Confessions of My Many Moves
‘Home is where the heart is’ may seem like a cliché, but I know from firsthand experience that it’s the truest of all mottos.
By Molly Flynn, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
When I was 18, my family decided to sit around the dinner table and play a game—not a traditional game like Monopoly or Go Fish, but a game unique to our circumstances.
It was called “Try to Remember Every Address We’ve Ever Had.” Okay, sounds pretty easy, right? Most people can quickly name off the three houses they’ve had growing up—or even just the one! But my family is not like most. By the end of the night, we had written down over 30 different places that in one point in our lives we called “home.”
A lot of people assume that my family moved so often because we were in the military, and as a result, my dad was constantly being re-stationed. I can’t claim the glory of that, though, because neither of my parents ever enlisted. The only “Army” my family was committed to was the “Army of God”—at least, that’s what they called it in Sunday school. Let me try to explain a little further what that bit of church jargon means. Basically, my family and I were missionaries who traveled to other countries to share our faith with others while simultaneously offering humanitarian aid. And while this lifestyle did not come with the sacrifices of the military walk, it came with sacrifices of its own.
One of the forfeitures we had to make as a family was that moving so many times made it difficult to build lifelong childhood friendships. Most people have that one friend that they’ve known for almost two decades at this point. They can recall memories of first sleepovers and first vacations with their bestie’s family. They have inside jokes so old that neither can recall their origins. Most of these long-term buddies even talk alike and share similar mannerisms. And of course, they’ve got dirt on you dirtier than your dorm room you’ve refused to clean all semester. If there is a nostalgic bubble welling up inside of you, you are likely among those who identify with someone as prepubescent pals.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not a loner growing up. In fact, I probably made more friends than you did (seriously, not because I’m even that cool, just because I encountered more people. It statistically makes sense). The sad reality of having to move so much, however, is that while I made friends, I couldn’t keep them.
Sometimes, if I had really connected with someone and I wasn’t moving drastically far away, we would promise each other that the distance wasn’t going to hinder our friendship. But we all know how long distance relationships end up: Long gone.
And sadly, my optimism couldn’t save the hopeful engagements I had made.
Facebook, however, has salvaged some of my long-lost liaisons from my childhood travels. Thank you, Social Media.
Another sacrifice was that as a child I was never able to commit to a travel softball team or a dance company. Any activity I wished to get involved in had to be just as mobile as I was. Acting at the neighbor theater? Sure, but only for one season because the very next season, instead of walking the stage of a comedy, I’d be walking the streets of Cuba and wouldn’t quite make it to curtain call. Taking piano lessons every Monday night? Only if those lessons were from one of my travel companions and only if the piano could be brought with us in a van. But even though I never learned to dance on pointe or to pull off the “The Biles,” there were a lot of invaluable lessons I did learn from having a nomadic childhood.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot to learn from moving so many damn times. I discovered a million tricks about properly wrapping up glassware so that it doesn’t break during a move. I also learned how to tightly pack all of my clothes into one easy-to-stack-in-the-back-of-the-van suitcase—Lesson: Don’t pack items you’ll need during the trip at the bottom of the tightly packed suitcase, and make SURE your cosmetics (especially liquids) have their own allotted bag. Remember, all of these lessons have come from my own personal experience. As I write this, I reminisce about the countless clothes I’ve ruined by foolishly leaving my shampoo unattended in a suitcase on an airplane.
Not everything I learned was about proper packing techniques, though. I also learned how to not hold on to things for very long because things inevitably break in transition and sometimes, you can’t take it all with you. I learned Spanish from spending my childhood in Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico and Guatemala. I learned “Country” from moving to a tiny little town in the middle of Redneck North Carolina. I learned to value friendships regardless of their longevity, and I learned to value moments understanding their fleeting fate. But above all, I learned a whole lot about what home and family truly mean.
I remember my family once spent a year traveling the U.S. in a van. No, not a nice van. A van that would often break down on the side of the road and one that was definitely an eyesore. If we were sedentary at any place for too long in that creepy van, it would inevitably attract fearful parents and police calls. But, it didn’t seem that ugly to me. We were constantly stopping at churches across the states and staying with families who were church members in order to raise support for our mission work. I have a million stories about weird encounters on this year-long voyage. Staying in stranger’s homes can be extremely uncomfortable—even if they share your same faith. Seriously, some Christians are weirdoes. But the moral of this story is not lessons I learned about camping out in stranger’s homes; it really is about how I learned where my home was.
On this pilgrimage, my older sister and I, who were about 6- and 7-years-old at the time, started questioning our transient residency. I remember looking to my dad one afternoon and asking him, “Daddy, where’s home?” Without hesitation or insecurity in his voice, he responded with a promise that has stayed with me for 16 years. “Together,” he said. That was the last time I questioned where I belonged and where our roots were. We were not grounded in a physical home characterized by four walls and a roof, but rather we were grounded in the intangibility of what it meant to be a family.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from moving over 30 times in my life, this is the most important. No matter where life takes you, whether across the street or halfway across the world, your home is where your family is—even if that’s in a creepy old van.