Robert Phelps, who has moved 16 time in the last 50 years, approaches each corporate transfer as if he were coming home. Naomi Abernathy, who moved 12 times during her husband's 20-year military career, is a community volunteer wherever she lives. And Mark Parris, with four moves in eight years, adopts a new culture at every Foreign Service post.
They are veteran movers -- the pros of the 35.5 million Americans who changed address each year. While they accept their transience as an advanture or an opportunity for improvement or simply a necessary duty, other on the transfer circuit find it difficult to deal with the loss of home and friends. The tasks of finding bargain centers and doctors' offices, registering children in school, meeting new neighbors and decorating a house can be overwhelming.
In some cases, the injuries of moving are used as currency in psychological power games. The "abused" party in subtle or not-so-subtle terms tells the transferred spouse, "If I had to give up my backyard pool and the women's club presidency for you, then you owe me a bigger house for a new car or a vacation in the Bahamas."
The spouse may find himself paying off his guilt for years.
"Paying back" is another game a transferred family may play to express their anger at being uprooted. Over-cooked meals, a headache in bed and even bad grades on children's report cards are meted out as punishment for the traumas of moving.
Families not caught in the self-defeating cycle of game-playing either enjoy moving (there are payoffs for everyone), or else they have resolved to make a good adjustment.
"I have always been happy to move, because a move means a promotion," said Phelps, the 67-year-old manager of the Lake Forest shopping center near his home in Gaithhersburg, Md. "Moving has brought more money, new opportunities, new faces and a change of scenery."
Parris likes exploring new cultures and the Foreign Service allows him and his wife and two children to "go someplace and stay long enough to really learn about it." At 29, he already has served in the Azores and Lisbon and will leave Springfield for his next embassy post in two years.
Abernathy, 55, of Fairfax, said she is willing to move because, "I want to support my husband in his career. I look forward to meeting new people and seeing new places. I have always left past assignments behind me to make way for the new."
For the nostalgic wife, Phelps discovered the best cure is a return trip. "When I had young trainees whose wives were discontented with a move, I advised them to send their wives home for a vist after six months. When you are away, you remember only the good and forget the bad."
People who find moving easy work most on maintaining a positive attitude and some control over their lives. When there was a meat shortage in Lisbon, and a blown-up water main cut off his water supply for a week, Parris forcused on the advantages of a higher standard of living, weekend trips, city parks and cafes. Abernathy offset the dirt, noise and inconveniences on Turkey with Women's club projects, church work and visits to biblical sites.
Yet there are limits. Parris will try to avoid any assignment that would require him to semd his children away to a boarding school. "Theoretically we can't refuse an assignment," said Parris. "But in practice they are fairly reasonable." Phelps refused all transfers while his three children were in high school, confident that "if you have ability, your company won't bury you."
Generally, younger children will "cry the day they leave and have a buddy the day they move in," said Phelps. But if a child moves at a vulnerable time, he can have problems. Abernathy said one of her children "went through a spell when she didn't want to make close friends because she had lost her best friend. It took a while, but she came to realize that people do move and change. We tried to prepared our children before each move and to help them understand that moving isn't as final as deaths."
Transfers, in some cases, can provide an instant solution to a problem.Phelps escaped midnight police raids a company-paid move to a new assignment. Now he prefers to lease for a year with the option to buy. "Then if we don't like to neighbors, or if their dog chews Nancy's flowers, we have an out."
Easy movers tend to be socially outgoing people who avoid keeping a possessive hold on friends. Abernathy, who is the unofficial welcomer on her street, has made it a habit to "become a part of whatever community there is. I have always been active in the church; when the children were small I was room mother; and then there is always military social life. My friends are instant friends, because they have to be."
Phelps doesn't have the ready-made social life provided by military and embassy posts, but he has found his own social ties in civic organizations and on golf courses. "The first thing I know, I am director of the Chamber of Commerce and fund-raiser for Rotary. But I've never served as Rotary president because it takes five years."
Even people who enjoy new faces and places, however, often dread the actual mechanics of moving. "I hate the tearing down curtains, cleaning house, sorting and packing," said Abernathy. "There is no easy way to do it, but I have found the better housekeeping I do before the move, the easier it is."
Phelps' wife Nancy takes a month's vacation in Florida after each move, and Parris, whose wife doesn't mind packing, avoids the process altogether.
Frequent moving builds expertise, say the pros, and makes living on the transfer circuit easier. "Our experience has proven to us that it is going to work out if you let it," said Parris. "That reinforces your feelings that you can adapt to new surroundings. The most you do it, the more you believe you can." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Vanessa R. Barnes -- The Washington Post