents’ house. In January, we’ll board a plane to Buenos Aires for a five-month family sabbatical. Everyone keeps telling us how exciting this sounds.
It is. Except we have to pack everything first.
The bookshelves are bare; the towels are rapidly being commandeered for padding. The CDs and DVDs are disappearing into boxes.
A few weeks ago, I started attacking another big hurdle. The toys.
It didn’t go well.
“Mama, where’s my magnet doll?” my eldest daughter asked.
I froze. The doll was at the bottom of a large box with the castle blocks, half the stuffed animals, and a plastic doodad called the Bilibo.
I thought she wouldn’t notice. Last time we moved I disappeared almost everything without her feeling any distress.
Of course, that was nearly three years ago. Now she has a better handle on our household inventory than I do.
When I told her the doll’s current location, she yelled, “I don’t want to go to Argentina! We’re not moving!”
I knew where the box was in the garage. It was at the bottom of a big stack. I was considering retrieving it and ripping off the tape. I was considering it seriously, because moving is hard. I’m struggling, and I’m the grownup.
And a sabbatical doesn’t even have the excuse of necessity. It’s just, well, for fun.
It felt really fun right then.
That day, I put her off, and she didn’t ask for the doll again. I stopped trying to pack on the sly. I asked friends for advice. I waited and watched. And I started trying new strategies that worked better.
- Pay attention. I watched what they used most. It helped, in the days before I started packing again, to keep a mental list of their favorite toys. Dress up. Craft supplies. Playdoh. Fabric scraps. Library books. I realized that the toys we used most took up very little space. We’d be able to take them with us, at least to my parents.
- Communicate. I told them what we didn’t need to pack. I’d say, “We’ll take all our crayons and pencils to Grandma’s.” Often, that was all they were using that day. That way, they knew that they didn’t have to worry about favorite toys.
- Stay positive. Instead of asking what they were ready to pack (the answer was nothing), I started asking what they wanted to keep out. Phrasing it in a positive way helped them choose.
- Set limits. I’d say, “Choose one craft item to keep out besides the crayons and markers. Do you want embroidery supplies or face paints?” Once they looked at all the options, my eldest settled on her big box of beads.
- Be clear. Once they chose what to keep, I told them I’d pack up the other items that night. I was nervous to be so honest, but to my surprise, they didn’t object. I think knowing what to expect kept them calm.
I thought, after all the drama, that I’d be saving the toys for last. But after changing strategies, we were able to pack almost everything without any more tears.
And suddenly, the house was more peaceful. No one missed the puzzle pieces, magnet letters, and sorting shapes. Not the girls, and definitely not me. Really, with some crayons, paper, and some fairy wings, they’re happy. And with less clutter to pick up, I have more time to pack.
Packing has been hard, just like I expected. But once I listened to my kids and involved them in the process, it was less traumatic than I’d feared.
Now, I just have to brace myself for the final stage of moving—unpacking and getting used to all the stuff again.
Heather Caliri’s work has appeared in Skirt! Magazine, Brain, Child, and Literary Mama. She resides in San Diego, California with her husband and two daughters. You can read about her pursuit of little yeses and small bravery at http://www.heathercaliri.com.