This week I helped my son as he moved his family across the country to a new home. He has a one-year-old daughter, and the whole episode reminded me of our first move after my wife, Donna, and I were married.
We, too, had a one-year-old daughter when we moved from the university where I received my Bachelor’s degree to where I would be going to graduate school. Celese was barely beginning to talk, and our small basement apartment was the only home she had ever known.
Because of our limited income, to save money, we did a twelve-hour rental for the moving truck. Donna took me to get the truck at eight o’clock in the morning, then she and I set to work packing it. We already had everything in boxes, and it was just a matter of fitting all of our earthly belongings into it.
The whole time we were loading it, Celese was upset at seeing her toys, her bed, and all of the other things that made it home to her being taken away. But when the truck was all packed, and we climbed into it to drive the two-and-a-half hours to our next apartment, she started to sob openly. She seemed to understand that we were leaving and not coming back. As I drove, Donna comforted Celese, and eventually Celese fell asleep.
When we pulled up at our new apartment, already exhausted from loading everything, Donna and I started to unload. I brought in a few boxes, and Donna unpacked some of Celese’s favorite toys trying to help her feel more secure in our new home. But instead, she was even more upset, apparently wondering why we were putting the things she loved in this strange place.
We finally finished unloading, I swept out the truck, put my bike in it, and headed on the road to take the truck back. I arrived back at the rental store barely before eight o’clock. I checked the truck in, then biked back to our old apartment. I busied myself cleaning and working to finish up all of the things we weren’t able to do before we left. At ten o’clock, my kind landlord stopped by.
He looked at me and shook his head. “You look absolutely exhausted. Are you planning to drive back to your family tonight?” When I nodded, he said, “You’ve done enough. You go ahead and go to them, and I will finish this another day.”
Donna and I had talked about me staying overnight with my sister who lived near there, but I wanted to be back with my family. I struggled the whole drive to stay awake. But when I finally pulled into the driveway of the apartment building, I looked at the window, and Celese stood there, her little face pressed against the glass, watching for me. The tears were streaming down her face. As I came into the apartment, she ran to me, and I scooped her into my arms.
Donna gave me a hug. “I’m glad you came back and are safely here. Celese has cried the whole time you’ve been gone and refused to go to bed. I tried to cuddle her, but she wouldn’t let me. She just kept going to a door and patting it saying, ‘Go home. Daddy.’ I tried to tell her this was home, but it didn’t help. Finally, I told her that you would be coming back, so for the last hour, she has stayed at that window watching for you.”
I cuddled my sobbing daughter in my arms, and soon her tears turned to sniffles, and finally subsided completely. As I rocked her, her eyes started to flutter. Just before she fell asleep, she looked up at me and smiled, and said two words. “Home. Daddy.” With that, she drifted off to sleep.
She never cried about going home after that. It seemed that even though she was very young, once the three of us were all together again, it was home, even if it was far from the little apartment she was familiar with.
She somehow understood what too often many of us forget, that home is not so much a place, but it is about being with those we love.