A Mother of Four Ruminates on Lessons Learned from a Life on the Move

Confessions of a nomad

  • Category
    Homes
  • Written by
    Kathleen Markel
  • Illustrated by
    Nikki Smith

In the days before contacts were kept digitally, I was notorious among friends and family for the number of address books I had single-handedly destroyed. This didn’t involve theft and shredding, but rather, a gypsy lifestyle that led to excessive cross-outs and reentries on pages noting my whereabouts. My current home address count is 33, spanning eight cities across four states. In the LA area alone I’ve had places in Inglewood (two), Westchester (four), Venice (one), Culver City (one), Hollywood (three), Sherman Oaks (two), Studio City (two), Burbank (one), and Toluca Lake (four). Once my kids were of age, we just neighborhood-hopped through the Valley, so they only attended one school K–8.

I’ve never been in the military, am not talented enough for the circus, and though friends often throw around the phrase “witness protection program,” none of these account for my transitory lifestyle. I am, it turns out, the victim of an overactive imagination, a high tolerance for risk and a taste for adventure. I love change and can picture myself in all types of places and scenarios. I’ve lived in multiple house styles: William Mellenthin-designed, Dutch Colonial, Tudor, Spanish, Victorian, farmhouse, cottage, post-war, ranch, A-frame and Southern Colonial as well as apartments, flats, and a hotel. Add to this a husband of 30 years, four kids, numerous dogs, a couple rabbits and my “embrace the chaos” motto.

After reflecting on a life nomadic, I’ve arrived at a couple theories that might serve to explain it. It’s possible I’m suffering from yet another affliction, diagnosed by my family. My sister tells me I have CED—Chronic Entertaining Disorder; I like to throw parties. The moving thing could be attributed to a similar malady … possibly OCRS—Obsessive-Compulsive Relocation Syndrome. 

A better explanation, though, is that I don’t think of “home” as a physical structure. To me, a home is the intangible space of stability and safety you create with your people, whomever your people may be, wherever you are. My husband and I are actors turned entrepreneurs. Over the years we’ve had money and we haven’t. We’ve moved for joyful reasons (another baby on the way), and for not-so-joyful reasons (an unsustainable mortgage). Each time, we’ve viewed it as an opportunity to create family magic in a new space. And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I believe those moves have been the building blocks of our resilient, stable kids. They’re all grown now, ages 18 to 25, and I see flexible, buoyant, adventurous adults who don’t measure happiness or success by what they own or where they live. Everyone in our family agrees our best Christmas ever was the one that came during our lowest point financially. That was the moment we all realized that when everything else is stripped away, what really matters becomes very clear—and it is not the house you live in.

Oh, and by the way, for all my pals frustrated trying to keep track of me, I’ve gotten my comeuppance. Because I’ve never had a permanent home address, I’ve had to keep my very first email address all these years. No matter where I am, I can always be found at aol.com. I know, I know … it makes me a dinosaur. A migratory dinosaur.  

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