12 May 2017
Of all the things I am grateful for, at the very tip-top of the list is being born to Beth and Rob Ayer.
Like us all, I’m sure there are things in their lives they wish they’d done better, but one thing they don’t have to worry about? How they raised three daughters. In honor of Mother’s Day, I present to you one more Marvelous Mama interview: this time with my own mom. Enjoy, then go tell your mama or favorite mama stand-in how much you love her!
Name: Beth Ayer
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of almost 36 years, Rob. (I am also Em for Marvelous’s proud Mama.) Living with my husband is a bit of a recent change, though; from 2011 to 2015 we had a “long distance marriage.” After retiring from the Coast Guard he lived and worked in Virginia and then Maryland while hoping for a job back in Connecticut where we have lived for 30+ years. It was not ideal, but we liked to say that we were paying dues as a military couple that we hadn’t earlier in life. (Since Rob was on the permanent teaching staff at the Coast Guard Academy, we didn’t move frequently like most military families.) We would have much rather lived apart at this point in our lives than when the girls were younger, but we are glad to be together again.
Occupation: I’ve had several occupations during the course of my career-life. I worked with children with learning disabilities right out of college. After marrying Rob and moving to CT (for the first time) to follow his Coast Guard career I worked as a bank teller. We moved to Boston for grad school for Rob and I found a job as a bank teller there. A year into that job we had our first daughter and I began my favorite job, as a Mom to Kate and then her two sisters, Emily and Kimberly. We moved back to CT when Rob finished grad school and he began to teach at the USCGA. A few years into being a mom to our two girls I was approached to be a teacher at the nursery school Kate was attending. I had just found out that I was pregnant with our third daughter, so I turned down that offer. When I was approached again two years later, I considered it more carefully: our youngest was two, the school was right across the playground from the elementary school that our girls would attend, and it was a job that I would love to have. I took the job, part time at the beginning, easing into full time over the years and eventually becoming the director of the school. I retired from the school a few years ago after 16 years as director.
What does a day in the life look like for you? It all depends. Since I’m retired, on a typical day I get up when I get up, which is very nice after having an alarm for many years! I try to take a walk first thing, then come home and get ready for the day. There’s usually some sort of errand to be done next — I find that now that it’s just Dad and I I’m almost like the French, going to the market every day. I volunteer at our town’s food pantry and clothing exchange and have responsibilities at our church. I usually do some sort of yard work and reading, and sometimes get together with a friend for lunch. I also substitute teach at a local preschool a few days a month. And often (happily!), I’m traveling to be with my children and grandchildren, who are spread out over several states.
Words you live by: I try to live by the Golden Rule, but it is a struggle some days. I also have a few Bible verses that I’m working on living by: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) and “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). And lastly, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” – a wonderful reminder to be grateful every day.
Tell us a few things on your bucket list. Cheering at the Kentucky Derby. Visiting the Grand Canyon and some of the other beautiful National Parks in the Southwest. Seeing Alaska. A river cruise through Europe. Visiting Scotland and seeing some ancestral places. Seeing more baseball parks.
What do you watch on TV? I love the Bachelor (Em and I have that in common!), Scandal, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Favorite books to read with your kids: Probably the Robert McCloskey books, because there were so many familiar places and themes in them.
What was one of the best things you did for preparing to have kids? We didn’t do much! That sounds terrible! We went to a Lamaze class, I think. I did not read Dr. Spock. I had babysat and had a much younger brother, so I had some experience. I think I felt like things were going to unfold no matter what, and I figured I’d learn as I went, that it was just going to come to me. And it did! I didn’t go back to work right away, so it wasn’t as important to get things on a schedule immediately – if we didn’t get any sleep one night, I could just sleep when the baby slept the next day.
What is something you were not at all prepared for? When I was pregnant with you, I was worried how I would possibly have room to love another baby. It felt like my heart was full, but then it expands! The love I had for Kate felt all-encompassing, but your heart just grows with each child.
Photos by Meredith Perdue from Kate’s wedding
What is your parenting philosophy? We kind of winged it in regards to our philosophy of parenting. We wanted to raise kind, responsible children, so our philosophy flowed from that. When we moved to Connecticut, I was lucky enough to have a circle of other Coast Guard wives whose children were all about the same age. We (mostly) were far from family and relied on each other for questions, watched each other’s kids, and got together for play dates.
Best tip for a new parent? Be present – it really does go faster than you think! You know your child best; do what you feel is right for her. Someone gave you some advice at your shower, Em, that I thought was spot on: they are the longest days and the shortest years. So very true!
Photo by Tanja Lippert from our wedding
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. I loved going to get our Christmas tree. Where we went depended on the year – we went to a city lot in Boston the first two years (and got a little tree for the top of our grand piano), then we went to Dad’s farm, then to a local family farm with lots of other Coast Guard families and had dinner afterward. As you guys got older we went to Maple Lane and I think you all loved it, too – we were instructed to wait until you were home from college in later years to get the tree! I loved our vacations in Maine, and going to Lake Winnepesaukee with our family friends – sometimes that felt like a little more of a vacation than Maine, since there weren’t the family dynamics! I loved our evening street walks when you guys were little – our crowd would grow as we roller skated, biked, and stopped to talk to neighbors, then people would peel off one by one as we made our way back up the street.
What is one thing you were not prepared for as a parent? The 24/7 nature. Obviously I knew that, but I don’t think you can understand it until you experience it. As a babysitter, you have them for a short while and then are relived of duty. You are never relieved of duty when they are YOUR children, no matter how old they are. You always worry about them (see “words to live by”…), even when they are grown-ups themselves :)
What is or has been your favorite part about having children? I really loved being a spectator at all of your events. I felt like that was part of my job as a mom, but I loved it. I loved watching you grow up, gain skills, and gain confidence in whatever it was you were doing – dance, athletics, drama, singing. It was fascinating to watch you guys grow up. I also love how our relationships have evolved – from me being a protector, watcher, and caregiver to consultant, friend, mentor – and now you’re often my mentors!
What do you miss most about having kids in your home? I just miss you guys — having you near, the daily interactions that make up life together – oh boy, I’m going to cry. It’s nice to have it be just Dad and I again, but I would not necessarily have a hard time if any of you ever had to move home, ha! I am grateful for how technology connects us – a quick text, phone call, Instagram post, or email. Though they weren’t in person, I had an interaction with each of you today, like most days.
Photo by Nancy Ray from my baby shower
What has been the best part about watching your own children become parents? How good you are at it. No, really! I’m not surprised, I expected you to be good at it, but I don’t think either you or Kate had a lot of experience babysitting, so I just didn’t have an opportunity to see you in that role before June arrived. But watching you with her at six weeks old and seeing how focused, attentive, and not distracted you were was the best. There’s so much more to distract your generation, and I’m glad you are not doing that. My Mom said this about me and I didn’t always feel like it, and I’m going to say the same thing about you, even though you might not feel like it: you are so patient as a parent. You don’t show it if you’re frustrated. She is the priority.
Photo by Nancy Ray from our family session
What is the best part of being a grandparent? When you’re the parent there’s so much other stuff going on – work, house, obligations. When you’re a grandparent (especially if you’re retired), there’s none of the same pressure. Whenever you get to be together, you can be all there. You know how precious it is because you’ve done it before. You get a second chance to be a part of a childhood, and this time with a different perspective.
See? She’s the best. Thank you so much, Mom! I love you!!
P.S. Seven things I love about my Mom.
22 September 2016
First, Rachael was my elementary school piano teacher. I wasn’t particularly devoted to my studies, but I was pretty taken with my teacher and loved the half hour we spent together each week! Next, Rachael was my high school choral director, a warm, lovely, smart woman who made being an adult look cool. Now, she’s an awe-inspiring mama who seems to have more hours in her day than the average person, and fills them with baking, experimenting, fun projects, outdoor adventures, and lots of music. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her boys, but from all accounts they are curious, intelligent, kind, and talented — just like their mama. I especially loved her parenting philosophies and the lesson she’s learned since becoming a parent, below. Friends, please say hello to Rachael!
P.S. No surprise that Rachael just so happens to be best friends with Amanda – they are a dynamic duo if I’ve ever seen one!
Name: Rachael Allen
Occupation: Choral director/teacher
Who do you live with? Introduce us! I live with my significant other, Billy (I’m too old to use the word “boyfriend”), his three cats Mouse-Face, Jennifer, and Sinka, and some of the time, my 8 and 11 year old sons, Oliver and Ethan.
What does a day in the life look like for you? On the weekdays when the boys are with their dad, I attempt to shower and get out the door by 7:20am with coffee in my hand, breakfast in my belly, and hopefully clothes that match. On really good days, I even make my bed and blow dry my hair (I don’t like mornings…).
If I don’t have meetings or rehearsals after school and get to come straight home, I try to work out right away. Then I have some time to do household stuff, work stuff, or other projects before Billy comes home. Many days one of the boys will have a sports game in the afternoon/evening that I will go to, but if not I call/FaceTime them at 7:30 and we share the events of our respective days. Around 8pm Billy and I cook and eat dinner together at the dining room table and then sit and talk until 11 or 12. Once or twice a week we will watch a movie or have company over for a casual hang, but most often we just enjoy each other’s company.
When I have the boys everything is at the mercy of their athletic schedules, so there is no “typical” day! In between weekend practices and games, we make time for homework and trombone practicing. We don’t have TV, but the boys get limited time to use their iPods for games/listening to music. Oliver likes to build with Legos and improvise on the piano. There is always lots of reading going on. As a family we like to play board games or card games, sometimes bake or do other projects, watch movies, and we make a point to eat meals together at the table.
What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? Our lunches are usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Standbys are taco dinner/taco salad lunch, noodles and chicken sausage, and most often, cubed chicken over salad greens with balsamic dressing. When I have time and energy, I like to make homemade soups, curries, and anything else I can think of, but that doesn’t happen nightly. The boys love chicken Caesar salad, so when they are over I’ll sometimes grill up chicken for that (this weekend I made homemade croutons too – so good!). They also love tacos, and I always keep apples, bananas, and nutella in the house for snacks.
A book you’ve read more than once: The Little Prince.
Netflix obsession: 30 Rock. I have watched every episode of every season at least five times – it is my go-to for background noise, because it makes me laugh but doesn’t require my attention (as I basically have every line memorized).
Words you live by: It’s tough to choose just one, but here are a few: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de St. Exupery); “…re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…” (Walt Whitman); “Live every week like it’s shark week” (Tracy Jordan).
Why did you decide to have children? I got married at 23 – at that point in my life, I perceived having children as just… what you do after getting married (and getting your master’s degree). I never questioned it. So as coarse and unromantic as this may sound, it was less like I decided to have children and more like I didn’t decide not to. But of course I’m incredibly glad I did.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I don’t think there is a way to prepare for having kids, aside from making sure you have the support and the means. But then again I tend to be in the moment and take things as they come – because as much energy and time you spend preparing for one scenario, the reality will likely be something entirely different than what you imagined.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Well, I guess because I’m always unprepared for everything, I never really felt unprepared. See above :)
What is your parenting philosophy? Oh boy… I have many. Where to begin…
Overprotection is disempowering, and empty praise breeds entitlement and arrogance. As painful as it may be, I must allow my children opportunities to fail, to be disappointed, to be hurt – if I want them to grow up strong, resilient, and empathetic.
The reason for a child’s behavior is not an excuse. “Kids will be kids,” true, but my job as parent is to teach them what is appropriate. For example: it is developmentally appropriate for a two-year-old to throw a fit. You can’t get angry at the child – he is two – but you still have to teach the appropriate behavior. That is how a two year old who throws tantrums becomes a three-year-old who does not. Knowing the reason for a behavior is to understand it, not to excuse it.
Doing what is best for your child does NOT mean everything should be about them. Giving up all of your personal interests and passions to focus entirely on the needs of your child is such a selfless and beautiful gesture of love. I truly believe, however, that a parent’s emotional health and sense of identity are important to raising a child with balance. We have a responsibility to show them that their parents are real people with their own identities and interests, and to provide a healthy model of adult life to which they can aspire. If a child grows up seeing his parents doing nothing but catering to his needs, how is he to know what adults do? When he grows up and there are no more cub scouts, no more sports practices, no more music lessons – what do adults do? Much better for a child to have his/her own activities, but also to see that dad is passionate about classic cars and mom enjoys going for trail runs. Give of yourself, but don’t lose yourself.
Share what you love with your children. Photography is your hobby? Give them a camera and let them play. Like cooking? Give them a spoon. Play music? Bring them to your concerts or rehearsals. Expose them to what you love. Talk to them about why you love it and what it’s all about. Ask for their opinions and observations (but respect it – don’t expect them to like what you like!). Not only does this add to their life experience and knowledge of the world, but they get to know their parents more for who they really are as people (besides their chef and chauffeur!).
Where do you go for parenting advice? I don’t. I’m kind of arrogant in that way. The boys’ dad and I are pretty aligned as far as parenting, so – right or wrong – we just do our thing and try to stay as consistent as possible. That being said, we are pretty blessed with two amazing boys (who usually make the job easier than most).
Best tip for a new parent: Make yourself get out of the house without the baby as soon as you are able, just for a little while, and continue to do it on a regular basis. Don’t use guilt as an excuse not to. Your relationship with your partner is very important to the health of your child, and you need time away from the baby for that to stay fed, so do it. And seriously… the baby does NOT know you were gone. I would also say take lots of short video footage to preserve the everyday moments… but everybody does that with iPhones now :)
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. I’ve learned that the song from Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” really gets it right: “Children may not obey, but children will listen.” When you repeat yourself ad nauseum and get no response, stick with it. When you think they don’t hear you or are choosing to ignore you, don’t give up. THEY HEAR YOU. It might take years to manifest itself, but if they know you really mean it, it will stick. Whether it’s an ignored “put the toilet seat down” or a rejected “I love you” – they are listening.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. As a part-time mom working as a musician and teacher, I feel like I miss out on a lot of everyday stuff with the boys. In a way I try to compensate by making the activities we do together as memorable as possible – by making most everything into a tradition! For birthdays, I make them a special cake, invitation, and video. On Easter, an egg hunt. In summer we get Turk’s knot bracelets from a shop in Essex (and ceremoniously cut them off at the end of vacation). In June we pick strawberries. In July we visit a sunflower maze. Memorial and Labor Days we go to Lime Rock Park. Every September we go apple picking, buy apple cider donuts, and bake. In October we do a corn maze and pick pumpkins. November we go see the colored turkeys at Gozzi’s Farm and make a paper chain to count down to Christmas. We see the Nutcracker every December and make cookies for Santa. On Christmas Eve at dad’s house we read “The Night Before Christmas,” put out Santa’s cookies, and throw carrots out for the reindeer. So far, they haven’t outgrown anything… I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
What is your favorite part about having children? I am so grateful for the opportunity to teach them things. Listening to the radio in the car means playing “who’s that artist” or “name that musical style.” Hearing about a volcanic eruption on the news turns into looking up videos of volcanoes and making one out of papier mache. Watching a stop-motion animated movie leads to an attempt to make one of our own. My favorite part of having children is showing them how much amazing stuff is right in front of us every day, if only we make an effort to pursue it!
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: I think what I have in common with my parents, although it is not popular in modern parenting, is standing by the dreaded “because I said so.” It’s a little old fashioned and maybe a bit militaristic, but I believe it’s important for children to submit to parental authority both for safety and trust reasons. That being said, I also talk to them about the fact that I believe this, and my reason for insisting that they listen. One thing I do differently: I was never made to eat anything I didn’t want, so I pretty much never had a vegetable or most fruits until I was practically an adult – I thought I “didn’t like them.” The boys know if there is something on their plate they have never had, they don’t have to eat it all but they do have to have a bite before deciding they don’t like it.
Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: Anything and everything. When they were little, every Dr. Seuss book (except for Go, Dog, Go! which we all hate :)), the Frog and Toad series, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, I can’t even remember all of the great ones. A couple years ago I read them Gulliver’s Travels over the course of several weeks (I would skip the boring parts and paraphrase/explain the confusing parts… they loved it). They’ve been reading big books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson since they were in 2nd grade, so I don’t get to read to them much anymore… but sometimes I’ll read aloud to Oliver from whatever book he’s currently on, or have him read to me. Their shelves are stocked with Roald Dahl, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Jules Verne – they love love love to read.
Thank you, lovely Rachael!!
29 August 2016
After a short interlude, I’m back with another Marvelous Mama! And this is a very special one (though aren’t they all): my grandmother, Margaret Ayer. or as I know her, Bang. Bang raised six children (including my Dad, the fourth), on a dairy farm in Connecticut. She is smart, resourceful, funny, lively, and humble. At 90 years old she has more energy than most people my age (which seems like a cliche, but with her it’s actually true), and lives close to her children but in her own house. She is famous for injecting herself into any conversation within earshot. She loves doing crosswords, telling stories, singing camp songs and hymns, being at the Island, and being with her family. She has a loud, gorgeous, generous laugh. I would be thrilled to be just like her when I turn 90.
P.S. Big hugs to my Mom, who went out to the farm, asked Bang my questions in person, and sent me her notes. I’ve paraphrased from there!
Name: Margaret (Peg) Ayer
Occupation: Wow – there have been a lot! I was a Biology major at Mount Holyoke College; I graduated in 1947. Out of college, I was a lab assistant in Dr. Peter’s Diabetes lab at Yale Hospital in New Haven. I met Jack then – he was working at Yale teaching Spanish. In 1949, I began working for the Red Cross in Attleboro, MA as the Executive Director of a local chapter – a very small chapter! Jack and I were married in September 1950. I switched to working for the Department of Children and Families for the state of Connecticut, assessing families that wanted to take in children for foster care, and I worked there until John was born in Nov. 1951. Then I had five more children! As the children got older I began subbing in our town’s school and in other districts – with no training. I also kept busy with church activities and being active on the School Board and Public Health Nursing Board. Around 1967, I taught kindergarten in a nearby town, bringing my youngest daughter with me. I worked there for about ten years, also teaching fifth grade. For two years, I worked for Project LEARN on the team that identified special needs kids, but the funding ran out and the job ended. After that it was back to the Department of Children and Families as a Child Protection Coordinator based at a local hospital.
Bang is in the pink and my Dad is down front in the yellow
Things you collect: Books!
Words to live by: Every day, learn something new, do something kind, and see something beautiful.
Favorite TV show: I don’t watch TV.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? Well, we got the necessities together (cradle, clothes, etc.). There were no parenting classes, Lamaze, or anything like that, so that was about it.
Where did you go for parenting advice? Grammy Robbins, my mother-in-law, most often. I also would ask my other friends, and there was an extension (farming) group with other young families. We met once a month and after the farming talk there would be a family/parenting talk by the ladies!
I’m all the way to the right in the sweatshirt!
Best tip for a new parent: Enjoy being a mother.
What is your parenting philosophy? I always tried to encourage good things in my kids. I encouraged them to take advantage of opportunities that would help them grow. Mostly, I tried to ENJOY them — except for the time when John was about four months old and I couldn’t get him to stop crying and I yelled out the door, “If anyone wants this baby, they can have him!”
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Hmm, probably leaving the hospital – I thought, “these people are crazy for letting me take this baby home!” I was lucky enough to have my mother-in-law next door — she was a wonderful mother-in-law — and she was helpful with the things I wasn’t prepared for.
Classic Bang move – offering direction/telling people what to do :)
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. I loved our Pendleton and Copeland family reunions. And of course, our time at the Island with my two sisters and all of our cousins.
One thing you did differently than your parents: I didn’t make my children take their younger siblings along with them — I always had to take Alice along.
One thing that fell by the wayside and one thing you never compromised on: I had played the viola with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony in Willimantic, but I didn’t get to keep that up. I was also involved with a theater group in Lebanon, and I only kept that up through the first few kids. We always stayed active in our church, and I served on many boards and commissions in town. I was lucky because Jack worked at home!
Favorite books to read with or to your kids: Everything by A.A. Milne, the Just So Stories, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.
My grandfather and my Dad – too cute not to include :)
Thank you, Bang!! We love you.
11 April 2016
To know the Henrys is to love them, and I am no different. MacKenzie is one of the nicest, warmest people you’ll ever meet, so it came as no surprise to me that she is an amazing mama raising two sweet, smart, adventurous, affectionate kiddos. I think the thing I admire most about MacKenzie (and her husband Philip) is their intentional devotion to creating the life they want for their family, and the bravery and dedication they’ve shown in this pursuit. From a bungalow in Durham to a lavender farm in Maine to their new home in the mountains of Brevard, this family is a huge inspiration to me, and I’m so happy to have MacKenzie here today sharing her thoughts on motherhood.
Name: MacKenzie Henry
Occupation: Co-Owner Inkspot Crow Films
Who do you live with? Introduce us! I live with my husband of 5.5 years, Philip. We met in 2008 after both relocating to Durham for work/school. We adopted our dog Charlie just before getting engaged and in 2010 we married. In 2012 we welcomed Pax into the world. He’s a curious and enthusiastic 3.5 year old ginger. Our daughter Bea was born on Christmas Eve 2013. She just turned 2 and she’s the sweetest, most tender-hearted little one.
What does a day in the life look like for you? This fluctuates a lot based on our kids’ sleeping patterns, our work needs, and our child-care scenario. We’ll get into a good, consistent groove, and then a new phase comes and shakes us up a bit. At the moment: our day begins around 7 with breakfast together. After breakfast Philip and I take turns walking Charlie on alternate days and the other spends that hour reading to the kids/getting ready for work/packing lunches. If it’s great weather and we have time, we’ll throw the kids in the double stroller and take a family walk after breakfast. This is a luxury, because the kids usually bring books or just rest, and Philip and I get to converse without many interruptions :)
While we shower it’s not uncommon to let the kids pick a show to watch on the PBS Kids Roku Channel. It keeps them out of trouble so we can get ready.
Around 9:30 Philip heads to the studio for editing and I either drop the kids off at pre-school or get ready for whatever we’re doing together that day. If it’s a day with the kids it goes like this: I try to balance our mornings each week between school time, fun outings (like the park, museum, or library), a day of errands (grocery/bank), and home play time.
By 11:30 we’re usually home and I’m preparing lunch while the kids play together, do puzzles, look at library books, etc. I eat lunch with the kids and then get them down for naps around 1. Between 1-3 I have a fairly “consistent” chunk of time to work for our business. My work happens primarily through email: client relations, planner relations, logistics, travel planning, accounting, marketing.
After naps we play or read together. If it’s great weather we may go on an outing or play in the yard. If I’m feeling up for it we’ll bake together or do a craft. Every day is pretty different, but by 5 I am really ready for Philip to come home! :) He comes in around 5 and we make dinner together. Or, if it’s been a particularly tiring day for me he’ll play with the kids or take them outside while I peacefully prepare dinner.
We eat around 6 and then it’s bath time, stories, brush teeth, bed by 7:30 for both kids.
Then Philip and I get time to either watch a show (most nights) or work before heading to bed around 10-11.
A few notes: Weekends: wake, eat, and sleep schedules are the same but usually there is more walking in the woods, playing, yard work, and/or travel. If it’s a day I drop the kids off at preschool I have the entire morning to work. When our editing load is less heavy, Philip keeps the kids one day each week so I can work.
What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? For lunch I’m a creature of habit. My “go to” lunch right now is: plain rice cake with almond butter, piece of fruit, string cheese. For dinner we have a few meals we rotate and we also like to grill fish and chicken burgers. We try to model good eating with the kids, and eat mostly whole foods and incorporate vegetables, fruits, protein, and whole grains into all of our meals. That said, we’re a family of pizza lovers! We love takeout pizza and we’ve just started making our own pizza crust and sauce and making our own pizzas. That’s fun! When we eat out it’s usually Chipotle or a local restaurant.
What do you collect and why? I don’t have any collections but I love to collect photos of our family. I’m sure this is not that uncommon. I don’t print many of them, but I do like to organize them on Picasa. We just love going back and looking at photos of different times in our lives: trips we’ve taken, homes we’ve lived in, events we’ve attended, celebrations, hikes we’ve enjoyed, everyday life.
A book you’ve read more than once: 1) The Way of the Happy Woman, by Sara Avant Stover. My friend Megan gave me this book and I think it’s a practical yet inspirational resource for connecting with yourself. In times of stress or change, I find myself picking up this book again and it helps me reconnect. Much of what it reminds me about (and as a mom I need to be reminded of this often) is self-care and respecting the natural ebbs and flows in our lives and the lives of others around us. As an extrovert, I found this book very helpful in understanding my seasonal tendencies of turning inward.
2) The Last Child in the Woods. Just an important book for every parent to read.
Netflix obsession: Not sure which of these are on Netflix but I’ll let you know my show obsessions: Past: Friday Night Lights, The Wire, LOST, The Sopranos, Newsroom. Currently: Game of Thrones, Homeland, Walking Dead, Silicon Valley.
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones, and when? Philip listens to podcasts and if there is a very, very good episode, I’ll listen. My faves (courtesy of my husband): 99% Invisible, Radio Lab, This American Life.
Words you live by: “I am For You” – a huge hand painted poster with this phrase hangs in Reality Ministries in downtown Durham. It’s a good reminder of God’s love and commitment to us. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike” – John Muir
Why did you decide to have children? Hmmm. Well, Philip and I knew we’d eventually want children but we were also certain we wanted to establish our new business and travel much more before jumping into parenthood. However, when you aren’t careful, surprises can happen and we were certainly surprised when I found out I was pregnant in September 2011! That said, we were overjoyed from the start and made life and business work for our growing family. We decided to have our kids close together for a few reasons. 1) I was in my mid-thirties when I had Bea. We didn’t want to wait much longer for health reasons. 2) One of my sisters is 18 months younger, and I loved our closeness (Morgan passed away in 1999). Philip also has great relationships with his sisters. When we film weddings, one of the things which “gets us” quite often is when a sibling is giving a super-authentic and loving toast at the wedding reception. We’ve said to each other on multiple trips home from shooting, “I hope our kids feel that way about each other when they grow up”.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? We didn’t do much to prepare. The day we left the hospital we had the nurse remind us how to change Pax’s diaper! I’d babysat on occasion, but didn’t have much exposure to babies at all. Lucky for us, our close friends have kids. One family was about six months ahead of us in bringing home their baby girl. We watched everything they did and basically copied it :) Haha. Seriously though. She was a great eater and sleeper and they were all thriving and we figured they were doing something right. I’m so glad we found another family in a similar stage of life to us. Our other dear friends have kids a bit older than Pax and Bea. Their girls are in middle school and it’s been good for me to hear the waters they are navigating and think about (though not stress about) how we’ll address issues like cell phones, peer groups, etc. That seems like a long way off right now, but it’s helpful to see others we respect navigating that. So basically, the best thing we did was observe others we think are doing a great job.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? I don’t think we were prepared for how tired we’d be in the first few weeks. Philip and I both thrive when we’re rested and things seem to fall apart when we’re not. Sleeping/feeding didn’t come naturally for Pax from the start. We spent much of the months leading up to Pax’s arrival planning for the birth. I read through books on natural childbirth and knew every detail of what was happening to me and our baby during pregnancy and labor. The first few nights were rough for us, and Pax didn’t take to nursing well at all. We remembered a cousin telling us about how valuable the book “Babywise” was to them in the first months and we checked it out at the library on the first day home and read it cover to cover. Sleeping (for newborns) can be an odd thing and we really believe we had to train our kids to sleep well and consistently. Consequently (and thankfully!), they are both great sleepers.
What is your parenting philosophy? We probably fall on the side of structured parenting but with an abundance of love and joy. As adults, Philip and I thrive on structure and routine. We’ve set that tone in parenting as well. Our kids have had a sleeping/playing/eating schedule from the first weeks of their lives. There are times for deviation, certainly, but we all seem to do better when we come back to the schedule we’ve created for our family. The other piece to our parenting philosophy is just loving our kids unconditionally and celebrating their innate joy. It’s a balance which is sometimes difficult: a structured household that also loves joyfully. But that’s what we’re striving for. We are also really big advocates for giving kids time in nature. We read “Last Child in the Woods” last year and it solidified our commitment to get our kids (and their friends) outside exploring as much as possible.
Where do you go for parenting advice? This has evolved, to be sure. When we had Pax, I went online for newborn advice constantly (up in the middle of the night reading chatroom posts about breastfeeding, pumping, sleeping, eating. Everything). At that point I think I was desperate for knowledge and confirmation about my decisions. I think I evolved into a more confident parent after the first year and I rarely, if ever, seek advice online now. Also, I don’t know if this was a conscious realization, but it’s true that for every given topic, there were a million contradicting opinions or experiences. Online searches really confused me more than helped me, I think. Now I talk to my mom about discipline and education issues. I think she did a really great job raising my sisters and I and she’s a valuable asset. She loves to share her opinions, too!
We have a few books which have been very helpful and we’ve read them and re-read them many times: 1-2-3 Magic (addresses discipline), Babywise (addresses sleep/routine), Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (this was/is my favorite go-to resource when I had questions about sleep, naps, waking, bedtime, etc).
Best tip for a new parent: Oh gosh. The first few weeks can be really tiring as you help your baby settle into a routine of sleeping at night and also care for yourself and heal from labor. We joked that the learning curve was incredible. We looked back after one week and couldn’t BELIEVE how much more we knew than on day one. Neither of us really loved the newborn phase. We wanted to skip through it really fast because it felt tiring and sometimes uncomfortable and not very rewarding. But with two toddlers, I can honesty say my best tip is to savor it. Take the time you have set aside for maternity and paternity leave to just rest together and snuggle together whenever possible. I look back at those days and they were SO fleeting. When will you ever have time set aside to just “be” as a family and get to know each other and rest together? It’s a special time.
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. Everything is a phase. You could be in the middle of a night-waking streak and feel like “this is never going to end,” but it will. It will pass. Both kids have gone through mini-phases of behavior problems and they pass. When you’re in the middle it seems like it lasts a lifetime and it seems like you need to change course completely. Sometimes changes are necessary, to be sure. But often, staying the course and remembering “everything is a phase” is a good plan.
Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: Ooh! Fun question! I Am a Bunny; Are You My Mother?; The Jesus Storybook Bible (we have a few kids’ versions and this is our family’s fave); Blueberries for Sal (thanks, Em and John!); Going Lobstering; The Polar Express; The Christmas Tree Ride; Henri’s Walk to Paris; Press Here (Bea’s fave currently).
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. Many of our best family traditions revolve around food and Christmas holidays: decorating cookies together, The Santa Train at Museum of Life & Science, Christmas caroling in our neighborhood, Thai takeout after Christmas Eve service, cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Movie nights. Maybe once or twice a month we’ll have a movie night where we all get in PJs and watch a movie (usually a Disney classic), stopping half-way in to make popcorn! Whenever we travel together we buy an ornament for our Christmas tree. Weekend hikes. Just being outside in the different seasons is a weekly tradition for our family. In the summer, an after-dinner walk. And from my family as I grew up: every year we fill out a form of our “favorites” and stick it in the big Christmas coffee table book. The list includes favorite movies, names, toys, places, sports teams, etc. It’s always fun to go back and see what we liked as young kiddos and I hope our kids will love doing the same as they grow.
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: We make our kids play outside a lot and we limit screen time. Both of our moms used to tell us to go out and play and we always found things to do. Our kids are still slightly young to just send out on their own but we try to create environments and situations for them to explore and experiment and just be in nature.
Adopting that Christmas coffee table book tradition and borrowing “Last Child in the Woods” ASAP! Any other favorites from MacKenzie’s interview? So much goodness here!
Thank you so much for sharing, friend!!