The Home We Live In

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By Aimee Tafreshi

Today was a momentous day. Today we closed on a house in Midland, Texas. Now, if you know anything about the housing market in Midland, you would know this is an enormous feat. But if you are not familiar with this area known as the Permian Basin, please let me fill you in. The rents here rival San Francisco’s, and it’s not because of the panoramic views of trash blowing along the highway or the smell of carbon emissions from the jacked up trucks clogging the roads. This flat and desert-like area in West Texas is in the midst of a huge oil boom, bringing workers in every day from places like Canada, Louisiana or in our case, Amelia Island, Florida.

Our family’s road to home ownership in Midland was a rocky one. The first hurdle was to sell our home in Florida. When we first listed our home for sale in the early summer, I assumed the house would sell in about a week. According to our realtor, our house was priced to sell, and we agreed with her assessment. When we bought our family home in 2013—the first home my husband and I had ever purchased—Florida’s real estate market was still recovering from the Great Recession. The house had been sitting as a spec home for about a year and was within our modest budget. After being a seasoned student of real estate prices in my hometown of Austin, we jumped on the purchase price and were newly minted homeowners.

The two-story, stucco home on Amelia Island sat in a quaint neighborhood of exactly three streets. The house with its porch and columns resembled a Craftsman style home with a Florida vibe. It was perfect for our then family of five—the updated kitchen opened up to the family room, which contained high ceilings and a sliding glass door to the patio and backyard. A separate living area greeted guests upon entry into the house, which later became a quiet spot to work, read a book on the couch or host a relative on the pull-out sofa. I jokingly referred to the front room as the “blue room,” with its soothing ocean-hued couch and abstract paintings decorating the walls.

Our master bedroom was situated downstairs, while the three secondary bedrooms were upstairs with a loft in the middle, which served as an additional living room for the kids. (This play area usually bought us a little more sleep in the morning pre-twins). When we moved into the home, it was the summer of 2013, and our youngest had just turned one. We also had a two-year-old son and rising kindergartener. We were in the toddler/young children years, and my husband Alex was about to start a grueling sea tour in the Navy. My daughter attended her first day of kindergarten at the local elementary school as we were moving in, and we found a great Mother’s Day Out program for the boys. The pristine beach and local YMCA were a short bike ride away.

We spent five years in that wonderful home, the most time I have ever spent in one house in my life. During that period, Alex had several months’ long deployments. We visited Disney World for the first time ever. We welcomed two rescue dogs to our family, Faith the German Shepherd and Dolly the Great Dane mix. Our kindergartner grew up into a rising fifth grader, with long limbs and glasses, but maintaining her red hair and creativity. And our youngest baby graduated from Pre-K (twice!) and was finally ready to begin his own kindergarten journey. In our last year in the house, we brought home boy/girl twins, the first babies of ours not born on Texas soil. Our oldest football-loving son was convinced they were destined to be Florida Gators. Our daughter helpfully suggested, “Let’s just tell them they were born in Texas.”

After five years in the same spot, we knew most neighbors and celebrated various birthdays and some holidays together. When the twins were newborns, they pitched in to help with driving the older kids and walking them to and from the bus stop. Our extended families were thousands of miles away, but we had created our very own village in Florida.

As we made the difficult decision for Alex to leave the submarine force after 12 years of service, I was torn between wanting to stay on Amelia Island or return home to Texas. He job hunted in both areas, as well as the Southeast, and I mentally prepared myself that the odds of staying on our little island were slim. On the occasional night out, filled with merriment and a little booze, I was fond of declaring, “I’m never leaving the island!” Many came to our little island for a slower way of life; few left it willingly.

As the final months elapsed, we tackled some fun things on what I thought of as my Florida bucket list. Alex surprised me with a trip to swim with the manatees at Crystal River for my fortieth birthday, an excursion I had coveted before I ever lived in the Sunshine State. My daughter and I explored the (man-made) tropical paradise Discovery Cove to celebrate her tenth birthday and swam with a dolphin. We never did make it to the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, the Florida Keys or the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which boasts live mermaid shows.

When we decided on a job offer in Midland, and the “For Sale” sign went up in the yard, I remember thinking that one day, this would be the house that we “used to live in.” We would drive by and say to the children, “Look, we used to live there.” My present was about to become my past, and the thought made me sad and nostalgic. Change is hard and also reminds us that our time on earth is fleeting and impermanent. During my evening walks with the dogs, I would take in the dense trees, circling hawks, lizards scampering on the sidewalks and honking geese dining on the field behind our fence. I know now that Midland does have some trees and nature but Florida is exploding with natural beauty.

When it was finally time to leave, our chaotic departure felt like a surreal break-up with little closure. A few days before vacating our home, we celebrated my son’s sixth birthday with my in-laws at their rented beach condo, and then the twins’ first birthday at our favorite Mexican restaurant where they always treated us like family. While the movers packed and loaded, we stayed at a VRBO property near the beach, where we walked on the shore for the last time. I wondered when I would walk on the beach again. I took in the constantly churning water, the soft sand, the thousands of little shells, the carefree feelings of my children. They had no idea what the future held. The innocence of children is perhaps a great coping mechanism. It is not their job to worry about moving logistics and real estate. They simply live in the moment, enjoying the experience only for what it’s worth.

We barely had time to say goodbye to our friends, neighbors or church, where we were baptized as adults. And our house hadn’t sold yet. Alex reassured me, when a family looks at our home, they will make an offer. The current crop of retirees scheduling showings didn’t appreciate the stairs or proximity to schools, but we knew a family would.

When we finally arrived in Midland after a very dramatic cross-country drive, involving an unexpected pit stop in New Orleans, we were fortunate to stay in a corporate rental, a new construction home in a booming neighborhood filled with young families following the smell of oil.

Fast forward to today, and we have now spent four months in the temporary house about half the size of our old one. We are all sharing rooms, and most of our worldly possessions sit in storage. A family of five finally checked out our house in Florida, and they jumped on it. From the looks of their Facebook posts (I’m not stalking them, I swear! We have a friend in common, so I happened upon it in my Newsfeed), they look ecstatic in their photos, holding up a picture of their new home, the house we used to live in.

And in the crazy real estate market they call Midland, we found a house of our own. After months of searching and losing out on listings, we were finally in a position to buy. As of today, we are the proud owners of a sprawling ranch style home in an established neighborhood with mature trees. In Florida, we took trees for granted; here, one is lucky to own a single tree; the newer neighborhoods boast beds of multi-colored pebbles. Walking through our new home over the past month to figure out tile backsplash and paint colors, I felt a sense of excitement and hope as I watched my now young toddlers walk briskly in circles around the house and shut themselves into bedrooms. The bigger kids excitedly picked out their new bedrooms and weighed in on wall colors. I noticed the Halloween and then Thanksgiving and now Christmas decorations adorning our future neighbors’ front lawns. Baby swings suspended from tree limbs dot the street.

I miss our curated village and house on Amelia Island. And I hope our old neighbors let us tag along to the annual Food & Wine Festival next year (hint, hint). But I’m ready to turn the Midland house into the home we live in.

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Fall Traditions, Old and New

By Aimee Tafreshi

In August, my family made a cross-country move from a beautiful, pristine island in the northeast corner of Florida to the wide open, dusty spaces of West Texas. We arrived just in time for the beginning of the new school year and hurriedly ordered school uniforms and supplies as our first order of business. Still living in a corporate rental with most of our worldly belongings in storage, we took a triage approach to life, prioritizing the creation of a sense of normalcy while in housing limbo.

When we arrived in Midland, my husband relished the zero humidity heat. He is one of those people who will proclaim that 114 degrees isn’t so bad without the added moisture in the air. While I am inclined to agree, I felt slightly nostalgic for the muggy dampness of the usual southeastern and Central Texas summer and complained that the sun felt more intense here, amplified by the lack of trees.

When we face transitions in life, the world goes on with business as usual; the sun still rises and sets, and the seasons change. It was with some excited anticipation that I awaited the first cold spell in Midland and realized that none of our five children had appropriate winter gear, or even as much as a windbreaker. During our hasty exit from Florida, there was not enough room on the U-Haul for our winter clothes, so they were relegated to storage. Sadly, I didn’t even pack a pair of fall boots, which for any woman who cares much about footwear, is a major fashion dilemma. We might be able to wear socks with flip flops during a “Florida winter,” but here in Midland’s more desert-like climate, it actually gets cold.

As I counted down the days until the temperature would dip into the 30s, I convinced my more fiscally conservative spouse that a shopping trip for fall attire was in order. An upside to living in a larger city is better access to shopping. There isn’t a Nordstrom, but there is a Dillard’s, Old Navy and Banana Republic (Outlet). On Amelia Island, I had to drive over an hour to visit a mall. As I presently walked into various retail stores, I felt overwhelmed by the choices and sheer abundance of clothes. I promptly got over that feeling and put a big dent in my budget at Carter’s and Gymboree so my kids wouldn’t freeze in the unfettered winds of West Texas.

As the cooler temps arrived, I began to feel happiness again. Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it’s not because Starbucks was now offering pumpkin spiced lattes. I love the feel of the breeze on my arms before it’s too cold to wear a t-shirt. Autumn also happily coincides with football season, the perfect excuse to veg out all day Saturday with Game Day and the best match-ups. (Who are we kidding?—we have 5 kids!—but we watch what we can. We’ve managed to turn one into a football fanatic and are working on the others.) My husband and I have taken turns at the local fields watching our 8-year-old son experience his own “Friday Night Lights” during his flag football games. I love just sitting and watching, pausing from life to take a breath and let someone else do the running around.

We’ve also explored the local family-run farm—they seem to have these all over America judging from my friends’ Facebook feeds—where the kids cheer on piglets as they race, play tug of war and roll down the field in a big barrel. There’s something refreshing and freeing about letting your kids run loose on a big tract of land with old-fashioned entertainment, no charger required. We have visited this agricultural wonder three times now and have enjoyed different experiences each visit. My favorite new memory is probably seeing my kindergartner fly down a metal slide sitting on a burlap sack with a look of half terror and half exhilaration on his face. (I had to explain what “burlap” is.) I loved that I could set my 15-month-old twins down and not worry about lack of child proofing or them getting into trouble. Hay, dirt and grass are good for the soul.

This past week was a great example of new traditions paired with some old ones. The week didn’t start off with the highest expectations. I found out my husband would be away on business for the week of Halloween. For some people, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But for me, Halloween is one of my top three holidays. The image in my head of the whole fam dressed up as The Incredibles instantly went poof. (We would have been in good company with the fifty percent of American families who dressed up as this brood of superheroes.)

Not one to be deterred, I gamely took the kids to a pop-up Halloween store where they picked out non-coordinating costumes including a character from Harry Potter (I couldn’t tell you her name if I tried) and Dracula (I sadly noted that a duplicate vampire costume collected dust in storage). My oldest son and I originally had big plans for him to dress as a “Zombie businessman,” one of those original ideas that sounds easy until you realize it will take one to two trips to thrift stores, the effort of deconstructing the second-hand clothes into zombie threads and the artful application of make-up (or face paint, as I tell my boys) to achieve the desired ghoulish effect. I love nothing more than playing with face paint, but two lurking toddlers would likely thwart my artistic efforts. So we dialed it in and decided for my second grader to channel Dallas Cowboys’ player Dak Prescott, a costume choice that would require minimal time and effort. I silently thanked my son for choosing this slacker option. A more ambitious mom would have at least zombie-fied the quarterback.

With not enough time (or the desire to spend one hundred more dollars), I forwent the Etsy option for the twins and found some cute Bert and Ernie costumes on Amazon. When the day arrived, I realized that I absolutely couldn’t go as myself, as scary as that would be, so I headed to Party City at 8 a.m. and found a budget-friendly witch costume in the young at heart but, let’s face it, middle-aged, soccer mom section. And of course, I needed an authentic looking broom stick (every mom should own one—how did I not have one?), witchy head piece, ‘90s style Goth black choker and classy spider web tights to complete the look. We were finally ready to make our Halloween debut in Midland.

Unfortunately, the perfect mix of summer sunshine and autumnal breeze dancing around earlier in the week made way for its ugly cousin: cold, rainy and dreary. It was Mother Nature’s cruel Halloween parlor trick. When we headed out the door, the thermometer showed 48 degrees, and we lacked layers, outerwear, and most importantly, common sense. After all the work that poured into costuming multiple kiddos, taking bad photos and the resulting EF5 devastation in our too-small temporary home, there was no turning back. As we rounded the block, the babies were too cold to cry, reduced to a look of shock. My timid Dracula deadpanned to an adult, “I want to eat you,” a slight deviation from our rehearsed “I want to suck your blood,” spoken with a vampire accent.

My exuberant sons also attempted to beat the crap out of a jolly adult dressed up as an inflatable T-Rex. I finally had to ruin the Halloween magic and yell, “Stop beating him up! There’s a real human inside that costume!!!” The final dramatic moment occurred when we witnessed an English Bulldog gallop free from his owner and proceed to pee and poop all over the pebbles (we have rocks, not grass, in these parts). The stout fellow then turned his attention toward us, charging me and Dak Prescott, who screamed, “He’s going to attack us now!” I prepared to shield the babies in their stroller, and the pup ran full speed toward me and jumped up on my dress in a flash, aiming his slobbery jaws toward my lips. I simultaneously wondered if there were poopy paw prints all over my new witchy get-up and how I could dognap this slobbery blob of pure love and happiness. Alas, he sprinted back to his amused owner.

After trick-or-treating on two streets, we returned home with frozen limbs and overflowing buckets of candy, just what we needed on a school night. The babies were never happier to be in their cribs, their pale chubby arms felt like cool ice packs, and I hoped they would thaw out overnight. Despite the Arctic blast, the older sons were ecstatic—I think my daughter was too; she was frozen like Audrey from Christmas Vacation and could only nod and grunt.

As I began to clean up the scary mess that was Halloween, I breathed a sigh of relief that another holiday was in the books. Now I could look forward to Thanksgiving, where my dear mother would do most of the cooking and cleaning, thank the Lord. (Sorry Mom!)

Two’s Company, Three’s a Big Mess

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By: Aimee Tafreshi

 

I grew up in an All-American family with two children, spaced an ideal three and a half years apart, complete with a loveable Golden Retriever/lab mix. I had time to bond with my parents and didn’t feel threatened by the arrival of my baby sister (other than hiding my mom’s car keys when she went into labor). I gleefully pushed her as a toddler around the living room in a laundry basket. And I tolerated her creating a “tornado” on the Monopoly board when I was in the lead, ending our game.

Despite our idyllic set-up, I secretly admired my friends with large, boisterous families. Everyone in my extended family limited themselves to a practical one to two children, usually of the same gender. I wondered what it would feel like in a family of three to four kids with multiple cousins running around at holidays, too many to count. During a phase as preteens, my sister and I pretended we had a mysterious older brother. His “room” was my dad’s study. We nearly convinced some friends that he existed. At some point I knew that, one day, I would have three children. I also wanted to answer the eternal question—Do middle children live up to their reputation, as, shall we say, a tad odd?

Fast-forward into my 30s and my prophecy has become reality. I have an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 6 and 4, not so neatly spaced at 21 months apart. The biggest rivalry exists, however, not between the two little boys but between the big sister and middle child. I have learned from my husband’s childhood experience, as well as my current situation, that their 2.5 years spacing is perfectly suited for explosive sibling rivalry and constant one-upmanship.

Do I regret having three children? Absolutely not. Is the middle child really as different as they say? Absolutely. I have no regrets about our family make-up, but there are some things you should know if you are considering taking the plunge into three kid-dom.

First, the middle child is a unique individual. I actually used the word “unique” on a class form to describe my son, because I couldn’t think of a third adjective. Was he funny? Not really. Was he super kind? No. I jotted down as many synonyms as I could think of for smart and then threw in “unique.” This kid is going to work for NASA someday. He will be the guy at the computer with a row of empty soda cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers. We secretly refer to him as Pig Pen because he’s always inexplicably covered in dirt. I don’t know if he will get married or not. He will need a wife who will wait on him hand and foot and who has the talent to cook without taking any time to do so. (Yes, his need for instant gratification is probably my fault; plus I’ll blame Minecraft.)

My middle child has been uniquely challenging since he came out of the womb, but as he gets older, I appreciate him more. As a baby, I would feed him around the clock, and he was always hungry. I would load him up on milk before play dates and would then spend the entire gathering feeding him more as he fussed. I used to think we were very different, but now I realize he is a lot like me. Sometimes the children the most like us drive us the craziest. After all, who would want to parent themselves?!

My conclusion: I can’t speak for other middle children, but mine fits the bill as marching to the beat of his own drum. And I love him for that.

Another point to consider—life in a large household is chaotic. Some parents like to use the term “organized chaos,” but let’s face reality; the chaos is often a free for all. One must employ a triage approach—if no one is profusely bleeding or has a broken bone protruding from his skin, then you can carry on with those dishes. Pick-up time in the afternoon is the worst. The kids yell over each other as I drive, screaming about their day, and crying when I choose to listen to one’s story first. I end up screaming the loudest that I’m going to get in a car accident if they don’t put a cork in it, and by the time we pull into the driveway, everyone’s eyes are stained with tears.

Which brings me to the competitive aspect . . . each child will constantly keep tabs on what the others are getting. I have had to tell them to stop counting M&Ms when I hand them out for a treat. Woe to me if one gets 22 little candies and the other receives a meager 21. At Christmas time, the presents were initially allocated so that Santa happened to bring one child a few more gifts than the other two. “You can’t do that,” I screamed to my husband, “they will count the gifts and think Santa is punishing the other two!” He stared at me in disbelief—Do you really think they will count the presents?—and then helped me reclassify the gift giver of the extra packages. Sure enough, the next morning the kids raced up to the table where St. Nick’s gifts sat and exclaimed, “Why did Santa bring us only two gifts each?” I smiled, satisfied that the question was not, “Why did Santa bring him two more gifts than us?!” Crisis averted.

Fights will often ensue about perceived minor issues, like who gets to sit next to Mommy in the restaurant, or who will push the elevator button (the latter is a big source of contention in two-child families as well, to which my sister can attest.) Simple decisions are fraught with peril and the potential for large scale fights to erupt, so parents must anticipate these conflicts and plan for a peaceful conflict resolution.

Another big issue for large families is logistics. As in, there is no way we are participating in winter swim league, spring soccer and Little League in the same season. I have to be judicious with what activities we commit to each year. My youngest son has yet to do much in the way of organized sports, but I’ve heard there are benefits to delaying team sports until children are seven or eight.

Schedules are a consideration for parents who have visions of raising the next Olympic gymnast or swimmer. Either limit yourself to less children or plan on dragging around the others to a ton of meets and practices. I have found endeavors in the arts (like dance and music lessons, theater camp and art classes) to be more forgiving to busy schedules, as you don’t have an added game or meet every week. We are doing swimming AND soccer this spring, and I am scared. I drew the line at tee-ball. My youngest will have to wait another season or two to begin his Major League baseball training.

The result of these logistical nightmares challenges—parents become better than FedEx at delivering their children from Point A to Point B on time. We have become experts at packing like an Apocalypse is coming—no detail is too trivial—and transforming into drill sergeant mode, adept at delivering orders with military like precision. I’m not here to be my child’s friend; I’m here to deliver him to soccer on time.

Another aspect of logistics is the effect on a parent’s personal schedule. I work, albeit remotely, and there are some weeks where there is literally some type of appointment or school commitment on the calendar every day. I feel for the majority of working parents who have a set work schedule because the parenting world is stacked against having an uninterrupted workday.  Which brings me to sick days. No, not for a parent. We’re not allowed to be sick.

With three children, it’s a darn near miracle if someone isn’t nursing a viral or sinus infection on a given day. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in recent months, with great exasperation, “Oh god, his snot is green again; we have to go back to the pediatrician.” (Big sigh.) I mean, can’t the pediatrician just give me carte blanche to call in a prescription when I need one? We all know when the runny nose just isn’t going to get any better, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Because there is no time!!!

The bigger problem with illness is once someone gets sick, we all fall down like a weak house of cards. And Mom and Dad with our old rusty immune systems usually take the brunt of the evil virus. I won’t forget my trip to the ER for dehydration for a lovely sickness my son passed on to me, only to come home to two more barfing children. There’s nothing like doing laundry all night long with a hospital admission band still on your wrist. (My husband was out of the country, so he had a nearly valid excuse for his absence.) I like to remind him of this story a lot.

And finally, the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about—money! Children cost a ton of money. Every month we hemorrhage cash like Trump drops Tweets. We try to shop for the deals, but all of a sudden a cute and economically priced $20 fleece jumps to $60.00 plus shipping and handling. A restaurant outing to a casual dining place approaches a Benjamin. (And they don’t like McDonald’s or Burger King—where did I go wrong?!) Think you can score at a Kid’s Eat Free night? Guess again! You will still pay for that third child’s meal. The deck is stacked against us.

Want to travel? Better start saving—parents who want a modicum of privacy in the evening know that hotel suites are the way to go. That reasonably priced hotel quickly exceeds a luxury one when you are scouting out the largest suites on the property. Renting a vacation home is the next logical step, but I want the free hotel breakfast and maid service! (Free breakfasts are a must for large families traveling to avoid racking up a massive food bill each morning for half-eaten Cheerios.)

And finally, the one thing I want to leave you with, perhaps the biggest nuisance of them all—homework. Yes, homework. When the three kids are all small and in diapers, parents will dramatically lament having “three under three” or multiple kids in diapers. The stakes get real, however, when the tikes start elementary school. You will spend hours upon hours each night assisting each one with various stages of learning, including teaching “new math” that you never learned. When deciding whether that third child is the right decision for your family, simply do the math. That is, can you handle 13 years of homework times X number of children (adjusted for overlapping school years and volume of homework)? If you can solve that equation, then you might be ready for number three.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Ready, set, go!

By: Aimee Tafreshi

img_4345What would you take with you if your house faced destruction and you had limited time and space? Clearly your children—well, most of us would. Dogs, definitely. We faced this conundrum last week. The week started normally enough with viola lessons, soccer practice and STEM night at my daughter’s school. In the background, a hurricane churned in the Atlantic and barreled its way through the Caribbean. The weekend before, I advised my husband to fill up with gas, as you never know. He thought I was paranoid, I’m sure.

On Tuesday, he was supposed to fly out to Virginia for a work trip. By this point, the hurricane “spaghetti” models showed Hurricane Matthew working its way up the East Coast, in some form or fashion. One lone bright pink line diverged from the others and showed a possible path right along the coastline, right near our coastline. It’s just one model, he reasoned with me. Come Tuesday morning, his trip was almost called off, but co-workers had already boarded flights. The outing was now back on. I imagined evacuating the house, kids and dogs by myself. I knew his particular airline would mercilessly cancel all flights mid-week. I am a hurricane virgin. I have never lived through a hurricane nor evacuated because of one. I can do this, I told myself with false confidence.

Lo and behold, divine intervention, fate, common sense, what have you, stepped in and canceled his work trip minutes before he was to board the plane. I was jubilant when he told me the news. This hurricane was coming; I could feel it. Wednesday arrived, and the rain and wind started picking up. We both worked all day, work obligations and deadlines, as I daydreamed about boarding up the house. We didn’t have storm shutters; hurricanes weren’t supposed to come this way. Finally, the mandatory evacuation order came. It was go time.

My husband got home from work, and it was time to pack and prep the house. Our preparations did not include boarding up the house or putting up storm shutters. That ship had sailed. There simply wasn’t time. Instead, I thought about what would probably happen. The front room windows would likely shatter, and water and debris would soak everything in its sight. Unfortunately, the front room is a dining room turned home office, which means it is a staging area for kids’ artwork waiting to be filed, toothy school portraits waiting to be shared and other sentimental papers and musty greeting cards.

I didn’t really care about our beat up furniture—we have two sons—or things like the TV. All of that stuff can be replaced. What I did care about were drawings forged by small hands, endless sheets of imperfectly written preschool letters and scattered photographs.

I remembered that during a devastating fire at my parents’ house, my mother had remarked that the items she had stored in plastic bins had not been touched by the ash and soot that had ruined much of the other stuff. Ah ha! I smartly packed all of the sentimental crafts and papers in a large plastic bin and stored it upstairs, in case of storm surge. Other random things I moved included the kids’ art portfolios from their past school years, three painted glass bottles they had created on a Saturday at the downtown art co-op, and a glass Longhorn Bevo, an homage to my beloved Texas team.

I also pushed my grandmother’s antique chair away from the window, as I knew she would not be pleased if I let her heirloom get ruined by broken glass or an errant tree limb.

The things I couldn’t stand to lose the most were the things that could never be replaced. I later cursed myself for not taking down my daughter’s bulletin boards, covered with her best kindergarten paintings, and mentally pictured the papers disintegrating as the rain blasted through blown out windows.

Now it was time to pack. As the evening wore on, I thought less about packing for a short-term trip and more about packing for months. I initially packed one extra set of disposable contact lenses and then realized I should take the entire pack. My husband reminded me to take any valuable jewelry. I don’t have a ton of fancy baubles, other than a few things I wear everyday, but I decided on an antique watch my dad had gifted me, because it makes me think of him. I also grabbed a roadrunner pin that had belonged to my grandmother—she obsessively collected roadrunners—and a vintage Texas Longhorns brooch my mother had given me.

I told my other half to grab my daughter’s baby book; her younger siblings’ books weren’t quite finished, so what was the point with theirs? We also took the wedding album and some important papers to show proof of our existence.

The next morning we arose at 4:00 a.m., and as usual, I wanted to hit the “snooze” button repeatedly and stay in bed. But then my instincts kicked in, as a monster storm was heading our way, and I had better wake the heck up. We were out the door by 5:15 a.m., three kids, two large dogs, and two tired parents crammed into an SUV. My poor son woke up in the middle of the night, afraid we had evacuated without him. He raced downstairs at 5:00 in the morning, exclaiming that he was “just in time” to leave. Boy was he right.

I was expecting to sit on the interstate for 12 hours and pee in plastic bottles, after seeing many nightmare traffic jams on the news over the years, but the one thing you can count on with an island is that people don’t like to wake up early. We made it to Tallahassee in record time. Our hotel room wasn’t ready until more than six hours later, so we bided our time walking a verdant nature trail, stuffing ourselves at a local diner and playing at an expansive park with fellow “evacuees.”

The next day, the storm track looked ominous. The models showed it shifting west with the eye wall going directly over our small historic town as a Category 4 or worse. At that point, I wanted to cry, not just for us but also for the entire town. I was worried for those who decided to stay and ride out the storm, worried for everyone’s homes and worried that our quaint historical island would be wiped off the map. I fell asleep not knowing what would face us on The Weather Channel the next day.

Promising news beamed in with the sun on Friday. The storm had shifted east, and our town would be spared the eye wall. I’m no meteorologist, but this meant less wind speed and less chance of total devastation. That evening, while the hurricane whipped through Northeast Florida, we attended a friend’s hurricane party, held at her in-laws’ sprawling property. Her mother-in-law had gone all out with homemade salads, a variety of chips and dip, pizza and drinks galore.

As we chatted with new friends, improbably brought together by an unlikely storm, our children played exuberantly on an oversized, outdoor hammock, erupting in laughter each time they tumbled off together onto the soft ground. The kids danced around each other, blowing bubbles and playing hide and seek among the protective trees. The end of the evening was capped off by glow in the dark bands the little ones wore on their necks and limbs as they twirled in the dark. I didn’t know what was happening to our house, but I knew I was happy, and that we had everything we needed. Most of all, I felt grateful and content.

We traveled home Saturday and were amazed that our house was largely unscathed by the storm. Others around us weren’t so lucky, and those in places like Haiti face yet another devastating recovery. I’m not sure why our small town was spared, but through this experience, I realized that we have very little control over nature or even our own lives, at times. I learned that if I had to walk away from my house and give it all up, I think that I could. And also, I plan on investing in some good storm shutters for next hurricane season.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

One Mom’s Return to the Work Force

By: Aimee Tafreshi

ID-100338823Like many moms today, I worked a full-time job when I gave birth to my first child. I remember how hard it was to leave my baby after my 12 weeks of maternity leave were up—a generous policy compared to many work places, yet meager compared to other parts of the world. I blinked back tears as I commuted to my office and felt a huge part of me left behind at home.

I also remember the day I packed up my office for the last time, a few weeks before my little girl’s second birthday. I would miss looking out my wall of windows to behold the Capitol and downtown Austin—I doubted I would ever score such a view again—but I looked forward to my freedom and more time with my growing toddler.

Back then, I was a single mom, sharing custody with my child’s father. I saw my daughter for two hours each weeknight after work and every other weekend. She lived with me, but the practice of law is a jealous mistress. The rest of her time was spent with my devoted, Spanish-speaking nanny or my child’s father. It was probably these circumstances that led me to walk away from the work force at the time, but only after I was engaged to someone able to provide financial support. Single parents have the first and foremost priority of providing a roof over a child’s head, food and health insurance; everything else is secondary.

Fast forward six years later, and I’m a mom of three, happily married and enjoying life as a freelance writer and Zumba instructor. And then life dealt me a broken foot, so teaching the latest Latin moves was out of the question. As I clomped around in my boot, I pondered my next move. I loved my free time with my kids, but in the back of my head I always wondered if I would return to the work force. I knew the longer I stayed out, the harder it would be to return. The corporate world could understand some time off to raise children—women seem to be given this latitude more than men—but how long of an absence was acceptable? Five years? Ten years? Six years had elapsed since my time at a law firm, and I decided it was time to dabble my feet in the water again.

While sidelined, I reactivated my bar license and had fun watching continuing legal education videos about white-collar crime. This may sound fairly boring, but as far as the law is concerned, this is exciting and interesting stuff. I spent a week’s worth of time applying for a few prosecutor positions with the Department of Justice. They happened to be hiring in a nearby big city, and those opportunities don’t pop up everyday. I have no prosecutorial experience, but being in the courtroom going after bad guys has always been a dream of mine. Of course, it may not be the job most compatible with balancing motherhood, but I would worry about those details later.

Fast forward a few months, and the feds hadn’t called yet. As I mentally prepared for my foot surgery, I periodically checked out the online job listings to see if anything fit my requirements and vice versa. Most legal jobs here are out of the question because I am not licensed to practice law in Florida, and there’s no way in heck I’m sitting for another bar exam. One day I saw a listing for a part-time job where I actually understood most of the responsibilities and seemed to meet their hiring criteria. I quickly shot them my resume and a hastily written cover letter, as I didn’t want to waste multiple hours on an application only to hear crickets in response. My surgery was coming up soon, but I figured it would be months until I’d hear a response; after all, the job posting was brand new.

Lo and behold, I received an email requesting a telephone interview. I was floored and realized I hadn’t interviewed for a job since 2006. The timing was interesting. I was scheduled to have surgery the very next day. After much thought, I brilliantly (or stupidly) set up the interview for the following morning, hours before my surgery. I didn’t want to risk fielding questions while under the influence of post-surgery pain meds. I would go through an interview sans caffeine (or anything), as I was about to undergo general anesthesia. I’ve never experienced a job interview without adequate hydration or caffeine coursing through my veins. I told myself this was all mental and that I could do it. I was so nervous about the interview that the impending procedure became an afterthought.

The phone call seemed to go okay. I didn’t really think the interviewer was too impressed, and I figured I did not get the position. To my surprise, I received a job offer at the end of the week, as I floated around in my post-surgery stupor, non-weight-bearing for nearly one month. I was excited but also very scared. I was returning to the world of deadlines, responsibility beyond my family and the billable hour.

Two months into the job, and it is the perfect fit for my life. I work remotely and bill about 30 hours per week. The company is flexible and doesn’t micromanage my time. I can go to work in pajamas with greasy hair and don’t have a commute. The hardest part is the aspect I struggled with years ago—mommy guilt. When I got the gig, we scrambled and had to put all of the kids in full-time care, not an easy feat at times during the summer. Luckily, there were a few day camp options, and my youngest son’s school goes year round and caters to working parents.

A part of me felt guilty at first. As my foot healed and I regained my ability to walk, and could finally fit my deflating big foot in flip-flops, I wondered, shouldn’t I be hauling the kids every day to some cool summer location, like the beach, pool, or the museum? I know the days are long and the years are short, and I don’t take a day for granted with them. But then I thought back to my days as a single, working mother, and I remembered what I did back then to cope.

When I came home from work, I completely switched into “at home” mode. My attention was on my daughter for those two hours before her bedtime. My nanny tried to bathe her but I insisted on having that duty, as I needed every minute with her. I treasured reading to her each night as we rocked. I remember waking up most Saturday mornings to attend a parent and me music class, as we often rushed home afterwards so her father could pick her up for his time.

When you work, you don’t necessarily miss out. You just have to become more present when you are with your kids. Ask them about their day, look them in the eyes, engage them in conversation, put down your phone. For working parents, most of these things are no-brainers because you can’t wait to see your little ones at the end of each day. You are tired, but you find that extra reserve of energy and enthusiasm to share with your greatest work in life: your children.

You also become a weekend warrior. When you have a blank canvas of a week in front of you, Saturday and Sunday don’t seem as crucial to fill with meaningful time. As a family, I feel like we have really lived life lately. We’ve been to the beach, the pool, the zoo, church, brunch, the movies . . . we are exhausted come Sunday evening, and sometimes the solitude on Monday morning after the kids are dropped off is a welcome one.

Whether you work outside of the home, at home or stay at home with your little ones, I can say there is no easy path. You can only choose the best option for your family, and make the most of your precious time together.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.