The work-life balancing act

When we moved back to Michigan, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to take my job with me and transition to working from home full-time. It was a huge part of why we were able to move in the first place, and it was the tipping point that led us to fully commit to Kalamazoo. Kristin actually secured a job during the week that we came to search for a house, which was quicker than we’d expected her to find one, but being able to bring my NY job with us was a big deal. Because I work from home, and K has to leave for work no later than 7:00 a.m. (and because our day care doesn’t open till 7:30) I handle the entire morning routine with the kids. Lately it’s been a struggle for me to keep my cool and still get everyone out the door at a reasonable hour. I always start off with good intentions of doing zero yelling and creating a peaceful start to the day that sends the kids off to preschool feeling loved and supported. One of the main problems is that my definition of a peaceful morning involves a slow, unscheduled breakfast (we’re big breakfast eaters in this house) and one of the key ingredients to getting kids out the door on time (or so I hear) is lots of rigidity: rules about what happens in what order, lots of pre-planning and prep the night before, charts with pictures and stickers to indicate the order of things, kitchen timers etc. None of that jives with my idea of a peaceful morning, so I know that I’m really the problem here. My attitude probably encourages them to drag their feet and follow their whims.

Here’s how the morning usually plays out: Kristin wakes me up at about 6:45 before she leaves for work. Sometimes one or both of the twins are awake, lately no one is (probably because of the “spring forward” that happened recently). I head for the kitchen and start cooking breakfast (this is probably another mistake); I insist on making them a hot breakfast every morning. Normally that’s pancakes (one mashed banana, two scrambled eggs, a splash of milk, a tablespoon or so of ground flax seed, a tablespoon or so of shredded coconut, and a sprinkle of cinnamon) or sometimes French toast or oatmeal. They also eat enough raisin bread to keep the industry afloat. Everyone wakes up on their own shortly thereafter (usually) and comes to the counter to eat. I recently tried to switch to the rule “you must get dressed before eating” but then I forgot and we all went back to breakfast in pjs. They take forever to eat and take a lot of breaks to play with toys, and I spend a lot of time saying, “Are you done with breakfast? You need to get dressed.” It’s usually between breakfast and getting dressed that I begin making threats and eventually start to yell because we’re late again. Eventually I wrestle everyone into clothes, change the twins’ diapers, and get myself dressed in something semi-presentable, sans shower. I shout for everyone to move to the mud room for shoes and coats, that whole exercise takes awhile because it’s winter and we have to find all of the things (I know that I should find all of it and lay it out the night before, and sometimes I do but sometimes I just don’t feel like it). I let them out the door and they all wander into the driveway looking for neighborhood cats and I nag them to get into the car. Buckling three carseats really deserves its own step in the process, and just as I’m about to back out of the driveway the song requests usually start pouring in from the back. Sometimes I’m a grouch and tell them no, we’re too late for me to fiddle with Spotify, but most of the time I pull up the playlist of their faves and let them each make a request.

By the time I drop them all off at school (which isn’t quick, but again that’s probably on me – I like to talk to teachers to keep tabs on what’s going on), I’m racing home to jump in the shower and start work by 9:00, which is always a stretch. Working from home is such a weird, weird thing. One of my colleagues asked me early on if I now have tons of time back that I lost on a 1.25 hour (each way) commute in New York. I told her that honestly? I have less, at least if we’re talking about time for me. In New York that 1.25 hours each way allowed me to read, listen to podcasts or music, or even sleep on the train. After my workday I knew that I had that length of time to decompress before walking in the door and having to be “on” as mom. Working from home, I rush straight from dropping them all off into whatever work project is pressing in the morning, and then when Kristin heads out to pick them up around 5:00 I’m rushing to complete as much work as I can in my last hour before the kids burst in and need my undivided attention. That doesn’t mean that I would trade it, a big part of the reason why we moved was to lose our commutes and be able to give that time back to our family, and I do love that we have more of our evenings together.

I remember chatting with another mom of three in the months after the twins were born. She had twin boys Jonah’s age (we were in the same birthing class), and her daughter was born around the same time as the twins. I asked her how things were going with three under three and she said that most days they were in a routine, but if someone got sick the wheels were off the bus. I know exactly what she means. This winter seems to have been a particularly rough one for illness, and K and I have had to do some juggling to figure out who could stay home with a sick kid most easily, depending on the day and week. Because I have more PTO days available and more flexibility in taking them, most of the time that’s me (although she’s more than fair about staying home whenever it’s necessary).

This week has felt like one of those “wheels are off the bus” weeks. On Monday, K left for work before the kids were up and when I woke Jude up I noticed that one of his eyes was pretty crusty. We’d received an email from preschool last week saying that pink eye was going around at school, so I’d known it was a possibility but hadn’t given it a ton of thought. I knew right away that he should stay home, and figured I’d take Vivi and Jonah and then run Jude to urgent care before heading back home to start my work day. Despite some evidence to the contrary I still expect that with only one sick kid I should be able to get work done more or less as usual. By the time we got to preschool and I went to unbuckle V from her car seat it was clear that she too had crusty eyes. I told her that she had to stay with me and she was mad as hell (they love school). When her teacher came out to take a quick peek and give me instructions, V wouldn’t even look at either of us. I dropped Jonah with his teacher and headed across town to urgent care with the twins. At this point I still thought that maybe I could just wrap this up quickly and get in a full work day. I let my boss know what I was up to and she gave me the go-ahead (fortunately I also work for a very flexible and very family-friendly organization). Urgent care wasn’t busy at all, but things like this still take way more time than I ever anticipate. Every person there was entirely charmed by Jude and Vivi (it’s actually kind of fun because at pediatric offices kids are no big thing, but when you go to urgent care they’re the favorite patients of the day). They noticed one of those coat hooks that has a rounded top and two curved hooks and excitedly showed me the “octofish,” and Vivi pointed to the light they use to examine eyes and ears and said “that robot check my ears” (we’re really into robots around here lately).

Despite my stress over my day being derailed, I tried hard to stay in the moment and really notice the cute stuff and the way that everyone else appreciated their presence. I knew that I was lucky to be with them, but it was also tough not to think about work. Because I have the privilege of working from home unsupervised, I feel a huge responsibility to demonstrate my reliability and punctuality and to deliver results in noticeable ways. I know that being a mom has a huge impact on the guilt factor as well; I never want my colleagues to assume that because I have children (and because they get sick and things come up unexpectedly) I may deliver less than others or not show up the way that I’m expected to. Being a mom who also works from home (with colleagues who, by and large, do not work from home) is a tremendous blessing but also a consistent source of guilt and anxiety.

With their prescriptions in hand (pink-eye confirmed – fortunately Vivi loves “raindrops” and asks for them regularly, the boys have to be pinned down for eyedrops) I headed out to fill them. Vivi started asking for mac and cheese, so I decided to fill the prescription at the grocery store on the way. I dropped it at the pharmacy and was told that it would take 20 or 30 minutes, so, wearing Vivi and pushing Jude in the cart, I went after the shopping list that Kristin left with me that morning (she’d fully intended to do the shopping on her way home from work, but since I had 20 minutes to kill anyway…). Once I was back at the pharmacy and the prescription still wasn’t ready, I thought a lot about how much easier this must all feel if you’re a stay-at-home mom. That’s probably an incorrect and unfair assessment, and I’m sure an actual SAHM would have lots to say on the matter – dealing with sick kids isn’t easy for anyone, but knowing that I was supposed to be at work and wondering what my boss and my colleagues might think of this situation just made the whole thing harder. I imagined what it might be like to know that all day long I was supposed to be with the kids, meeting their needs, shopping for dinner groceries etc. How much more in-the-moment might I be?

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Jude making a call on my wireless mouse while I give up on getting any work done

By the time I got home it was almost noon. The twins needed lunch and a nap and I knew that the chance of me getting more than two hours of work done was absurd at best. I let my boss know that I was logging the whole day as a sick day and apologized for the chaos. What made the whole thing worse was that the following day, Jonah had an appointment with a new pediatrician for a pre-surgery physical because on Friday he’s having his top two front teeth pulled under anesthesia. The Tuesday appointment was another one that I’d hoped would be in-and-out, but instead it took 90 minutes, and Friday I knew I’d be missing at least a half-day if not a full-day of work for the dental surgery. I’m compulsively honest about this stuff, so I made sure to get a few hours of work in while the twins napped on Monday to make up for the time I might miss on Tuesday, and entered Friday into our HR system well in advance, but this week has still been psychologically overwhelming as I’ve felt pulled in two opposing directions. The fact that I could potentially fly under the radar while all of this goes on in the background somehow feels even worse than just not showing up at the office in an obvious way.

Add all of this to the fact that dealing with medical professionals has a tendency to completely undo me as it is (another post for another time) and I’ve been unraveling a little bit this week. Send us good thoughts as we head into dental surgery tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

On expectations, potential, and the people we become

A few nights ago, as the kids ate dinner at the counter and Kristin and I stood in the kitchen tending to them, Jonah said, “Mama D, you’re like the mom who’s the boss.” I exchanged glances with K and sort of smirked while she expressed defeat, until she asked him, “What does Mama D do that makes her the boss?” “Well,” he said, directing his response to me, “because you yell, and you tell our family what to do.” The pride of being in charge immediately evaporated. My confidence as a parent was already wavering, since an hour or so earlier Jonah had come home from school with the following “story tape” across his sweater:

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Story tape is something they do at school when the kids are sad or miss their families; it gives them an opportunity to record how they’re feeling so that their parents can read it and acknowledge their feelings at the end of the day. I’d dropped him off that morning and had actually gone out of my way to make sure that he was able to find a book that he was excited about reading, found a teacher who agreed to read it to him, and sent them on their way. Most days, however, he likes to wave to me from one of the windows as I head out to our minivan. He doesn’t do it every day, but most mornings I remember to ask him if he wants to. On this particular morning it hadn’t even occurred to me since the search for a book in the science room was out of the ordinary for us. Now that I think about it, part of the reason we went to the science room looking for the book (which we weren’t able to find) was because he’d asked me to bring his own copy of The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs. We’d labeled it with his name (a rocket-shaped sticker I’d dutifully ordered at the start of the school year to label all of his things) and then forgotten it at home; another failure to add to that whopper of a day. When I saw the tape and reflected on the fact that he’d worn it all day long at school, I was crushed. My perfect vision of myself as the kind of mother I long to be is often in stark contrast to the reality of how I show up for our kids, and it’s incredibly disappointing.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our expectations for ourselves and how that shapes the way we feel about our lives. A friend of my sister’s wrote this piece about the paradox of potential and how being told that you have tons of potential throughout your life can weigh on you at a certain point, or at least cause you some existential anxiety. I think that’s very real (at least for white people of privilege, and I have to wonder on the flip side what it’s like to rarely be told that you have great potential, but that’s another post for another time), and I wonder about all of the things that contribute to a person’s unique vision of what a successful life might look like. I can remember being a freshman in college and feeling completely overwhelmed by the text in a course about representation of women in the media; speaking with my professor over the phone one evening she said to me, “You’re going to graduate school, right?” I kind of stammered that I was actually only a freshman and she repeated, “But you’re going to graduate school, right?” That stuck with me, and I did eventually go to graduate school even though I had no such intentions at the time. I can also remember being told on more than one occasion, early in my nonprofit career, that I would eventually be an executive director. Honestly, I don’t have much desire to be in charge of an entire organization, but upon occasion those expectations make me wonder if I’m achieving enough in my career. It doesn’t weigh on me too heavily, however, because my priorities as a mother are crystal clear to me.

A friend of mine gave birth to her third child about two weeks ago, and in an Instagram post she mentioned that ten years ago she was certain that she never wanted children. This came as a shock to me because while I do think of her as an adventurous soul who loves having the freedom to explore passions, I also think of her as someone who is incredibly devoted to motherhood and whose identity has been shaped in tremendous ways by that role. We exchanged emails about it and she told me that she always thought that one day she’d wear business suits and makeup and carry a briefcase (not at all a part of her world at this point).

I went to college mostly because I was expected to; it was non-negotiable in my house (and for that I am eternally grateful to my parents) but I didn’t have much in the way of career ambition. Once again, the expectations of others led the way, but I remember being in college and knowing that what I really wanted was to be a mother. I don’t think that I had any specific dreams of being a stay-at-home parent (maybe because I knew that I was expected to find some sort of professional success) but I’d always known that I wanted to have children. Mama K, on the other hand, had no such lifelong ambition. I don’t believe that she ever made up her mind that she didn’t want children, it just hadn’t entirely occurred to her. Of course when you have an LGBTQ identity it can complicate the picture a bit, and I’m not sure that I always knew that I’d end up fulfilling my dream, but I think that it tossed motherhood out of the picture for K in some respects. She thanks me regularly for bringing my dream into our marriage since without it she might never have pursued motherhood at all.

I was reading “mommy blogs” and other content about motherhood well before I was even trying to get pregnant, so I think that I also came into motherhood with the understanding that it was going to be hard. Among my generation of mothers there is no shortage of honest writing on the ways in which parenting can feel like a thankless slog (this is an eternal favorite of mine). In some ways I think that it’s actually become more acceptable to complain about it than to gush about the beautiful moments, but I suppose that’s a social media theme these days: share too much positivity and you’ll be accused of filtering dishonestly and making others feel guilty about the lack of beauty in their own days. At any rate, I think I came into it expecting both the beauty and the challenges. What I failed to anticipate was the possibility that I might not be a great mom. My friend Nancy, who is also the mother of three, recently reflected on her birthday and how her parents might have felt when she (their firstborn of six) came into the world:

As children, we mistakenly believe that our parents have it all figured out. If we knew how clueless, scared, or incompetent they felt on most days we probably would have feared for our survival. It’s not until we become parents ourselves that we realize what a monumental undertaking the whole thing is and that nothing in life can ever prepare you for it.

It’s fascinating to realize once we become parents that our parents were making it up too, and in most cases, we turned out just fine. It doesn’t keep me from feeling tremendous disappointment when I fail, however.

While I didn’t have a clear picture of who I hoped to be as I was growing up, I think that I implicitly assumed that I would be a good mother. I’m not disappointed or surprised by the day-to-day reality of being a mother who is also employed full-time. There’s plenty of writing on that from people who find those realities to be absolutely suffocating, particularly those who pictured themselves with high-power careers (that they love) but I think that I expected the tradeoffs and realities and have embraced them in lots of ways. I grew up playing house, after all.

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Photo credit Krista Trewhella

The challenging moments with the kids aren’t nearly as surprising as the realization that I yell way too much, that I’m impatient with them, and that I don’t play with them nearly as often as I should (and that they notice). One afternoon when I was feeling especially overwhelmed by a number of high-stakes, paperwork-related tasks such as tracking down information for the accountant and doing research to dispute our property tax assessment, I told Kristin that maybe I just need to accept that this boring paperwork crap is the part of running a family that I’m good at. Kristin gets to be the goofy mom; I’m in charge of the filing cabinet and the bills. I kind of want to be the goofy mom, but I also know that I’m not very comfortable being goofy and that I don’t play with them often enough because I find getting on the floor to “play” to be kind of confusing and annoying (unless we’re building a marble run, in which case I’m completely taking over). I love being with them, and I love watching them play a lot of the time, I absolutely love reading to them, and I truly enjoy talking to them. I know that I’m not failing as a mother all of the time, but I want to be SO much better. I want to believe that my potential is greater than the mom I am now, and that I can still get there before they’re grown up.

Sometime between dinner and bedtime of that same evening, I sat on the floor of the kitchen with Jonah and told him, “I’m sorry if I haven’t been a good mom lately.” “Yeah,” he said, “you’ve been yelling at us a lot in the morning. You can get mad without yelling. That’s what Gladys taught me.” Gladys was his day care provider in New York, and she had the patience of a saint. “I’m sorry I’ve been yelling, I’ll try harder not to yell,” I said with tears in my eyes, “Can I have another chance?” “Yes, you can have one more chance,” he said. The limit caught me off guard and suddenly I was left wondering how many chances we really get with our children, and how long they’ll believe that we are good despite evidence to the contrary. “What happens if I run out of chances?” I asked, fearfully. He smiled, “No, you can’t run out of chances.”

I pray that we can both remember that even in the toughest moments, and that it’s true.

Birthday celebration with K’s family

We had Kristin’s family over today to celebrate Jude & Vivienne’s birthday. While birthdays have never been my creative thing (probably because of the same space issues that made me dislike hosting in general in NY) Kristin wanted to bring Vivi’s current favorite book into the celebration. Stick Man is actually a Christmas book, so it’s funny that they’re SO into it right now, but two-year-olds; we listened to Christmas carols on the way to preschool almost till February, so it is what it is.

No story to tell here, just a lovely afternoon with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. But I have plenty of photos.

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She refused to nap today, and I told her she couldn’t have cake unless she did, so this was her attempt

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Trying to stick their fingers into the frosting. I honestly didn’t realize that they matched until I looked at this photo after the fact

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I finally got to meet Megan’s twins! And they both fell asleep for me 🙂

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This is what happens when you try to get a picture with all of the grandkids. Literally no one is looking at the camera!

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Checking in on my goals

Kristin doesn’t remember to read this blog very often, but when she does she’s generally very complimentary about it and thanks me for taking the time to document our lives. This past Sunday we finally hung a bunch of family photos on the wall of the living room, and she was visibly disappointed that I’m not in any of them. Admittedly I chose the photos that we had printed, and she told me in advance that she wanted to make sure that I was in at least one of them, but I honestly could not find a decent photo of me and any of the kids that fit with the rest of the photos. I’m sort of bummed about it too, but to be honest I also take great pride in being our documentarian and have been loving the creative challenge of trying to take great pictures of our family. I have a long ways to go, but the process is really very gratifying.

At some point in recent weeks when Kristin sat down to catch up on multiple blog posts that she’d missed, she read the one about my birthday and commented aloud that I seem to be really diving into my goals. She may have commented before getting past the first one, but it was still nice to reflect for a moment and think that she might be right.

While I haven’t done a single thing to increase my level of exercise, and I feel like my demonstration of calm and patience for the kids varies wildly from day to day, I do think that I’ve made some genuine progress on goals one and two: engaging my creative side on a regular basis, and making more social plans with friends.

For starters, I finished knitting the scarf that I started making for Jonah roughly three years ago! It was fun to finish because it was the first time that I looked up the right way to weave in ends (and I had a lot of them since changed yarns many times). I also had to take out a row right at the end, because I’d forgotten to leave enough yarn to bind off, and removing stitches is something I’ve never understood how to do. I pulled out a knitting book and went to work, and sure enough I made it happen. While I used to give up easily when encountering things that felt frustrating, being a parent has given me a newfound sense of persistence in large part because I’m constantly reminding the kids that “we can do hard things” and we’ve been actively working on helping Jonah be less afraid of making mistakes and be more willing to try things he might not succeed at the first time. I find that creative endeavors are way more fun when I’m not so afraid of doing it poorly.

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In addition to the knitting, I did Valentine crafts with the kids, painted simple Valentines for everyone, I’ve baked and decorated cookies a few times, and while I don’t write blog posts often enough to keep anyone’s interest for very long I’m still doing it somewhat regularly and taking the camera out a lot more often. I still need to take some active steps to improve my photos (besides practice, that is) but it’s only March 1st so I’m pretty confident that I can get there before the year is over.

I’m enjoying creative activities so much that lately I’m itching to start something new. I probably would have begun a new knitting project, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on the yarn I wanted (I really love this stuff and want to make everything with it), and then couldn’t really decide on a project and got distracted by life. While I was in New York, K took the kids to a friend’s house for dinner one night and Jonah was introduced to a show he’d never seen before. I think it’s an Amazon original show, called Annedroids, and it’s actually kind of cute. It’s about a girl who builds these incredible android robots in a junkyard, and the two neighborhood kids who discover it all and become friends with her. There’s lots of science and hypotheses and teamwork; it’s a show I’m happy to let him watch. I told K tonight that I really want to do robots for Halloween this year, and her only response was “You exhaust me.” Yeah, I can be a little over the top when it comes to planning ahead, but I think this time it’s simply because I’m craving a creative project.

In regard to social plans we haven’t done much inviting over, but we did have that one small get-together with a couple of neighbors after the block party, and we’ve been to the homes of others on a few occasions. Being in New York for four days was wonderful in many respects because it filled up my tank, so to speak, with lots of amazing conversations and quality time with people I’ve missed. But I also came home feeling like I needed to switch off for awhile, since being on and engaged in conversation from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. for four days straight really wears me out. I’m doing some introvert recharging and hoping to get back into making some social plans in the coming weeks.

As I’d anticipated, leaving K and the kids behind was really tough. I think that staying busy helped, however, and in retrospect I think that it was quite valuable for all of us. I needed to see for myself that Jonah could handle it, K got some incredible bonding time with him, and while she didn’t have anything to prove as far as I was concerned, she absolutely demonstrated her willingness and ability to go above and beyond what was necessary to keep the wheels turning. Every day she seemed to schedule something extra to add some fun and variation to their time without me, she made sure to have exclusive play time with Jonah every night after the twins went to sleep and before she put him to bed, she took everyone out for pizza and ice cream, she took them to friends’ houses. I think that she made the time about as wonderful as she could have, and I’m eternally grateful. And our friends who covered mornings for us? They were amazing, as I should have expected. Jonah’s teacher told me that he seemed quite proud to show them around his school and teach them the drop-off routine. I’m probably headed back to New York at the end of May and the first week of August, but I’m feeling better about it now that we’ve all been through the experience.

Now that I’m reflecting on it, I suppose figuring out that piece of the working-remotely puzzle probably should have been on my list of goals for the year, since it was obviously going to come up eventually. This arrangement is teaching us all to be more adaptable, and I’m relieved to be over the anxiety-ridden “first trip.” Hopefully we’ll all grow in ways we hadn’t even expected. Now to find a project that will keep me from starting Halloween costumes in March…

The twins turn two

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Our babies turned two yesterday and, in predictably trite fashion, I can hardly believe it. K and I stayed up late the night before to bake and frost cookies for them me to take to school to share with their class, and K painted them some sweet little happy birthday notes while I baked, but we didn’t have too much else planned for the big day. We didn’t even buy them birthday presents because a. they don’t really need much, especially with a birthday that follows Christmas so closely and b. we knew that they’d be receiving a few things from extended family already. This Saturday Kristin’s family is coming out to celebrate with us and to see the house for the first time, which I’m really looking forward to. It gives me a lot of pride to share our space with others, and while that might be a novelty I hope the feeling doesn’t wear off for awhile.

Kristin decided to pick up a few slices of pizza and some store-bought cupcakes and candles just to make the evening a bit more Jude and Vivi’s style. I swear Jude talks about pizza from the moment he wakes up.

Jude wolfed down his mini cupcake in about four seconds, and then attempted to steal crumbs off of Vivi’s plate while she slowly ate hers one tiny bite at a time.

In honor of their birthday, and in a public apology for the fact that I still haven’t even begun their baby book even though I diligently worked on Jonah’s month by month from the time he was born and had it printed by the time he was 18 months old, I figured I’d share their birth story here. At least I did write it, it’s just been living on my Mac for quite awhile. Someday I’ll get all of their baby pictures into a book, I promise!


On Thursday evening, February 26th, Kristin went to prenatal yoga. She usually went on Tuesdays, and two nights earlier Beth had mentioned to Kristin when she left that she didn’t think she’d see her again before the babies were born, so she was surprised to see her on Thursday. Looking back, I think that Beth did sense that Kristin would give birth before the following Tuesday class, she just didn’t know to expect her on Thursday. Her due date was March 2nd, so we were all pretty surprised that Kristin was still pregnant.

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I think that we’d planned to cook Indian food for dinner, but it had taken me longer than anticipated to get Jonah to bed. So by the time Kristin returned I suggested that we just order sushi instead. I’m glad that we did, since we would have had lots of uneaten leftovers going to waste over the next week. In a move that was completely out of character even when Kristin wasn’t pregnant, but especially at this stage, Kristin said that she wanted to walk downtown to pick up the take-out order. Mind you, she was 38 weeks pregnant with twins, and it was well after dark in February. In recent weeks she’d hardly wanted to move at all, so this sudden burst of energy raised my antennae a bit.

I’d done laundry earlier in the day, so that night before bed we put clean sheets on the bed. We joked about how it would be just our luck that her water would break overnight simply because we’d just washed the sheets. Sure enough, she woke up at about 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning because she felt her water break. We were excited, but also concerned because nothing else seemed to be happening: no contractions, and no movement from the babies. Kristin called the on-call number for the midwives and Robin suggested that she walk around and drink some fluids to see if they would start moving again. She said that the sensation of the water breaking can sometimes be shocking to the babies, and that might be the reason for the stillness. Although I don’t recall, they must have begun moving again because we didn’t call back for a number of hours.

We decided not to go back to bed, and instead got things ready to go. We let Jonah sleep while we showered, straightened up, made sure the bags were ready, and let the Frost and Rynders families know the plan since they would be caring for Jonah while we were at the hospital. When we spoke to Robin again, she told us that because labor hadn’t begun but Kristin’s water had broken, we had to go to the hospital for her to be induced. We knew that we would be stuck there once we arrived, and we were still hoping that Kristin’s labor would begin on its own, so I dragged my feet and encouraged Kristin to drag hers, despite Robin’s insistence that we come right in. We drove Jonah to Gladys’s house and dropped him off sometime after 9:00 a.m. It was a beautiful, sunny day, especially for February, and I remember us talking about what a good day it was to be born. Kristin called her mom from the car on the way to the hospital, and her mom booked her flight out for the following Monday.

We parked the car in the ramp and went to the non-emergency entrance of the hospital. Everything felt so different from our arrival there when I was in labor with Jonah (when we went to the emergency room, with me suffering through active labor all the way). We made our way upstairs in a rather leisurely way and were shown to our room. The room had a tub (which we wouldn’t be using) and was quite large, lots of natural light from windows running all along one wall with a view of trees outside. It was lovely. I was excited, and took a selfie of Mama K and I in the room before she changed into a hospital gown.

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Robin met us there (she’d actually beaten us there by quite a bit, since we’d dragged our feet). And told us that Kristin had to be started on Pitocin. Kristin was understandably disappointed; it wasn’t what she wanted. It seemed to take them a long time to arrive and get the Pitocin going, I think it finally happened around noon. To my surprise, the Pitocin didn’t seem to bother K for a number of hours; she was just hanging out, talking and being herself, but eventually the pain kicked in. She was frustrated that the nurses wouldn’t allow her to get out of bed and move or change positions because of the two fetal monitors wrapped around her belly. Every time she moved, they stopped picking up the heartbeats, so she wasn’t able to manage her pain at all. Somewhere between 6:00-8:00 p.m. she asked for an epidural because she’d realized that if she wasn’t going to be allowed to actively manage her pain, she didn’t really have any options. She was frustrated and disappointed, but knew that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist who administered the epidural had a horrible bedside manner, and caused K incredible, unexpected pain. She struggled to hold still and couldn’t sit up the way he asked because the contractions were so debilitating. He eventually allowed her to lie on her side, but at some point in the procedure she shrieked with pain in such a startling, awful way, that I began to cry out of fear and anger. I said to Michelle (the midwife on call at that point) that someone should have warned us that the procedure would be so excruciating, and she seemed as shocked as I was. The anesthesiologist had the gall to brag about his skills and speed when I criticized him; he was entirely lacking in compassion, and I told him so.

Fortunately, once the epidural began to work, Kristin declared that it had been a good decision. She felt much better, and at some point soon after we were left alone to get some sleep. They gave me some sheets and I was able to get some sleep on a sofa-like piece of furniture in the room. K also tried to sleep, but struggled because she wasn’t able to turn or move and because her legs were numb and she was hooked up to so many wires, cords, and a catheter. We were both surprised that the twins hadn’t been born yet. Everyone we knew who had been induced had given birth very quickly. Our families had expected news by now, but I think that I’d gotten a bit lax with the text updates because not much had changed. By the time she had the epidural she was around 5 or 6 cm dilated, so she still had a ways to go.

In the morning, maybe around 7:45 a.m., Michelle came back to check on Kristin and said that she was at about 9.5 cm dilation and could start pushing soon. We were excited and thought that things would get moving any minute. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and everything felt full of promise and anticipation. Then all hell broke loose at the hospital. A number of women arrived to the small delivery ward ready to give birth. Two of those women were also Full Circle patients, which meant that Michelle, our midwife, found herself moving between three different rooms at once. Hours went by while the doctors and nurses clearly scrambled to keep up. Finally, around 11:00 a.m., Michelle returned and told Kristin that she could start pushing. We were surprised that they had her begin to push in our room, because we’d been told that she would be required to deliver in the operating room just in case of emergency, since it was a twin birth. I assumed that they expected her pushing to take awhile, and wanted to get her started where she was already comfortable.

While we were relieved to finally get some attention and to get the process moving, it was clear that the delivery ward was still understaffed given the rush of women that had arrived. At times, it was just a nurse and me in the room while Kristin pushed (in contrast to my birth experience when there were probably five or more people in the room at any given time). Michelle came and went periodically, and was helpful when she was there, but in other moments I think that both Kristin and I felt a little bit lost. Even so, we were able to see just a tiny circle of Jude’s fuzzy head moving when she pushed, so we knew that she was making progress. After about two hours of pushing, Kristin started to bleed. Michelle dabbed at the blood and wiped it up, saying that hopefully it was just from a small cut of some sort, but it kept coming. I began to worry, because it seemed like too much blood to be a simple tear or cut. Michelle worried too, and said that she thought we ought to have the attending OB take a look and decide what to do. I was already in scrubs because I knew that at some point we’d be moving to the OR, and everyone else prepared themselves and Kristin for the trip down the hallway.

As the nurses wheeled Kristin down the hallway and I walked beside her, she turned to me and said “do whatever you have to do.” In that moment, I knew that she was giving her consent to the cesarean birth that she didn’t want, because she was worried about the babies and was willing to sacrifice anything to make sure that they were OK. She seemed exhausted, but unafraid and fiercely determined to keep her little ones safe. She’d been fighting hard her entire pregnancy to give them the best possible start, but that moment was perhaps the one in which her maternal instincts stood out most prominently for the first time.

After taking a look at the bleeding, the doctor told us that he felt it was best to perform the cesarean and just get the babies out quickly. As they prepped her for surgery, they told me that I had to wait outside. A nurse found a chair for me and I sat in the hallway and cried, and texted family to ask them to pray, letting them know that she was bleeding and that I was scared. I wanted to be beside her, and was scared because I couldn’t hear her voice or see her. In those early moments, I truly feared that she might die. During that time, a wonderful nurse who had been called in due to the mad rush approached me. She introduced herself with a smile, told me that Kristin was going to be just fine, and told me to be sure to have my camera ready because we would be meeting our babies soon and we would want to have pictures. She told me that she would let me know when to stand up with the camera, as the doctor would lift the babies into the air for me to see as he pulled them each out. Finally, she brought my chair in beside Kristin’s head. She looked tired and pale and was complaining of thirst, but wasn’t allowed to have any water. It seemed like only a few moments before Jude was born, and I stood to take a photograph of him. He wailed and wailed and my fear turned into joy immediately. I was so excited to finally see what he looked like. One minute later, Vivienne was born. I remember telling Kristin that she was cute, and she screamed ferociously. After they cleaned them up and weighed them and wrapped them in blankets, they brought them around and held them down by Kristin’s face so that she could see them, and then handed them each to me. The nurses were wonderful and took photos for us. I was so relieved that everyone was OK.

As it turned out, the placenta had begun to detach from Kristin’s uterus, causing the bleeding. Without the surgery the babies could have died; it was the only way for them to come into the world. In the days to come, the challenge of recovering from a cesarean birth and the blood loss of the placental abruption (which required two units of blood for K) while learning to nurse and care for Jude and Vivienne would require everything that Kristin had left to give, but she gave it with love and generosity and slowly began to heal. Kristin’s mom arrived to meet her new grandbabies, we brought big brother Jonah to the hospital to meet his brother and sister, and we were surrounded by love from the Rynders, Frost, and Thompson families. We spent four days and nights in the hospital, but eventually we made it home and began our new life as a family of five. It certainly does take a village.

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All summer in a weekend

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A few weeks ago, a story came out on our neighborhood Facebook group about a black family a number of blocks up experiencing some pretty intense race-based harassment by a neighbor on their block. Another neighbor on the street called it out and a number of people expressed their support for the family that was being targeted (and also noted that this woman is apparently notorious throughout the area for calling the police on all sorts of perceived violations and instances of “blight”). At any rate, it was decided that there ought to be some sort of show of support for the family, so a block party was planned…in February…in Michigan. I have to admit that while I offered to bring chili (it was a chili cook-off and BBQ) I had some real concerns about the temperatures and how this would all shake out. By some miracle (or more likely as a result of climate change) it was 60 degrees and sunny all weekend, and the block party went off without a hitch.

This entire weekend felt like a preview of what spring and summer are going to feel like in this neighborhood, and I have to say that it was spectacular.

The block party was a number of blocks from our actual block, so we didn’t expect to know much of anyone, but we ended up running into two families from preschool and being introduced to a few others, and having a really wonderful time chatting with people. The kids ran around in the sun with a bunch of other kids, and I just felt good about where we live. We’d already invited one family over for an after-party, and we ended up inviting another family we’d only just met (another preschool family). As K and I put out cheese and veggies and wine glasses in anticipation of everyone’s arrival, we talked about how fortunate we feel to be here, how proud we are of our home, and how good it feels to share it with friends. In New York I hated hosting, but I’m realizing now that those feelings were very closely tied to our space. Sure, I still get stressed out about cleaning and prep, but even that feels easier now that we have places to put things. We had a really lovely evening and I’m excited to do it a lot more often.

Since I’m still an introvert no matter how much I’m learning to enjoy hosting, after six plus hours of socializing I need a day to decompress, so today we planned to get out into nature on our own. K proposed the farm at the Nature Center, and the kids were really excited about it. Unfortunately we drove out there only to find that it didn’t open for an hour and a half, and that the farm portion was actually closed for the season (oh right, it is still February after all). We headed to a playground instead, and then came home for lunch and decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon just playing in the yard. Over the past couple of days everyone has been outdoors, so we’ve spent some time talking to three neighbors we’re very familiar with, as well as meeting another family we’d never met before, a couple who struck us right away as fun and down-to-earth and who apparently have five girls between the ages of 6-19.

This probably sounds like over-the-top gratitude, but I’m so thankful to have a driveway and a big front yard, and to know that we’ll spend time out there and we’ll run into our neighbors and that they’re wonderful. I experienced so many “I love our life here” moments this weekend. And I now feel much more confident that yes, we’re going to make friends and build a community, even if it’s going to take us a little while to do it.

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I’m going to New York solo on Tuesday night for four nights and about three and a half days, and while it was partly my choice (a good friend and colleague is moving on professionally, she lives in Los Angeles and will be working out there now so this is my last chance to cross paths with her in NYC) my feelings about the trip are all over the place. I’ve missed my work friends tremendously and I’m looking forward to seeing them, not to mention my good friend-friends up in Westchester (I’m spending Friday night up there) but this weekend I’ve really begun to panic about how it’s going to feel to be away from these guys. I’ve never left the kids for this long. We left Jonah for two nights when K was pregnant, but that’s it. I was in the grocery store this evening and I was already thinking about how excited I’ll be to come home. I’m really afraid of how lonely it’s going to feel when I get off the plane by myself late at night, tired and hungry and missing my family, standing in a taxi line and just wanting to cry. I know that I shouldn’t put that expectation out into the universe, but I’m really feeling sad about it.

Some good family friends of ours have agreed to come over at the crack of dawn Wednesday through Friday to get the kids fed and dressed and driven to school because K can’t do it with her work schedule and our preschool’s hours. I feel guilty about having them do it and worried that Jonah will have a meltdown over missing me or something in his morning routine not being quite right. K has been so supportive and really wants me to have a great time, so I’m really trying to look forward to it. We’ll see.

Living in the great room

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A few evenings ago, when I was driving home and saw five or six deer cross the road and turn down our street, I went inside and quickly scooped up the kids to show them the spectacle. Two of them were still standing in the neighbor’s driveway and the others were further back behind the house. I love the deer in Kalamazoo, maybe just because it’s something I never saw in New York and I see them all the time here. While we were standing out in the street we noticed some family friends who live a few houses down standing in their driveway also watching. We chatted briefly and she told us that on Sundays when their daughter and her family come over for dinner they often talk about stopping by to say hello, but it always looks as if no one is home. That’s partly because I never turn the porch light on. (Is that unneighborly? I have no idea, it just seems like a waste of energy if we aren’t expecting anyone, but maybe I’m totally unaccustomed to neighborhood customs). But it’s also partly because we kind of live in the back of the house.

When we bought this house we were especially impressed by the way the great room extended the kitchen and added a whole new living space to what would otherwise be a pretty small 1950s ranch. The couple we bought it from added that room almost as soon as they bought it, a big 14 x 24 room that connects to the kitchen, with six skylights, six windows looking out into the backyard, and sliding glass doors on two sides. What’s interesting is that when we first set foot in the house, I actually thought that the great room felt much smaller than I’d expected it to feel, given the photos we’d seen and the dimensions. I now think that was because of the colors and the odd furniture placement.

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We hated the floors, and the salmon pink was not our style, but we knew that this room really made the house. Everyone who comes in, starting with all of the folks who did work before we moved in, comments on how unexpected it is (the front elevation is nothing to write home about) and how it’s by far the best room in the house. We were so excited to put wood floors in here and to paint and decorate it the way we wanted it. It feels huge now, and in the evenings we’re pretty much always here and/or in the kitchen, so the house always looks dark from the street.

We went a couple of months without a sofa in here because we ordered something from a custom shop (Joybird, which we’ve been really happy with). We love it now that it’s here and the room feels so much more complete. The kids love it too, clearly; we do a lot of reading here.

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Originally I really wanted a sectional because I wanted to be able to spread out, but after way too much deliberation we decided that it might not fit the room properly and wouldn’t give us any flexibility to rearrange. We ultimately went with a sofa and ottoman, and I’m really glad that we did.

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Before we moved in, Kristin couldn’t stand that green countertop / bar that extends out from the kitchen. It matches the one under the far bank of cabinets that you can see in the photo above. Both were added during the addition (the rest of the countertops in the kitchen are cream colored). She was dying to rip out all of the countertops and replace them so that they matched, but that wasn’t in the budget. Once we got this room painted and put together my mom pointed out that with all of the blues and greens, the green counter isn’t quite as ugly as it once seemed. It sort of blends in, which is a happy accident.

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The teak furniture came from my parents’ house (we love having a space big enough to leave the leaf in all the time), the rug came from West Elm, and the bar stools came from Wayfair (we love that they’re wipeable, because kids).

We cannot wait for summer when we know that we’ll be doing a lot of indoor/outdoor living from this room. We have some inherited patio furniture that needs welding and probably a coat of paint (my parents had it as far back as I can remember), and we have a swing set promise to fulfill. Until it’s warm enough for all of that we’ll just enjoy the days growing a tiny bit longer each evening, and the way this room brings the winter sunlight indoors.

Valentine craftiness

 

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I have to admit, a couple of weeks ago when I began to wonder whether the kids’ preschool would suggest that they bring and exchange valentine cards, I was feeling a little bit grinchy about it. I pictured the entire classroom buying boxes of character cards and handing them out completely at random (since none of the kids can really read or write anyway). It felt completely devoid of any sentiment, and for some reason I tend to be really character-averse when it comes to things like…well, almost anything really, but mostly things like clothing, backpacks or other items that aren’t specifically a toy that allows some imaginary play; it feels like free advertising. We have a billion Octonauts toys (see our most recent Halloween for evidence of my own hypocrisy), so it’s not as if we don’t do characters at all, but I’ve never loved those valentines. I was sort of hoping to skip it, but then a blogger I enjoy posted something on Instagram about her plans to do all sorts of fun, over-the-top things throughout the month of February, and I realized that there was joy to be found if I made some effort. Not everything has to be so utilitarian, and sometimes I need a reminder. So what if exchanging Valentines doesn’t do anything; it’s a reason to do crafts and bake cookies.

I spent Thursday night, all day Friday, and all day Saturday at a super intense anti-racism workshop (which was powerful and necessary and gave me a lot of hope for Kalamazoo because of all of the wonderful people representing local organizations who were there making commitments to real change) and knowing that I was losing a lot of precious weekend time with the kids made me want to pack even more special moments into Sunday. Now before you start down the “I’m not a Pinterest mom…” or “I wish I could do things like this with my kids…” path, know that at one point early in the day, Kristin stopped me and gently asked “Is this the most relaxing way for you to spend the day?” which was a poorly disguised way of saying “This seems to be causing you a great deal of stress, do we need to do this?” But it was important to me, and by then I was committed and nothing was going to get me to back down. She later apologized for calling me out and pointed out that she did observe many moments of real joy. I’m still glad that we did it.

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We didn’t attempt one of those adorable, candy/valentine combos that usually involves some sort of clever play on words. I just bought a crapload (it was actually a “party platter” if you must know) of foam hearts and a bunch of additional stickers, along with some markers and glue sticks. It was WAY more than we needed, but the kids were honestly really into it! So I’m glad we had extras.

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Even after we took a break to bake cookies Vivi said that she wanted to do more art, and went back for more.

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The wardrobe change is because it was post-cookie-mess, and they were completely covered in flour.

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It’s so funny and wonderful, Jonah is at this age now where he takes on crafts and activities with so much more independence than ever before. He was just cranking through the valentines totally on his own, and the same was true for the cookies. While Jude just wanted to roll everything flat and poke a variety of toy kitchen implements into the dough, Jonah was busy cutting out hearts and dutifully carrying them over to the cookie sheets. Vivi actually tends to be the same way which is somewhat surprising given the age difference, but her over-the-top independent streak is probably the explanation.

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It was so cute watching them watch the cookies bake. They could hardly wait.

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Unfortunately the afternoon got away from us and K and I ended up doing all of the decorating solo after the kids were asleep, but I did decorate one for Jonah before he went off to bed and we saved a few more for tomorrow. The rest are going to the kids’ teachers because I cannot have this many butter-frosted sugar cookies in the house or I’ll eat myself sick.

Fun on a freezing beach

Despite Jonah insisting that we all get up and keep him company while he ate banana bread at 6:30 this morning (that’s what I get for baking banana bread before going to bed last night) which started the day off with a bit of a power struggle (I was determined to stay in bed and ignore him, which didn’t go over well), it actually turned out to be a lovely lazy Saturday morning. By 8:15 I noticed actual sunshine streaming in through the mud room windows, and that glow stuck around to make the living room magical for awhile. Sunshine in Michigan in February feels like a tremendous blessing, so I’ll take every sparkle and make the most of it. Kristin was the one pointing out that I ought to grab the camera while Vivi rocked in the rocker, and I’m glad that I did.

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We laid low till around noon when we bundled everyone up in snow pants, made some grilled cheese for the road, and drove out to South Haven for a winter fest. We saw lots of interesting ice sculptures (no photos, sorry – the crowds were bananas) made some s’mores, and stopped by North Beach to see what it’s like in February. Jonah had been freezing and begging to go home, but by the time he’d been in the car for 10 minutes and saw the playground equipment on the beach he begged to get out again. Why not?

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I have no idea what Jude’s pointing at there, since he obviously can’t see out from under that hat. It was SO COLD, but the kids did not want to stop swinging. Oh Michigan.

Master Bedroom Makeover

Continuing with the theme of sharing “after” pictures of the house even if they’re not perfect, this photo shoot involved tossing a bunch of clothes from the “worn at least once, semi-clean and re-wearable” pile on the bed to the floor on the other side of the room and out of the photo frame.

I really love our bedroom, even if I rarely sleep in it (#musicalbeds). I’m actually surprised by how much I love the color, because I let Kristin choose it and wasn’t jazzed about it at the time. It’s honestly one of my favorites, and maybe my absolute favorite paint color in the house; it’s Benjamin Moore Mozart Blue. We put the same neutral carpeting in every bedroom.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the room when we closed on the house:

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It’s hard to tell in that photo, honestly, but it was mauve. We kept the curtains since they were relatively neutral and it saved us from having to buy new ones. We also haven’t changed out any light fixtures in the house so far. The couple we bought it from was really into ceiling fans, so nearly every room has one. This room has a particularly tiny one for some reason. One evening, Jonah was laying on the bed with me and said “Mama D, aren’t you sad that your fan is SO tiny?”

Here’s the room now, photographed in a rare moment of sunshine:

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Our duvet cover came from West Elm, the photo on the wall is from Urban Outfitters, and everything else came with us from NY (IKEA nightstands and a matching dresser that’s out of the frame, and a bed frame that I’ve had since college but amazingly still like a lot). The chest at the foot of the bed was my maternal grandparents’, it’s made of camphor and there’s a story about my grandfather having local porters help him sneak it onto a military ship overseas where he was working at the time, and stow it where no one would find it. I love the way it smells when I open it.