Moving in the Times of Corona
“Shit, I forgot to call the moving guys.”
In case you are wondering, three o’clock in the morning is not a good time for this thought, in particular not the day before you were supposed to move. But then, this is the “move that wasn’t”. Covid 19 has had a wide reaching negative effect on many aspects of society, the economy and even our political structure – the fact that it has made our move to Germany distinctly more complicated barely registers on the big scale. At least that is what I am trying to tell my anxious stomach whenever insomnia keeps me up at night. Oh, yes – insomnia. That one is new too. Moving sucks at the best of times – moving abroad with two little children, in a pandemic, is turning out to be even less fun.
To put this into perspective, I have moved 19 times across six borders in the 40 years of my existence. Moving holds no terror for me – or at least it did not before the first tearful breakdown by the five year old who kept on sobbing for two hours at the thought that he cannot take our blue house with him (and yes, our house is blue, completely blue, not light blue, not somewhat blue. Actually blue). This is when the whole ramifications of moving was brought down on me. And then we went into lockdown.
Selling a house during lockdown was hard, finding one to move into in a different country is proving to be even more challenging. And that is only one of the practical issues we are facing. How about finding schools and kindergartens? Will the movers have to go into quarantine? Will we? What about health insurance? How can I shield my husband, whose type 1 diabetes and asthma make him vulnerable to Covid 19, in all this? What effect will eight months of no kindergarten have on the children when they have to go to a new one, meet new children, navigate a new country. The only thing we do not need to worry about is language – we read the cards right when the UK voted for Brexit and made sure the children would speak German to a high enough standard that when our careers would move abroad they would be able to attend school without language issues.
As I lay awake at night I try to sort the other issues out in the patented list system that rules my life. There is the house selling list with its sublists of “declutter”, “what we need to finally get the building regulations certificate” and the “find estate agent who does not sound like a used cars salesman”. Declutter turned out to be the easy one. That was after we realised that both skip companies (ye, we did need a skip) and storage companies have a non comparable black bag storage power measurement. One cubic metre can, depending on which website who you ask, fit everything from 3 to 20 black plastic bags. Important tip here: haggling is an underrated skill. In the end, and making reference to the other three large yellow/blue/black warehouse companies in direct competition, we have managed to store the wide detritus of the leisure activities for which we have not had any time since having kids, for a fraction of the price advertised.
The building regulations certificate and the sheer chaos caused by a cowboy builder leaving without either finishing the work or telling us about all the things he has done on the down low has been a lot more worrying. It might even have caused my first grey hair but I will never know as the dye is covering all sins. Three electricians, two builders and a lot of sage head shaking later and we are at least on the way to having sorted that part. And we have accepted an offer on the house. We are all set …… oh, there is that small issue still: we have not got a home to move into. Not even a hovel. Nothing. Nada.
So, it turns out that when it comes to the internet age Germany is somewhat stuck in the last century and I do not mean regarding the internet speed. Uk contract law has been helped along by basically treating an email as a letter – it turns out other countries have not made the same choice. The result is that many aspects of renting or buying a house in Germany require you to actually go there in person, often with a witness in tow. Corvid 19 and lockdown has forced some relaxation on many issues here so we were hopeful that we would be able to manage without too many air miles. What we had not counted on were the differing times lockdown would be imposed and lifted, the quarantine rules here and over there and the childcare nightmare of trying to keep the children, and thus my husband, from being exposed to too many different people and germs. How has this conundrum been resolved? No idea but I am having a slightly hysterical zen feeling going.
But what about the one worry that can’t just been solved with lists and improvisation? What about the tears of little people who already miss their home? What about the effect eight months without nursery or kindergarten will have on their settling in? I look at them and I am not certain if I worry for nothing. After all, children in the past would often not have had the exposure to other children, the enrichment of a near constant peer group, our children enjoy now. On the other hand, my two are not the most socially adept little people (my older one has been known to utter in full hearing of the rest of the playgroup: “You know, Mama, other kids can be really boring”).
I decided to take the true and tested research approach. There are a lot of psychological research papers out there about the topic and filling those out with some conversations with child psychologists was helpful. We bought books and even a dolls house to try to approach the issue through play. We have involved the children in the decision making. Browsing houses on real estate sites with a five year old and a two year old is an experience. At the moment it looks like we will have to find a castle with a moat, in a forest far from town, with space for three dogs, one cat and a herd of horses. We might have to temper expectations a little. The children have put stickers on the furniture that will have to be in exactly the same room as it is now and we have planted trees. A maple twig for the tree we planted in the garden three years ago, before the little monster was even there. A rose to take along for all the ones we planted in the last two years and the apple tree we all chose last year. It won’t be the same but it, at the moment, it seems to help. Will it make a difference when we get to Germany – I can only hope. And wait.
Which really is the watchword of moving in corona times: wait. Unsurprising, the moving people are quite aware of that and, when I call them to ask them for a third change of date, let me know that they are quite happy to wait and see how this further delay will play out.