The other day my 8-year-old son burst into tears when I told him he had to wear his old pair of pajamas because the new ones, which he has been wearing every single night since his grandma brought them to Israel in December, were unfortunately still in the washing machine. I hadn’t had time to put them in the dryer. Mea culpa.
He told me he refused to wear his old pajamas because they are a size seven and he is a size eight. Because he is 8. I apologized for my oversight. No good. I told him I would make it up to him and read an extra chapter of Charlotte’s Web. He wasn’t going for that. He wanted to stay up until his pajamas were dry. I said fine and as expected, he said FINE and went to put on his old pair. I know this kid. Then he lay down next to me in bed sulking while I read.
He was over it by the time I tucked him in and all was forgotten by morning. It’s been a long time since he’s had a tantrum like that. But there were days when he was younger when he was averaging two a day. And I’m not talking about the terrible twos. This was well into the fours and fives. He was a very sensitive boy in his earlier years and every change in his daily routine was met with anxiety and resistance. So we kept things as regular as we could. Until we couldn’t any longer.
For years my husband and I had been thinking about moving back to Israel, where he is from and where we had met. We had only planned on being in the US for five years before moving back. But then we got jobs and bought a house and had kids and five years became 10 years just like that. We finally agreed that there would never be a perfect time, but since our son would be starting first grade the following year (first grade is the first year of elementary school in Israel so all the kids are new, sort of) the timing was good enough.
So we made a plan. Sell our house in the spring. Have our baby in the summer (I was pregnant with number three). Look for jobs and where to live in the fall and move mid-school year, winter break at the latest. One problem. We had a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old who liked their lives status quo, one especially who was hesitant to switch his brand of underwear let alone switch to a new country, new language, new house, new school, new food, new climate. But we had made our decision, one we felt was really in the best interest of our whole family, the kids included, and it was time to tell them. We called a family meeting. There were four items on the agenda.
1. If you want an iPhone app that costs money, you have to pay for it with your allowance money.
2. Everyone is doing a great job helping to keep the house neat and put away toys.
3. No licking your friends. It passes germs.
4. After the baby’s born and after summer camp, we’re moving to Israel.
Now we fully expected a total and complete multi-party meltdown after we dropped this bomb because we had spoken hypothetically about the possibility of moving to Israel and our son had mostly responded negatively. As in, no way in hell. I want to be with Heather and Aly in first grade. I want to move to Orange County and live with Grandma in a house with stairs. I don’t want to go to school where everyone speaks Hebrew. I don’t want it to be nighttime when it’s daytime for Grandma. I don’t want to carry a gun (I don’t know where he picked that one up, but unfortunately it’s a valid concern).
But this is how that part of the conversation went.
Me: …our whole family is moving to Israel.
Him: And Grandma too?
Me: No, Grandma is staying here. But she’ll visit us and we’ll visit her.
Him: We’ll have to change the settings on your iPhone I bet.
Me: Right. You could be very helpful to mommy with your expertise.
Him: And the plugs are different there. I’d have to practice putting in the the two round holes instead of the two rectangular slots.
Me: That’s true. But we could bring all of your old electricity stuff and you could show your new friends how different electricity is in America.
Him: Ya. And there’s really big slides in Israel.
Me: The biggest.
Him: And I can go to work with Saba and Savta.
Me: Yes. And maybe some of our friends will come to visit us!
Him: And have a sleep over!
This was the abridged version. The original dialogue was heavy on the iPhone settings and the new phone number and calling people in the middle of the night which will be daytime for them, and the video chat feature that would allow him to chat with anyone whose parents also had an iPhone 4. I figured I should just let him talk about iPhone settings for as long as he needed to process this whole thing.
In the nine months between that conversation and when we actually relocated, we continued living our daily lives–preschool, kindergarten, work, friends, family, holidays–while constant chaos swirled around in the periphery. We sold the house. We had the baby. We packed up the house. We moved to a temporary rental. We found jobs in Israel. We packed up the rental. We put everything on a container. We said goodbye to everyone we knew and we flew to Israel. One way.
It was another three months before our stuff arrived and many more still before we felt like this was home. And through it all our kids were fantastic. They expressed their sadness. They expressed their anxiety. They learned Hebrew. They made friends. They started eating salad for breakfast. They had plenty of tantrums. We all did. But overall our kids surprised us with their near heroic ability to adjust and thrive. Even my iPhone made the transition fairly easily and I have my son to thank for that, too.