This is such a fabulous story. Even if you only look at the pictures, Senna’s home is a true and beautiful reflection of what it’s like to live with kids. I couldn’t stop smiling at all the little details in the North home that scream happiness and togetherness. (Of special note is her son’s bedroom at the moment, devoid of furniture except for his bed because the kid is a climber! Anyone empathize?!)
But if you live for these interviews, this one is overflowing with hows and whys and different ways of looking at this parenting/working balance we all crave. Plus, there are lovely adoption experiences, a dad who works it into his schedule to spend one weekday with the kids, and oh, did Senna’s beginning tug at my heart! I said it once, but it deserves another mention: This is such a fabulous story. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Welcome, Senna!
Hello, everyone! We are Senna, Eric, Iliana (Illy), and Evan. Eric and I are family physicians and own our own clinic. Illy is six and just finishing kindergarten, and Evan is three and will be starting preschool next year.
I’ll start with Evan because even though he is the littlest, I’d say he has the most exuberant and loudest personality of all of us! He is definitely three. “I want to do it myself!” is a common phrase around here. When we go to a coffee shop, he always ends up charming someone with his smiles and laugh. He really works a room! Ever since we can remember, he has loved music. He plays the drums with anything and everything – anything that remotely resembles a drum and drumsticks turns any moment into a mini concert. And he’s pretty good. Just very loud. He has a little guitar that he plays every day and sings at the top of his lungs. He makes up funny songs about being put in time out and wearing his underwear on his head.
Illy is such a girly girl. She loves anything that is sparkly, pink, kittens, or stickers. She also isn’t afraid to get dirty or play with the boys. At the end of the day, she usually has dirt or glitter all over her sparkly dress and her hair is a mess, with a big grin on her face. She is truly kindhearted. I used to think she was going to be really shy, but she is just cautious and careful. She didn’t walk on her own without holding onto our hands until she was 17 months, but one day Grandma caught her practicing walking in her pack and play when she thought no one was watching. She had been holding out on us! Once she feels confident at something, nothing can stop her. She is always doing a craft. I check on her sometimes at night and she is out of bed, cutting up paper and taping it together into a treasure box or some other creation. She has her artwork taped all over her walls.
Eric is one of the most genuine men that I know. He truly cares about other people and works hard to have deep, meaningful relationships. He takes on a lot of the household work and tries to balance work and family and relationships. He is selfless in so many ways. I fell in love with him because he is such a good listener. When you’re talking to him, you feel like you are the most important person in the world at that moment.
I am very introverted, but also value relationships. I was raised by a single mother. She worked hard, but we really didn’t have a lot. We lived in pretty rundown rental houses. Even as a child, I tried to decorate, paint, and make things pretty. I dreamed of living in my own home someday with the freedom to make the space the way I wanted it. I even remember designing rooms and houses when I was very young. Of course, my designs included indoor slides and swing sets, too! I also dreamed of being a doctor. Even at the age of 11, I knew that was how I wanted to help people. It’s amazing to me now that I never doubted that I could achieve this dream, even with no way to afford college, let alone medical school.
Eric and I met in college at a ballroom dance. We were both such nerds! I was taking a swing dance class. He taught me to waltz and we ended up talking more than dancing. We both wanted to be doctors, and saw this as a calling and not just a career. I left the dance early and he didn’t know who I was – just my first name! He spent several weeks trying to track me down. Long story short, he eventually did find me, and we slowly became best friends. Then one day I realized that he was the one person that I wanted to do life with. I think he always had a crush on me, but I was a little slower to fall in love.
I always knew I wanted children and was told by so many how hard it is to be a doctor and a mother. It seems to me that the balance between work and home is somehow harder on women. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard myself saying to Eric, “I wish I could just quit medicine and be a stay-at-home mom.” But then I think about my patients and my relationships with them that are so valuable. I make a difference in their lives.
Sometimes I feel like I’m short-changing my patients or my kids, but over the years I’ve been learning that it’s important to live my dreams. This world needs people who are living their dreams. My dreams were to be a doctor and a mother. It truly is an amazing thing that I can show my kids what it looks like to pursue your dreams, especially as a woman. For me, the right balance is working two days a week. I will always feel the pull to be home more, but I think it’s worth it in the end. My daughter and son know that they can be or do anything they want in this life. There are no limits on them.
Eric and I did medical school and residency together. He was accepted to medical school a year ahead of me. It was a miracle that I was accepted to the same school the following year. Then we got married after my first year. I can’t believe that I planned a wedding during my first year of med school! We were on a very tight budget and paid for the wedding ourselves. Eric took a year off of medical school our first year of marriage so we could do the rest of our training together. He worked at a boring office job and cooked and cleaned and was such a support to me. We joke that that year as a house husband got him trained good.
We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Medical school and residency was hard, and I’m so grateful that we got to do it together. Often spouses have a hard time understanding just how difficult medical training can be. There is a high divorce rate during medical training. Since we were both in it together, we were able to have a lot of grace for each other and learned how to encourage each other.
We waited until we finished our family medicine residency before starting a family. We had done natural family planning and it seemed like it would be so easy to get pregnant once we started trying. Well, it didn’t happen. We did testing and everything was normal. We considered IVF, but for us it seemed like there were so many children in this world already here who needed a home, so we decided to look into adoption.
Now, I have always admired people who adopted, but never thought that I would do that. It seemed like such a huge responsibility to be entrusted with someone else’s child. Like there would be no room for making a mistake! But over the years, God changed my heart. Until one day I thought, if I had the choice to either become pregnant or adopt, I truly wouldn’t be able to make the choice.
I realized that my dream was to have children – not be pregnant. Shortly after that aha moment, we got a phone call from the adoption agency that a birth mom was interested in meeting us. She was 36 weeks along. Eric and I were so excited that we actually jumped up and down on our couch and…um…broke it!
We met Iliana’s birth mom only one time before Iliana was born. It was a magical and humbling moment when our little girl was placed in my arms by her birth mom, who loved her so much. We brought her home from the hospital the day after she was born. Our adoption with Iliana is an open adoption, but Iliana’s birth mom has decided to not meet her again at this point. We send letters and pictures through the adoption agency.
Evan’s adoption was different. We found out about him through friends of ours in Oklahoma. Our friend, an OB/GYN, had a patient who wanted to place her baby for adoption. She was due in about a month. We talked with her several times on the phone and emailed back and forth. Eric, Illy, and I flew out to Oklahoma just in time for her induction. We met her in the hospital for the first time and fell in love with her. Her love for her baby was so evident and we knew this was the hardest thing she would ever have to do.
The agency that we had used for Iliana’s adoption didn’t do adoptions across state lines, so we had to go through lawyers. The difference was night and day for us. We had such trouble getting the lawyers to communicate with us and felt that there was very little support for the birth mom through the process. We brought Evan home from the hospital after two days and were able to stay with friends in Oklahoma. We didn’t know when we would be allowed to fly home with him to Oregon. It was a waiting game until all the paperwork was finalized and because two states had to sign off on everything. After a week, Eric and Iliana had to fly home while Evan and I stayed in Oklahoma indefinitely. That was probably one of the hardest times for me. I missed Iliana a lot, I was exhausted and frustrated. I’m just so grateful that I had friends to stay with; some families live in hotel rooms during this process. Amazingly, we finally heard that the adoption was approved and I was able to take him home after ten more days. I actually made it back just in time for a baby shower that was planned for that day! Evan’s adoption is also an open adoption. I post pictures of Evan on Facebook and give his birth mom updates. She would like to see him again someday when he is older. She is an amazing and strong woman.
Both kids love to hear their birth stories and all about their adoptions. They take it all in stride at this point. I think it’s so interesting that Illy will have memories of Evan’s adoption story. She has the experience of both being adopted and being part of the process of adopting Evan.
We live in our dream town. It has a population of about 9,000. It has a little movie theater with cheap popcorn, old buildings, a creek, a park, a summer farmer’s market, a few grocery stores and cute little shops. But it’s also close to a city of 250,000, which is about a 20 to 30 minute drive through gorgeous farmland. It’s about an hour from Portland and the international airport. We get to have all the fun of a quaint small town with the convenience of bigger cities close by.
We still can’t get over what a close community it is. They have a pet parade where everyone can bring their pets! We parade through the streets with our cats, dogs, horses, mice – you name it! There are probably about five different festivals or parades throughout the year, and they are a big deal! People know each other. I can’t go to the grocery store without running into a friend or patient. I know that not everyone would appreciate that, but we love it. The people are a great mix of hard-working farmers and artists, young families, and retired people.
Eric and I were finishing our family medicine residency program in Oklahoma and flew back to Oregon one weekend for a wedding. In one day, we looked at 17 homes. None were quite right. I wanted an older home to fix up, and Eric (who is practical and knew that we would never have time for that) wanted a newer home. The next day, our realtor showed us a home that wasn’t on the market yet. It was perfect! It was newer, but had tons of character. I really fell in love with the house, though, because the owners at the time had kids and there were signs of life everywhere! Toys, bright colors, lots of bedrooms, little nooks and crannies. It was the perfect family home and I could almost hear the little feet running around!
We made a few cosmetic changes. I painted almost every room upstairs. In the last couple of years, we had the kitchen cabinets painted and subway tile backsplash put up and quartz countertops. I had been drooling over white kitchens on Pinterest for years! We decided to keep the white appliances because they work and we’ll replace them as needed.
We’ve talked about moving when things feel cramped and there doesn’t seem to be enough storage, but I really love this house! I also think that it’s human nature to always want bigger and more, and I try to resist that impulse. So for right now, we just try to not hold on to too much. I’m very good at purging.
One thing that wasn’t even on our radar when we bought the house is that it’s in such a safe neighborhood. It’s away from any major roads and we are surrounded by a great mix of young families and retired grandmas and grandpas.
My mom lived about an hour away at that time and would drive down to watch the kids on Fridays while I worked and she would stay with us for the weekend. When we finally persuaded her to move into town, we were able to rearrange our schedules so that she watched the kids one day a week on Tuesdays (the one day that Eric and are both in the office) and Eric stays home one day a week on Thursdays. I’m with them the other three. I am so grateful that they get to spend their days with different people who love them and have unique things to offer and teach them. We all have our different strengths and the kids benefit from that. My mom does a lot of crafts with them and cooking. Eric takes them out a lot to the park and to the zoo.
As the kids have grown and their needs change, I have continued to adjust my work so that things feel balanced. I used to take care of my patients in the hospital and assist on surgeries. After Iliana was a little over a year old, I saw that this was taking too much time away from her and it was stressful to juggle childcare on the days I was supposed to be home, but instead got called to the hospital. So I stepped down from those duties. I continued to deliver babies and do newborn care in the hospital until Evan was born. Then I phased out that as well when he was about six months. It was too exhausting to be up all night with a delivery and then not be alert the next day while caring for the kids. It was difficult to admit that I couldn’t do it all, but it was the right thing to do.
Right now, Eric and I wake up around 6 or 6:30. We like to have some alone time before starting our day, since we’re both introverts. Then we get ready and get the kids up at 7:15 or so. Breakfast is usually cereal or oatmeal, and Eric always makes a Vitamix smoothie. At least the kids get veggies once a day! Whoever is working that day drives Illy to school. We drop her off and then head to the office. We start seeing patients at 8:30. Our workdays are sometimes long. If it’s a slow day, I get home around 6 or 6:30. If it’s a busy day, it could be 7:30 or later. On the days I work, either my mom or Eric makes dinner. It’s so nice to come home and not have to cook!
On the days I’m home, Evan and I will play in the morning until 9 and then I do an exercise class at our YMCA. They have childcare there and he usually gets to play with other kids in the gym where I work out or go to the park. I have tried so many different variations of exercising and having childcare has been the key for me maintaining this schedule. The rest of the day isn’t very structured. It’s usually spent catching up from the day before when I was working. There is always lots of laundry and dishes. My mom often picks Illy up from school at 11:30. Then we do lunch and then Evan goes down for a nap at 1:30. Illy and I do a craft or homework. Or we take a nap too Then it’s time to make dinner. I work really hard to make a menu each week. It’s usually flexible, but I found that I really needed to have some ideas written down so that I had the ingredients I needed. I just hate trying to think of what to cook at 5:00 pm! I hate making a menu also, but at least it’s just once a week of pulling teeth. The kids go to bed around 7:30. Eric and I watch TV and then I’m in bed around 9, reading a book or conking out!
I’m sure my kids think that Daddy is way more fun than mom. On his day off with the kids, Eric goes stir crazy just staying home so he usually thinks up something fun to do outside. They go swimming, to the park, hiking, or the zoo. They play outside in the sprinklers and make big messes! It means so much to me that they get at least one day of his undivided attention. Also, every week, he is reminded that being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job!
I don’t have any space in our home that is too formal or off limits, but I also want the kids to learn how to pick up their things and be respectful of their space. I spend a lot of time coming up with storage and organizing solutions that work for us. I’ve found that while I love baskets for hiding things, clear storage seems to work better for us because we can see what is in each container. It’s been an evolving process.
One of my favorite storage solutions is the Ikea Algot that we have in our mudroom. It’s not a gorgeous built-in, but the kids can easily access their drawers and put things away. We keep sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, hats, socks, shoes, towels, swimsuits, and odds and ends toys in the drawers.
I love spaces that incorporate kid things into the decor. So many toys are cute and colorful and can make a house feel lived-in and warm. I have my old dollhouse that my mom and I made in our dining area and the kid’s Ikea kitchen there too, along with an old school desk I had as a child and their chalkboard. I also like furniture that has dual purposes. I painted an ugly brown 90s hutch white and distressed it. The top glass-fronted cabinets hold display dishes and the lower closed cabinets hold all our board games.
I used to really be drawn to neutral, white, calm spaces. But with kids, I find that my decorating style has leaned more toward neutral backdrops with bright punctuations of color. I didn’t enjoy having to childproof when the kids were really little because most childproofing just isn’t aesthetically pleasing. For a long time, we had a gate at the top of the stairs for safety. It was absolutely necessary, but I did a happy dance the day we were able to take that ugly thing down!
We were eager to buy all new furniture when we moved into our new home. But we realized that once we started having kids, a lot of things would probably become worn pretty quickly. So we bought sturdy, less expensive furniture that wouldn’t break our hearts if they became stained or broken. I have added slowly to the house, mostly shopping thrift stores or garage sales. I have repainted quite a lot of my furniture. A little chalk paint goes a long way!
I’ve learned a lot over the years about our style. Our living room used to have a dark brown coffee table, dark bookshelf, and dark end tables. All because I thought I had to match the wood tones to the legs of our couch. Soon, the dark became oppressive. I have always been drawn to white distressed furniture. So, with my husband asking “Are you sure about this?” I painted some of the furniture white to lighten things up. I even painted and distressed the coffee table, which turned out awesome.
But things keep changing. We took the coffee table out of the living room because we found that the kids just want to have room to play and the table was in the way – and the cause of several head bumps!
I have enjoyed getting to know my kids. They each have their own personalities and I love learning about who they are. For me, I really enjoyed the age where we would start to have little conversations because I started to really feel like I was getting to know who they were. I am surprised at how much I enjoy doing little trips with the kids. I love including them when I go shopping or run an errand because everything is new and interesting to them. They get a kick out of going through the carwash or riding in the shopping cart at the grocery store. I love to look at things through their eyes. Going on a walk with my daughter becomes a treasure hunt. She comes home with twigs and leaves and rocks and they are precious to her. Everyday objects become musical instruments for my son. It is a magical world that they live in! I remember having imagination like that when I was a child. Somehow, I became very serious and my kids remind me how to laugh and play again. I try to teach them about things, but find that I’m the one learning from them.
I’ve found that I have no preconceived notions about who my kids will someday be simply because they are adopted. They might take after Eric and I in some mannerisms, but they are truly their own people. I try to not put labels on them and I’m not tempted to say, “Oh, Illy is shy because I was shy.” Or “Evan is going to be musical because his dad is.” Instead, we get to see how life unfolds for them. It’s very exciting!
I hope they remember feeling peace in our house. I also hope they have memories of lots of music and laughter, good food and friends. I hope they remember that Eric and I loved them and showed them everyday what our love looks like with words and actions.
I do wish someone had told me that things are never going to be perfect. I got lots of good advice and read parenting books as well as books on adoption, so I felt like I had done my research. But nothing really prepares you until you’re in it, experiencing it. The biggest struggle that I have is that I really want things to be clean and tidy. With kids, things are just never going to look like a magazine picture. I knew this about myself when I became a parent, but it’s something that I have to continually remind myself about. I love the quote “Cleaning the house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.” So true!
Some really good advice that another mom gave me early on is that there are just different phases of life with kids. Some phases are harder than others. Sometimes you don’t get to do everything you want to do. I remember when Illy was two weeks old and I became overwhelmed one day. I thought the rest of my life would be two hour feedings, interrupted sleep, endless diaper changes, no more date nights with Eric, etc. I had to remind myself that this period of time would pass before I knew it. Sure enough, life flies by and you’re on to the next phase. Before I know it, the kids will be heading off to college and I will wish that I had enjoyed each and every moment. So I remind myself of that.
So good, right? Thank you, Senna, for sharing all your hard-earned wisdom with us! I’m touched by the sweet observation that you get to relive your childhood and play again with your own kids. And Evan’s room makes me laugh. You probably elicited a relieved sigh or two out there from readers who are in the same situation and considering removing all the dressers and bookshelves in their child’s room – or at least bolting them down!
For those of you craving answers on how others manage their schedules with two working parents, did this tour hit the spot? It’s reassuring how the family continues to adapt to new stages and adjust their schedules accordingly, isn’t it? Our answers today on how to make it work might not be the answers we need tomorrow, and that is a worthwhile reminder as the summer season and a whole new schedule hits us. Good luck adjusting, everyone!
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.