How’s everyone holding up? I’m happy to introduce you to Chris today. Chris is a Creative Director who runs the in-house communications team for a hospital, so her family is right in the thick of all-things-coronavirus. And yes Chris’s house is amazing — full of color and joy — but you’ll also love her frankness about how her family is adjusting to life during social distancing. (I cried when I read Chris‘s daily schedule.) Welcome, Chris!
My husband and I are from opposite sides of the globe. I grew up in Vermont, just five miles up a dirt road from where we currently live, and Mike is from New Zealand. We have two kids, a nine year old son and 7 year old daughter. I have a friend from Australia who calls us kiwanks, like kiwi yanks. Maybe not the most flattering, but I’ll take it.
Having grown up in rural Vermont and enduring 18 frigid winters, I was excited to head to college in Hawaii. During my final year, I wrote a paper about William Hodges, the travel artist that went with Captain Cook on his explorations of the Pacific, and I submitted it to the Pacific Arts Association. They invited me to present the paper at a conference in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I mentioned to an acquaintance at school that I was going to to her hometown. She helped arrange a place for me to stay and predicted that I would marry her brother. I rolled my eyes.
The day after I graduated from college, I flew to New Zealand and her brother picked me up from the airport. The first thing I thought when I saw Mike was that he was short. Funny, I don’t see it anymore at all because he’s got such a big personality, but at the time I thought, “hmph, he’s short.”
The next twenty minutes set the trajectory for my life with Mike — it’s been one big, thrilling adventure after the next. After collecting my luggage, we clambered into his dad’s Lotus, a tiny low-centered convertible racing car.
Like a scene out of Mission Impossible, we literally raced through the streets of Christchurch, drifting through roundabouts and skidding through corners. At one point, Mike partially passed underneath a semi truck to beat his friend driving alongside us. As strange as it sounds, I never felt nervous. Mike was in control — he was a surprisingly good driver, and shared an uncanny resemblance with Tom Cruise.
Six months after the race, Mike and I were married. We had a small wedding and a big fun party in my parents’ garage in New Mexico. I painted the floor and the walls to be Mexican fiesta themed. Close family and friends flew out for the celebration. We made all the food — my sister made our cake out of Rice Krispies — and had a little talent show. My favorite detail might have been the local high schoolers who made up our Mariachi band.
We bought a round-the-world ticket for our honeymoon and ended up in Taiwan where we taught English for a year. Living away from both our families was the best thing we could have done. We were forced to rely on each other and work through that first year of marriage.
Skype hadn’t yet come out, so we used phone cards and emailed with family. While in Taiwan, we went through all the paperwork to get my visa for New Zealand so we could move back there. After a couple years of postgraduate studies and working in Queenstown, I was itching to head back to the States.
All three of my brothers had recently moved back to Vermont. In the three years that I had been living abroad, lots of little nieces and nephews had been born and I wanted to get to know them.
We took the long way home with another round-the-world ticket, flying to Shanghai then onto Beijing, and traveled by train to Xian to see pandas and onto Tibet. From there, we found a local guy to drive us on an incredibly dangerous high road to Nepal. And then took the overland train into India where Mike ended up in the hospital with food poisoning. Finally, we made it to Vermont in January 2008 — the dead of winter. It was freezing.
We’ve stayed here ever since, but building this home has taken us ten years and been our biggest adventure yet.
When we first arrived in Windsor, we drove by our now home and I thought it was ugly. It was weirdly shaped with mismatched windows and vinyl siding. It was over 100 years old and had gone through many iterations over the years, including having been converted into apartments and housing a daycare. It had wood panelling, shag carpet, and popcorn ceilings. But, it was on a small one-way street surrounded by grand old Victorian homes and it backed up over a picturesque lake, so we bought it. There was a lot of “potential,” which everyone knows is just code for a lot of work.
Soon after moving in that summer, we wanted to access a view to the beautiful lake behind the house. So Mike, in Mike fashion, just took some sledge hammers to the back wall and tore it down and then figured he might as well open up the kitchen, so he busted another wall down. We ended up living with those torn up walls for the next six years.
In the meantime, my siblings and in-laws and I had decided to buy and renovate an old mansion into a luxury inn. It was a huge family project and we took it on right at what would turn out to be the start of the recession.
In 2009, when visiting New Zealand to introduce our new baby to his kiwi family at Christmas, a pipe froze in our house. (Damn Vermont winters.) It caused a massive, massive leak. We had to tear the ceiling out, take all the sheetrock off the walls. The floor was a disaster. So, basically what was already a torn up space turned into what looked like an abandoned warehouse.
We had no money, but I was desperate to make the space feel like home–and more like me. I painted giant cheery patterns on the walls over the crusty, old wallpaper and hung fabric. I splurged on a new rug and throw pillows for our living room.
Fast forward another baby. I was ramping up work for my little design company, Sublime Eye, and it felt next to impossible to get anything done in my in-home office that didn’t have a door.
When my CHaD Roar video went viral, Mike took another sledge hammer to a wall for my office renovation and then figured he might as well blow open the kitchen a little more… which made it unusable. I was now washing dishes in our bathroom and feeding my kids A LOT of ramen noodles. As the next cold winter set in, we just had to get out and ended up moving into an apartment down the street.
Initially, we thought it would only take a couple months to renovate the first floor. But the scope kept creeping up. Old houses are like puzzles and holes of despair when it comes to renovation. What started as just my office, grew into the kitchen, and another room and another room.
Mike told me later that he was at a point in his life where he felt like if we didn’t fix this house and make it a home he actually wanted, that he was ready to just pack it in and move back to New Zealand. So, Mike just went for it, and I swear to you every day a new wall came down. Literally he ended up gutting the entire house from basement to roof. There was a point where you could walk into the house and all that was remaining were the exterior walls and the roof. Everything else had been eviscerated.
Thankfully, with a house and renovation budget now shot to hell, I was offered a full-time job as a creative manager in the marketing department of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the hospital for which I had created the music video that went viral.
I went from a part-time freelancing, stay-at-home mom to a full-time manager at a big corporation. With my home a disaster and my career transformed, I felt lost and incredibly anxious. I was incredibly thankful to have the job (which I still have!), which provided so much more needed stability and money for our renovation, but I was used to being very hands on creatively, and now I was in a much more rigid, managerial role.
I ended up going to therapy and finding medication that helped me enormously. Over the next year while we rebuilt the house, we ended up moving in with my brother’s family. Our kids are similar ages and fit right in.
Mike had a vision for the house and I completely trusted him to steer us through. We redesigned the entire layout of the house, even reorienting where the stairs went, and extended the second floor.
Mike came home one day about a month before we moved back in and said, “Okay, we’re getting really close to painting.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is my time. It’s go time, Chris.” I didn’t have a mood board. I hadn’t been Pinterest-ing. One of my best friends came up to help me. We collected paint chips from a bunch of shops and landed on this color palette for my house.
I’ve used it everywhere. I continue to use it as the foundation for any piece of furniture we bring into the house and the master bathroom renovation we plan to start next month. It’s my palette and I absolutely love it. Maybe it’ll wear on me someday, but I hope not, because then I’d literally have to change the entire house.
We officially moved back into our house four years ago, but there are still projects to tackle. There are stairs that lead up to the third floor that we’ve walled off for now. We like to think that maybe we are hosting a family of magical hedgehogs or something that are using that space. We’re not quite done with the siding and front porch. We’re excited to start our master bath next month.
This whole process has changed my perspective on a lot of things, one of which is the whole idea of perfection. What’s perfect, anyway? It’s an always moving target and totally unique to the individual in their own stage of life. I’m a neat person and like to keep a tidy house, but I love that we have the space now to have crafts everywhere and games out and homework and experiments.
I totally get that our colorful, unconventional home is not everyone’s ideal, but I get emotional thinking of how hard we worked to make it absolutely perfect for us. It’s such a unique space that reflects our family, our story, our adventures, and life together.
One of my favorite details are these really cool custom shelves in our kitchen that our architect friend, Spencer Steinblik, designed and built for us. I finished the edges with paint, because I (obviously) love color. Another friend is a fantastic carpenter and he built these beautiful custom book shelves in our family room. Our kitchen table and piano were cast offs from different dear friends. They’re both old, but I painted them to make them our own.
We kept our wood stove from our original home. A near constant, roaring fire keeps our downstairs warm and cozy throughout the winter. It makes the perfect dryer for all the kids snow gear as they run in and out, building snowmen, snowshoeing, and playing pickup games of street ice hockey.
I gifted myself this beautiful blue couch after I’d been working full-time for a year that I keep right in front of the stove. It’s my couch. No kids are allowed on it.
But we can fit over 20 kids on our our family room couch. I got it in New Hampshire from a place called Deja Vu, where they sell used furniture from hotels. (The guy told me that it came out of the Ritz Carlton lounge in Boston.) Mike loves action flicks and we often host pizza and movie nights on Fridays for the neighborhood kids. There’s always seating for everyone and it makes me really, really happy.
I also hardwired a disco ball into our kitchen area for easy, impromptu dancing. I literally bought a disco ball before I picked out a toilet or anything else, because I love silly dance parties so much. ABBA plays on near daily rotation at our house.
Since renovating our home, I’ve been surprised that I’ve suddenly become a plant person. I named one of our Birds of Paradise Palm Glinda and the other, Glenda. My fig leaf and palms started small, but have thrived in our spacious home.
I love our gorgeous lake view and it’s nice to bring in green. We live in the dream house we accidentally built. We’re able to explore and adventure across the world, but always come back to this really colorful, beautiful home that’s ours.
I am the creative director at a health system in New Hampshire where I lead the in-house video, design, and photography team. Working as a creative in healthcare is a bit like being a freshwater fish in saltwater…that isn’t the poppy analogy I was hoping for but let’s just say it can be challenging and bureaucratic as all get out.
For the last three weeks we have been working full time on communicating messages to our employees, patients and community about COVID-19. We know this is the most important work we can be doing right now and is literally helping keep our population informed and safe.
Our “normal” life looked pretty standard three weeks ago. We’d get up and get ready for school and work. Mike is from New Zealand and grew up eating porridge (aka oatmeal) and he cooks it for us on school days. When Roxcy, who is now 8, was 3, she wouldn’t eat it so he made it purple with frozen berries and now it’s called “Purple Porridge” and it’s our little morning ritual.
We live in a small town in Vermont with about 3,000 people. We are a short 7 minute walk to their K-12 school so the kids go to and from with their neighbor friends. They head off about 7:30AM. Mike runs a small property management business with 250 units in the area and his office is a whopping 1 minute away so he is the more “on call parent”. I am not too far away with just a 25 minute commute to my office over the river in New Hampshire. I would get home at about 5:30ish. We’d do dinner, homework, bed and repeat.
Since March 4th, I’ve been focused full time on helping communicate about the COVID-19 crisis to our large employee population, patients and community in Vermont/New Hampshire. We’ve been producing signage, video communications, digital communications, and photographs.
Vermont went on “shelter in place” as of yesterday evening. Both me and Mike’s jobs are classified as “essential” so we still need to go out from time to time for work. I carry my hospital badge to show in case I am stopped. Our kids have been out of school for a week and a half and we are kinda, sorta of falling into a routine that looks something like this:
6:00 Mike and I sleep through our alarm because we are exhausted from stress
6:30 Kids wake up and head downstairs to start their work on google classroom(their choice to start so early, not ours)
6:31 Open work email and immediately get engrossed in the latest communication that needs to go out or needs from Mike’s tenants
6:32 Kids ask for help that we may or may not be able to answer
7:00 Eat purple porridge together
7:30-5:00 Day falls into a cluster of conference calls, kids needing help, endless emails, kids crying, requests for food, requests for hugs, me crying, jumping on trampoline even thoughts its still cold outside, maybe some baking, maybe some crafts, occasional exercise, many many games of Magic, maybe some board games and lots of screen time!
Seriously, right when we think there might be a rhythm, the next day changes with the wind and it’s a whole new rodeo.
Part of it is that our kids, like most people, have very different personalities and learning styles. Lars is 10 and a homebody. He seems to be loving this opportunity to lounge on the couch while he types with one hand on his chrome book in the pjs that he’s been wearing for a few days.
Our daughter, Roxcy, is having more of a roller coaster experience. She lays out her clothes the night before and is up and dressed by 6AM. She thrives on schedules, consistency, and planning. When school was closed, she immediately made a color coded schedule and by god she tries to stick to that schedule. We spend at least 5 minutes every morning trying to help her flex this schedule idea in her mind so that she can get through her work. I can see her learning what flexibility looks like to her and if that is all she learns through this, then yay!
She’s also an extrovert so not being able to socialize with her friends is so so difficult. She likes a “playmate” in all things which means that when I am home, she wants that to be me. I want to pick her too but I also have important work to do so it tugs at my heart. But she’s been using Marco Polo and Facetime to connect with friends throughout the day. Every day seems to bring a little more settling for her.
It is day 10 of our home/work/school life. This morning at about 6:05AM, I was lying in bed trying to get myself up and I heard Roxcy go into the kitchen and in her little 8 year old/Boston-ish/New Zealandish accent say, “Alexa how do you spell woh-king?” and Alexa started, “W-A” and Roxcy clearly not satisfied said “How do you spell woh-king?”Alexa started again “W-A”
Finally she spit out the “R” that has not quite formed in her accent
Alexa how do you spell Wohr-king?”
And Roxcy said, “thanks Alexa”
I was excited that she didn’t wake us up. I think she might be getting the hang of this.
Speaking of classes. I can’t thank their teachers enough. When I unbury myself from work, I am thinking about some grand gesture to thank them like a parade through town. Yesterday morning, before I went to the hospital, Lars was on a video call with his 4 teachers and the whole 5th grade. He was giggling and playing Beethoven’s 9th symphony on his baritone for his whole class. It was hilarious and I heard them all being silly and supportive together. One of his teachers shared this quote with us on a Facebook group and I have read through it one or two times a day.
Public Service Announcement: What we are being asked to do is not humanly possible. There is a reason we are either a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or a part-time working parent. Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that can not be done at the same time. It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can. When you have to pick, because at some point you will, choose connection. Pick playing a game over arguing over an academic assignment.
I know there are tons of incredible free resources out there right now. I mean, I got to take a photography class with Justin Hackworth! But it’s overwhelming for me to sift through, organize and manage so unless I can fit it seamlessly in or the kids figure it out, we are managing with what we’ve got on hand. That has sometimes included baking cinnamon rolls, bread, and making pizza.
Earlier in the quarantine, Roxcy made “Quarantine treats” and would drop them at the door of some friends and quickly run away. She called it a “ding dong dash”. That brought her the most joy in what was a really hard first week for her.
Last night Roxcy came up with a live action version of “Clue” where we actually walked around the house guessing. It was super fun! We’ve planned some seeds for a garden that we may or may not plant, and we held a lip sync session that I know my parents in New Mexico would love to join. We are planning another.
What i love about being home is more time together. What a gift to be forced to be a part of my kids day-to-day lives when we are usually apart for the majority of the day. The connection has been incredible. To see how they learn and what they are learning and how they interact with their teachers. So much new insight!
I also love power naps. I have been feeling really tired and when I get tired, I feel more anxious, so it’s really nice being able to sneak in a power nap in-between calls. I wake up much more refreshed. I like to use Insight Timer for some ocean waves to block out the sound. 25 minutes is my sweet spot. After that, I become a slug.
And what’s the worst part? Time together. We feel a bit like everyone is up in each other’s business a little too much. Like my daughter, I thrive on routine and there is none, and it’s really hard to set one with the nature of my work and the natural changing of our moods. It’s basically “survive the day” mode.
Some days feels sad. Yesterday I was full on sliding into a depressed place but then I talked to my boss and I am taking the next two days off and it’s amazing the weight that lifted.
I’m also not a fan of all the cooking. It’s never been my forté. I love eating delicious/healthy food but the planning and cooking of it all day every day is more than I am into. High five for Annie’s Mac n’ cheese and Ramen Noodles!
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that you are going to suffer with anxiety and to get help sooner rather than later. When I was 30 and pregnant with my daughter, I had a feeling in my gut that I wouldn’t be having any more kids. My mental health had been teetering on the edge for some time and I knew before she was born that it was going to be stretched as far as it could go with the two kids.
After she was born, I remember thinking (as many new mothers with post-partum do) that their lives would be better if I wasn’t there. I sat with those feelings for 3 freaking long years, unable to even articulate the twisted knots in my mind to anyone. After a particularly hard conversation with Mike one night, I knew I had to do it for myself, my kids, and my marriage. At my next primary check up with my very cool primary care provider, I told her “I wasn’t okay and needed help.” She prescribed me medicine that day and game me some names of therapists. I wish I hadn’t suffered all those years inside myself feeling like I could do it alone because I couldn’t.
My doctor prescribed me Paxil but I was too anxious to take it because I thought by doing that, I was giving up. I worked through that bullshit in my first therapy appointment and started to learn Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In that appointment, I started unpacking a 2,000 pound weight from my shoulders and the hole in my stomach started to fill back in.
I still struggle with anxiety — like daily. I am the master at feeling feelings that other people haven’t even felt yet. Yikes! But now I can walk myself off the cliff. I still take medication. I have recently tried online therapy because the scheduling is so much easier. I still have some pretty terrible moments but I have so many more tools on my side now and I know how to talk about what I am feeling and that I don’t have to do it alone.
So this current situation is, er, sucky. A couple days ago, I was on a leadership call, I started crying when asked how I was doing. “I am not okay,” I said. “This is hard.” People don’t usually cry in the corporate world so that felt awkward but I could feel the virtual support. I read somewhere that tears have healing chemicals in them.
It’s hard not knowing the future and I have anxiety of the unknown and what I can’t control and but this has pushed me to new limits. Also, if you do take meds, and you are now on a new schedule at home — don’t forget to take them! That has happened to me multiple times over the last few days.
My dad always told us to take things “a day at a time” and some days I am taking it an hour at a time, trying to stay present with what is in front of me, and trying to keep the expectations for the day low.
In April, we will be celebrating our 5th anniversary since moving back into our house after we accidentally rebuilt it. If one is going to go through a global pandemic, and be told to “shelter in place” I can’t think of a place in the whole world I would rather be than my colorful home overlooking a lake in Vermont with my family.
UPDATE as of 3/27:
We got a robo call from our superintendent last night that school is out for the rest of the year. This is a fun new curveball that I haven’t fully digested and am going to spend the next few days processing before we make any decisions.
Thank you, Chris!
I appreciate Chris’s honesty and candor so much. I think so many of us can relate to that daily schedule that starts out so earnest and well thought out and sometime after breakfast, devolves into chaos and putting out fires and dealing with big emotions and helping kids deal with big emotions. I keep saying to my kids that this is uncharted territory. I don’t have all the answers because none of us do. We’re all figuring it out as we go along.
And I really love getting a peak into Chris’s home. What a bright and vibrant and beautiful space. I love all the colors and giant sofa and the big windows, it feels like a place where I wouldn’t mind being quarantined. And I appreciate Chris letting us take a peek at some of the craziness of chaos that we are all living though right now. You can tell this is a home full of love where everyone is dealing with a lot.
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.