© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Change is…Good?


A post from June 2007.

In seven days, after 16 years in the same beautiful Victorian house in a Minneapolis neighborhood we love, our family is moving to Atlanta. Loss is a full-time occupation at the moment.

The picture above is a cup of dirt and grass my five-year-old daughter collected from around the legs of her swingset as we dismantled and discarded it. The new family wants the swingset out of the yard, so rather than waving to it as we drive off, my kids had to watch as I euthanized it.

First we gave them a full afternoon to ride the swings and say goodbye.


Then the ax fell.


Our move is not part of God’s plan. It’s not even a job transition. Either of those would have made it easier to deflect the kids’ occasional plunges into grief at the coming loss, not to mention our own. We could claim it was out of our hands.

Instead, we’re stuck with free will. We’re moving because I no longer have a brick-and-mortar job, which makes it possible to live closer to family and to flee the northern winter. We’re moving, in other words, because Mom and Dad decided to move.

Free will is a bitch.

A few months ago, everyone was thrilled about the move, but the approaching reality is more, shall we say, textured. Two nights ago my eleven-year-old boy literally cried himself to sleep. Like me, he doesn’t make friends at the drop of a hat. Unlike me, he has also acquired an actual girlfriend before acquiring an actual pimple.

When he asked me why, why, why we were moving, and whether it was too late to bump that inexorable momentum off course, I had nowhere to hide — no shoulder-shrugging over some transfer by a heartless corporation or the need to move to the high desert so little Timmy’s tubercular lungs could breathe freely again. No, our boy’s life was being uprooted because we, his parents, decided it would be. Three months ago he was excited about the idea. Three months ago he didn’t have a girlfriend.

Even beyond the near future, the consequences of such a move are staggering. Had my own family of origin not moved from St. Louis to LA in 1974, I would almost certainly not have gone to Berkeley, met Becca, and had the kids I now have. I’d have different kids, with a different woman. Joyless marriage and wretched, snot-nosed kids, I’m sure of it. As a result of my parent’s long-ago decision, that horrible woman is now probably married to someone else. She doesn’t know what she’s missing. Heh.

Now here we are, rewriting the lives of our children and of countless others born and unborn with a single decision. They’ll now grow up with different friends and most likely marry different people than they would have. Assuming they have kids, tens of thousands of human beings will end up existing who would never have come to pass had we stayed put — and tens of thousands of others who would have resulted from their likely unions here will never be. Did we kill off the next Gandhi…or the next bin Laden? Or, on the other hand, have we now set into motion the creation of another future hero or monster?

Free will isn’t for the faint of heart.

I love to think about the chaos of innumerable butterfly wings that beat out the details of our brief lives. So do my kids. It’s endlessly fascinating to consider the real consequences of the absent helmsman. But here in the present, we’re drowning in the losses of the moment.

That’s okay. It’s good for all of us in the long run. I don’t think kids benefit from being too thoroughly protected from the experience of loss. It’s a guaranteed part of the experience of being alive. They’ll gain at least as much in resiliency, adaptability and self-knowledge from this transition as they will lose.




This was written on Saturday, 30. June 2007 at 10:46 and was filed under My kids. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. right.

    No really. You are absolutely right. You know it already, I’m sure… but, you look like you need to hear it. So, there you have it… Right.

    Change is never easy… and it’s even harder to see our kids upset because of something that is “our” decision. It supose it would be easier if you could blame it on “God’s plan”, or something else…

    But, then again… would it really be any easier? Maybe on you. Yeah, definitely on you. You wouldn’t feel as guilty and could make someone else out as the “bad guy” to your kids. However, really… I don’t think it makes that much of a difference to the kids. They need to deal with the same issues (making new friends, saying goodbye to their swing set) either way.

    Just keep reminding them (and yourself) that change isn’t easy… even good change… but, that this IS a good change, and good will come from it. This is assuming that you did have at least SOME good reasons for this change, RIGHT?? 😉 Hang in there.. and let us know how it goes.


    Comment: samanthamj – 30. June 2007 @ 11:09 am

  2. Dale, now may be a *great* time to introduce the kids to the theory of infinitely splitting universes!

    And if that idea doesn’t go down too well, you could always throw in a few words on the very real possibility that free will may not exist at all…

    As an absolutely last resort, try ice cream.

    Comment: Theo – 30. June 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Okay, wait a minute, lemme write this down…multiverse theory… determinism… ice cream. Got it. I may try some half measures first, like folded dimensions, compatibilism, and frozen yogurt.

    Comment: Dale – 30. June 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  4. Change is good and you are right. I can’t say that I have dealt with a similar experience until I too made the choice to leave the town I grew up in and move away to college. But that was a choice I made not my parents. In all reality I only moved three hours a way and I’m still there ten years later so what do I know. 🙂

    In the long run being closer to family will be good for everyone. I must say that I am excited to hear that ATL is where you’ll be relocated. My husband and I and our 6-month old son currently reside in Athens, GA—a mere 90 miles from downtown ATL. And let me tell you GA is not an easy place to live without wearing the badge of religion. So YAY more free thought moving to GA!

    Athens itself is a tiny island of blue in the sea of red that is GA so it’s a little better but basically this is the buckle of the bible belt and it pleases me to know that one additional free thinking family is moving in. So Welcome and in a few months everyone will be more settled and happier about the move. Especially since it will be December or January before you need a serious winter coat. 🙂

    Comment: npittard – 30. June 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  5. Good luck with the move Dale-a year from now, the kids will likely be thrilled with their new home.
    But don’t tell them that, because kids really hate that! Just keep throwing in that you are SO close to Disneyworld.
    It will be very interesting to hear from you about how the family adjusts to living in the Bible Belt.

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 01. July 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  6. I started reading this earlier in the week and just felt your oldest’s agony. I think I was a freshman in high school when my parents told us that we were moving an hour away (just an hour). I was so dramatic, I was just sure I would DIE. In the end we didn’t move. Looking back, I’m hoping that my parents didn’t make that decision based on my agony as I’m sure that I would have gotten along just fine. At the time, I was convinced that the world would certainly stop turning. The thing is, having been a military family, I can tell you, kids are resilient. Give them a month or two and things just fall into place. The hardest part is seeing your things dismantled and put in boxes, or having the swing set taken away. We learned to pack things up when the kids weren’t around.

    I do agree that kids shouldn’t be sheltered from disappointment. I often wonder if my kids, who have experienced absolutely no trauma, will be blown out of their socks if something un-planned were to happen to our family.

    Let us know how the move goes. I’m sure the kids will do fine.

    Comment: Amanda – 06. July 2007 @ 9:43 am

  7. We’re in mid-move at the moment — Cedar Rapids, IA. Very tearful departure, then things picked up nicely. Everybody seems to be buying into the adventure for the moment…

    Comment: Dale – 07. July 2007 @ 9:06 am

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