As a younger man, I had this routine when I moved into a new home. When I walked into it for the first time, keys in hand, I would take a few moments to stare at it. The idea was to get a mental image of what it looked like in all its new-placeness glory, fresh as an April shower, and sear that image into my memory.
Months or years later, as I was preparing to move out, I would try to remind myself to take another long look at the same space at the same angle, before I closed the door for the final time. Sometimes I would remember. More often, I didn’t.
When I did remember, I tried to recall what the place looked like when I first moved into it, and who I was at the time, and where my head was at, and where I thought my life would take me, and whether it had taken me anywhere close to that during the time I spent inside those walls.
As I got older, I stopped doing this. I either forgot or simply didn’t think it was that important anymore. But maybe I’ll do it on the next stop of the journey, which is coming up soon, and which might be close to the last stop I make.
It is now official – we will soon be moving back to the United States after five-plus years in London. The four of us have known about the move for many months. But we just notified family and friends a week or so ago. The move will take place this summer, probably around late July/early August.
We won’t be moving back to Charlotte, which is where we lived before relocating to London. Instead, we’ll be moving to the greater New York City area – specifically in or near Upper Montclair, New Jersey, just a short hop across the Hudson River to the west side of Manhattan, where my wife Susan’s office is located.
She’ll be working for the same company, only in the Big Apple. She’ll even be returning to the same building she worked in during the mid-2000s, when we were newly married, childless, and living in Manhattan. A few months ago she was promoted into a management position, so that there is a feather in her professional cap.
We moved to London for Susan’s job in January 2018. Our plans always were to return to the USA. Originally, we thought we’d be in London only a couple of years. Those plans changed dramatically with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, which put the kibosh on international travel and just about everything else. So, we dug in and went about our London lives.
I had serious reservations about picking up and moving to London those many years ago. When we had early discussions about it in 2017, my enthusiasm level was somewhere between lukewarm and you gotta be kidding me. We had two young daughters at the time, and a comfortable life in Charlotte. I figured we were planted for the long haul, and didn’t see the point in chasing across the Atlantic. It just seemed like a major change that would disrupt our lives in innumerable ways, and I feared how our daughters would adjust.
But there was this other voice in my head….
….telling me it was a great professional opportunity for Susan, who worked hard to earn it. I also recognized that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us as a family. A company was willing to finance our move to one of the great cities of the world, on a continent with a rich and diverse culture we could experience up close. Millions of people around the world want to live in London, but most can’t because of the huge hurdles you have to jump. Those hurdles were already cleared for us.
You simply cannot put a dollar value on that kind of opportunity. Chances are it would never come again, and passing it up would mean second-guessing it forever. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering what if, what if, what if. So….
We agreed to make the move. My main concern – that our daughters would have a hard time adapting to new schools in a new city in another country on another continent – were almost immediately quelled on their first day of school here in London. When we entered the school grounds that first day, some very nice girls waltzed up and asked our daughters if they wanted to be friends. Off they ran, smiling all the way. I am not sure I have ever been happier or more relieved in my life.
We have not really looked back since. Oh, I’ve had my growing pains here in London, and blogged about them. I’ve bitched about a lot of things, from the dog crap on the sidewalks to the laissez-faire attitude they have about customer service over here (full disclosure: I bitch about everywhere I’ve lived).
But overall, it has been an A+ experience. We’ve traveled all over Europe and parts of North Africa, seen things I doubt we would have otherwise. The girls have immersed themselves in whole other cultures and lifestyles, and befriended a diverse group of schoolmates from around the world.
Personally, I’ve found a certain Zen comfort in knowing that nobody in this massive foreign city knows me, nobody needs anything from me, and I have zero expectations to live up to. That, my friends, can be a beautifully liberating thing.
I’ll devote future blogs to the experience of living over here, and some of the trepidation of moving back to my homeland (the worm has turned in that regard).
For now, the focus is on logistics. We have to prepare a major move. We have to house-hunt over there while living over here. We have to think about buying new cars, furniture, appliances.
We have our daughters set up in a private school in New Jersey, because we want them to be in a good school that is also safe – emphasis on safe, emphasis on a lower risk of school shootings – which is something they don’t have to worry about here in London, or pretty much anywhere else in the world except the US of A, which, inexplicably, can’t seem to get its arms around the madness of mass shootings at schools and everywhere else.
After more than five years in the UK, we have attained a residency status that allows us to return whenever we want, for as long as we want. We will always have that card in the deck, should we ever decide to play it. That too is a beautiful thing.
Moving is something I am not unfamiliar with. I graduated from college 41 years ago, and have moved house about 25 times since then. I have lived in 13 different cities/towns in seven different states and two different countries. I have moved so often I can do it in my sleep anymore. You box things up, you ship ‘em off, you meet with realtors, you sign papers, you get new driver’s licenses, you set up new utilities, you fill out change-of-address cards, you do this and that and then you settle into your new home and there you are.
Luckily, both Susan and I previously lived in both New York City and New Jersey, so it’s familiar territory. We know our way around. That will solve a lot of problems. I can do my job from anywhere, so that won’t change. Home will simply be the walls surrounding us and the (hopefully) much bigger back yard. There will be more Mexican restaurants to choose from, and bigger living spaces. Our youngest daughter will have an actual closet in her room!
We’ll be closer to friends and family, which is a big plus. Our daughters will be able to spend more time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. You miss that living on another continent. We held on to a couple of homes in and near Charlotte that we’ve been renting out, and we’ll keep one of those as a place to visit.
Boomeranging back to the States will be another adjustment for our daughters, but they’ve adjusted well everywhere we have gone. This will be their fourth home in three different metro areas, and they are still young. Everywhere we’ve gone they’ve made friends easily and cruised right into their new lives. They’re good kids, with good heads on their shoulders, and an ability to adapt.
The London experience has taught them many valuable lessons – one of which is that home is simply where you keep your stuff. The location might change, but home is anywhere you want or need it to be. The world is their home, our home.
On to the next adventure….
Note: The London photo was taken by Susan on one of her recent jogs. The NYC photo is from the dreamstime website.