Anna is an artist, and you can absolutely tell when you look through her beautiful Portland, Oregon home. Fun patterns, bright colors, and lots of art — all used in really thoughtful ways. Anna’s taken the time during the pandemic to refocus on her own creativity and work on her own art pieces (in between working her full time job before the kids wake up and after they go to bed), and she has some great advice on parenting through these tricky times. Welcome, Anna.
Well hello there. We are the Noels. We are a family of 5. We have 3 lovely sons who keep us moving in every direction at all times. Our youngest Quincy is 3 and we call him our bonus boy. He’s silly and witty and has one of the most distinct toddler laughs I’ve ever heard. It’s amazing how much less stress goes into parenting a third child. I feel like I’ve seen it all before, so I can just focus on enjoying his requests for snuggles and his endless curls. Our middle child is Theo who is 5. Theo is extremely easy going and can often be found in a laid back position somewhere around the house with some sort of tool in hand to take apart electronics. Theo is the perfect balance of quiet and friendly. He is working on perfecting the art of gift giving and picks out a special something for his brothers anytime he gets the chance. Our oldest Anton is 8 and I consider him my greatest teacher. He is determined, curious, and extremely athletic. He is constantly in motion and does not miss a beat. This year while we were in quarantine he spent most of his free time shooting hoops in the driveway.
I am an Art and Graphic design teacher, recently re-assigned as an online multiple subject instructor, who loves sushi, painting every blank wall I see, and running around with a minivan full of smelly little boys. I’m happiest when I am surrounded by people. I ask a lot of questions and love to talk. My favorite memories usually involve music and warm summer air.
My husband Ivalle is an all or nothing kind of guy. He’s the best listener I’ve ever known. He listens so carefully that he stops everything he’s doing when he’s talking to you, including stirring a pot of soup or changing a diaper. It’s fascinating and so respectful. I love his drive and determination. When he chooses to do something he’s all in. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. He is passionate about his hobbies and there are many of them. He amazes me with his ability to pick up a new instrument and magically make lovely sounding music. He can be completely focused on mastering a song while three wild kids are bouncing around him in the living room. He takes his sweet time to finish each task perfectly. He is a dare devil and loves to jump from high places, challenge himself with new activities, and discover everything he can about topics that interest him. He’s extremely loyal and forgiving. His group of friends is tremendously diverse which is a value I share within my own circle of friends as well.
Right before the pandemic, Ivalle had taken a leave from his IT job to pursue a career in voice over acting. He had always wanted to try it out so he gave it a good go for a few months and had some really exciting jobs here and there. He did the narration for a documentary film and was able to do some projects with a few local companies. Once everything started to shut down, we felt like it might be the right time to look into IT again. There was such high need in this area since so many companies were making the switch to an online format quickly. He landed a great job working IT for a healthcare company and it ended up being a great fit. He is able to flex hours here and there to be home if he needs to and is finding the work exciting and refreshing. He is more than willing to help with the daily duties of our kids’ distance learning, but truth be told, starting a new job takes a lot of time and effort, so we have had to find a way to balance our work/life duties this year.
We live a few blocks south of Portland proper in a sweet little town called Milwaukie. We absolutely love our neighborhood and really lucked out with our neighbors. It is a wonderful blend of all types of people, many multigenerational households, and also people who lived here as kids and have returned as adults. There is a very eclectic vibe on our street and we feel lucky to have moved into a neighborhood full of kids and good friends. Our kids roam from house to house freely and we often end up hanging out in someone’s driveway or backyard during happy hour. One fascinating thing about our neighborhood is the wildlife. We have neighbors with a huge tortoise in the front yard and there are also wild peacocks roaming the streets. Many of the lots are very large and the area doesn’t feel like it’s quite a big city, though the benefits of a big city are just blocks away. There are wonderful trails for biking and there are plenty of open spaces for roaming and running. Our elementary school is just a block away and families congregate there to play on the playground or play soccer in the field. The small downtown has a brand new library, a farmers’ market, and a lovely waterfront park on the Willamette river.
In 2013 we were looking for more space for our growing family since our last house was under 700 square feet. We felt priced out of the Portland market so we started looking a little bit outside of town and ran across this lovely house just blocks away. We had been touring and offering well over asking prices all over Portland and starting to feel defeated. We ended up looking at this house and made an offer on the spot. The market was heating up when we bought but was nothing like it is now. Houses are selling like hotcakes in our neighborhood and it’s impossible to get in at asking price. The people we bought our house from had done a wonderful job of remodeling and updating. We felt like it was just waiting for another family to move in. We’ve made some fun changes here and there to make it reflect our personality, like some custom painted murals and a playhouse in the backyard.
We had friends in the same situation and told them of a neighbor who was an older couple who had mentioned they wanted to sell. We suggested they do it the old fashioned way by knocking on the door with a letter in hand. To our surprise, it actually worked. Now we have good friends two doors down. It was a win for them and also for us. During the pandemic and shut down this year, our neighbors have been so wonderful. We’ve kept a small pod of close friends who live nearby and even did some of our distance learning together for a while. Recently my husband’s mother bought a house in our neighborhood as well. What a treat to have a grandmother two blocks away. She hasn’t quite moved in yet because the house needed a fair amount of renovations, but we are anxiously awaiting her arrival, as we have never had family close by and we are looking forward to spending more time with her.
I have been an art teacher for 21 years in a town 30 minutes south of Portland. It was the first job I landed after finishing my teaching program and just happened to be a great fit. It really is a dream job. I teach art, painting, and graphic design to high school students in a wonderfully remodeled classroom with state of the art computers and all kinds of lovely equipment. I get to be creative every day and show others how to find their passion. There is nothing better than seeing teenagers build confidence through art and design. The high school I work at has an onsite daycare that all three of my children have attended. It was always a huge hustle to bundle those babies up and make the commute each morning, but we were together, and I was able to see them throughout the day. The staff would wheel them through the halls in little wagons so I got to feel like I was a part of their school experience. I wish every working parent had this kind of opportunity.
When schools shut down last spring I was crushed. My entire world revolved around schools. I was worried about my students, and had no idea how to wrap my brain around no school for an extended period of time. I felt confident in my ability to teach online, but had no idea how to combine the full time job of parenting with the full time job of teaching. Spoiler alert: it’s not possible. Hats off to anyone who is making it work.
Having small children during this time while working from home is very difficult. I recognize the privilege of even having the option to have an income, but my goodness, my stress level was off the charts trying to figure out how to continue working. Luckily I have been temporarily reassigned as a teacher for a multi subject online academy. I am very fortunate I was given this position because I am able to flex my time in order to help my own children with distance learning from home. Much of my work is done before my kids wake up and after they go to bed. It makes for a long day, but I am able to juggle much more this way.
After months of searching, we also found an in home daycare for our three year old. Things have finally started to level out. The beginning of the school year was so confusing, and I felt really helpless at times. I was trying to give so many things attention at once. It got to the point where I felt like I was terrible at everything and it really affected my mental health. Distance learning with a kindergartener and second grader takes A LOT of parent involvement. They just don’t have the stamina to sit very long, to click on the right links, to manage the technology, etc.. I was extremely worried about them falling behind academically and really had to lower my standards for what they were going to accomplish this year. Looking back, I can see how much they’ve grown as learners. They are now back in school a few hours a week and I can really acknowledge the benefit of their hard work during the year.
Their teachers were amazing, and being able to see my own children interacting and engaging with classmates was such a gift. Being both a teacher and a parent during the pandemic has been eye opening. I felt so divided. Teachers were working harder than ever, and parents were getting more frustrated than ever. I was on both sides of the fence. I feel like overall our state was prioritizing health and I had to remember why this was all happening. A few of my students’ parents passed away from covid during the year, and it was heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine the trauma these families are experiencing.
As an artist, this year has been one of growth and rebirth. The fact that I am not formally teaching art day after day has really given me the headspace to embark on my own creative endeavors. I’ve realized how much creative energy I have been exhausting on my students for years which has taken its toll on my ability and desire to stay true to my own artistic path. If there is one good thing that has come from this year for me personally, it is the fact that I am creating again. I have been inspired to paint daily with the small amount of studio time I can squeeze into my jam packed day. I am hoping to continue the creative momentum and find a way to stay true to my own passion for art. I’ve been painting murals on our walls, doing some screen printing, and have done several small 30 day painting series this year, which is such an accomplishment and the best medicine for coping with such serious changes.
When I first walk into my home I feel a sense of calm. I feel like it’s a place that really fits our needs. We have surrounded ourselves with art we love and things that are meaningful to us. I love having family heirlooms mixed with handmade decor. I love the feeling that nothing is too precious to touch or engage with. I like to have art supplies readily available for people to enjoy and explore. We leave musical instruments at eye level with the invitation to play and investigate. Our children have always shared sleeping rooms so almost every space in our home is shared and welcoming. There are often too many piles of laundry and school papers left around the house. But I have learned to embrace it. If I’m expected to work full time with my kids home learning full time, there really isn’t any other option. We have systems in place to keep the house organized but the systems are always changing based on our busy schedules so we are always a few steps behind.
Being at home during the pandemic has taught us what we can live without. How to slow down and avoid the hustle. I’ve been able to watch my kids learn and grow. How to teach them about how I work and what my strengths and weaknesses are. We’ve learned a lot together this year, and this year has had a lot to offer us to learn about. We learned about elections, and protests, and speaking your mind. We’ve learned about caring for others and social responsibility. We’ve learned about heartbreak and disappointment, and how to process our feelings together to overcome adversity. We’ve learned about our privilege and our learning styles and how to be the best we can be. We’ve learned how to ask for help when we need it, instead of trying to do everything on our own.
I wish I would have been more relaxed about learning at the beginning of the year. I was really harboring some big feelings about my identity as a teacher. I was extremely hard on myself when teaching my own children didn’t come naturally after teaching other people’s children for 20 years straight. I wish I had been more available to celebrate my husband’s work victories and my children’s learning joys, rather than buried in my own piles of work. This spring I have finally decided to wave the white flag, and surrender. I can only do my best with what I have.
Our parenting techniques are always changing. Luckily my husband and I see eye to eye on most things parent-related. We both agree on limiting screen time, letting kids learn from their own experiences, and having a firm yet supportive sense of authority. My husband has always talked to the children as if he were talking to someone his own age and I feel like it makes them feel more engaged in grown up topics. My oldest is a deep thinker and seems extremely aware of what goes on in the world. I remember him looking at a national geographic magazine with my husband at around age four where he saw a picture of a police officer. He said, “he’s a good guy right?” My husband responded with “just because he’s in a uniform does not automatically make him a good guy, it’s his actions that make him a good guy or a bad guy.” That statement has resonated with me as an extremely teachable moment.
My children do best when they are given facts and details about what is going on. It has been interesting to watch them navigate the pandemic and current events. They have been intensely resilient and interested in what is happening. I wonder how this will affect them in the long run. I know we do our best to parent them respectfully, but I’m sure we are making mistakes along the way. Each of them are so different and it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for every unique situation.
I hope our kids remember our Friday night popcorn and movie nights, our family flashlight walks, and our living room dance parties. I hope they remember us reading chapter books together for hours under blankets on the couch. I hope they remember building forts and creating jumping pits in our no-rules basement. I hope they remember the times they saw their parents have serious discussions that ended in a resolution to make our family more functional. I hope they remember feeling heard when they were sad and that our attempt at consoling them brought comfort. I hope they forget the times when I had to ignore their needs while I was on zoom calls and doing my work.
Each night at the dinner table we each take a moment to share the best part of our day and the worst part of our day. The kids’ responses are often hilarious and have us cracking up, but my favorite is when they can’t think of anything to say for the worst part of their day. To me it is a reminder, that it is likely that the positive moments outweigh the negative and that is all I could hope for.
My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids has been the sound of their laughter. The way they need us so unconditionally. I love watching them become who they are and surprising us with what they can accomplish. I already miss the weight of their newborn bodies as I bounced them to sleep. Honestly, I even miss the times they were warm and cozy in my pregnant belly kicking and squirming about. I felt like being pregnant was my superpower and I was one of those people who loved every minute right up to the very end. The end becomes the beginning and that is where things get wild. I think it’s really wonderful to get to experience all the phases kids go through three times. Our third was a huge surprise and I find myself feeling much more present with him as he grows. I intentionally rock him a little longer and snuggle him a little bit more because it took me three times to realize how fast it goes.
I wish someone had told me how hard parenting would be. It really rips your heart out and makes you look at it closely. If you have any insecurities your children will highlight them for you right away. They will find a way to make you the best version of yourself.
Thank you, Anna! What a beautiful home — there are such smartly chosen colors and patterns that the home has a ton of personality, and still manages to feel calm and serene at the same time. And the outdoor space has me anxious for spring and summer to settle in. So much green and beautiful dappled sunlight — and I am a sucker for a cat taking a nap.
I thought it was so interesting to hear what Anna had to say as well about finding her own artistic voice again now that she is not teaching art. It is interesting how we are often encouraged to turn our passions into jobs, and there is a lot of wisdom in that. If you are passionate about your job, it will be more fulfilling. But on the flip side, when our passions get sort of shackled in by the constraints of a job, it takes on a new shape. Not a bad shape necessarily, but perhaps a different one than where it might have gone without that structure. I thought it was so interesting to hear Anna talk about how things are shifting now that the painting isn’t tied to teaching anymore.
Is your job also your hobby? Or do you keep the two things separate? How do you fine time for creativity or things that are fulfilling to you with a busy schedule?
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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