"Will there be a phone in my room in the new house?" Suzanne asked her dad. They were sitting in an airplane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, waiting to take off. The flight was heading for Atlanta, Georgia.
The plane took off. "Goodbye, Maryland," the girl said as she looked out the window at the landscape below. Her voice sounded sad.
"You're going to have your very own phone when we get settled," her father said. "The telephone company is coming to hook it up on Monday. After you meet your classmates at your new school, you can call them right from your own room."
"Neat," she said. But she didn't really sound too excited. "I hope I make some friends fast so I have someone to call," she said in a small voice.
Suzanne sat quietly after that. She stared out the window at the clouds. She had been excited about moving to Florida, but now that it was actually happening she felt pretty upset. She kept thinking about her friends back in Maryland and wondering how they were doing. Florida seemed awfully far away. Even though it was going to be easy to go to the beach from her new house, she would rather just stay put in her familiar townhouse in Silver Spring. But her dad's new job was taking them hundreds and hundreds of miles away -- and right in the middle of her fourth-grade year, too.
Every year, some 10 million American families move, according to an estimate made by the American Association of Realtors. The average American family buys a new house every nine years! Each of those moves involves kids and pets and furniture and schools and getting packed. It can be a confusing time.
Some of the families move to a new house or apartment in a different neighborhood. Others move to a new state, or even a new country. For instance, Lucinda and Cassidy live all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Spain, where their father has a job. It's hard to live that far away from your family. But they're excited this year because they're coming home for Christmas.
They'll get to visit their grandmother (they call her Nana) and get reacquainted with all the people who care about them here in the United States. After the holidays, Lucinda and Cassidy will return to Spain for at least another six months.
Many Americans live overseas because they serve in the military, work for the State Department or have jobs with companies that keep overseas offices.
Living abroad can be pretty strange at first. Your neighbors may speak another language, celebrate unfamiliar holidays and wear different styles of clothes than you do.
Some families who live in other countries say that they become especially close to each other because they share unusual experiences. They also share their memories of places and people back in the United States. Americans who live abroad often make a really big deal out of celebrating holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, which remind them of home.
Suzanne isn't moving overseas -- but to her, Florida may seem just as strange at first. She won't know anyone's name. She won't know which neighbors are nice, and which ones don't like kids much. She won't know where the rock-and-roll station is on the radio, and she won't know her way around the shopping center.
Most of all, she won't be able to have her best friend to talk with on the phone three times a night. The more she thinks about it, the more Suzanne feels like moving to Florida is the worst thing that ever happened to her.
Suzanne's mom noticed that her daughter had gotten awfully quiet. "You know, I feel kind of upset too," her mom said. "I'm sad about leaving my job and my friends. I'm a little nervous about having to start all over again. Moving is quite a transition."
"What's a transition?" Suzanne asked.
"It's a time of change," her mom said. "We're feeling bad because we're grieving for the things we left behind. But at the same time, we're feeling excited about the good things we have to look forward to in Florida -- like walking to the beach from our house."
Suzanne felt a little better as she and her mother talked. They got out some pictures of the new house in Florida. Maybe this move wasn't going to be so bad after all . . . Tips for Parents
If you're moving, remember that it's likely to be a particularly stressful period for your kids. They'll need time to adjust to their new environment. Talking about the feelings or reading a book like "Goodbye, House: A Kids' Guide to Moving" (Harmony Books) by Ann Banks and Nancy Evans may help relieve some of the stress. On the big day itself, prepare a moving survival kit for each child -- even if the move is just to a new house a couple of miles away. For small children, include coloring books or paper and crayons, a favorite toy or two and a small surprise gift. Older kids might get reading materials and a couple of puzzles, along with a surprise. Including a snack is a good idea, too -- like easy-open pudding, fruit, crackers or other foods that don't require preparation. Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance children's writer in Baltimore.