With a blog called Less Than Perfect Mama, you can bet that Lindsay has a good grasp on this whole living with kids thing! The day before Hurricane Sandy flooded her home, she packed all of the family’s important stuff: toys, clothes, the family’s favorite books, and photos. I love that she chose much comfort over more costly items, don’t you?
Please join me in welcoming Lindsay. I know you’re going to enjoy touring her home and reading her words. (If only there was an option for this former pastry chef to bake a little something for us!)
Q: Please tell us about you and yours!
A: I live with my husband, Michael, in a tiny house in a small beach town on Long Island. We have two kids: Luke (7) and Madeleine (4). I’m a stay-at-home mom these days, and I try to nurture my creativity by writing a blog about the ridiculous nonsense that goes on around here in addition to anything food-related. I was a professional pastry chef before I had the kids and I still love, love, love to bake. Michael is an arborist, which means that often he spends his day dangling from a tree with a chainsaw in hand. I try not to think about that!
Luke is an old soul. While he has all the silliness of a typical kid, he also has a serious, intense side to his personality and can be quite focused when he wants to be. He’s an unyielding Thomas the Train enthusiast and says he’d like to drive trains when he grows up and also have a model train shop on the weekends.
Madeleine has a twinkle in her eye. If she’s not giggling it’s because she’s asleep. And she’s always scheming to get something she wants when I’ve told her no several times. When she’s very quiet I know she’s up to no good! There’s plenty of sibling shenanigans at our house, but when Luke asks if he can sit with Madeleine at bedtime and read to her I just melt.
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: We bought our house in 2005 when the real estate market was inflated to an all-time high. This was the only house we looked at and it was a total dive! In this area, the original homes are true beach bungalows. They were never intended for year-round living when they were built years ago.
Our house only had two bedrooms, a kitchen decked out in shabby cabinets and linoleum tile that had seen better days, and an equally creepy bathroom. There was water damage, wall-to-wall astro-turf-green carpet, and a back yard that looked like the land that time forgot. We were hasty and very…young.
I’d never make such an impulsive decision these days, but that’s what two kids and nearly a decade of marriage teaches you! Now all our decisions affect four people instead of two. But the house did have a certain coziness about it, and when I step out the door each morning I can look down to the water and see boats passing by. Not a bad deal.
Q: Tell us about living through Hurricane Sandy! How scary was it?
A: Foolishly, we didn’t take the evacuation warnings seriously at first so we didn’t prepare very much. Then the day before Sandy hit, we scrambled to pack up essentials so we could evacuate to my in-laws’ house further inland. The things I felt were most important to bring along were as many of the kids’ toys and clothes as we could fit into suitcases and garbage bags. Classy! I knew that as long as Luke and Madeleine had their belongings, the things that bring them comfort, I’d have peace of mind. And of course we packed up our photo albums, hard drives, and favorite books. Cookbooks, for me.
I remember vividly the night that the hurricane was in full swing because the wind was crazy. We were at my in-laws’ house by then. Michael and the kids had passed out from the exhaustion of the day, but I was wound up and couldn’t sleep. The house felt like it was going to lift up and fly away. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? I was frightened that night, more so of the possibility of a tornado than of the flooding. No flood waters reached my in-laws’ home, thankfully.
The next day Michael went down to check on our house, and when he came back the look on his face was one of utter defeat and shock. I’d never seen him in that state before, since he’s such an emotionally strong person. He looked truly heartbroken.
The house had been flooded with about four feet of water, its contents destroyed and covered in black sludge. My reaction was very calm in relation to what had actually happened, and it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I began to feel the effects of everything.
Q: Where did you stay temporarily while renovating? How did you make it home for your kids?
A: We moved into the house that had belonged to my grandmother, Nonna. She had passed away two years earlier and my family had not yet been able to sort through her things or move any of her furniture out of the house, so it was basically set up and ready for us to move into. It’s strange how things work out sometimes. My entire family came over to help us move in and to clean up the house, which had been closed up for a long time. My older sister even flew up from Florida just to lend a hand.
Everyone brought something – books for the kids, towels, toiletries. My mom stocked the kitchen with all the kids’ favorite things to eat. We set up one of the bedrooms for the kids and it looked so cute with all of their toys and stuffed animals. There was new life in the house. I felt blessed. My family and my husband’s surrounded us with love and support.
I told the kids that we were safe because Nonna was watching over us. Luke was five at the time and had a little trouble with the idea that the water would come back. He seemed to feel reassured that we were in a familiar place, a house that he’d spent so much time in from the time he was born. I was reassured, too, but it was harder for Michael to be in someone else’s home without our own belongings.
The next eight months were emotionally challenging. The stress of dealing with the insurance company and of not knowing when we’d get to move home was difficult.
Q: Describe the first time you felt at home again. Are your kids still nervous about the weather whenever the news predicts hurricanes? How do you help them cope?
A: I had never thought of this town as my home for all those years before Hurricane Sandy. I had thought of it as a temporary situation until we saved more money and figured out where we really wanted to live. So imagine my surprise when we moved back to our town and I actually felt like I was home. There was a beautiful camaraderie in our town in the months that followed. When the schools finally opened again, Luke’s teacher hugged him with tears in her eyes. Everyone was so glad to be together.
That’s something I’ll always remember…how much these people care about where they live.
There are times when Luke will watch the news with me and the forecast is for lots of rain and he’ll ask if we’re going to be flooded again. I remind him that we’re able to prepare for hurricanes, and that as long as everyone is safe that that’s the important thing. We can always buy new toys and clothes. Luckily, Madeleine is younger and more la-dee-dah by nature, so these things don’t seem to phase her.
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: Living by the beach is wonderful. The air smells salty, there’s always a breeze, and at night we can hear the ocean. In the summer we pack up the red wagon with buckets and sunscreen and snacks, and walk down to the beach with the kids. There’s a farmer’s market twice a week from spring to fall, and the town also has several playgrounds to choose from.
We’re only a half hour drive from Manhattan – although traffic can add an hour to that drive! – and we take advantage of that by feeling out our relatives to see if they want to babysit our kids so we can go to dinner. The kids love going to the city, too. But mostly it’s the laid back vibe down here. People slow down and enjoy the surroundings.
Q: What changes did you make to your home that made it better-suited for your family? Was this a chance for a do-over, in some ways?
A: Yes! The silver lining was that we were able to make changes so that the house works much better than ever. My fantastic brother-in-law stepped in as our contractor and reduced the size of our living room (which we had added when we bought the house) so that we’d have a a master bedroom with a walk-in closet. Now Luke and Madeleine have their own rooms, which has been life-saving.
We were able to create a large closet that contains the washer/dryer and also serves as a pantry. In a small home like this, these changes have added efficiency. Now that the master bedroom is on the opposite side of the house from the kids, we have more privacy. (Insert sound of angels singing!)
Q: What traditions do you hope your kids remember from this home? What do you hope they remember about their time with you? (The good and the not-so-awesome!)
A: I hope they remember lazy summer days in the backyard or at the beach, and what a gift it is to live so close to the ocean. There’s an ice cream stand down the road from our house, and we go there all the time once the weather is warm. I pull the hatch up in back of the car and we sit on this big, red blanket my mom gave me and eat ice cream cones. The kids always ask “Did you bring the red blanket, Mom?”
Just that half hour or so that we’re there, removed from the distractions of being home, is a chance to chat about our day. They have my undivided attention and I see how much they enjoy that. Will they remember doing that once they’ve grown up?
I hope they remember that my husband and I savor them every single day. Hearing them laugh, watching them learn something new, or listening to them talk about things they think are cool – it’s all interesting to us. We eat it up! That their parents are endlessly infatuated with them and we think they’re both amazing people…that’s what I hope they remember.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? How is motherhood different than what you once imagined it would be? What do you already miss about this time in your family’s life?
A: What’s not to love about your child’s breath against your cheek as you lay together so your little one will drift off to sleep? Those are the easy things to love about being a parent. I’ve adored each stage of raising them so far, even while braving sleepless nights and poopie diapers. My favorite thing, though? Luke and Madeleine have taught me so much about myself. They challenge me like crazy. What better test of a person’s patience, generosity, or creativity than to be faced with tiny humans who will not take no for an answer. Believe me, some days I don’t have any of those qualities and then there are days when I surprise myself by being a better mom than the day before. They give me the desire to strive for being a great mom.
I never had any preconceived of motherhood because I didn’t think I’d ever have kids. Michael and I said we were going to travel the world and be the fun, cool uncle and aunt who always brought presents. Then my uterus woke up and I knew I wanted to be a mom. Motherhood is hard, though. That’s what I tell friends and family who don’t have kids and are thinking of starting a family. Thankfully, there’s so much wonderful in parenting that the moments that bring me to my knees are kind of a blur.
I do have days when the kids are in the yard blowing bubbles and throwing mud at each other (seriously), and I feel a little lump in my throat. Stay little, I want to say. Being a mom of young children is enchanting in so many ways. They think everything is exciting and mystical and fun. And while Luke is certainly getting wise to things he once thought of as magical, I’m not too worried. He can’t be that old if he wears his blue blankie like a cape as he runs naked through the house.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that it’s ok to let my husband do things his way. I’m admittedly a bit of a control freak when it comes to the kids (and in many other areas of life!). Michael puts complete trust in me that I’ll make the best decisions for our kids, great and small. But that sometimes allows me to forget that he’s their parent, too!
I don’t need to worry if he walks the kids down to the pizza place on a Saturday afternoon. He’ll look both ways before crossing streets and watch that Madeleine doesn’t dart into the street if she sees a dog. It’s a daily process for me, remembering that I need to let go of the myriad of worries in my mind and just let him take over. Our kids hit the jackpot with their wonderful, devoted father.
I also wish someone would tell me, like right now please, that it’s okay if the house is messy and dinner isn’t on the table until late. I don’t want to spend my time with my kids worrying about to-dos, but that’s something I find hard to let go. There will always be mess, there will always be laundry, and there will always be errands and dishes and beds to make. Kids grow quickly, so if you come over and it looks like a giant picked up our house and shook it all around, just know it’s all part of my plan to enjoy my kids.
Oh, Lindsay! I love your honesty. I know I’ve swallowed those two little words so, so often…stay little. Thank you for sharing your story with us; I can’t imagine living through such a devastating natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, so I truly admire your bravery and positive attitude.
Friends, we’ve talked about the co-parenting issue before – remember Emily Henderson’s advice for new moms? – but I’m always curious how you handle it in your own home. Are your parenting duties equal, or as equal as they can be? Do you leave the house confident in your partner’s parenting skills? Or do you die a little every time your partner takes the kids somewhere, refraining (hopefully!) from shouting a “Please keep them alive, honey!” warning as they walk out the door? Your stories and experiences always make me smile.