We have PCS’d 5 times in the last 8 years, and 3 of those moves have been with small children. (Wow, does that thought make me want to run to the liquor cabinet.) Ten months after our last move, I finally have my head together enough to share some tips that make it a bit easier to handle a PCS while your “helpers” shadow you during those weeks surrounding the move. (Or at least keep your happy hour to after naptime.)
Things to Prep
Remember that TLC show where the people had big tarps on their lawn to separate all their stuff into “Keep”, “Sell”, and “Donate” piles? That’s you right now. Obviously keep the things your child still uses and likes, as well as those a future sibling might need. But that ridiculously loud battery operated nose sucker you tossed in the garage to hide? You won’t miss it. Is your last baby going to outgrow the swing in a month anyway? Sell it now. Use CALL DIBS to sell or give away the stuff you won’t need. Consider donating some of your books and easily cleaned toys to charity, to your pediatrician’s office or a Caribou Coffee kid corner (love those).
To borrow a tip from my fellow blogger a few weeks ago (see “How to Move It without Losing It!“), start packing your favorite toys with small pieces into Ziploc bags. No one likes unpacking a box full of loose puzzle pieces and those damn Legos to the frantic tune of “Where’s my fire truck, Mommy??” Make note with a Sharpie of any missing pieces on the bag so you can keep an eagle eye out during the kids’ playtime and as the movers get furniture out of the way. It was (Face Palm ) awesome how easy it was to just dump the bags back into the toy bins this time around, and a bonus: the kids could help! I handed them a bag, they picked a bin, and had fun dumping. And more often than not, they sat down and played with the “new” toys they had forgotten existed, which gave me time to arrange (and rearrange) the other rooms.
Prep the bedroom last, unless this is also the playroom. This is a safe haven at any age, where they lie in bed at night and think. (Don’t we all?) It’s helpful to keep it as familiar as possible as long as you can.
Pack Mules, Unite!
I usually ship things like diapers, wipes, bath toys, baby food, toiletries, and even seasonal items like sunscreen or a new winter hat to whomever we are staying with if it’s for an extended time. I either do it myself with some flat rate boxes or use Amazon or Diapers.com. This way, I don’t have to lug anything with me, or run to the grocery store immediately upon arrival, and then I have some stock coming when the HHG shipment arrives.
Things to keep out for the drive or the plane will include special loveys, handheld electronics and their chargers, and a good backpack as your diaper bag/carry on. There are tons of products out there to ease the pain of road tripping or flying with kids, but that’s a whole separate blog topic! The best quick tip that doesn’t involve you growing another arm is to take advantage of your surroundings. Let your toddler push the stroller around an empty gate while you wait. Watch planes, try to spot your suitcase as they load it on the plane, or grab a flavored milk from a coffee shop (we call these 1-pump treats ‘milkshakes’…shhh, don’t tell!). Plan road trip stops at service plazas with a lawn or near a park. Stock up on some dollar store toys and activities for hourly “prizes” for making it that much closer to your destination. (Great for hotel room boredom, too.) My husband and I actually drive overnight with the kids, leaving after dinner and switching off driving/napping until we reach our destination so that the kids sleep the whole drive. We’re tired the next day, but that’s nothing new at this point, am I right?! (Current guidelines allow pregnant and nursing women up to 200 mg of caffeine a day as well, so use it wisely, ladies!)
How to Explain and Ease the Transition for the Routine Kings and Queens
First and foremost – don’t meet trouble halfway. Some kids never look back. Some barely even notice. If they aren’t upset, don’t tell them to be. If you’re calm about ‘the life’, they will be more easily reassured.
“Why do we have to leave?”
Toddlers hooked on routines might get antsy with all the confusion. I found it easiest to keep explanations brief and use a few comparisons to explain the why. “Just like we borrow books at the library and return them for other kids to use, we borrowed this house while Daddy worked here. Now that he has a new job, we are going to let someone else use this house and we’ll get another one. Isn’t that exciting? Want to go the library?’ (They’re easily distracted, too!)
“They’re taking all my stuff!”
When strangers come into your house and start packing up your child’s world, reassure him that he will get those boxes back. “The movers are putting things in boxes and taking them on the truck because all our things will not fit in the minivan. Their truck is much bigger, so they are going to drive all of our stuff to our new house for us. Isn’t that nice? Let’s go outside to play so they can be sure to get everything.” If you can, head over to a friend’s house to play to pass some time and distract them. Later, give them some markers to decorate the boxes in their rooms, which keeps them busy during packout and makes it fun for them to watch for their boxes come off the truck at the new house.
“I don’t like it here. I want to go back.”
Keep things the same as much as you can. Rules, bedroom walls, afternoon walks, favorite snacks in the fridge. Their bedrooms should be first to set up, if possible. Research things to do in the area before you arrive. (Try the Facebook group, “Oh, the Places We Go” to ask questions about anything and everything you’d like to know about your new area.) Space outings to once or twice a week, or it may feel too much like a vacation (at least to them). Don’t be afraid to revisit a place that was a big hit, and save a new spot for next time. The key here is slow, steady discovery of things you can incorporate into your new lives, as well as meet new people and familiarize yourselves with the area.
Most of all, don’t dismiss their feelings. My 4 year old still asks to go back to California, even though we left last June and he loves it here in DC. I acknowledge how much fun we had, we chat about his old friends and preschool, then steer the conversation toward his new school, playing in the snow for the first time he remembers, and his new favorite park. We look at Facebook pictures and videos of the old place and new place. The point I try to get across is that it’s certainly okay to miss the wonderful people and things we knew before, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep finding new people and places that are just as wonderful, even if it’s in a different way. It’s like trying a new kind of chocolate; just because you miss Crispy M&M’s doesn’t mean the peanut butter ones aren’t amazing.
Or if his attention span is particularly short that day, I simply tell him we are on a lifelong treasure hunt to find places that are just as fun and people who are just as friendly, and draw him a map to the park while he puts on his “pirate pants”.
Driving in Foggy Conditions
As many of you can attest, military plans can go to the sandbox in a hand basket faster than you can say PCS. However, it’s worth the prep just in case everything goes according to plan. Many preschools begin registering in February, some kindergarten orientations are in the spring as well as the summer, there may be a waitlist for childcare, or you may need to take an exam to transfer a professional license. Plan ahead to avoid a headache upon arrival.
Again, check the Facebook group “Oh, the Places We Go” for great neighborhoods for kids, nearest Target or BabiesRUs, holiday parades, Mommy and Me classes, gyms with childcare, local Stroller Strides, preschool registration deadlines/waitlist mayhem, school orientations, homeschool groups, and anything else you can think of (like a winery with a free Santa – thank you, DC!).
Happy PCS season, MilFamily!
- Lydia is our Call Dibs Military Content Manager, full time mom of three and Navy Wife of eight years. Lydia married her high school sweetheart, and has been stationed with her family at Gulfport, MS; Corpus Christi, TX; Mechanicsburg, PA; Iraq/Illinois (GSA); Monterey, CA; Washington, DC. She has a background in Elementary Education and additional certifications in 8-12 English and Physical Education. Lydia enjoys theme parties, cardigan sweaters, coffee, wine, Jane Austen novels, colored office supplies, and Friends trivia.