You’re going to love getting to know Dalia today, and hear her perspective about faith, parenting, clutter and so much more. Dalia, her husband, and their three daughters (and a golden doodle!) live in a Parsonage in South Florida. Tony is a pastor and the home is actually owned by the congregation — Dalia and their family live there as part of their compensation. It seems like a lovely twist on a renter/landlord situation. Dalia and Tony also have one daughter with special needs and two children who were born premature, so she has some beautiful wisdom to share about life’s unexpected twists and turns. Welcome, Dalia!
Greetings fellow readers!! My name is Dalia. I’m married to a wonderful guy named Tony and our little family lives in South Florida.
Tony is originally from Cincinnati and I grew up in Montreal but we met in Miami, where we both moved after college. Tony had just graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering, a field he enjoyed, but was feeling a tug to do something different with his life. I was a brand-new social worker and wanted to explore the non-profit world. When we met, it was not love at first sight! We were actually both interested in other people. But we were good friends and after a few months, our friendship blossomed into romance.
On paper, we are very different. Tony is gregarious, athletic and analytical. I’m introverted, artistic and idealistic. However, at our core, we are more similar than we are different. When we fell in love, we fell hard and 16 months after we started dating, we were married.
We’ve been married 13 years and it has been my greatest blessing to do life with this man by my side! Tony is the kind of guy who doesn’t hold back. He is generous with his love, time and support for me and is the most tender, fun and patient father to our girls who are 9, 6 and 4.
Talita is our oldest and my mini-me. She’s imaginative, insightful and an old soul at heart. She loves tea time, nature, reading, bossing her youngest sister, and writing and illustrating her own books (she rarely finishes them though, so we have about a dozen books around the house with only 3-4 chapters completed…talk about cliff hangers!). She rarely ever gets bored because her head is full of ideas.
Then comes our middle child Ellie. She’s a love bug. She is full of cuddles and raspy laughter. She has no sense of danger which keeps us on our toes. She is quite fond of her food and gets very impatient when she has to wait more than 3 seconds for it. Ellie has a rare genetic disorder that comes with significant intellectual and physical delays so she requires a lot of support. I’ve always associated her spirit with a Koala bear but after watching the Mandalorian, I also think her spirit is very Baby-Yoda-like. She teaches us daily about the deeper meaning of life.
Our youngest daughter is Ruby. She first came to us through foster care and has since been officially adopted into our family. She is inquisitive and will sometimes break toys because she wants to see what’s inside them. She is also affectionate, expressive, brave, athletic, loves to be helpful, and dare I say…sassy?? Yes I dare say it. She also likes to come up with her own original jokes and cracks herself up.
Lastly, there’s our son, Hamilton. He’s fluffy and loyal. He’s actually a dog but my husband thinks and acts like he’s a full-fledged boy so…shhh…
We live in Florida City, a small town that has a population of about 12,000. We have a few claims to fame: we are the Gateway to the Florida Keys, are located 15 minutes away from two national parks (Everglades and Biscayne) and have one of the highest crime rates per capita in the state. That’s the google search version.
The reality is more nuanced. One of the things I appreciate most about our neighborhood is its diversity. In Florida City, minority groups are the majority. My husband is the only Caucasian man on our street and rides his bike every morning with our giant goldendoodle so most people recognize him. I’m Salvadoran by origin so I don’t really stand out. I’m particularly thankful that our Ruby is growing up in a neighborhood where a lot of our neighbors look like her.
On a Saturday night, you’ll hear one neighbor blasting Mexican rancheras and another one blasting hip hop. And always, there are fireworks in the background. We also have an amazing but somewhat rundown park at the end of our street that a group of us concerned citizens have started to fix up! Very excited about that! We do have higher than average crime rates here and that’s why it’s good to take the time to know your neighbors and be friendly. They will be your best allies and alert you to any suspicious activity.
The house we live in is a parsonage. If you’re not familiar with the term, a parsonage is an unfurnished home owned by the church for the purpose of housing their minister/pastor. It is part of the salary package of a pastor.
It is similar to a landlord/renter housing relationship but it’s actually better because our landlords are friends from our church who have our best interest at heart. If something needs to be fixed, they are quick to respond. They have also given me carte blanche to paint and decorate as I see fit and really make this place feel like home. In return, we try to take the best care of the parsonage and make changes (ie: landscaping, adding patio, changing light fixtures) of our own that will add value and function for the next clergy family. Our church first bought this place in 2015 for $150,000 and it has since more than doubled in value.
We’re not sure how long we’ll get to stay here since our denomination is based on an appointment system. We’ve been here for the last 5 years and are hoping for at least another 5 years.
Motherhood was always one of my biggest dreams. When Tony and I started dating, I told him I wanted 4 kids, preferably two biological and two adopted and that I wanted to stay home with them for the first few years at least. He said sure!
Shortly after our third anniversary, we found out we were expecting our first baby. We lived in North Carolina at the time, where Tony was attending seminary and I was working. Everything was going well until it wasn’t. At 25 weeks, I started feeling ill. Over the next 3 days, my malaise grew worse but since it was my first pregnancy, I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t. On the third day, my supervisor and co-workers convinced me to go to the emergency room. Once I got to the hospital, things escalated rather quickly. I developed Class 1 HELLP syndrome, a pregnancy complication where the only true treatment is immediate delivery. Our daughter Talita was born that night, via emergency C-Section, weighing 1 lb 4 oz.
Her NICU stay was a roller coaster. When you have a baby in the NICU, you feel alllll the emotions but you’re also in survival mode so it’s hard to process things. Thankfully, after 90 days Talita came home surprisingly unscathed. It was only when she was safe and at home that I started to process our experience.
A few years later, baby fever set in again. After consulting with doctors, we got pregnant. I developed the same pregnancy complications but I was able to carry until 33 weeks and Ellie was a whooping 3lbs 14 oz at birth! Our second NICU stay started on a better note because I knew what to expect this time around and I was sure this baby would be home in less than 4 weeks.
However, instead of gradually improving and getting ready to come home, Ellie got worse. She was a “sloppy” eater, had developed a stridor, would hardly open her eyes and had generalized low muscle tone. After 60 days in the NICU, she finally came home but with an oxygen and heart monitor, a feeding tube and several specialist appointments. That first year with Ellie was by far the hardest year of my life.
I really struggled with my faith that year. It’s one thing to say that God is good when things are going relatively well, but it’s quite harder when you’re walking into a scary unknown and that unknown involves your child. One night, I broke down. Ellie was in her rocker next to me, being fed by her pump through her G-Tube and I was pumping next to her. Then, she vomited the whole thing. At that moment, I just cried at the unfairness of it all. I cried at the fact that I needed 2 machines to feed my baby, at the fact that my precious 10 month old had already had 3 surgeries, at the fact that she still wasn’t meeting any of her milestones despite so many hours of therapy, and mostly at the fact that I was so scared of that word the doctor had used: disability. How could God do this to us? Why was he using the thing I had wanted most, happy and healthy children, to break me? It was in that raw moment, that I felt God gently remind me that children are gifts. All children, even the ones with disabilities. And that if I chose to trust him, he would help me unwrap this gift and give me what I needed for the journey.
I can’t say things instantly got better but that was the start of a change of perspective for me.
A few months later, we received an official diagnosis for Ellie. Due to a rare genetic mutation, Ellie was diagnosed with Ohdo syndrome- SBBYS variant.
Our family sees Ellie as a precious gift but having a child with special needs comes with its own challenges and definitely adds stress to the whole family unit. It’s not surprising that the divorce rate is more elevated among families of children with disabilities.
Tony and I made it a priority to seek our support system. Because our parents live in Ohio and in Canada, we had to be proactive about finding our village. At the time we lived in rural North Carolina, so our church became family. They were amazing. When we moved to Florida, the biggest support for Ellie came in the form of a PPEC (prescribed pediatric extended care) center, located only five minutes away from our home. This place has been a huge blessing for Ellie and our family. She goes there 5 days a week for all her therapies and nursing care, just like she would if she were in a traditional school setting.
We also prioritize simplicity as a family to make sure we have some margin in our lives. We are intentional and picky about what we say yes to. This is tricky sometimes and we often have to re-evaluate.
I also try to implement these principles in the way I decorate and organize our home. I love beautiful spaces but I also value ease of use. In recent years, I’ve become more mindful about what I bring into our home. Clutter stresses me out and the best way to beat clutter is to stop buying things you don’t really need. Another simple but life changing trick that I learned from following Cassandra Aarssen from Clutterbug has been to store things where I use them not where I think they should go. This is why we have a nebulizer stored in a basket in our bookshelf, our diaper supplies are stored in the TV console, and why our art shelf is right next to the dining table. It makes putting things away much easier.
My husband would say that my mom superpower is my ability to find things and know where everything is kept! I think one of my strengths is the capacity to find and cultivate beauty, even in small ways. I used to feel guilty about wanting to make our home beautiful. It felt like such a frivolous thing especially given the context in which we live, a low-income area where there are great needs. Beauty felt like a luxury. I’ve come to believe, however, that beauty is important no matter where you live. Seeking beauty is an act of hope and a reflection of a creative God. Plus it doesn’t have to be expensive! We work with a tight budget which has forced us to be creative and patient (admittedly less fun but still valuable).
Our daughters are quick to notice when I make small changes and they often want to spruce up the place with their own artwork or nature finds. A few things I hope they remember about this season in this home is all the books we’ve read, the discussions we’ve had and the backyard discoveries we’ve made together. I hope with all my heart that they remember this more than my “grumpy mama” morning moments (working on it, I’m not a morning person)!
Lastly, I wish someone had told me to take better care of my mental health after the birth of my two preemies. Prayer and the passage of time does help but trauma is hard to fully process alone and I don’t think we were meant to. We all have blind spots and anything repressed eventually comes up, usually in unhealthy ways. Because I didn’t have any control over the situation surrounding the birth of the girls and in many ways, it was similar with the adoption process, I sought to control every other little aspect of my life. That has produced unhelpful patterns of perfectionism and anxiety, and though they were not obvious to the naked eye, they were detrimental to my overall health. I have been working with a therapist for a year now and have slowly been peeling off the layers of trauma. It’s been a hard and expensive journey but one that is worth every tear and penny. I know I’m a better person, mom, wife and friend because of it.
Thank you, Dalia! Such a charming, peaceful-feeling home. It feels stylish and aspirational but also incredibly livable. I love the advice about keeping things were you are going to use them. And I imagine that is must feel special to live in a home that is such a fixture in a community. It’s your home, but it also is part of a bigger story of the parsonage. That’s lovely.
Dalia’s wise words about seeking help after trauma ring so true too. Probably all of us have been through some version of trauma in the last few years — homeschooling during a pandemic, losing loved ones, emotional stress brought on by political and social difference with friends and family — and that stuff is tough. When Dalia said “prayer and the passage of time help but trauma hard to fully process alone and I don’t think we are meant to” it rang so true. We all need help to work through these things, whether it is a trusted friend, a counselor or a therapist, it’s important to find those people.
What are you doing to navigate the difficult things you have been through in life? What resources have worked the best for you?
Living Room Rug
Girls’ bedroom rug
Backyard bird poster
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 email@example.com.