We went back to the empty house, just to check back and make sure that everything was as it should be before the final walk-through and thus the sale of our house, our first house, would be complete. My five-year-old son and I went upstairs and into what had been his room. As we checked all the closets one last time, he burst into tears: "I don't want to move. I miss our house."
This house was the only place my son remembers living. Six months before we bought it, we went on a trip to visit my family in Montreal. My then-18-month-old son was so upset by the change in routine, he stopped talking. For six months. Occasionally, a word would slip out of his mouth in front of us, and his face would get dark, his arms would cross, and he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he had indeed said anything at all. My husband and I stressed over how he would react to the move, so sensitive as he was to change. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about, because as soon as we showed him his room, he said, "I love it. It's perfect."
When my husband and I were applying for our green cards, we had to recall and record the address of anywhere we had ever lived. Ever. I'm grateful that my father keeps meticulous paper records, in the form of yearly agendas, so he could go back and tell me my addresses from when I moved out of residence and into my own apartment, or where I lived when I first arrived in Edmonton to do my Ph.D. Each address brought back a distinct memory of the day (or days) I moved: the moment my mother left me in my room in residence and I burst into tears at the grey faux-stone walls lining my tiny room. How hot it is on July 1 when it's moving day across Quebec and we had to haul our stuff up three floors of winding staircases. The sublet my last summer in Sherbrooke where the roof leaked and I essentially moved five times in six weeks. Our kindly landlady asking us almost immediately when we were going to start having kids (which she was all for) when we arrived in California as newlyweds. Forever grateful that we didn't buy that house in Florida.
We seem to have terrible timing for our moves (as if there is ever a good time). During a snowstorm just after final exams, so all our friends are grading and all the students have left. Twice while I was pregnant and suffering from horrible morning sickness. And this time, again immediately after final exams, but also rushing to find a place to live during the insanity that is the end of the academic year. And we have yet to accept a position that covers even part of our moving expenses, so we continually plunge ourselves into debt for the promise of a job that might eventually allow us to dig our way out, each time a little faster, in theory.
This is modern academia: move after move after move after move. Or at least it's a major part of it for many of us trying to make it. My daughter likes to tell people about all the places we've lived, as well as how her brother and her were born in different states, but also in a completely different country from us, her parents. My students, for whom moving two counties over to go to university is traumatic, struggle to understand how and why we would move as much as we do. The only students who sympathize are those whose parents were in the military.
I'm grateful that we have had the means to be able to move as much as we have to continue to be able to do the thing we love while growing professionally, but I also know that academia locks out many people who are not as mobile for a variety of reasons. We exclude talent, we support a massively inefficient (and environmentally unsustainable) training and employment system, and we add to the debt of already indebted students and professionals.