Living With Kids: Melissa Clark

Melissa and her wife reached out to share their beautiful home in the Living With Kids series and we’re so lucky she did. Their home is charming — bright open windows, beautiful pieces throughout, and gorgeous outdoor space. Like so many of us they have spent more time in that outdoor space in the last year than probably any other time of their lives. They’ve adapted, changed up bits of the routine, and have learned to appreciate the “slowing down” that was caused by a year at home. Welcome, Melissa!

I met my wife on the second day of our freshman year at college. We were in the dining hall line, all of us being awkward, nervous freshman. I was in line with a friend from high school who had a patch on her book bag that said “Not born Barbie but dealing anyways”. Meghan, my now wife, turned around and told her how much she liked it. You could say that launched a conversation that has gone on for almost 25 years now. We all started talking and Meghan and I realized how many values and dreams we shared around social justice, environmentalism, change, progress.

Neither of us was “out” then, but about a year and half later… well, we were, and things had changed from friendship to a relationship. We have been together 23 years, although we have been married four times!

That is a bit of a joke that isn’t totally funny as it is because we fought for our rights along with so many did for years. We had a commitment ceremony in 2003, in 2008 our state passed civil unions, in 2010 the state passed marriage rights and we were finally legally married (at least in our state), and then, of course, our marriage was recognized at the federal level in 2013, what an amazing story of progress and what a moment.

We have pretty cool jobs. Meghan is a real-life archaeologist and well, I am here to report, it is not like Indiana Jones, so it is probably not as cool as the reader might think, but it is still an interesting career. She is a Professor at a state public university in the Anthropology Department. While archaeology has taken her around the world, her main interest is in the major changes after Europeans arrived in North America, and a “new world” was born for Indigenous peoples and Europeans alike.

I am a Spatial Ecologist for a major conservation nonprofit organization. What that means is I conduct scientific research and computer modeling to identify what places around the world will be the most resilient ones in the face of climate change. For a long time, conservation work focused on the most striking, beautiful places but with climate change, we now know we need to protect places that will be the most resilient and so my work helps our organization prioritize acquiring and protecting those places for the future. 

We have two awesome kids, Jack is 10 and Beatrix is 7. They are the best of friends, which has been an incredible gift during the pandemic because they have a friend to spend time with and they crack each other up (even when we do not see why, lol).

Jack is a thoughtful, empathetic, smart and funny kid. He loves sports, is a good soccer player and skier, loves cats, and is very into video games — playing them, but he also codes and creates them as well. He chose to be vegetarian when he was 4 and he really feels the injustices of the world deeply. It can be hard as a parent to see how much he feels these things, but we are also proud of the kind, justice-oriented person he is becoming. He also knows how to have fun and just be a kid too.

Beatrix is someone who marches to the beat of her own drummer, which is a gift, but it can sometimes be a challenge (like all of us, our greatest strengths can often be our challenges as well). She is imaginative, kind, funny, smart, and an incredible athlete. She is a talented competitive swimmer, skis like a whip, plays soccer and field hockey, and before Covid, she was doing competitive gymnastics as well. We let her lead the way in what activities she wants to do, she loves keeping busy and she knows moving her body helps her brain calm down. Bea has endless ideas for inventions (most of which revolve around her flying), she is passionate about learning Chinese, and she loves animals.

And she has lots of animals to love at home — we have two cats, a puppy, and two birds we actually inherited when we bought our house last year, which is a bit of a strange story, but now we have quite the menagerie!

We live in a small college town in New England, we moved here when Meghan got her job as a professor. For readers who remember Gilmore Girls, well, we live in a place that is a lot like Stars Hollow. It has that classic New England small town feel. We feel incredibly lucky to live here. We are within striking distance of two nice cities, Boston and Portland, Maine; we are 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and an hour from beautiful mountains with lots of hiking and skiing options. Our town itself is also on an estuary so we have lots of beautiful places to explore right out our front door. What a gem of a spot.

As much as we love it here, we recognize a major drawback of this place is its glaring lack of diversity. Our town is overwhelmingly white, reasonably well-off folks. We try to be proactive in talking to our kids about this and to expose them to diversity as we can, but we know it cannot make up for real, engaged experiences with diverse people and that is the thing we struggle with the most about where we live. 

Our neighborhood is about two miles from “downtown”. Each house has about 1-acre of property, so it is relatively low density. We love that it feels like a neighborhood, that people are friendly, we know our neighbors (I mean, we even have a Facebook group), but that we also have our own space between houses. Now, we think we live somewhere pretty normal, but our sisters both live in more urban locations, and they would say we live in the “woods” and to be fair, some readers might agree.

There are some things that lend credence to the “woods” label — we have no sidewalks in our neighborhood, no streetlights, we have no town water, natural gas, or sewer. That is, we have well water, a septic tank and oil heat (which you get delivered to your oil tank at your house). Oh, and the deer, fox, fisher cats, coyotes and even yes, bears who visit regularly. I guess that leans towards the “woods” argument.

We remember when we moved here how crazy that stuff seemed to us, coming from apartment life in a more urban place, but now it just seems standard. I will say, when we lose power, which happens at least once a year and sometimes is out for days, we are reminded of those “woods” life aspects, as we have no water and cannot use the toilet (in addition to having no lights, heat, etc.). 

We have lived in our neighborhood for over 13 years now. We have watched it undergo the cycle of older, some original, homeowners sell their houses and younger families move in and so now our neighbors are mainly people with similar aged kids as us or younger. Our kids have lots of friends in the neighborhood and can walk over to their houses and play (of course, only outside now!). Our first house was a two bedroom cape, one of the smallest in the neighborhood. We loved our “little yellow house”, but we were running up against space. Our neighbors two doors down, whose house was, in our view, always the most beautiful house in the neighborhood put it on the market last February (they had cycled through young kids to grown kids). We didn’t know a global pandemic was coming, and I don’t know if and how that would have changed our mind, but when we saw their house on the market, we spontaneously decided to try to buy it.

We ended up buying this house and selling our house over the course of just 5 days in February 2020. We moved March 20th, 2020 right when everything shut down. Having more space has been such a gift since we are all home all the time!

So, the sale/buying prices last February — our first house, which was one of the smallest in the neighborhood at ca. 1600 square feet and two bedrooms, we sold it for $320,000. We bought this house, one of the more typically sized houses in the neighborhood, but much better maintained than many, at 4 bedrooms and 2600 square feet, for $450,000. Of note, our neighbors who we bought it from got higher offers, but we could not go any higher and so they took our offer because they knew us.

That is, in part, why they also felt they could leave their now grown son’s birds with us when they moved. We didn’t have much choice. I said our cats might try to eat them, and they said that was fine (and, yes, the cats constantly try to eat the birds). They also generously left useful things as well, not just the birds, like the ride on lawnmower critical for dealing with the big front lawn.

We love our neighborhood and didn’t want to move but did want more room. We had always admired this house so we couldn’t let that opportunity pass us by. It was really strange buying a house and moving the week everything was shutting down. The week we moved was the first week our kids were home from school. Not only was it unclear what was happening in their entire world, the house they had lived in their entire life was getting frantically packed up around them. It was an intense week. The house we bought was much bigger than our other house. We had given away a lot of furniture we didn’t want anymore, thinking we would go on a big shopping spree when we moved. But then the world shut down! We had bought a few pieces of furniture from the neighbors whose house we bought and so it was like living in a sparsely furnished Airbnb for a while.

In late April when we realized the pandemic was not ending anytime soon, we started ordering furniture online and slowly it has come together and feels more and more like ours. I will say it is strange to have moved into a beautiful new house that you are so excited about and not to have been able to have your family visit or have any friends inside. We have this great house no one has seen! There is a nice fire pit and porch so at least we were able to have some nice summer/fall social gatherings and friends looked through the windows inside. 

Right now, we both work from home. Our kids are in hybrid school, so they go in four mornings a week and do work packets in the afternoon. Wednesdays are “work from home” Wednesdays (which are really just a weekend day in the middle of the week… but not a parent weekend day….). We never could have imagined we would be so grateful our kids leave the house 16 hours a week, but here we are. So, most of the time all four of us are home. We recognize how fortunate we are to both have flexible jobs we can do from home. We know what an incredible privilege that is in this moment and we try our best to not take that for granted. That said, our better selves don’t always show up every day and we have our moments (sometimes many moments). 

Given we moved into our house week one of the pandemic, we feel constantly grateful we have space for each of us to have an office set-up. We don’t know the house in any other context than a pandemic so we can’t think of anything we wish were different. The thing Meghan and I are constantly happy with in our new house is we have a room for our Peloton (it used to be in our dining room), and we can close the door and the kids know they cannot bother us on the bike. Flippantly mentioning Peloton, I know, makes us ‘those people’, but so it is, we love our Peloton and our Peloton room, it is a sanity keeper right now.

Oh, I almost forgot though, I DO have something I wish was different! We have bats living in our chimney. They get in through the top (we need a cap but chimney people are booked until April) and there is a small crack in the flue. Until we can patch it, bats get in. We have had several incidents, including having to “euthanize” one of the bats that got into our house while we were sleeping so we could get it tested for rabies (negative). I realize this bat story also adds to the “woods” sense of where we live. So, anyway, we have this great fireplace, but can’t make any fires for now.

Before the pandemic we were your busy two-career, two-kid household, working, having after care for kids, over-scheduling our kids on the weekends with lessons and activities. I don’t regret that is who we were, but I am grateful the pandemic has slowed us down. It has made us think about what we care about, what activities we really love and miss, what we can let go. It has helped us understand what really adds value, deep value not fleeting value, to our lives and what we were doing to maybe just “keep up with the Joneses.” 

I think what we have learned about balance is the word balance isn’t all that useful, it sets out an unobtainable goal for our circumstances right now — life and work and kids and school are all just co-existing all together. We are all doing the best we can to cope and we have to work it out together. We always had a team ethos in our family, but with the pandemic, now we really work as a team (most of the time).

Something I think is really cool is how the kids have learned a lot about what we do for our jobs. Before, our jobs were these things we did away from them, disconnected in many ways from them, and now the kids see what we do, they ask questions about it, they are interested and engaged in our careers (and they do quite a bit of zoom bombing, which Meghan and I are lucky to have jobs where that is 100% okay).

While there are many hard things — like for me as an introvert never being alone, and for Meghan the extrovert not socializing much — we think the hardest thing for us has been seeing the impact on our kids, to see what they are missing, how much they are coping with stress. We are doing everything we can to try to keep them “ok”, but they are smart kids, they know things are bad, they feel worried about their older family members getting Covid, they worry about getting Covid. Our son recently told us he dreams about something Covid related every night.

We asked what he meant, he explained, “Well, I will be dreaming I am playing with friends and then all of sudden we are in masks and someone is yelling we have to move further apart.”

That is the hardest part, knowing how much their world has changed, and how it has probably changed in ways that will never go back to “normal”. We worry for their future, we want them to have more options than we did, and we worry.

One of the things about this pandemic, we feel it has just made our worlds so small. If, and when, we can get back to being out and about, we are going to savor the big world around us. Yes, traveling is part of it (gosh do we miss traveling), but I don’t think we appreciated before how much interactions with people, even just casual ones — the hello in the hallway, the chat at soccer practice — how those made our world so much bigger and vibrant.

I also hope we will really keep our focus on doing things that bring us joy and not do things just because we feel like we should do them. Logistically, I used to commute 1.5 hours each way to work. Moving forward I won’t ever have to commute as much and that will be a welcome outcome.

It is hard to really imagine what the world will look like on the other side. Clearly, it can’t look just as it did before this, as we (in the big sense of the word we) were living in ways that are completely unsustainable. Managing COVID is just managing a symptom of a broken planet. So, I hope that as we come out of this, we don’t forget the social and ecological issues and inequities it has exposed. I hope we start to work towards a world where climate change is taken seriously and not politicized, where science is valued, and where inequities are a priority to mend not widen. Those are pretty lofty goals, but the question asked about hope, those are our hopes.

To be much less aspirational, we hope to eat inside a restaurant at a table that is not an ungodly uncomfortable picnic table and to have a drink served to us in a real glass (not a plastic cup) and to have someone else do the dishes when we are done.

We liked our kids before, but being with them so much, we have come to appreciate how much fun they are to be around and how they are cool people in their own right not just good “kids”, if that makes sense. We also have come to really see the depth of their connection to each other and it is such a beautiful thing, they are friends, but its so much more, they give each other this incredible support and comfort.

Right before the pandemic, our daughter was having issues in school and it all came to a head during the pandemic. Over the summer she was diagnosed with combined type ADHD (hyperactive and inattentive). We didn’t know anything about ADHD. And to be honest, we might have been dismissive of it as an over diagnosed thing (some kids are just active kids right?). Now, spending all day everyday with a kid with ADHD, we have a much better appreciation of the struggle of ADHD. We see how hard impulse control and decision making is for Bea, how hard it is to keep her body calm.

We have learned a lot and sought out resources for her and us. As hard as we are trying, she can be a parenting challenge and we have had moments of incredible struggle. A peak moment might have been the day after she had been difficult all morning. We finally got on track, we were having a fire pit with some friends, and we look over to find her karate chopping herself through our screen door, for no apparent reason. I am certain we would not have the understanding we do of her ADHD and what she is going through if we hadn’t been with her as we are in this pandemic. It has definitely brought us challenges but it has also made us so much better equipped to set her up for success going forward.   

Well, it is true we have been weathering this pandemic relatively well, but it is not all sunshine and roses here. So, we hope our kids forget the hundreds of times we have told/yelled at them “I am busy on a work call, you need to YOYO” (you are on your own). Or the times Meghan and I find ourselves so worn out by the multitasking of it all, we fight with each other in front of them (over nothing really but we sure can make it sound serious; those are not our prouder moments).  

The question of what we want them to remember from this home is kind of strange to think about because we moved into it in this weird time, so we have only lived in it during this pandemic. Jack, our son, has said he wishes this house had memories from before Covid like our other house did. We get it, but we also tell him that when (hopefully), this passes (or passes more than it is now), this time all together in this beautiful house that gave us the space to live so well in such a hard time, will be an incredible memory from this house. 

As for what we want them to remember about us as parents, that is a pretty heavy thing to think about. We would say we want them to remember we fought to have them, to build our family. None of it was a given and we persisted. That is how much we wanted them and to be moms, we didn’t just fall into it because society said that is what we should do. We hope they remember we have never lied to them, that in our family, the truth is worth everything. And we hope they remember that sense of being a team and they bring that to their own families. We also hope they remember how much we love laughing — at ourselves of course, and each other, and with and at the world. Laughter is a big part of our house and we hope that goes with them wherever they go.

I think a favorite thing about living with our kids is we get to see these cool little humans grow and get personalities and become. We have always taken the approach that we go with our kids, like what they get interested in, we go with them, and it is fun to go with them, to see them becoming their own person and to learn new things because of them. Our son loves football (he is very aware of the many issues with football and the NFL, trust us, he doesn’t just get to love football without thinking through it). I never liked it, but instead of dismissing it, I learned about it, and now I am part of something he is so into. I doubt I would ever watch a game on my own initiative still, but I love being part of his world. Our daughter takes us on all kinds of adventures, and we love doing our best to keep up.

I certainly think when COVID is over (or whatever it looks like), and we are not all home all the time together, we will miss spending so much time with them, having those boundaries between work and life and school so blurred. As hard as it is, it has made us much more engaged parents in every aspect of their lives and we love knowing them so much better. We hope we can hang onto some of that because it is so valuable.

Gosh, I don’t think anyone could have told me I’d have to parent through a global pandemic, a near dictator of a president, an almost coup by wild racists. I mean, I guess people in other places could have told me some of that, but certainly no one from my American working-class background or my now upper/middle-class circle. It feels like expert level stuff sometimes and we are not experts, but is anyone? I guess, maybe, especially where we are today, I wish someone had told me its okay sometimes to feel like you are not doing a great job as a parent. It is actually okay to have some moments where you are not killing it as a parent. It is hard to step back and say, hey I have limits, I have hit them, I am going to take a beat, turn on the kids iPad, and regroup; I am not a failure.

Being overachievers, Meghan and I both hate feeling like we have failed at something, but there is a difference between recognizing a moment of failing and being a total failure. We all right now in COVID parenting life, where living with our kids is literally our entire world. We have to cut ourselves some slack (I know, easier said than done).   

——

Thank you, Melissa! What a perfectly lovely family. And I love what she said about how spending so much time with her kids has really allowed her and her wife to appreciate them as people — the funny things they say, the things they care about, the interesting bits of their personalities. I think most of us are seeing our kids in a different light now than we did a year ago.

And I also really appreciated Melissa talking about the mental toll this has taken on her kids — the bad dreams about COVID, the not having any memories of the new house from a time before COVID. It’s going to be interesting over the next several years as we all unpack what this pandemic has done to us and our families emotionally and mentally. I appreciate parent’s like Melissa and her wife who are aware of that and paying attention to it.

Do you see any affects of the pandemic on your kids mentally or emotionally? Is it something you are talking about with them? Have you found any strategies that help get those feelings out in the open?


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.

7 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Melissa Clark”

  1. I went to high school in MA’s North Shore and I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out what town this is. 15 minutes from the ocean, hmmm… not coming up with anything. Within striking distance of Boston and Portland, that’s probably somewhere near Newburyport. Newburyport doesn’t have a college, and the only one I know in that general area is Endicott in Beverly…but Beverly isn’t in the woods, it’s a small city. Drawing a blank.

    We’re a Navy family and very, very much miss our home of New England. Can’t wait to return there forever someday.

  2. I really loved this gorgeous house tour-missed seeing the birds, though! It sounds like it was a great deal to make, bird care for an affordable house.
    I have one kid at home and ache for all the things this child has missed out on this year. I was just in a city where numbers are high, and where mask wearing is required even outside. I mostly avert my eyes when passing other people- never greet anyone or casually chat. I hate shopping with a mask on and do it as little as possible. Seems weird to imagine anyone besides family members in my house, too… this year has had an impact.

  3. Melissa: What a great writeup! It’s so nice to see a well written, punctuated, intelligent offering on the internet. I’m glad to have this update about my extended family (back story – Meghan’s mother is/was my first cousin). Glad to know you and Meghan and the beautiful children are coping, growing and doing well. Warms my heart.

  4. So fun to see family homes and how people organize and decorate. I loved that map with the license plates- so fun! And that backyard is amazing. Plus, those built in shelves were great. Pinning some of these ideas for inspiration now.

  5. Brenda Anderson

    Thrilled to learn of the existence of a new profession: Spatial Ecologist
    Thank you for a delightful read.

  6. Thank you so much for being open about the challenges of parenting a young child with ADHD in this pandemic. Like you describe, being at home with my 6-7yo daughter with combined type ADHD has given me more insights into her world than I ever would have had otherwise. But at times it feels like crying-in-the-bathroom (me) torture. Strength to you and your family from another New Englander!

  7. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home, family, and thoughtfulness. As an educator, I was really grateful to take a year-long professional learning class with this organization that really helped us understand how to work with our students who have ADHD: https://chadd.org/. You may have already heard of it, but I thought I would share just in case.

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