There have been several times in life when I've found myself shifting in a direction I had no idea I would be heading. It's happened again and our family has moved, 4 hours north to Sheffield!
At the beginning of 2014 I thought we were pretty settled. After working up and down the country and staying away from home a lot for the past 4 years, Oliver had got a new job within commuting distance of home, and it looked like our roots in our little corner of Kent were firmly set. Within a couple of months it was clear that things weren't working out as we'd hoped. Oliver wasn't enjoying his new job; a 9 to 5 working pattern didn't suit him particularly well, the work was not as technical, challenging or interesting as he had been led to believe and although I liked having Ollie home every night, we didn't find that our time together as family was as benefited by the change as we had hoped it would be. We were lucky, and within 48 hours of Oliver sharing his feelings about his new job with me, his old employer called offering him an opportunity to go back! To cut a long story short we decided that he would go back, but that we would move our family to make his travelling easier and give him more time at home.
Sheffield was a fairly random choice for a new home! We all enjoy the outdoors and I suggested that we might enjoy living somewhere near the Peak District. Oliver said, "Well Sheffield is right by the Peak District", and I began a bit of googling! So, in July we took the boys for a weekend Youth Hostelling in the Peak District and one afternoon, we decided we'd take a drive to Sheffield for a quick look. We drove over a hill, looked down and there it was! Within 10 minutes we were down the hill and in the city; it seemed like a brilliant location for our family, and once we had established that it had a thriving home-ed community, we decided to make the move.
In 'The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho wrote "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it", and it really felt like this was the case with our move to Sheffield. We decided to rent out our house in Margate and find a place to rent in Sheffield, but we had a list of things we felt we needed to do to the house first, so believed it would be early 2015 before we were ready to go. I told Oliver that I felt the process would be easier for me if it happened quickly, before I had too much time to analyse things or get nervous about it, and within days it emerged that a friend of ours needed a house, just like ours, in 6 weeks time! So, 6 weeks later we moved to a brilliant house in Sheffield! The thing I had wanted wasn't necessarily to leave our hometown and move what feels like a pretty long way away. What I had wanted for a while though was for Oliver to be happy in his work, and for us all to be together more. I had also been feeling like I wanted more space at home and on reflection I can see that I was becoming restless and itching for change, although I felt really content with my life, and had no idea what kind of change I was hoping for! Perhaps its a good thing that I had no expectation as to how these things would manifest themselves, or we might never have seen the opportunity that lay before us when Oliver was offered the chance to go back to his old job.
We decided that once we arrived in Sheffield we would spend our first week getting out and about, attending home-ed meets, and doing things the boys would enjoy rather than unpacking. The move had been hard on them, not because they showed any resistance or apprehension to coming, but because they had been without their favourite things and usual activities for what felt like a long time. Oliver and I had both been focused on packing up the house and making all the necessary arrangements, and so the boys had spent more time than usual away from us in order for all of this to happen. It took its toll, and in the days leading up to the move it was clear that they were tired and in need of our time and attention, so as soon as we arrived in Sheffield, that's what they got!
We've been here four weeks now, and the unpacking has happened around all the other things we've been up to. The boys have their favourite toys and activities around them again, and we've had plenty of time together. They seem really, really happy, and after a difficult few weeks leading up to the move, its great to see them all absorbed in play together again and enjoying the adventure of a new home. The more we evolve as a family the more I experience how connected we all are, and that if one of us is frustrated or struggling, then all of us are affected. It was difficult for Ollie to go to a job he didn't enjoy every day, and it was in all of our interests to find a way for him not to need to do that anymore. It was difficult for the boys to cope with the upheaval of moving, and it made life better for all of us to spend our first week 'holidaying' in Sheffield, before we thought about anything else.
The move hasn't been without its difficulties of course! Two days after we put a deposit on our house here we discovered that I was pregnant, and about a week and half later I was having worse sickness than I'd ever experienced with previous pregnancies. I was barely able to care for myself or the boys let alone prepare to move, and this put a great deal more pressure and strain on Oliver than it would have done otherwise. Eventually I was given medication to help and things began to improve, but on the day Oliver followed the removal vans and all our belongings up to Sheffield, I spent the day in hospital with Charlie while he was sedated for an MRI on a fractured arm. It was a pretty chaotic time, but we all made it here safe and sound!
Joseph says he likes living in Sheffield and all the opportunities he has to climb here, but this week he has told me that he doesn't like our new house. He says he has had bad dreams here, and that things are different, which they are. He is sensitive to change and can be anxious, so I expected tough moments for him. This house is bigger, it sounds and feels different and I've noticed that the boys like company when they go upstairs which wasn't the case before. I can see that Joseph is happy, full of energy and enjoying himself here, and he is excited to tell others about his new home and loved showing Ollie's sister around when she came to stay recently. Nonetheless this is a new and different place, and there's a part of him adapting to that, so I'm doing my best to watch and listen and give lots of comfort while he does.
By our 3rd week here I think the adrenaline had worn off and I was feeling pretty drained! I also began to notice that I was putting pressure on myself and feeling that guilt familiar to so many mums, that I should be doing more for the boys. Over the years I'm getting better at working out when these feelings of guilt are pointing towards something I need to change and when I'm simply being hard on myself, and in this case I'm sure its a case of the latter. I suppose when I'm tired, its easy to slip into thinking about the things we've moved away from which feel easy and safe, rather than things we've moved towards, which inevitably take more effort in the beginning. Every trip or outing requires greater planning and research, and even a trip to the GP surgery less than a mile away still requires the sat nav! I set off to take the boys to a home-ed get together the other day with the intention of visiting a cashpoint on the way, then realised that I had no idea where any local cashpoints were, or where I could find one along the way! It was fine of course, it turned out there were plenty! These are all small problems that will resolve themselves with time, but when you're a bit tired and everything is unfamiliar, they seem a bit bigger I suppose.
My tired week seems to have passed now, and again I'm feeling the excitement of being in a new place and having so much to explore. I can also see how in only a month, we've found many great things for the boys to take part in. On Mondays we meet other home-ed families at the park (or museum if its wet) and then the boys go to a PE club run by a dad who used to be a PE teacher but now home-educates his son. On Tuesdays we go to a group at an outdoor adventure play centre which is a brilliant place with dens, sand, water-pumps, big wooden climbing structures, old tyres, a zip wire and all sorts of other exciting things for the children to explore. It is swarming with home-educated children from babies to teenagers, and has been used by the Sheffield home-ed community for 15 years! Joseph has had his first session at a monthly climbing club and we've been to the roller-skating group where they all had a brilliant time. There is athletics in the pipeline for Joseph in the new year and possibly the others if they fancy it, and all three boys have shown an interest in trying out a local Forest School, which quite a few home-educated children attend for a few hours on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Believe it or not we've also had lots of quiet time at home doing whatever takes our fancy, as you can see on this blog that I use as a bit of a photo diary.
So far Sheffield has been great for Ollie and I too. We're both enjoying the Peak District, and Ollie's reduced commutes! My heart still sinks when he says something like, "I have to go to Nottingham tomorrow", until I remember that he can can get there in little more than an hour and that even if he can't finish the work in a day, he'll still make it home that evening. For me, it quieter here, and I'm enjoying that for now. Life had got really busy in Kent; I was doing a fair bit of acting, and juggling that with a husband who wasn't around much could be difficult. It was great that we had babysitters around, but it sometimes felt like we were asking for more help than people wanted to give, and imposing on people didn't feel nice. Going out to do things you enjoy becomes less enjoyable in these circumstances, and although I hope to be back on the stage one day I'm happy to take a break for now. With a new baby on the way I'd be taking a break anyway! I've been looking forward to more time for solitary creative pursuits and writing, and given that I have so far spent this Sunday morning in bed writing, I'd say I'm getting that! Ollie has always been brilliant at giving me time to myself, and loves a bit of time alone with the boys. We have few other distractions here....for now!
This move has given me a renewed gratitude for our way of life as Unschoolers and the flexibility it gives us. The home-ed community in Kent was vibrant and welcoming and it has been just the same in Sheffield, except on a larger a scale. I'm grateful too for Ollie's constant sense of adventure, and 'let's give it a go' attitude to life. I'm grateful that I reached a point where I could see beyond my own immediate need for comfort and security (a state I think I had necessarily been in for a while after having three children in a short space of time) and could embrace something new and challenging. I'm grateful that Ollie and I share a tendency to look for the possibilities in all that we have, rather than dwell on anything we don't. A little while after we moved here my mum asked if I was missing the sea, and I realised that I wasn't. I love the seaside and never wished to leave it, but I told her that it would feel pretty strange to spend my time missing the sea, rather than enjoying and embracing the hills and the valleys. I know though, that when I'm by the sea I'll appreciate it more than ever!
I'm grateful for all the wonderful people and places we have moved from in Margate, and for all those we're discovering here. We had a happy, happy life in Kent, but we didn't leave it there. It's ours to make the most of in Sheffield.