Q: My husband is in a job where he moves around a lot, usually staying about three months at each place. We have leased our home to my in-laws and live in a 35-foot travel trailer so we can be with him.
Our son is 4 years old and seems to be pretty happy most of the time, but he has his moods where he really wants to go back to "our" house. He was involved during its building and landscaping. He has his very own apple tree in the back yard and asks about the tree all the time.
I'm sure it's very confusing to see his grandparents in our house. He tells his nanny he's going to get a bulldozer and push her out and says he and his daddy will build Papa and Nanny a new house.
The longer we are gone the more possessive he gets about the house. He asks about three times a week when we are going back. I try to explain to him -- "one more year" -- but that's hard for him to understand. This is the tenth month and we will go back next spring.
It's hard to make friends when you're in a place for such a short time, so he and I spend a lot of time playing together, but there are not many children his age.
I really worry about him.
A: Moving is stressful on the whole family, and especially a series of moves, but your child is probably reflecting your homesickness and boredom as much as anything else. It must be hard for you to think your life is wonderful now, no matter how good your husband's job.
To give up your own home, especially one you'd built and landscaped, would be wrenching, and renting it to your in-laws may be making you feel worse. Every time you visit them, you see how they've taken it over and each scratch and dent is sure to be resented. Moreover, the tight quarters of a trailer are daily reminders of all the space you left behind.
It also must be mighty lonely for you in your changing neighborhood. If your son has few people around who are his age, there probably aren't many in your range, either. Even when you do meet some, it's tough to make friends if you know you're going to be leaving them soon.
Try not to think of this 22-month trip as a hardship but rather an adventure, like sailing around the world. This is a time for learning; for bonding your small family tighter and for helping your son realize that the trailer is his home, too. It's just that the scenery changes. He'll find this easier if you create a sense of continuity by repeating the same activities wherever you live.
Take your son to the public library for a weekly check-out of books and for the story hours. And if they don't have a story hour, ask the librarian if you can start one. Even if only one or two other children attend, he will be with other children.
You'll also want to register him for some short-term activities, like swimming lessons or summertime Bible school or a program for children at a recreation department, and by all means go regularly to the neighborhood park when you know other mothers and children will be there. This should help you feel a little less lonely, too.
And if it doesn't help enough, take a few courses yourself -- in carpentry, dressmaking, music, typing, gardening -- so you can continue to accomplish. If you don't, you'll feel your time is being wasted and you'll have something else to resent.
The daytime jaunts may be difficult if your husband needs the car, but even long trips on public transportation are worth it. To a child, a bus ride is an adventure in itself, if he's not too tired.
Commemorate these three-month tours with a scrapbook for each place you live so you can reminisce when you move on. Fill the book together with snapshots you take in this new setting; picture postcards of the places you visit; small, flat souvenirs -- like his paper placemat from a restaurant -- and especially some pressed flowers from the neighborhood. This is one of the nicest outings a mother and child can take.
Go to the woods to collect them about once a week. You'll still need a small guidebook on wildflowers to know which ones are safe to pick, for some are rare enough to be endangered. Without a book, choose only the plentiful ones and then pick just one flower from each stem so they will reproduce. You'll also need a heavy phone book, in which to slip your treasures. The weight alone will press them in a few weeks, so they can be transferred (carefully) to the scrapbook.
And you might buy your boy a little tree to celebrate each new move or let him grow one from seed. A grapefruit seed sprouts quickly, grows slowly and can live indoors in cold weather; you can move from one site to the next if you keep it in a flowerpot. Each added tree will be a 3-D souvenir of his travels. By the time he gets home he won't just have an apple tree; he'll have an arboretum.
A kitten would also be a good addition, since it will only take valuable indoor space when you're traveling or when it's quite cold -- or when your little boy is lonely.
In time he'll learn that he carries his home in his heart, but in the meantime he can use a few props.