I moved to Swarthmore, PA

After six years of traveling for cello, my husband and I decided it was time to move.

Well, time for me and the kids to move. I still have no idea what my husband will do.

In hindsight, the reason it has taken me so long to write about moving is that I had to be in denial about moving in order to move. I moved with nothing because I told myself we will go back to the farm a lot.

We aren’t doing that. And somewhere in the back of my head I probably knew that. But it’s too sad for me.

Most things that are really hard to do, I have to not think about in order to do them. Launching a company, for instance. Having children. Even homeschooling. Each time I told myself it wouldn’t be as hard as people say it is. Denial is a powerful tool for productivity.

Now we are moved. Sort of. We have boxes where the sofa should be. I have to put something there so I don’t feel like the apartment will never look right. And we have been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for five days. We ate so much meat on the farm that I think the kids think the PB&J’s are not so much the doldrums of moving but rather part of our adventure in city living.

Our landlord said a lot of people asked to rent our apartment so they could use the address for the school district: Swarthmore-Wallingford.

When I told people we live on a farm and homeschool, people assumed our school district was terrible. When I tell people in Swarthmore we are homeschooling they ask why, as in: “Will you put the kids in school for middle school?”

Parents worry that I’m ruining my kids by denying them entrance to this wonderful school system. And I probably fuel that worry by telling them we unschool and the kids only learn what they want to learn.

So I tell people I don’t believe in school.

No one asks why. They just think I’m stupid.

When people ask me why we moved I tell them the kids need to be able to do things on their own. On the farm, we’re so far from everything that the kids couldn’t do anything by themselves. Now they go to tutors on their own, they walk to lessons on their own, they can go to the grocery store on their own.

Research published in the Atlantic says American parents overvalue independence. But I don’t think American farm families do.

When my son made a friend, and they walked away together, I realized my son had never even crossed a street without a grownup. He never had occasion to. And maybe that’s reason enough to move.

43 replies
  1. Elisabeth Kelly
    Elisabeth Kelly says:

    We also recently moved to PA. We live just a bit north of you in another highly coveted school district. We also unschool and I get a similar reaction. I get reminded how fantastic the system is but I just smile and shake my head.

  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I used to hang out in Swarthmore when I was a teen. In the summer I used to sneak into classes for the fun of it. I still live near there. Let me know if you need any help. I’m a stay at home mom with twins so I’m avail during the day.

  3. marta
    marta says:

    Wow! You are bold!

    After years of reading (and ocasionally commenting) here I was getting the feeling your lifestyle was totally absurd (driving that amount of time for cello, the outsourcing, the sheltered kids, etc) in the name of something that can make some sense (unschooling).

    Now you have the best combo – unschooling in the city and real independence for your kids (who are teenagers, or the older one is and the younger is getting there).

    I live in a city centre and my kids, although not unschooled, have always enjoyed a lot of independence. At 8 or 9 they were crossing the street and going to friends and on errands on their own. At 1o or 11 riding the public bus. This autonomy of movement gives you a lot of autonomy of perception, of thought, and creates a whole person.

    I truly believe location+parents, much more than the school/education set they’re in, are the real impact on kids’ lives.

    Hope all goes well with your husband and the farm.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I agree here- love city living with my kids, easy access to everything and a sense of growing interdependence within a community. My husband grew up in a village that he freely roamed, jumped on a train, and met with friends from age 10.

      I have questioned if I would bother unschooling in more suburban/rural areas as I outsource a lot of stuff to be fully available to my kiddos. I liken this to families that live in Asia and outsource things even if they don’t need to. I have friends that are only raising their kids in the younger ages in HK, Singapore, and Thailand just due to the amount of help they can have at home. They are coming back in a few years for the more prime ages of independence, like P is doing.

      I don’t think I could handle the culture shock and reorg of a life with my kids being a bit younger than Ps. Maybe if they were older. That said, it makes a lot of sense to me that P had the kids in the city until the more aware ages, left for the rest of their younger development in a more secure environment without major distractions, and is returning now that they have more of a sense of themselves. It’s the same as families who relocate as their kids get older up to Westchester or Montclair, then the kids spend their teen years coming into the city.

  4. Carrie Shiomos
    Carrie Shiomos says:

    Welcome to PA! You live about 45 minutes from me. That’s a big adjustment going from small farm town to swanky-artsy-Swarthmore! I hope you and the kids adjust well and can feel at home before long.

  5. Rayne of Terror
    Rayne of Terror says:

    I would move too. My god the driving is the worst part of rural living. I just had a job interview that would have required driving 2.5 hours to Chicago once a week and I was like, nah. I’m currently driving my boys 20 miles each way for hockey & clarinet, which is actually not as crazy making as the driving in 4 mile circles I did last winter for theater, wrestling, and two different basketball leagues. I want to move so bad. My oldest wants to try to get into a the local university high school though and our living in “the county” gives him a big leg up on doing that.

  6. Liz
    Liz says:

    It all comes down to worldview and sometimes, we need a change of view to support it.

    Best wishes to you and your family as you find your way through it all.

  7. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Congrats. Or condolences, I’m not sure which. I’ve moved a lot in my life, but at this point I must confess that the mere idea of it makes me feel short of breath.

    I’m sure your kids will love it, both of them. Kids doing things on their own is excellent, and – depending on the kind of things kids want to do – a city can be very freeing. My son is loving his ability to move around the city on his own this fall. Yours will too.

    Good choice of cities, too. Nearby access to great colleges and conservatories, attractive architecture, public transit, street life, and all at a much, much lower housing cost than Boston or New York.

    And if your kids do decide to ask you to let them go to school at some point, you won’t have to move again.

    Just think – even your littlest one will soon be able to get to the conservatory by himself. You won’t even need to come! Are you looking at Curtis? It’s an easy train ride from Swarthmore.

    Best of luck. I’m glad you’re all right.

  8. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    I’m really happy for you, even though it will be tough being away from your spouse, who I am sure won’t be making it PA much due to the demands of farming.

    My 12 year old is also mostly independent in terms of transportation, and it’s a thing of beauty. So freeing. Enjoy.

  9. Mark
    Mark says:

    Nice Move – In Asperger’s lingo you “eloped”, or fled. I’m on the spectrum too and understand the freedom that comes with the practice. Not that I feel a need to analyze (although INTJ), but eloping is clinically thought to be a reaction to stress events. Kind of sounds like you ran away. How exciting! Good luck.

    Take care of yourself physically and I bet in a half year that the recent gloomy pessimism will lift and you’ll start having a more optimistic future oriented outlook. Good for you all around. Maybe the best is yet to come.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I don’t think this is Aspergers. This makes total sense in terms of timing, access to resources, the children’s demands, etc. A lot of people move proactively for their kids.

      It’s great all parents agreed, too.

      • Mark
        Mark says:

        I do not strongly disagree with you ,but in general I find it a bit shocking how immune readers seem to Penelope’s pain. Running off without any pots of pans or the normal “excess” items in a household is unusual behavior in my opinion. It still looks to me like a fleeing event. Somewhat well orchestrated granted, but Penelope is good at strategy. My experience is that neurotypical people just have very little idea how different an autism spectrum brain type is on the inside. There are a lot of semi-clinical ways to look at the situation – it is very logical in a brutally honest way; it is very risky as she might lose every bit of security she had with the farm (amygdala gland issue); it is executed in a somewhat disordered manner as is typical of someone with executive function problems. I live in Wisconsin, the Farmer is off for the winter – this is the slow season. He would have loaded up the truck with all sorts of useful things in my opinion if he were in on this caper. Successful farmers are always practical.

        Just my opinions of course from my perspective on, and knowing the high functioning end of the spectrum pretty well.

        Rule number one in all human behaviors is self interest so that component must be here too. I think her creative side was just getting stifled by small town nothingness. The new artsy community is hopefully going to be just what the doctor never would have ordered. That’s why she did it herself.

        I know this might come across as disagreement but it is just an Aspie being logical while analyzing the situation.


        • karelys beltran
          karelys beltran says:

          No I think you have so many right points.

          The thing is, I’ve come to realize that because some people don’t adhere to typical ways of doing things we level it as wrong. We talk about how bad it is to undo family units. Or moving often.

          But lately I’ve been thinking that there might be ways to make room for the needs of those people who just need to….elope? Who just don’t care for the pots and pans because you just need plastic forks to make pb&j’s. And still give the children a thriving environment.

          But not just the children. The adult too.

          We left Mexico without pots and pans.
          We moved from AZ to WA in a 1974 Chevy Van with no seats. Everyone was told to grab their most precious belongings and throw everything else away mercilessly.

          My dad was so sure of himself and he looked us in the eye when he said “where we’re going we can get more. WE WILL BE FINE.”

          And guess what?

          It’s come back full circle.
          We’re minimalists.
          Thank God for the cloud.

          It made us into people who are so well adjusted despite major upheaval but also it made us into people who just can’t click with the regular Costco life.

          I don’t know if it’s good or bad.
          But it feels good :)

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Pretty sure she didn’t pack too much because she still has a home in Wisconsin that needs the stuff. I buy new everything when I move, and throw out a lot. Moving is stressful so the less I have to deal with the better. I know so many people that don’t move into perfect situations and unpack their old life immediately. How would she even know what her new space needed? She can go buy all that stuff pretty quickly.

            A lot of the people I know that are moving with kids are well off; meaning living in a fancy hotel for a while or maybe traveling a bit while Dad gets the new place settled.

            If there aren’t resources then that makes the situation more problematic and I would agree. I just don’t find this situation that odd. She already has the kids settled and that takes a lot of EF. She was practically living out of a car before this!

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Not saying this is an elope. Just noticed a funny coincidence. PT’s pen name is pen + elope. :) Kind of cool…

      • Mark
        Mark says:

        Love it!

        pen-elope: a writer who elopes…

        From an ASD viewpoint elopement is a reaction to a stress event. It’s not quite the same thing as running away. I see P-elopes move to PA more as a strategic offensive withdrawal.

        The Amazon prime pantry boxes filling in for a sofa are a clue I suppose. Gotta love Jeff Bezos and Amazon – start a new life by purchasing all your essentials on-line and he’ll fill up those big boxes and ship for $5.99 each. Penelope will be kicking herself if she didn’t get paid for that product placement.

        All in good fun – sincerely hope you are doing ok Penelope. And that better days lay ahead.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      I find it a bit shocking too, Mark, as the idea of moving at this point in my life, with my two kids, does not appeal to me in the least. Moving away from my wife? Even less so.

      However, in Penelope’s case, I don’t see it at all as running away. It seem completely consistent with her prior posts. She posted that her life was falling apart on October 28th. The source of the fracture was the conflict between taking her younger kid to cello lessons in the Chicago area three times a week, spending 24 hours a week in the car to do that, and her older kid’s increased needs for help with school work. She wrote quite plainly that she could not meet the needs of both her children anymore, in her current situation.

      Moving to Swarthmore, the home town of a wonderful cello teacher, a short train ride from a proper conservatory, a college town full of potential tutors, teachers, and babysitters, is a way to meet the needs of both her kids that simply was not available to her staying on the farm in Wisconsin. It’s not running away, but moving towards a solution to the problems that were most pressing to her.

      I hope that as things ease up a bit, and both kids get on their paths in a more self-propelled fashion, as enabled by their less isolated location, PT will have more time to pursue her own goals and writing.

      As in, it’s been a week already, PT, do you have dishes yet?

  10. Erin
    Erin says:

    I’m happy for you that you moved. Every path in life is hard, there are just different kinds of hard. When you take a risk like this–whether or not the choice itself is permanent–the most valuable things are the lessons & experiences you gain along the way. You were never made to be stagnant. But I think that by remaining still for awhile you will find it creates new spaces in your life that will be filled in beautiful ways. I see a lot of hope here. I see a lot of aching. A lot of opportunity for letting go of things that don’t matter. A future of good things to write about.

    I missed your writing, but–mostly–because I worried about how you would feel to be not writing for so long. Thank you for coming back.

  11. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    It makes a lot of sense. There are more options and choices to make as well as new things to explore and discover moving to a new city. The new cello teacher sounds amazing! Maybe it’s not too late to sign up for spring classes with a local homeschool learning group. We found several amazing academically challenging and secular options being close to a big city. Maybe there is something close to you as well.

    Wishing you all the best and looking forward to reading about it all!!

  12. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to do that. I would have worried about the family unit as a whole. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. My gut says keeping families together is good. But, I also see how you will all benefit from this. How exciting. I wonder if I hold myself back too much……

  13. karelys beltran
    karelys beltran says:

    Love the rug!

    I live in a The School District.

    People have addresses here even when they live in the next town just so they can send their kids to school here when they are old enough. People with babies maintain an address here just so when the time comes they send their kids to school here!

    I am mobilizing other moms interested in homeschooling to make it possible for me to do so.

    And I am telling myself it will be way easier than everyone makes it out to be and the reason why it’s so hard it’s because everyone is doing it the American bootstrapping way.

    I know I am trying to fool myself.
    I know I am doing the same thing that people do when they put a lot of money in the slot machines just for the glimmer of hope that they will win big.
    Except that I am reeeeeally good at convincing myself that that sliver of hope tucked away in my chest is not only totally reachable and it’ll come to pass, but it’s the only possible outcome for us.

    It has served me well in my life.

    I love the rug.
    And I kinda love the boxes as furniture. With your design savvy I bet you can turn it around and actually figure out a way to do cool furniture with unexpected materials.

    Sorry it’s hard and sad.

    It is regardless of what you pick.

    But there’s always amazing good treasures that the proscribed road doesn’t.

  14. Anna
    Anna says:

    I have a notable positive bias toward the situation as have wanted to live in that part of the country – that particular pocket of towns near Philadelphia – since age 17.

    And I do really like donuts and coffee.

  15. nl
    nl says:

    When your son made a friend, and they walked away together…yes, that all by itself makes it all worth it.

    You have done your job; raised them with unconditional love in an environment without the life-long damage of peer pressure, bullying, cliques, and the desperate, I mean really desperate obsession to fit in and be one of the cool kids. THIS IS what most kids endure through middle school and ‘live with” as their self-assessed label throughtout the remainder their lifetime.

    You will never forget that vision of watchimg your son walk away…you gave him the gift of freedom. The best gifts in life are priceless. See you soon, my friend.

  16. kate
    kate says:

    I’ve been waiting to see what you’ve been up to. I so appreciate you telling your life story to us all. It’s just as life should be, bold, honest and making me want more.

  17. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    This long silence reminds me of when my brother left home. He wouldn’t call my mother for months at a time. She’d call me and ask if I thought he was in trouble. I’d say “Yeah, he’s almost certainly in trouble. And he won’t call you until he’s out of it.”

  18. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Well, that’s probably right. I’ve not taken a vacation from the blog in ten years. And I dodn’t plan to not write, but I’m exhausted from the move. And overwhelmed. And I know I need to wrote again but I worry about having to worry every day about writing on top of all the other worries I have. So, yes, I’m worrying about worrying.


    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Don’t worry about us. We are not your responsibility. Take care of your family.

      I hope you ignore the nasty things some people say and know that the number of people who wish you well is much, much greater.

      We’ll be looking forward to a good story or two when you come back.

      • Anu
        Anu says:

        Yes, do take care. Moving and making major changes are difficult and overwhelming. Take your time and know you are missed.

    • layla
      layla says:


      What can I do for you from so far away? Send good thoughts, prayers, hopes? Whatever your preferred method of long-distance care, I send that to you. I appreciate your brutal and humorous honesty in your posts. Long-distance good thoughts for your kids and the Farmer. Marriage is difficult, but worth the struggle.

  19. Anu
    Anu says:

    Take care! Moving and making major life changes are difficult and overwhelming. Take your time and know that you are missed!

    (sorry Bostonian, I replied to you earlier instead of posting here)

Comments are closed.