No place like home

My boys were distraught when we announced we would be moving house
I wasn’t attached to our old house, but I underestimated how attached my children were to it

In my dad’s column from 22nd August 1981, he mentions the fact that we would soon be moving house. After 14 years, we were decamping from our small 19th century cottage to a larger, brand new house further up the village.

I remember feeling terribly excited, the 14 year old me not appreciating ye olde worlde charm of our little dwelling. The wooden beams, cast iron fireplaces and fantastic garden couldn’t compete with two bathrooms and a downstairs loo (and anyone who has performed the toilet dance while waiting for the one and only WC to become free will understand that).

But the abundance of facilities wasn’t the only attraction. After having shared a bedroom all my life, I was finally going to get one all to myself. Granted, it was only a box room, but I couldn’t wait to have a space to call my own. In fact, according to the original floorplan, my bedroom didn’t exist, but Dad persuaded the builder to shave a bit off some of the other bedrooms and squeeze in a fifth, for which I (and no doubt my sister who otherwise would have had to share with me) was eternally grateful.

I have very fond memories of both of those houses and still refer to the village as ‘home’, even though I have been away from it for longer than I lived in it. I still feel a strong bond which I simply will never have with the place in which I live now.

It wasn’t evident on the surface that my own children had such a bond with the house we lived in when they were small, but it was memorably demonstrated to us when we decided to move in the early 2000s. My husband was Dutch, and after having lived in the UK for many years, he had the prospect of a better job in The Netherlands. How nice, we thought, for our children to get to know their Dutch family better and to experience life in a different culture.

We knew our three boys, then aged between 10 and 15, might be reluctant at first, so decided that when we told them, we would sweeten the blow with a promise of a meal at their favourite pizza place (others might call it an attempt at bribery, but I can’t possibly comment). About an hour before we were due at the restaurant, we sat the boys down and broke the news, ready for any questions they might have, expecting some protestations, but confident that the lure of pizza would win them over.

Oh boy, how we underestimated the impact of our revelation! What next ensued was the kind of drama you only see in the Queen Vic when the Sharon Watts is having a barney with Phil Mitchell. The middle one threw himself on the floor screaming, the eldest ran up to his room screaming, while the youngest stayed on the sofa, screaming. After half an hour of extremely loud and bitter screaming, we had to admit that our strategy had completely backfired. I had to phone the restaurant to cancel the table, then spent the rest of the evening trying to console three bitterly upset, bewildered and still screaming children.

My husband and I didn’t feel particularly attached to the house we lived in at the time. It was a nice house in a good location that suited our circumstances, but it wasn’t anything special, at least, that’s what we thought. What we had completely failed to appreciate was that our children felt completely differently. It was the only home they had ever known, and so of course to them, it was special. All their friends lived around there, they all went to school together and they each had their own bedroom, a space they treasured. They felt about that house just as strongly as I did about my childhood homes, but until that moment, that thought had never occurred to me. No amount of pizza could make up for uprooting them from where they felt they belonged and making them start again in a completely new country. 

Of course, if we had moved, I’m sure they would have eventually settled in to their new surroundings, but, for a number of reasons, we ended up staying where we were anyway.

Never again, though, did I underestimate the value of ‘home’, wherever in the world that happened to be.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 27th and the Gazette & Herald on  25th August 2021