It is safe to assume that most people probably haven’t experienced 21 different homes, 13 schools, and six different states during the course of their childhood. It always baffles me when I meet a person who has lived in the same state and city, let alone one house their entire life. Yet, there is part of me that is slightly jealous. Being an adventurous and spontaneous spirit, I was always up for the challenge and the thrill of all the newness. However, I did not realize just how challenging the constant change would be.
Let’s take it back to the beginning. Once known as the “Rust Belt” due to the abundant production of steel, Youngstown, Ohio is a city that you’re glad to be from and not moving to. My father had just graduated high school, and my mother was in her senior year in May of 1991 when they brought me into the world. Shortly after my birth, my parents were married and my father went to school to become a pastor while he also worked at a local grocery store stocking shelves. My mother left her dream of becoming a beautician and started working nights as a waitress at a local diner. When I was only six months old, my parents decided they wanted another child. Being the focus of my parent’s attention lasted a few short months before I had the honor of sharing it with my best friend and sister.
When I was about three, my father finished seminary and became a youth pastor at a church just outside of Youngstown. My sister and I grew up in church and became involved in programs like Missionettes and attended VBS in the summer. As young parents of two, my parents were busy trying to provide for us. They even made sure we were able to go on memorable family trips like camping in the Smokey Mountains and going to Disney World. We even had the chance to stay with my aunt and uncle for a month near the beach in Florida. It is true that my parents certainly made sure we experienced all that we possibly could.
When I was five, my parents decided to have a third child. It gives me a slight panic attack to think about how my 22 year old mom managed to raise three kids who were all younger than five. She truly has always been the strongest and most determined woman. While they were busy working, my grandparents and aunt took care of us. I have many fond memories of riding on the back of my grandpa’s bike or hearing the rustling of leaves as we jumped in piles that he carefully raked. Although living near family is important, my parents knew there was so much more to life than what Youngstown could offer. My dad was offered a position in Parker, Arizona and off we went.
We packed up a Penske truck and headed west to start our next adventure in Parker, Arizona. At the time, I believe the population was a whooping 2,000. We learned to avoid tumble weeds and dust storms while riding our bikes or jumping on the trampoline. That school year, I began 2nd grade at a school around the corner. I will never forget that school year. Mrs. Smith was my teacher, and she was possibly the crankiest and craziest teacher. There was a boy in my class that she couldn’t stand, and one day she proceeded to drag him across the classroom tile by the back of his shirt. That year at recess, I remember making friends easily. You could always find us playing Spice Girls on the side field of the playground.
My dad was the youth pastor at a small church in Parker. Shortly after, the main pastor had to resign due to being caught with viewing pornography at his office at the church. We were there for a short time before my father moved us up closer to Phoenix. The church was healthier and my dad seemed happier. I went to two different schools for third grade. That year was a blur and it was the starting point to where my self-fulfilled prophecy as the shy, new girl began. It was difficult switching schools at the start of a new year, let alone mid-year. Everyone already understood the expectations and routines. Around this time, my mom was suffering from a severe case of bulimia. When the pastor of our church found out, he asked my dad to step down and to focus on helping my mom get help. We moved back to Ohio for about nine months and lived with my grandparents. My mom received intense rehabilitation to overcome her eating disorder. In the fall, I began 4th grade at the elementary school in my grandparents neighborhood. As my mom regained her health, my dad began pursuing youth pastor opportunities out of the state. After almost moving to Washington, he ended up accepting a position as a youth pastor at a church in the San Diego area of southern California. Once again, we packed up a Penske truck and headed west once more. I was excited to be within a 30 minute drive from the beach.
We first lived in Rancho Penasquitos, a suburb of San Diego. That year, I was in 5th grade. This is the same year that the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. I remember being in the car on our way to school and hearing the tragic news on the radio. Although I didn’t realize the extent at the time, I did know it was something horrible, and I felt scared and heartbroken for our country. That also happened to be the day that we rescued our dog, Shadow, who turned out to be quite aggressive and a terror as well.
A year later, we couldn’t stay in the house we were in due to the incredibly expensive cost in that area. The church my dad worked at had a tiny, abandoned three-bedroom house across the wash behind the church. It measured approximately 800 square feet, and smelled like horse manure thanks to the horses directly behind the house. After weeks of renovating, we finally moved into our quaint home. My sister and I shared a room and my brother had his own room. I attended the same middle school for 6th, 7th, and almost all of 8th grade. We actually moved three weeks before I finished 8th grade. During these years, my confidence was boosted as I came out of my shell and made friends.
There was a period of time where it was constantly raining in southern California. Shortly after, my family kept getting very sick and there was an undeniably strange smell in our home. We discovered our house had toxic black mold that had been colonizing and growing along baseboards, inside our closets, and behind furniture. Our house was immediately condemned and we lost everything inside our home that wasn’t in a sealed plastic container including clothes, furniture, toys, and linens because they were contaminated with mold spores. Our community heard about the news and our schools put together a fundraiser to collect gift cards, backpacks, clothing, and blankets. It was evident that we would be unable to stay in California with my father’s pastoral income while trying to provide for a family of five while owning hardly anything. In my opinion, losing our home to toxic mold was more difficult than if we lost our home to a fire. In a fire, you can visually see the destruction of the contents of the home, but with mold you just had to leave the contaminated contents behind.
In 2005, only a few weeks before finishing middle school, my parents decided to move my family from sunny San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. My dad was a youth pastor at the time and he was offered a position in “Sin City”. Oh the irony! Shortly after moving to Las Vegas, I met a boy at church who I developed feelings for. He waited three years to date me, since I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16. We dated for four years before getting married on my 20th birthday.
Newly married and a fresh UNLV graduate, my 21 year old spouse at the time was offered an exciting opportunity to begin his career as an accountant with HCA Physicians Services in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, we were thrilled to get out of Vegas and begin an adventure on our own. We packed up our U-Haul box with the few treasures we owned and shipped it off. It was going to be expensive to ship our cars, so we both decided to drive across the country and make a road trip out of it. After arriving in Tennessee, I transferred to Middle Tennessee State University where I completed my Bachelor’s Degree to become an elementary school teacher. Over the next few years we had two beautiful children while living in Franklin, TN. We bought a town home, and I also taught for three years at one of the best elementary schools in Tennessee. On the outside, life seemed pretty great. Inside, I was slowly losing my identity and my sanity.
Once I finally got into a groove with balancing teaching full time while raising two kids, the person I was married to decided to move our family to Texas in spring 2017 for a job promotion. By age 26, he had earned the title of a Director of Strategic Planning and had doubled his salary within 5 years of his career. I couldn’t have been more proud and supportive of him and was eager to help him follow his dreams, even if it meant sacrificing mine and moving to a place that I hadn’t even ever visited before nor did I know a single soul there.
Everything that could have gone wrong with a move did when we moved to San Antonio. I’m sure it could’ve been worse, but that is what it felt like. The company that we used to move our belongings somehow “lost” the truck that carried all of our things because the driver quit halfway between Tennessee and Texas and abandoned the truck. I was stuck in a small two bedroom apartment with two suitcases full of clothes, bedding, and two energetic youngsters. It took almost an entire month for us to receive our belongings.
The new boss of my spouse was a micromanager and workaholic. On top of that, he criticized even the most impressive reports. Most days, he kept my children’s father in the office for roughly 12-13 hours and then asked him to come in for the majority of his weekends the first few months that we lived there. Most of the tasks he had to work on during his late nights and weekends in the office seemed tedious and unnecessary. Both of us were becoming increasingly frustrated. My closest family was 1,000 miles away and due to the circumstances, I didn’t have time for myself to make connections with other adults. I felt more utterly secluded and alone than I had at any other time in my life.
That fall, I started working at a 2nd grade teacher with a team of nine total second grade teachers. The students in my class were horribly misbehaved and the parental support was relatively non-existent. It was the hardest two years of my life and led to my first downward spiral into diagnosed depression. The next two years of my life, I began to self-destruct. I was desperate to take drastic measures to distract myself from dealing with the other issues going on in my life. This led to extreme guilt and consequently I dove head first into an even deeper, darker place than before.
Once again, the person I was married to became bored with his job and felt he wasn’t climbing the corporate ladder fast enough. He ended up moving back to Las Vegas in March 2019 after transferring within his company to the location out west, where he had been longing to ultimately get back to. Since my son was in kindergarten at the time, I was teaching 2nd grade, and we were committed to a rental home until summer, I decided it was best for the kids and I to stay in Texas to finish out the school year and our lease agreement.
The kids and I moved back to Las Vegas with their father in mid-June of 2019. It was a breath of fresh air being back “home” or in a place where I felt comfortable and familiar with. I began teaching 3rd grade at a brand new charter school this school year, and I am loving it! After ignoring our relational issues for years and years, my husband and I had finally sought out a therapist who we saw weekly. Instead of what we had hoped for, things grew more and more toxic. There were things in the past that we both had a difficult time moving on from. I had been ignoring my conscience since the beginning of our marriage, and once again convinced myself that we would work through it. After a traumatic Christmas trip that year, I decided enough is enough. It took several weeks for my plans to come to fruition. But in February 2020, I finally moved out all on my own (with my two kids half the time) for the first time in forever. Metaphorically and literally, I was finally free. After 28 years of being on the move at the hand of others, I’m finally at a place in my life where I am free to stay or go. As much as I truly would love to settle in one place, my gypsy soul is already craving the next expedition.