Finding humor in moving


By MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE | Akron Beacon Journal (MCT) | Published: November 1, 2013

AKRON, Ohio — Most people look at moving as a headache.

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick looks at it as comic fodder.

Fitzpatrick is a serial mover who has packed up her household and relocated nine — no, 10 — times in 25 years. She chronicled her experiences with her characteristic wit in “Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves,” a book of tongue-in-cheek moving tips she self-published this year.

And then, not surprisingly, she moved again.

I knew Fitzpatrick before she started this rambling lifestyle, when we were both novice reporters pretending to be grown-ups. When we met, she was working at the Coshocton Tribune and dating her future husband, Tim, who worked with me at the Youngstown Vindicator.

This was also before she was funny. Well, that’s not really true. She was as funny as the rest of the wise-cracking journalists we hung out with, but she hadn’t yet honed the craft of humor writing.

Nor had she perfected the art of managing three children, a husband, various pets and all the minute details of a long-distance move without suffering permanent emotional consequences.

Her secret is trying very, very hard to approach moving as an adventure. Even when she was pregnant and forced to interrupt a house hunt with frequent breaks to urinate or throw up. Even when her toddler son’s elbow got dislocated mid-move, and she and her husband didn’t have an address to put on the emergency room registration form. Even when their kids wailed when they took their Christmas tree down on Christmas night to prepare for a move.

“It’s kind of a survival instinct,” she said by phone from her newest home, San Francisco. She figures she can either fight moving or make the best of it.

She’s chosen the latter. And while she’s at it, she figures she might as well laugh about it.

Sometimes, anyway.

“You can find humor in anything. I mean anything,” she said. “And moving isn’t the end of the world. … It’s just part of life.”

“Tip No. 1: Set the tone for your family with cheerful but firm leadership. Think Hitler with packing peanuts.”

The Fitzpatricks’ nomadic life started with a move from Youngstown to Cleveland in 1988, before either of them realized they were ushering in an odyssey. Although she grew up in Hubbard, Ohio and loved being near family, “I didn’t think twice about leaving there,” she said.

She was even more excited about their next move, to the Washington, D.C., area. She thought of it as a great adventure, a chance to explore historical landmarks and immerse herself in the city’s vibrancy.

It was there she and Tim realized that if he was going to get ahead in his field of public relations, they were going to have to be willing to move. “But I didn’t know it would be this much,” she said.

Their shortest stay was in North Canton, Ohio, where they lived for about a year and three months. Their house was newly built, and she joked that she doesn’t think they were there long enough to have to clean it.

Their longest stay was their last, almost five years in Jupiter, Fla.

Along the way, they befriended couples in Washington who were in the military, a career known for its itinerant lifestyle.

“They have not moved nearly as much as us,” she said. “ ... One of them still lives there.”

“Tip No. 17: During the actual move, pretend like you’re holing up for the apocalypse. You’re not too far off.”

Fitzpatrick has experienced any number of challenges in her moves, from maladjusted pets to interminable hours in the Department of Motor Vehicles. But nothing prepared her for her move to Lexington, Ky.

By then she was an old hand at relocating, and she figured she had the routine down pat. So as the movers packed up her house, she whiled away her time playing Tetris, knitting and chatting on the phone.

She figured they were professionals. They knew what they were doing.

The Fitzpatricks couldn’t get into their new house right away, so most of their stuff went into storage while they lived in an apartment temporarily.

But when they moved into their home, they got an unpleasant surprise.

Boxes were crushed, and some things had never even been put in boxes, she recalled. “All of our standing lamps were bent or broken. Our piano was damaged. I thought Tim was going to die. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”

They eventually got a settlement from the moving company, “and we got a fruit basket and some gift certificates to a restaurant.”

Not to mention a very important lesson about maintaining control of your move.

“Tip No. 28: The sooner you get your kids settled into school, the sooner they become someone else’s guilt trip.”

As hard as moving is for adults, it’s even worse for kids, Fitzpatrick admits — so hard, in fact, that she said she probably wouldn’t have done it if she’d known.

All of her kids had to move when they were in high school. Their oldest, Mike, and their youngest, Caroline, were entering their sophomore years. Jack, the middle child, had to move for his senior year.

They did their share of complaining, Fitzpatrick said, but none ever resorted to melodramatic tactics like threatening to run away.

And somehow, they adjusted.

All three, she said, are confident, adaptable people. She’s proud that as children they always empathized with kids who needed friends, and she’s pleased that they approach new situations with more confidence than most of their peers.

“They haven’t gone to therapy yet and killed us,” she said. “But they might. The jury’s still out on that.”

“Tip No. 42: Get your keys, get in that newly licensed car, and start living!”

Fitzpatrick believes moving has changed her for the better, too. She was never shy, she said, but she used to dislike situations where she didn’t know anyone. Now she’s much more outgoing, more comfortable in unfamiliar circumstances.

“It also made me more aware of other people who were new,” she said. Like her children, she empathizes with their plight and makes a point of being welcoming and helpful.

She’s also developed some survival tactics. Her best moving advice:

  •  Accept help. When someone asks if you need anything, “think of something quick, and get them to do it.”
  •  Pay for any help that you can — even having the moving company pack and unpack your boxes. Under your close supervision, that is.
  •  When your move reaches its most frustrating point, pick a date six months or a year from now and reassure yourself that by that date, you’ll have everything done. It helps to turn on that light at the end of the tunnel.

And try not to pack your sense of humor away with your bed linens and cookie sheets. When things get tough, “take a second and laugh at yourself,” she said.

It just might keep you from killing the movers.

"Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves," by Diane Laney Fitzpatrick chronicles her experiences as a serial mover.