Living With Kids – Melanie Read

Melanie has such a great story about how the quarantine has impacted her family and I am so glad you get to hear it today. Not only did she have to pivot to homeschooling kids (like so many of us did), but they also had to deal with having a child overseas that they had to try and get home before everything locked down. Melanie shares her lovely home and speaks eloquently about how the house had to pivot too and become more than it was before. Welcome, Melanie.

My name is Melanie and my husband, Chris and I have 4 teenagers, Max, 19 and a Sophomore in College, Piper, our only daughter and Senior in High School, and identical twin boys, Will and Spencer who are 14. Our family also includes a Sheepadoodle named Dr. Watson and our guinea pigs, T-Rex and Velociraptor. While so many businesses are talking about having to “pivot” under these unprecedented times, I realized that our house needed to undergo a transformation too!

Back in February, when the Corona virus was creeping across the globe, I found myself keeping a close eye on cases in the UK. My son was a sophomore at University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He was not an exchange student that could easily be brought back when a semester abroad program was suspended. Rather he is a 4 year student with an off campus apartment and a student Visa that would be nullified if he left campus for something other than a short break.

When Max first decided to go to school in the UK, many people asked if we were worried about him going so far when he had a serious medical condition. We replied that we were comfortable with him leaving the country because while he could (and did) need medical attention, it was never an immediate, life-threatening emergency, but something that could wait a week until we could arrange to fly him home. In his two years there though, who could even imagine that the emergency we would face would be a global pandemic!

The UK was slower than the US to respond. On Thursday, March 12 as our neighboring school systems were announcing that they would close for several weeks, the University of Edinburgh sent out an email saying that they had consulted with the Prime Minister and their best course of action was to keep the school open. They followed that with a statement saying that international travel would not be allowed without a justification, risk assessment, and a note from the head of the school! Max would definitely not be coming home. I

cried a bit and then got on the phone with him to talk him through what his priorities needed to be; stock up on his prescription medicines for his illness, non-prescription medicine, and toilet paper, in that order!

At 4:30 AM (not surprisingly, no one seems to be sleeping well) I saw the news that Trump has banned all travel from Europe. At 6:30 AM I got a text message saying our local school system has closed. And then, not quite 24 hours later, the school administrators in Scotland do a 180 degree turn and say they are closing the schools and sending all the students home immediately!

We managed to get my son home within two days, just before midnight on the day that the travel ban and mandatory quarantine would kick in on travelers from the UK! It was a crazy, chaotic, wildly stressful weekend, but I was so glad to have him home!

Which brings us back to our house, one that we have loved and lived in since I before I was pregnant with Max in 1999. When my husband and I met, he was older than I was by 9 years and had already owned 2 townhouses previously. I had never lived in anything but apartments. While house hunting, I envisioned a small, charming home in an older neighborhood just a few minutes outside of the city. We had been looking for sometime, but the market in suburban Washington was so hot that people were putting in offers significantly over market price and waiving home inspections. One day our Realtor showed us a house in a neighborhood much deeper into the suburbs than I was comfortable with. We walked in and my husband was just smitten. There is no other word for it. So we bought it.

We didn’t have any kids at that point; I wasn’t even pregnant. I had a terrible time envisioning living in this great big 4 bedroom, open floor plan house that seemed devoid of personality. Chris didn’t want a “starter home”. He had done that. He wanted something that would grow as our family did and not force us to move again in a few years.

Fast forward to 2020 and I wouldn’t even dream of moving houses. We have put our heart and soul into making this house a home in every sense of the word. And we have definitely filled it, four children (including a surprise twin pregnancy!) later.

My husband does woodworking in his spare time and I sew. Many of the projects in this house involved working together to create something. Chris has made our kitchen table, sofa and coffee tables, and other items of furniture around the house. Our joint projects included the headboard in our bedroom and the giant wall of bookshelves he built and I did the finishing work on when we transformed the kids playroom into a family library.

Shortly after we moved in, I was gifted a book called The Emotional House by Dawn Ritchie. I came to appreciate that houses are constantly evolving and growing just like the family that lives within it. The obvious examples are the guest room that becomes a nursery for unexpected twins, or the playroom that years later morphs into the study/library. There are so many more subtle examples of this and one not so subtle; coaxing a house into becoming somewhere that 6 people can live, work, home school, laugh, and spend every moment of 11 (and counting) weeks together!

The Pandemic now has us all home 24/7 working together. I work part time for a Science Museum that has had to move to all virtual programming and now work at home 5 mornings a week. My husband’s government job has gone to every other week in the office, working from home the next. For Distance learning, our school system broke up the high school and junior high which means that my daughter is in “class” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our twin boys on Wednesdays and Friday and Monday is left for office hours and assignments. My daughter has danced competitively for years and usually has about 12 hours a week of dance classes. When her studio had to close it’s doors, they also went to online classes. Through trial and error she has learned that the Ballet classes need to be held in the kitchen (Hardwood floors!), the conditioning classes can be done in the basement but the ceilings are too low for the jazz classes. Those can only be done in our living room.

Both the twins play instruments. Spencer’s drum lesson can only be in the basement where the drum kit is, but Will’s bass lesson can be anywhere. All of this can only be when Max is not teaching his class! He managed to get a job teaching an online Debate class. It’s fantastic that he is able to make some money and keep his brain engaged, but we have to be fairly quiet when he is teaching. Needless to say, our house is getting it’s own special workout and my head sometimes spins trying to keep all of this tracked.

The pivoting of our house started when we got off the phone with our oldest in Scotland and realized that we had 2 days to move Spencer, who had been squatting in Max’s room, back into the room he normally shares with his twin. That was followed by the realization that we never had room for two desks in that space but now the boys each needed an appropriate desk to do school work.

We scoured the basement and came up with an underutilized antique gaming table paired with a cheap utility cart I picked up at Target. With my oldest teaching an online class, he needed a space away from everyone with good lighting and no background noise.

Our church was now offering Live Stream worship so the living room became a temporary sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Our screened porch became a lifesaver by adding another place where we can study, play, read or eat.

The biggest challenge, though, was a week into our Stay At Home Orders when I came down with a fever and dry cough! We immediately had my husband grab anything he needed and move into the guest room while I was isolated in our bedroom. For the 11 days it took to get the negative test results back, I stayed in my bedroom while the rest of the family brought me meals and even Zoomed with me from downstairs! My husband brought me the cheap folding table and chair we keep in storage so that I didn’t have to eat my meals on the bed. As I felt better and was able to work more, I found myself setting up my computer in our large bathroom because it had the best natural light! As tough as it was to not be able to hug my family for that long, I reminded myself that between our bedroom, the walk in closet, and our ridiculously large bathroom, it was bigger than my first Studio apartment in D.C.! The whole family was also very aware that we were so fortunate that I didn’t have COVID19 and that so many families have lost loved ones to this disease.

I am so grateful that we have our home and a family to run it through it’s paces. I know that there are so many out there less fortunate; living in small spaces, or do not have access to internet; people who are coping with domestic violence and those that are in transitional housing. My heart goes out to them. And while I am anxious for life to return to something like it was pre-Pandemic, I will always look back on this period of our family’s and house’s history with a bit of awe at how we were able to adapt.

I like to say that I hope my children remember the fun of the family dance parties, but forget their mom’s actual dance moves! Joking aside, I suspect my kids will always remember the family dinners and conversations on our porch.

Trying to protect a few nights a week for family dinners was tough, but absolutely worth the effort. We have had conversations ranging from which Mario Cart circuit is the best, to current events, and our most recent argument over whether Doritos are equilateral or isosceles triangles (spoiler alert: we measured them and they are isosceles). Whether these discussions were silly or serious, collectively they helped to shape our kids’ beliefs and values and who they will become as adults.

The thing I already miss about having younger kids is reading to them. Our family are avid readers, which is good, given our last name! Chris and I would read out loud to the kids every night almost without exception; we would host Read-A-Thons on the couch and build forts just to have a cozy place to look at picture books. I read out loud to my kids until they were far older than they would like me to mention to in public! Having older kids means interesting and engaging discussions about books, however, I still miss the actual act of having them lean into me while I read to them.

I wish someone had told me not to read any parenting books. Well, maybe read a few books, but not too many! Before my first child was born, I went to the library and checked out the maximum of 10 books on parenting newborns. By the time I was through my 3rd book I was so overwhelmed and stressed out that I told my husband that I needed a year or two before I was really ready to be a mom. He was very understanding, but pointed out that perhaps I didn’t have much say in the matter because I was a month away from my due date!

For every book you read, there is another one right around the corner that contradicts it, and then a 3rd that will contradict both of those. It’s okay to go with your gut, make a few mistakes, learn from them and move forward. That’s exactly what we try to teach our kids, so why are parents so bad at following their own advice!

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Thank you, Melanie! I love the discussion of the changes you had to make as a family to make work spaces, school spaces and even dance spaces. I know we have done some rearranging of furniture here to to make rooms for desks where there were not before, as well as figure out times when certain kids could have access to the kitchen table.

I really love Melanie’s story too, about trying to get their son home when this was all starting. While there is still so much uncertainty with COVID, I think the beginning, when things started to shut down, and there were no clear answers, and people were hoarding food, was even scarier. I’m glad for Melanie and her family that they got everyone home safe.

How has your home changed during quarantine? Have you had to repurpose some spaces? Are those spaces evolving now that many kids are done with school? What has worked and what hasn’t?

SOURCES

Grey end chairs on porch – Article Furniture

Fowl with Pearls Art

Custom Dog portrait from laundry room

Blue chair in library


You can follow Melanie on Instagram here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

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 features@designmom.com.

13 thoughts on “Living With Kids – Melanie Read”

  1. Melanie, I’m so glad to hear your thoughts on parenting books. I am 28 weeks pregnant and decided to put them all to rest and just allow myself to enjoy the process and reach out to moms I trust with questions! Beautiful home & family.

    1. Thanks so much Rachel! Yes, a little reading, a bit of asking your friends for advice and a LOT of trusting your gut! Wishing you the best with your new little one when he/she arrives.

    1. We love playing games as a family. Ticket to Ride is one of our favorites as well. I don’t know what ages your kids are, but if they are a bit older, Evolution is super fun (a bit of a learning curve but totally worth it). We also love Coup and Love Letters (very similar) and Monikers when there is a slightly bigger group. Enjoy!

  2. I really enjoyed the descriptions of transforming spaces. I have enjoyed doing this even since my first apartment when I was 18 and continue to do so even more with a husband and three small children. I love the creative approach to adapting things to meet the current situations.

    This was fun to read from beginning to end–thank you!

  3. Loved this, especially having grown up in NoVa and now pivoting our own home for four teens/college students/working at home parents. Interesting to think about how we’re all going to reimagine home office space in future home design.

  4. I loved seeing your family actually living in the house, and also your story of the transition— we have four kids (19, 17, 14 and 7), so we’ve had to pivot as well. Your home really seems like a home. :)

    1. Thanks so much! It sounds like you are in a very similar position with kids and making homes work to adapt to a large range of ages and audiences.

  5. Hi former neighbor Melanie and Chris!!!
    Just loved your story…very well written, and ,I remembered some of your experiences (ride to hospital when in labor)!!!
    Your home and family life has truly grown and experienced many unique challenges our world has cast upon us.
    Best of luck and great health to all of you.
    Miss you. Please know you are always welcome to visit our S Carolina home on the lake:-)
    Love ya,
    Pam and Jim

    1. aawwww, thanks Pam! We miss you guys too and you are definitely part of our “tribe” of family and friends that helped raise our kids!

  6. Hi former neighbor Melanie and Chris!!!
    Just loved your story…very well written, and ,I remembered some of your experiences (ride to hospital when in labor)!!!
    Your home and family life has truly grown and experienced many unique challenges our world has cast upon us.
    Best of luck and great health to all of you.
    Miss you. Please know you are always welcome to visit our S Carolina home on the lake:-)
    Love ya,
    Pam and Jim

  7. This was a great read. The most surprising part for me was how long it took for the negative test results to come back. I feel very privileged in New Zealand that my husband was tested on a Monday morning, and we had the negative result back by lunchtime Tuesday.

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