I’m so excited for you to get to meet Gina today. Let’s start by congratulating her, because she had a baby last week (and still managed to write this lovely post!). Gina and her family live in Yakima, Washington and their historic home is warm and charming and fun to explore. She is a resilient person who has dealt with some really tough stuff in her life, including the loss of a child. You’ll love getting to know her. Welcome, Gina!
Our family is a unique bunch! There’s me (Gina) and my husband (Kyle). We have three living boys Maxwell (9), Daniel (6), Theodore (3) and one son, James, who was stillborn at 39 weeks (he would be 7), my husband’s little sister Mikayla (16), our dog Penny, a guinea pig named Moe and as of Oct 26th our daughter, Elizabeth (or Birdie as we are calling her) was born!
My husband and I met as camp counselors back when I was 16 (about to turn 17) and he was 18. It was a summer love in the mountains, built on mutual respect, deep discussions, and a love for silliness. It was maintained while he went to college 40 minutes away during my senior year of high school, and then while he left for St. Louis, Missouri to serve a 2-year mission for his church. I was starting my own college experience in Seattle, but had grown deeply curious about religion during the year before he left. We had discussed and debated religion a ton and I grilled him with questions. It stood out to me when he acknowledged that he didn’t know the answer to a question I would bring up, but that he was going to study and pray to find out for himself.
I admired that his relationship with God was built on personal revelation and sincere trust and so after he left, when I could feel that the decision was fully my own and not based on any sort of pressure from our relationship, I decided to do some investigating for myself. To his surprise (and my own), I got baptized. We spent the rest of his mission writing old school letters and emails discussing new things we were learning and were IMMENSELY skeptical about our relationship working out when he returned. But it did! We got married about 11 months later and I am happy to say that sometimes teenage summer love works out!
My husband is a physical therapist and I stay home, but am constantly dreaming up creative projects to work on. I love to write, take photos, and find fun kid-friendly resources to share with my community but my heart has always loved anything to do with education. A major goal is to get my Masters in Teaching when I feel ready, but I am happy to be living in this stage of life, I know it’s not forever so I am just soaking it in while I can.
I am constantly delighted by our kids. Max is infinitely curious about how things work, Danny is sunshine in human form, and Theo has a natural cheeky humor that gets him out of trouble more often than it should. Mikayla is incredibly resilient and empathetic, and Birdie has been such a source of hope during this past year.
We have had a couple of really difficult years in our 11 years of marriage. Our world entered an alternate reality when we discovered in 2013, our son James’ heart stopped beating at 39 weeks. The grief was overwhelming to our little family and I navigated it through writing. That process led to intense discussions in our marriage that sharpened our focus to put our time and energy into those things that matter most: namely our relationship with God and each other. It has continued to guide us in simplifying and prioritizing when chaos rises.
At the start of 2018, my husband’s parents’ separation and mental health crises led to his little sister coming to live with us temporarily. Her childhood was similar but different than my husband’s had been and it was a natural and easy decision to bring her into our home. As months went by it became clear that she loved the stability of our home and we loved being able to provide it. It’s a tricky relationship to navigate, as her parents’ are still very much in her life, but for the most part we fill all parental responsibilities and are now her legal guardians.
But adding a teenage girl to our home was not the only excitement at the start of 2018! About a month later we got a call at church that our 60ft blue spruce tree had fallen onto our house. I was fully expecting birds to be flying in our living room, but instead we came home to cracks in the walls and part of our roof caved into the attic. The process of getting everything fixed took almost an entire year and led me to finally seek therapy to navigate all the stress life had given us, but now it just feels like it was good preparation for the pandemic hitting in 2020.
We live in Yakima, Washington, the town I was born and raised in. It’s an agricultural community that is best known for apples, wine, and hops. There’s an old sign by the highway that’s been there since forever that states: “Welcome to Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington.” It’s a desert nestled into a valley with golden hills which is the only real similarity to the real Palm Springs, but I truly love where we live.
I never thought I would return to live here but when it came time for my husband to find a job, we realized there was so much we loved about our hometown. Not only did we have tons of family nearby, but Yakima is in Eastern Washington (the non-rainy side) and has four distinct seasons, is 40 minutes from beautiful mountain hikes, lakes, and skiing, has a lower cost of living than many other areas in the state, and produces the most divine fruit all summer long (cherries, blueberries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, apples, pears, I can go on and on). Yakima was also recently highlighted by the New York Times in the article, “The Divide in Yakima is the Divide in America.” The article does a tremendous job highlighting the division in our city, something I grew up observing but didn’t have the language for. In the past couple of years there has been a growing awareness and a desire of many to get creative in ways to support and unite our city and I hope that movement continues to grow.
Our neighborhood borders the line that you can basically draw down the middle of our city that many won’t cross when looking for homes. It’s a beautiful, historic neighborhood near the most popular community park that hosts concerts in the summer, terraces to sled on in the winter, and vibrates with a special community energy the rest of the time. I love being able to take a quick walk there to let the kids play or just escape for myself to get some fresh air.
Our neighborhood is a mix of all types of families in all stages in life. This is also reflected in home prices. In just the four blocks around us, they can vary in price from $900,000+ to $200,000. There are some gorgeous, historic homes and some homes that are fixer-uppers for first time buyers, but I think it’s amazing that you will find everyone enjoying a sunny day at the park no matter which house they live in. We are five minutes from downtown (which for many years was a ghost town) but is now having a renaissance of sorts with local restaurants and businesses popping up. It’s exciting to try out new places and support local entrepreneurs.
We bought our home in spring of 2016. We received a lot of advice from people in town about where to look and what the best school districts were but our hope was to keep an open mind, especially as I was learning that school grades online aren’t entirely indicative of how great a school is. I grew up a few blocks from where we bought our home and so it was definitely a bonus to find a place near my mother’s house which is a short walk up the road. Our home was built in 1926 and had only been owned by one family prior. The parents built it later in life and then their daughter lived in it, her kids were the ones selling it after she passed away. It sat empty for about 5 years and when we bought it the only update was a new roof, while the last major remodel had been done in 1962.
It’s 2600 sq ft which includes a basement apartment with a separate entrance. Our first walk into the home was overwhelming as it needed SO MUCH WORK. Everything was painted the same color of blue (which you can still see in the kitchen): ceiling, trim, and walls with a blue shag rug in the living area. There were three bathrooms but only the basement had a shower. It needed work but our real estate agent was a family friend who is also a licensed contractor and he showed us that the bones were solid and helped us catch a vision for what it could be (and how we could rent out the basement to help cover updates and the mortgage). For first time home buyers paying off student loans, it was a smart financial choice being able to buy it for $199,000.
Building our home after the tree fell initially felt like a blessing, but quickly turned into an enormous source of stress. The tree hit our home at an angle and the worry was that it messed with the structural integrity. All of the bedrooms, our laundry room, and the upstairs bathroom had to be taken down the studs to make sure they were still sound. We had homeowners insurance but they fought us over every cent of the process. We lived in the house for 3 months before anything got started and then what we thought would take a summer quickly moved into the fall and winter. We started at my mom’s home for a few months, then moved into our tiny 1 bedroom basement apartment, and finally found a monthly furnished rental to stay in for the rest of the process.
It was a constant, involuntary shift and I wished we had known how to navigate it better from the start. Here is what we learned about navigating the process: Have your insurance through a local insurer, someone you can physically go and see when something happens; Find out and keep track of what steps need to happen to keep things moving; Reach out to a contractor as soon as possible. They often book out months in advance and you can risk losing your spot with them if insurance fights about what they are charging; bring up using a lawyer to get things moving (this is what FINALLY got things going for us.) And finally know that home really is wherever you are with your family. Kids are amazingly resilient and as long as their basic need for love and belonging are met, they will see it all as an adventure.
I found out I was pregnant with Elizabeth the day that schools closed in our city. It was a surreal day to say the least. Having had a previous pregnancy loss, it gave our family a sense of purpose in working to keep our home as safe as possible. The first couple of months were rough as I dealt with morning sickness and so much was unknown about how the virus worked. However, having finished the remodel, we were grateful that we weren’t still in our little furnished rental. Our city’s case rate rose in early summer and made national news. It further highlighted the divide in our town, where many felt they would be unaffected and others had to still show up to work in the fruit warehouses to keep food on the shelves for our nation and their own homes.
For us, it was all about maintaining perspective and knowing that the world had turned our lives upside down before. Living onward through losing a child, taking in another, and being displaced from your home taught us that there can still be joy and beauty in the unknown. For our home it has meant being intentional, recognizing when to let go of “normal”, and getting creative with new traditions.
I love that through everything we have been through with our home and family that it finally feels like us, and I am especially grateful for showers in ALL of the bathrooms. The only thing we would change is the new flooring we had put in before we moved back in. We had old ¼ in thick hardwoods that no one would refinish for us because the margin of error was non-existent. Instead we chose some luxury vinyl planks at the very start of the remodel and then a year later when they were installed…we totally regretted them. We may replace them eventually but for now they work.
At 32, I did not expect to be raising a 16 year-old girl; trying our best to help her navigate friendships, relationships, high school, and her own life experiences. It’s so hard to not worry about all the ways you may be messing up or making things worse and trying to parent when you’re not THE parent is such an uphill battle when something needs to change. Thankfully my mother is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in pediatric behavioral health and lives up the road. We rely on her heavily for guidance and support.
Our biggest advice for anyone bringing a child from another home into your own is to plug them into your family life at every possible moment. They will be looking for reasons they don’t belong and it will take more than just words to convince them that you aren’t going anywhere. Ultimately we are just so grateful to see in action how far a stable, loving home can go in a child’s life. It’s amazing how much an impact it can have in a teen’s life to know someone will give them a safe place to land and is willing to advocate for them.
Mikayla has brought so much deep growth into our home. She makes us think far more thoroughly about the long-term effects we have as parents and I am confident we are better parents to our own kids because of her. She has also helped our family shake the societal stigma surrounding mental health. We fully understand the value and importance of seeking help through therapy and medication and seeing it be such a benefit in her life, we have sought it out for ourselves. Everyone can benefit from having a safe place to talk and learning better coping skills! Overall, we are just so grateful for the opportunity to watch her grow and develop into a resilient, intelligent, and stunning young woman.
Spending day in and day out with my kids over the past year has been a lesson in flexibility. I think we can get attached to the way our child is and forget that they are evolving and growing so much as a person! This means that tactics or rules that once worked no longer apply and things need to be shifted. This past year has been a huge lesson in observing what’s working and being willing to pivot when they aren’t, and asking for grace from your kids in the transition.
One unexpected thing we learned about our oldest (Max) as he was doing school at home is that he felt a lot of pressure while in school with his peers to never “mess up”. He had been feeling pressure from his peers to consistently perform well and it was really getting to him. We had no idea! Hopefully we can create a culture in our home where making mistakes or failing is more normalized. We need to have those types of experiences too!
I hope my kids remember this home for being filled with light: both literally and figuratively. I hope they remember as a parent I was always reaching for them. Through a touch on the shoulder, a quick kiss on the head, or pulling them in for a hug, I hope they remember that I always want to envelop them in my arms and somehow transfer the swelling in my heart into a deep knowing that they are loved. I hope they forget every time we chose to take the bait in an argument and it ended in a yelling match.
My favorite thing about living with our kids and what I will miss most are all the simple, non-orchestrated moments of genuine laughter and love. The ones that take your breath away and remind you that this is why people keep reproducing and having hope for the future.
Those moments of sincere connection: laughing together when Theo does something cheeky, relaxing into the couch with a family movie, watching them laugh with an inside joke, seeing them offer to help each other without being asked, and the way they have all been in gentle awe observing a new baby.
I wish they had told me there is beauty in the ashes when “normal” burns to the ground. That my family would have to sit in the discomfort of panic and overwhelm, sifting through the silt for what really matters most. That I would learn how embrace the nuance, to notice how my body feels emotion, to pay attention to how my throat clenches when I’m trying to avoid crying and to learn to let the tears go despite it.
I wish someone had told me that I would have to let go of my own curated and perfect vision for life but the complicated reality is so much more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed up for myself.
Thank you, Gina! I loved hearing about this blended family that is making things work during such a crazy time. Having a 16 yr old move in when you are in the younger kid phase of life must be tricky but it sounds like Gina and her husband have really managed to make a safe place for his sister.
The final two paragraphs of Gina’s essay are such a gut punch. I really appreciate Gina’s willingness to be open and honest about her experience and about her and her family’s pain. And while so many of us will never have to go through the pain of losing a child, we all have moments where we feel like “normal burns to the ground.” Perhaps you’ve experienced some of those moment’s this year. I love Gina’s advice to sit in your emotions even when (especially when) they are difficult and let them run through you. What a wonderful reminder for all of us as we navigate the end of this difficult, unprecedented year.
Bed in principal bedroom
Rocking chair in nursery
Dining room chandelier
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.