My boyfriend and I are Navy vets that discharged earlier this year. For a while we werent sure where we were going to end up bc of the job market but we DID know that we wanted to be in the North East (anywhere but NJ) where our family and the most beautiful Autumns are.. and we knew we wanted our own home so we could plant gardens galore, get some chickens, not have to worry about other apartment tenants, and we could keep our pitbull (the sweetest girl youll ever meet in your life). To be honest, it was mostly so we could keep our dog, the other stuff was just an added bonus. Our minds were made up when we found out my step-daughter (Analise - my bf and I are not married but Ive been in Analises life since she was a toddler) and her mother were moving back to NJ from Florida. Analises mom was finally leaving her husband and starting over, not without obstacles. Analises mom and I always had a great relationship. I was always very appreciative that she let me build such a great relationship with Analise (I know it cant be easy to let another mother figure into your daughters life) and she was grateful that she could count on me to love her daughter as my own. Having grown up in the opposite environment, it felt good to know that my crappy childhood was good for something and prepared me to be a good step-mom who respected the wishes of Analises parents, loved and guided the her, but didnt step over boundaries. I moved to NJ before my boyfriend. I was out before him and needed to find a jobs and set us up for financial success before he made his transition. It was a while before we found a house to buy but we found the perfect house for our little family. A 2 bed, 1 bath bungalow with a fenced in back yard and a ton of old trees in farm country! In the time that I was waiting for my boyfriend, Analises mom and I used to go on walks together with Analise and talk for hours and hours (we have always talked a lot ever since we were introduced to one another). We would encourage eachother, Id give her unbiased advice and help her with her Math homework, and she would listen to my often crazy ideas for the future. I considered her a good friend and loved that we could have that relationship for Analise. As soon as my boyfriend got out of the Navy and moved down to NJ, things changed, though. It was something I expected and it wasnt necessarily a bad thing. Her and I didnt stop talking and she spent a lot of time at my boyfriends parents house (as did I), where Analise was staying while her mom tried to save up for an apartment so she could move out of her parents house that was in a dangerous part of town. 4 days after my boyfriend moved to NJ, we found out that we had to put our new dog (we adopted another pit a week after I moved into our house) down due to mental illness that was leading him to do mean and unpredictable things. It was HORRIBLE, but we did what was best for him and Analise. He was 90lbs and she was 50; no telling what could go wrong. 2 days after that, 4 of my chickens were killed. 2 days after that, I was in a pretty crappy car accident (I was physically okay besides a little whiplash but my car.. not so much). I thought for sure this streak of terrible things was over. 2 days after my car accident, however, we got the worst news of all: Analises mom was moving her back to Florida to try to work things out with her husband and we werent allowed to keep her with us.. not even for the rest of the summer. They were moving in 3 weeks and there was nothing we could do about it. Analises mom had sole custody since my boyfriend was in the military and constantly moved around and deployed for 10 years (Analise will be 8 in October). He had no job lined up (not for lack of trying) and the money we had saved was used a down payment, amongst other things, when buying our home. So we took those 3 weeks and turned it into one big adventure. We visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. We went to the Jersey Shore and saw cool sea creatures. We took a day and went blueberry picking and had a picnic. Analise spent SO much time with the chickens and always helped me clean the coop. When she was outside, you could guarantee she had a chicken in her arms. She helped me make muffins and sang as she washed the dishes (which I always had to rewash when she wasnt looking ). She made her dad pancakes on Fathers Day and gave him the sweetest homemade card. We had a family dinner every night that she was over and we spent more time in the pool than a person probably should. We made the best of the time we had left but life doesnt feel or sound the same without her constant smile and infectious giggle. Ive never been so sad and confused in my life but I know shes happy with her mom in Florida. I know her mom is a good mom. But Im still heartbroken in a way I never thought I could be. I took this picture just before she left. She was holding her favorite chicken, a Dominique rooster whos name went from Joan to Mimi to Mikey. He was a cuddle-bug who followed us around and loved to be held. If we were sitting, hed be in our laps. But he especially loved Analise. Both of them are gone now. Just a few days after Analise left, we found out he was a rooster. Because were not supposed to have chickens, we cant keep roosters since they are so noisy, so he (and his Dom brother) had to be taken to a farm once they started crowing. Im taking some time to myself right now. Im not ready to talk to Analise just yet. Im trying to find peace in knowing shes happy and healthy but Im struggling. Its been a month and I still cry often.. almost every day, actually. But it will get better and before I know it, I will be laughing with her on the phone over the chickens we both love so much.