About That Laundry Room

Approximately five minutes after I wrote this post about our lofty laundry room ambitions, Bob told me he wanted to move back to Northern Virginia. Instead of painting that Labor Day weekend, we spent the entirety of it on our front porch discussing Big Changes.

Our move away from Alexandria in the spring of 2012 was the culmination of years of plotting, planning and hand-wringing over how to move away from the hustle and bustle of the city while maintaining Bob’s career with the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. We wanted his job but we also wanted different schools, a different house, a different experience for our kids than our little bricked-over urban backyard could provide. And, I wanted out of the metro area completely. It was a tough place for my Indiana heart to live and once I had children, my desire to find a neighborhood just like the one I grew up in reached fever pitch.

We found everything we were looking for – the schools, the neighborhood, the lack of migraine-inducing traffic – in the far west end of Richmond. For the first year we lived in this area, I would marvel every single time I left my house at how EASY it was to get around, how beautiful the southern pines were, how large the grocery store was. Honest to goodness, it felt like we were on vacation all the time.

We have used our prime location as a jumping off point to explore much of Central Virginia. From battlefields to beaches to campsites, everything is so close and so accessible. Richmond is a wonderful place to live.

The only thing it is missing is my husband.

For the almost two years we have lived here, Bob has worked a few days each week in Washington while I hold down the home front in Richmond. We rented a cozy apartment for him up in Northern Virginia so he wouldn’t have to commute daily. Some weeks he is home more days than he is at work but, as he explained to me last September, he feels he is not home nearly enough. He misses his family.

And, we miss having him at home. While taking care of our three kids on my own during the week has proven incredibly challenging at times, the four of us have muddled through. Everyone is fed and clothed and schooled on time with a minimal amount of Bad Words.

My biggest issue during Bob’s absence is not how tired I am or how solo-managing the homework is killing me slowly, it is actually how life always feels on pause during those few days each week when Bob is working in the city. Since not everyone in the family is present, it feels like the rest of us are in a type of holding pattern, waiting for him to arrive home so we can all spend time together as a complete unit. This means weekends are crammed full of errands, activities, intense quality time and playing catch-up from the days he is gone in addition to me trying desperately to find some quiet time before his next departure. It is an interesting cycle.

So, when Bob said, “This isn’t working,” I said, “Let’s go.” It was one of the easiest big decisions we’ve ever made. We have a buyer for our home here and have found a home up there and while everything isn’t finalized until it’s finalized, we are working hard towards a smooth transition in the next several weeks.

I surprisingly don’t feel regret about our stint in Richmond. As Bob pointed out, “people try new things.” And, that’s what this was, an experiment. We’ve met many, many families that have figured out how to make a Richmond to Washington living arrangement work. We just weren’t one of them. However, Henry was able to spend two years at an award-winning school, Charlie found his comfort zone at a fantastic preschool, Millie grew into her own little person and our family explored and enjoyed the ease of living in the area. We made friends, true life-long friends, during our time here. So, I couldn’t possibly regret such an integral part of our family’s story.

More importantly, we think we are headed for something amazing in our new town. An experience we would have never considered two short years ago. Somewhere that only a detour through Richmond could have landed us.

And, just to close the loop on the laundry room, it did eventually get painted.

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The lack of staging in this photograph is why I will never be a DIY blogger.

In November. Around Thanksgiving. Three months later. When my father drove here from Louisville to complete the task. We are good at many things but home improvement is not one of those things.

Hypothetically Speaking

So, let’s say you have three kids. And, you never really go anywhere because: THREE KIDS. Staying home is infinitely easier since your kids seemingly lose all control when you release them amongst the general public. Also, there was that one incident at Target that one time when your kids started LICKING THE CART and everyone stared because you weren’t using your indoor voice anymore. Thus, running errands without any of your kids is preferred. Or, maybe take just one of them. The oldest one that can help carry stuff. So, let’s say that, with rare exception, one parent stays at home with a couple of the kids while the other parent goes out and runs all of the errands.

Then, one day, your husband tells you that he needs pants. New work pants. Nice pants. Pants that require a trip to a fancy department store. And, you know your husband can’t handle that by himself. He’s not a fancy department store kind of guy. In fact, you’re not even sure he knows how to get to the fancy department store since it’s not located directly off of a bike path. In summary, he needs you there to Consult on the Pants. So, you have no other choice but to take your three kids + your husband to the fancy department store. If given the option, you’d rather stay at home and clean all of the grout between your kitchen floor tiles with a toothbrush but you don’t have that option because: PANTS.

The next day, you wake up and realize it’s Sunday and it’s the last day of the weekend and the last opportunity to go shopping before the week begins. Basically, it’s Pants Day. So, you lie in bed and try to psych yourself up to go to the fancy department store with your three kids. But, the more you think about it, the more you start to feel kind of confident. After all, the little one is two now and she walks fully upright so that’s not so bad. And, the oldest one likes to push the stroller so that’s helpful. The middle one is trouble so you’ll have to be extra vigilant that you don’t lose him but otherwise, you think to yourself, we can do this? We can do this!

To continue the positive vibe, you go all Coach Taylor on your kids at the breakfast table, getting everyone EXCITED! to go shopping! at the fancy department store! You remember to cover all the important leaving the house rules like, “don’t run away,” and “nobody poop anywhere but the bathroom.” Your kids, however, are skeptical because they don’t recognize this store of which you speak. Mainly, because it isn’t called Target.

Knowing that executing a whole family shopping excursion takes precision, you set yourself up for success by making sure nap time is a complete disaster. The middle one refuses to sleep at all and the youngest one sleeps too long which ensures that two of your three kids will be a hot mess/ticking time bomb by the time you even walk out the door. Assuming you can even get out the door because you have to repeat your request that everyone put on their shoes and turn their shirts right side out approximately two thousand twenty-three times before any of your three kids even appear to be taking your request under consideration.

But, let’s say, you made it out the door! Good for you! You’re on your way! And, only one of your kids is throwing a temper tantrum because their seat belt is too tight.

You arrive at the fancy department store and you set out to find the fancy pants and your kids are kind of excited because there is an escalator. Like, they’re kind of losing their minds over the escalator. Then, your husband casually mentions to you that maybe your three kids should get out more.

Finally! You have found the pants section and you start searching in vain for the right size of the pants that your husband needs in the right color but you both have to pause every four seconds because your middle kid is doing that thing that kids do where they hide in the middle of the clothing racks. And, for a split terrifying second you think they’re missing so you have a heart attack and die right there in the men’s fine suiting section. So, your kid is doing that over and over and over again and so you keep dying and that’s really stressful. And, you really wish those racks didn’t exist. Like, it could just be a big square room – no racks in the middle – with the walls lined with pants in the exact size and color you need so you wouldn’t have to keep losing your kid. But, that would probably be impractical for the store but you’re the customer so you think you’re supposed to always be right.

Then, magically, the pants appear in the right size and the right color and your husband declares them the perfect fit so you pay for the pants and then everyone asks for more rides on the escalator so you have to do that.

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And, you feel on top of the world because Mission Accomplished. So, you agree to walk around the mall with your three kids + husband and the kids are excited because the mall is two levels and there are escalators! absolutely! everywhere!

Then, in dramatic double-take fashion, your three kids spot the ride-on train that the mall operates. It’s chugging along, going in circles, tooting it’s little horn, demanding that exasperated parents, just like yourself, purchase tickets. Quickly, the little golf cart train usurps the escalator in the must-ride department so your husband heads off to Figure It All Out. Only, the train has already begun on its last ride of the day so tickets can no longer be procured. This is the worst news in the history of news to your three kids. They all start giving you the side-eye because they missed the last ride of the day by about five minutes which is the exact length of time they had to stand outside Pottery Barn while you browsed inside. So, once again, everything is your fault and your three kids all look like this:

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But, then! Then! You find a big fountain with water and you give your kids all of the money destined for the train tickets so they could throw it at something else just as useful.

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And, everyone starts to smile again and so you get bold and even a little bit reckless and suggest to your husband that you take them into Crate & Barrel. And then, your three kids do not break a thing in Crate & Barrel and you are able to buy those cute dish towels you saw in the catalogue and you are sort of sad that cute dish towels are an Important Thing to you now and question what that says about your life but, NEVERTHELESS, you are beaming with pride and almost dangerously giddy so your husband suggests that you maybe, possibly, just might be able to go out to dinner. You wonder if you’re pressing your luck. You know that a shopping to dinner out transition is one of the most difficult parenting levels to achieve but you proceed with optimism because how bad could it end?

And, lo, it ended badly.

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Near Miss

When I was a little bit older than Charlie is now, I fell down the stairs. We lived in Ohio at the time and my parents used to make us go upstairs to the shared hallway bath to wash our hands before dinner. We weren’t allowed to use the half-bathroom on the first floor because that was for guests and also: RULES. So, I had headed upstairs to wash up as my family sat down to eat dinner.

I remember the fall, too. I remember standing at the top of our stairs looking down and then… tumbling. I remember my mom and dad rushing to the bottom of the stairs and I remember being alright. Mostly, I remember vividly that my mom was unable to eat dinner that night. She was so upset by the fall I had taken that she had lost her appetite. This seemed odd to me at the time.

Over thirty years later and after having three kids of my own, I better understand that pit-of-your-stomach distress that comes when children in your care escape serious injury; the nausea that comes after a particularly close call.

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Over Christmas, we trekked to Bob’s hometown in upstate New York to visit with family. Our holiday trip there is one of our favorite traditions. New York is almost always guaranteed to have snow by the time December rolls around and watching our Virginia-bred kids delight in such a novelty is fun for everyone.

My brother-in-law and his wife live on several scenic acres just down the street from Bob’s childhood home. Their house is Charlie’s favorite place to visit. Bob’s brother has all of the fun equipment, like four wheelers and tractors, that one needs when caring for a large piece of land. So, for Charlie, it’s like someone dropped a John Deere dealership in the middle of Disney World and gave him the keys to the city.

Their property also allows for relatively independent play as it’s tucked up in the hills, down a long driveway, far from the road. As Henry and Charlie have gotten older, we’ve relaxed our “eyes on them at all times” policy. After so many, many visits we worry less and less that they’ll wander off or get into trouble. The boys know the lay of the land by now and are firmly past that death-defying, curious toddler stage.

So, it was with confidence in their ability to police themselves that Bob and I left Henry and Charlie to play outside in the snow the day after we arrived. We had all been out in the elements for a good bit that afternoon so Bob, Millie and I headed to the house to warm up while leaving the boys to play in the yard. Time passed and Bob eventually went to put Millie down for a nap while I chatted with my sister-in-law in the kitchen over coffee. I was decidedly groggy from spending thirteen hours in the car the day before.

During a pause in the conversation, my sister-in-law looked out the front window and, after not being able to see Henry or Charlie, said, “You know, I’m going to go check on the boys.” A thought that hadn’t even occurred to me in too many minutes.

She spotted the boys at the pond. I could hear the urgency in her voice as she ran out of the garage, around the corner, hollering at them to return. I got there in time to watch them trudging down towards the house to the sound of her voice. Instead of sticking to the large side field or playing in the huge front yard with the perfect slope for sledding, Henry and Charlie had headed in the back – up the hill – to a small pond on the property. At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. I assumed they had been up there for just a short amount of time, poking around and playing. Henry and Charlie returned to the house, removed layers of inadequate outerwear and headed to the basement to play.

The alarm bells in my head didn’t ring until hours later, when my nephew sat down before dinner and asked, “Who was walking on the pond?” He had been out on the property and spied one set of little footprints in the snow circumnavigating the dock that extends several feet into the water. The water that is not that deep but is plenty deep enough for a little one that can’t swim. He tried to investigate further but couldn’t because the ice covering the pond had turned to mush under his shoe.

It was then that I panicked. That my eyes got wide. That my stomach turned. That the realization sunk in.

The boys had been up there for a good while. Longer than I had realized. Long enough to get into trouble; into danger actually. Charlie had headed out onto the pond. The pond covered in what was only a thin layer of ice thanks to the warm spell the week before. All this while we weren’t looking. While we weren’t even paying attention.

My mind immediately started with the “what-if’s” and would not let go. What if Charlie had fallen through the ice? What if Henry had gone in after him? When would we have thought to look? When would we have realized something was amiss? What if we couldn’t get there in time?

My sister-in-law, knowing that disaster was averted, worked to calm me down, reminding me that nothing did happen. That the boys were fine. Still, I was deeply shaken and grateful the weather turned cold and kept us all playing inside for the remainder of our visit.

We waited until our return home to have a discussion with Henry about what had happened at the pond; the danger of what they did and what the consequences of their actions might have been.

Charlie is so much younger and his understanding of the events are clouded by naiveté. However, one afternoon, when I was lying next to him, trying to rouse him from a deep nap time slumber, I asked Charlie about the pond. I asked him why they had headed there. Why he had walked out onto the water. He explained, with the logic of a four-year-old, that they were “clearing the snow for the ducks.” Because the ducks couldn’t land on the snow, you see. So, Charlie walked out to fix that.

“But there was a hole,” he said.

“A hole?” I asked.

“Yes, where you could see the water,” he explained.

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This close. We were this close to something so terrible.

Parenthood is a never-ending series of close calls. Of lessons learned and humbling encounters. Of thwarted tragedies. From the womb on, the risks are high. I am exceedingly grateful the outcome of this latest near miss wasn’t so much worse.