Escaping with ‘Running Away to Home’

Running Away to HomeWhen it became apparent that we were all going to be settling in for the long haul during COVID-19, I immediately looked for an escape.

Not a literal escape because, you know: quarantine. But definitely a bookish one.

With my kids increasingly tolerant of Mom’s reading time, I’ve been able to devour quite a few stories recently. Jennifer Wilson’s Running Away to Home: My Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters is easily my favorite of the lot — the most engaging and delightful book I’ve read in ages.

It certainly helps that I relate deeply to Jennifer: writer, wife, and mom to two young kids — a son and daughter — who, along with her husband Jim, realized that the rat-race life in suburbia was leading to stuff, but little satisfaction. Or happiness.

Armed with the limited knowledge Jennifer has of her great-grandparents, who immigrated from a small village called Mrkopalj, the Wilson-Hoff family leaves Iowa to spend four months in a town of 800 people — where everyone knows everyone, the homemade alcohol is freely flowing, and lessons about abundance, scarcity, and friendship are abundant.

I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I cracked the cover … even if it took me eight years to get to this point. After finishing Running Away to Home yesterday, I immediately clicked over to send a quarantine copy to my mom, who identifies strongly with our Polish roots. Poland isn’t Croatia, but there were so many similarities in the stories (and recipes!) shared by Jennifer, I knew Mom would love this tale of roots and wings.

That’s when I saw the helpful “You’ve purchased this before!”-style note on Amazon. When I ordered it? Dec. 16, 2012, the day Spencer proposed. I purchased Wilson’s memoir along with a copy of The Wedding Book! (In a world before Amazon Prime, gotta get that $25 free ship.) Seven-plus years later, it finally called loudly enough to me from my bookshelf. If it’s any indication of how the past few years have gone, this memoir was perched next to Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction (helpful book, by the way).

So. Right. Running Away to Home found me at a good time.

A4B61D47-ACEC-4E9D-9D58-5E612AAA2AEDIt’s hard to put into words just why I loved it so much. Certainly tons of credit goes to Wilson’s funny, warm, astute and tight writing, which drew me in immediately and never let go. Beyond Jennifer, Jim, and young Sam and Zadie, the cast of characters in Mrkopalj — particularly Robert, their landlord/bartender/friend — were endearing and unforgettable. Everyone had so much personality … because, well, I’m sure, they do have so much personality.

When Jennifer is able to connect with lost relatives who still live nearby, I was taken back to my own long afternoons in the sitting rooms of elderly relatives in Pennsylvania, where my own grandparents grew up. We made these pilgrimages every summer, around the time of my great-grandmother’s birthday, playing nearby as the adults reminisced over meals in family-favorite restaurants.

The world Jennifer draws is at once familiar and foreign. It was impossible not to imagine my own great-great-grandparents making the decisions that led to their voyage to America (from Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Poland, sayeth 23andMe).

Running Away to Home is full of revelations about family — the ones who made us, and the one we create ourselves — without ever becoming preachy, condescending, or eyeroll-inducing. Jennifer and Jim wanted to connect with their children, with the land, with others, with each other … and they did, often in ways they did not expect.

Finishing Wilson’s book definitely had me eager to:

a) Learn to officially make my grandmother’s cabbage rolls,
b) Start a garden and grow my own herbs, and
c) Plan a post-COVID vacation to explore my roots abroad.

Recommend highly to readers who are…

  • Fans of memoirs and family sagas
  • Interested in ancestry/genealogy
  • Looking to travel without leaving the couch
  • Like entertaining stories with heart, and no tragedy

In short, what I mean to say is … I loved itAnd eight years after its initial publication, it totally holds up.

Get it for your Kindle. Grab it on audio. Borrow it from your library. I don’t care how you get here, just … get here if you can.

5/5

#COVIDCut: An anxious wife, a helpful husband, and the bob that brought them together.

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With non-essential businesses shuttered in Maryland for the foreseeable future, some of us are taking matters into our own hands.

Matters of hair, anyway.

In the scheme of the COVID-19 crisis, being unable to get a trim is certainly small potatoes. Like most of us, I’ve been more concerned with finding toilet paper and bananas than any matter of grooming. (Don’t even get me started on trying to find “PAW Patrol” mac-and-cheese cups for my picky children.)

Generally speaking, I’m pretty low-maintenance. Though I’ve considered coloring my hair many times, I haven’t bitten the bullet yet to cover up the grays. My nails are plain, unadorned. I get an occasional pedicure, but that’s an easy one to go without.

When I decide I need a haircut, though, I need a haircut. Do not pass go. Do not ignore the need to chop.

That’s been my M.O. throughout adulthood: let it grow until it annoys me, then go in for the chop. My wavy, frizzy locks recently extended well past my shoulders. I’ve often thought about combing out my hair and trimming it myself. How hard could it be? Save myself $40. Be done with it.

My sincere apologies to the stylists of the world.

Last Saturday, I woke up with that itchy I need my hair cut feeling. I could have ignored it; this is a time of sacrifice, after all. I haven’t seen my family in six weeks. I “met” my sister’s new baby through FaceTime. I submit to a daily temperature check and wear a mask all day at my hospital P.R. job. I’ve been walking around with a pit of dread in my stomach since early March, worrying that I’m risking my health and that of my family each time I leave for said job. And I can’t even freakin’ wander the aisles of Target to relax.

So I wanted my hair cut. I just did.

With apologies for the sappiness, my husband is something of a renaissance man. There isn’t much he can’t do when he focuses on it and studies up. Of course, these tasks are usually in the realm of building custom-made flag boxes, repairing busted pipes, or solving the mysteries of life and the universe as a physicist . . . still.

I first floated the idea like a joke. “What would you think if I asked you to cut my hair?” I asked.

Spencer’s eyes widened.

“Just a trim,” I added. “Nothing complicated. I just really, really want it cut.”

I’ve asked a lot of the man over the years. Perhaps I’d now asked too much.

Still, I wanted the idea to percolate. I went to take a shower.

Twenty minutes later, I combed out my messy locks and eyed myself in the mirror. Yes, it was time.

I texted my husband from upstairs. Calling down would have alerted our children to my presence. They would immediately run in and paw through my cosmetics, inadvertently snapping jewelry and scattering beads like confetti. The kids don’t mean to be destructive, exactly, but they’re … busy. Creative. Relentless. Five-year-old Oliver, in particular, is the very definition of bull in a china closet.

Sooo what do you think about cutting my hair? I texted. Is that crazy?

My husband had apparently been downstairs looking up at-home haircut tutorials on YouTube. He found one of an adorable curly-haired woman who made it look easy-peasy.

I think I can, he wrote.

Dripping with confidence, then, Spence and the kids piled upstairs.

I started to chicken out when my husband grabbed the scissors usually reserved for his beard-trimming. I can’t say they were particularly sharp. Spence pulled up the YouTube video for me. It did look fairly simple … when someone else was doing it, anyway.

“Is this a good idea?” I asked, grimacing.

Spence shrugged. “It’s totally up to you. I mean, I’m willing to try it.”

“But do you feel good about it?” I pressed.

He gave me a look.

Well. We’d made it that far.

I offered my one piece of advice — fateful advice, as it turned out: just not too short.

We worked on getting my now half-dry hair damp with a spray bottle. Hadley and Oliver sprinted into our closet — usually an off-limits zone — to begin wreaking havoc. I sat on the edge of the bathtub with my back to my husband, who tentatively combed out my wild waves.

In hindsight, I really wasn’t nervous — and I probably should have been. The man is just so calm in a crisis, you know? I have never doubted that Spencer could build, repair, or transform his way out of any challenge.

But can he cut hair?

“Just a trim,” I said, over and over — an incantation, a prayer. “Just a trim. Don’t go crazy.”

How bad could it be?

I tilted my head forward, just as my longtime hairdresser would have instructed at my first cut-and-style at Nancy’s Beauty Shop circa 1994. I dug deep into my limited knowledge — reminding Spence to work in sections, checking to see if it was even.

The one thing I failed to mention? The critical information that my husband, having never cut hair before, had no way of knowing? Wavy hair shrinks as it dries.

As the snip, snip, snip of the scissors began in earnest, I did feel lighter. My hair is heavy and constantly in my face. When I’m busy or stressed, pulling my hair up is my first act to regain control. As it’s been growing, I’ve found myself depending more and more on the ol’ mom bun to just get it out of my eyes.

I couldn’t see anything while Spencer was working. If I had, I would have noticed one child strutting around naked in my boots (wha?), and the other buttoned up in about 10 dress shirts with a necklace as a belt. Hangers were tossed with abandon, along with my tops and sweaters. I peeked out a few times just to see a cackling kid striking a pose, walking foal-like in high heels. They fought. The hollering was deafening, as usual.

Through this chaos, Spence kept his focus. He was done within minutes. “Don’t look yet,” he cautioned, brushing hair off my back. “Let me just … ”

With eager fingers, I reached up to touch my hair.

And … there was none.

Well, OK — that’s clearly not true. There was some hair. But my “just a trim”? “Shoulder-length”?

I had a bob.

have a bob.

Fighting the panic that was causing me to nervous-chuckle, I kept a smile on my face. Though I shouldn’t have been, maybe, I was truly shocked. My hair was in dark piles all over the bathroom floor. I hadn’t gone for a chop this severe since I went for the standard I’m-going-to-be-a-mom utilitarian cut shortly before my first child was born. I barely recognized myself.

When the kids rounded the corner again (still nude, in one case), they literally froze. “Mommy!” Hadley shrieked, again and again. “Your hair! Look at your hair!

“Don’t worry — I’ll share growth potion,” offered Ollie, referring to a “salon” app on his tablet that lets you try new looks … with hilarious results.

Like mine, apparently.

“It’s OK, guys. I like it!” I chirped, meeting my frightened husband’s eyes in the mirror. “It’s … different! I feel lighter. It’s good! It’s all good.”

Spencer looked genuinely scared.

“It’s fine!” I soothed, now feeling badly that I’d put him in that position. “Really. I like it. I just … not too short, I said.”

“I didn’t think I was cutting it short! I was using your shoulders as a guide … or the base of your neck. What … happened? It was so much longer wet.”

Right.

“Curly hair shrinks,” I added weakly. “I thought you … I didn’t realize you didn’t know that. I guess it’s just something I’ve never not known, and I’ve never had to explain it before.”

I thought Spence was going to puke.

“Guess I missed that part in cosmetology school,” he joked.

As the day went on, it seemed to get shorter. I kept catching a glimpse of myself and remembering all over again.

I loved the way it felt, but not necessarily the way it looked. Much of that has to do with my own longtime hang-ups about my face looking plumper with short hair — more of an emphasis on full cheeks, a full chin.

But I’ve worked hard to get past that nonsense. And you know what? Hair grows.

At a time when everyone is beginning to rock luscious locks and turning to DIY hair color, I thought about warning my coworkers before I strolled in Monday morning. The change was … dramatic. And since I was still trying to accept it myself, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give everyone a heads-up.

I forgot, though — until I walked in to find my boss at her desk early the next day. She looked up and gasped.

“Your hair!”

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I’ve heard that quite a bit this week. And I’ve told this story, in part, quite a bit this week.

I’m calling it my #COVIDCut. Or #CoronaCut. I’m not alone.

A friend said I look like a flapper, and I dug that — whether or not it’s even half true.

The Roaring Twenties … 2020s version.

Well, the decade certainly is off to a memorable start.

Free throws in quarantine

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I’ve always called myself unathletic. The word rolls off my tongue, always ready — issued like a warning. The judgment of others means less when you’re judging yourself. Don’t expect too much of me, unathletic says.

Growing up, I was the kid who faked a headache to get out of volleyball. I warmed the bleachers like a full-time job. I jumped rope sometimes, if I had to; I played scooter hockey. I do remember being strangely good at jumping hurdles in middle school, but never attempted it again. Maybe I threw a discus well once, too?

Aside from the awkwardness of changing into school-issued T-shirts and shorts in front of classmates (seriously — does anyone ever escape that shame?), I didn’t dislike gym class. But I had it in my head that I was garbage at anything that required moving my body in a particular way, including dancing, and I’m nothing if not stubborn. I never gave myself a chance to enjoy playing games.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently discovered how much I like … basketball. “Basketball,” I mean; we’re not exactly talking regulation sports here. Our hoop is way too low. Most of the backboard is missing, with the last shards recently snapped loose in a windstorm. And up until a month ago, our single basketball had a slow leak.

Quarantine changes things.

How are you doing in self-isolation? I mean, we’re all cleaning. If Instagram is any barometer, lots of folks have also started baking from scratch; others are teaching themselves to knit, draw, or sew masks. Most parents seem too focused on gripping tightly to their sanity to take up a new hobby, because … you know. Kids. Kids all the time. Kids with no distractions. Kids who are just as stir-crazy and confused as we are.

Definitely not learning needlepoint over here.

Basketball? Basketball is different. When Spence and I were house-hunting, the hoop cemented next to our driveway was hard to miss. For a while, avoiding it with my vehicle was the extent of my relationship with it. But after Ollie arrived, someone — my dad? my sister? — decided the kid needed a basketball. We goofed around with it sometimes, but my kids have always been more interested in “playing tornado” and spinning until someone falls or pukes, so.

But getting outside has been a major part of our routine during COVID-19. While I continue physically reporting to work, my husband has handled the brunt of childcare responsibilities while also working full-time. When I get home, he desperately needs a break. The kids need fresh air. I need to clear my head. Feel some sun on my arms. Remember we’re alive and this too shall pass, etc. etc.

Grab the ball and go.

As the daughter of a sportswriter, I’m surprised by how much sports knowledge I actually have pinging around. On the rare occasions when I have a need or desire to dig it out, terms like dribble and lay-up are conjured up from nowhere. I guide our son to our makeshift free throw line in pink chalk. My husband lifts our daughter high, cheering as she dunks.

I’m five-foot-two and winded by a single trot up the steps. But I feel silly, happy and free when I’m outside with the kids, taking shot after shot in the sunshine. I’ve come to look forward to it.

Most of my attempts sail straight through the spot where the backboard should be, rolling toward the woods behind the house. Others hit the rim and come flying back at my face. But every now and then? I make it. Swish. So satisfying.

“You did it, Mommy!” Ollie will yell. “And the world goes wiiiiiiiild!”

The world has gone wild, my friend.

Still, we play on.

 

Have myself a home life

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I think I’m gonna stay home, have myself a home life
Sitting in the slow-mo, and listening to the daylight …
—John Mayer, “Home Life”

Today was the sort of picture-perfect early spring afternoon — cool in the shade; warm and resplendent in the sun — that makes it easy to forget anything scary is happening in the world.

And that’s a good thing.

Now roughly two weeks into the craziness of COVID-19, I finally feel like I’m not waking up daily with a pit in my stomach. Since I rely on books and articles to make sense of nearly everything in life, Scott Berinato’s piece “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief” landed just right with me. This passage, especially:

There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

For us, proceeding has meant developing new routines. While I’m still reporting to the hospital for my work in marketing and communications, dispatching daily COVID updates, my husband is working remotely for the foreseeable future. Schools and daycare are closed by order of the governor. We can’t ask friends or family to help with the kids, given we’re all self-isolating.

We’ve had to find a way.

I’m really proud of Spence. Were the cards flipped and I was the one home with a 3- and 4-year-old while trying to work full-time, do you know how that would work out? … It wouldn’t. I mean, seriously. I’m high-strung on a normal day, let alone when my children morph into banshees the moment I go to take a critical phone call.

My husband has been handling this development with patience and grace. The kids seem happy and busy, rediscovering toys long-buried in bins around the house and getting outside as much as they can. I’ve adjusted my time so I’m coming home mid-afternoon, and I love having those extra hours of daylight to spend with them before the bustle of dinnertime.

If I weren’t donning a surgical mask the moment I reach my office, I’d say it’s almost peaceful.

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While part of me recognizes that we’re likely in the eye of the hurricane with the strongest winds yet to blow, I’m learning to focus on the here and now — a lifelong struggle, and one that’s all the more important when the future seems so unknown. I miss my family. The kids miss their friends. It’s still weird and surreal. But I’m reaching “acceptance,” because we’re in this for the long haul.

Searching for the positive in this strange situation, I’ve come up with plenty of unexpected gifts brought on by a pandemic. Of course I continue to worry for everyone’s health — that’s a given. But as we all practice social distancing and stay home save trips to work or the grocery store, there have been lots of glimmers to appreciate:

  • We’re eating at home. Save a few carry-out meals to support our local restaurants, breakfast, lunch and dinner have been served up right from our stove. I’m taking leftovers to work. We’re getting creative with what’s in our pantry and fridge, since we’re trying to shop as little as possible. Also, Spence busted out a crepe pan this morning. A crepe pan. When have we ever made the time or gone to the trouble to use that thing?
  • The kids are bonding. Hadley and Oliver haven’t spent this much uninterrupted time together since my second maternity leave — and, you know, I don’t think either was much aware of the other’s presence at that point. They still squabble, but they’re getting along remarkably well. They only have each other (and us), after all. I see them using their imaginations and helping each other, which is heart-swelling.
  • I’m caught up on laundry. Like: really caught up.
  • I’ve been reading. Because we’re spending so much time at home, the kids are used to hanging out more and playing by themselves. I’m totally enthralled with Brantley Hargrove’s The Man Who Caught the Storm right now. The man is #goals, y’all — his writing is insane.
  • The community is coming together. There have been so many offers of help and rallying of the troops, which is so reassuring. I just hope we keep that spirit alive if the days get harder … and when they get easier, too.

Happy Sunday, friends. ❤

 

We can make it if we take it slow

Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy. Easy now, watch it go
—The Killers, “When You Were Young”

As we all grapple with a new reality (and isolation — ’cause social distancing), I’ve been trying to manage my anxiety with … chocolate? Well, yes. But that’s not ideal. With reading. Breathing. Walking outside. Writing. If I thought it would help, I would totally chew up a few extra anxiety pills.

Spring dayDaycare has closed. My work schedule has changed but there is still much to be done, which is also true for my husband. We are staying home as much as possible — especially challenging with a 3- and 4-year-old used to weekend adventures. Shenanigans in the park, at the very least. I’ve explained all this to Oliver as “many people are sick right now,” so schools, restaurants and stores are closed. So far, at least, they don’t seem to mind.

We haven’t seen my parents “in person” since Hadley’s birthday, now almost two weeks ago. I haven’t seen my sister, brother-in-law and niece in nearly as long. Their new baby is due in mid-April. After a week with us, my mother- and father-in-law departed for New York this morning. Like all of us, they’re not quite sure what they’ll find when they get there.

After more than 10 years, I wrote my final newspaper column today. I don’t think it’s actually occurred to me that it’s done. I haven’t had a chance to breathe or process … and haven’t wanted to, really. I’m worried that if I start to really think about how scary all this is, it’ll get ugly.

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Sometimes I’m OK. Sometimes I’m not. I try to just sit with that and accept it. There is no playbook right now.

Spencer created a daily schedule for all of us this morning (two adults trying to work from home — or checking in, at the very least; two kids who need structure). I think it’s helping. It’s giving me a sense of control, at least, and that’s nearly as important.

I’ve started a folder of screengrabs with positive thoughts, quotes, and ideas to remember when I get overwhelmed (which is often) — that’s helping, too. And I saw this T-shirt and legitimately laughed. I thought about when I was really in a bad place, mental health-wise, and I used to repeat my mantra — be here now — over and over again.

I can’t obsess about the future. Too much is unknown. But I can embrace this moment for all its imperfections, breathe, and be here now.

Here’s a small collection of stories and ideas that are keeping me from “losing heart and courage,” too.

What’s getting you through? Any great and hopeful links to share? I’m alllll ears.

Happy Monday, friends. ❤

 

Life in the time of corona

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What a week.

Has it only been a week?

Sort of. It’s really been longer. But only a week since what was once a distant, abstract concern sharpened into a serious concern that has dwarfed everyday life … making “everyday life” here in Maryland seem quaint.

It’s like a natural disaster is unfolding, only it’s a beautiful spring day. Like prepping for a blizzard, but without radar to monitor … and no obvious way to know when the danger will be over. At least after a hurricane, the sun can be counted on to guide us out of the gloom.

This is love and life in the time of COVID-19. Never have I felt so unsettled about what lies ahead. My human neighbors and I are all in the same boat. And I can’t distract myself or get away from it — not at home, certainly, where the kids are camped out. And not at work, where I’m still reporting to our hospital. The front of my office building has been turned into triage. Marketing, too, is needed on the front lines.

Even in my mid-thirties, I fight the urge in challenging times to run “home.” Back where my dad has a plan and a fridge full of food. Where my mom has crafts, People magazines, and a backlog of Hallmark movies on the DVR. Back where I am not in charge. Where I don’t need to worry about making the wrong decisions.

Despite the mounting concern and media frenzy, I’ve been trying to keep it together. For now, at least, I’m still needed and expected at work, and so is my husband. We have the relief of knowing the kids are taken care of, tucked at home while we wait to see what the rest of this surreal time brings.

When my mother- and father-in-law arrived, I thought I was going to cry.

“I can breathe now,” I told Spencer’s mom. “I feel like the grown-ups are here.”

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At home, I try to stay “normal.” We have been cleaning like crazy, finally cracking into some of the cleaning products we’ve had for ages because I keep dragging in more after forgetting we own them.

Though I don’t want pandemic anxiety seeping into the kids’ lives, there’s no way they aren’t picking up on it. Day care is still open but, with Spencer’s parents in town, we’re keeping them home in the name of social distancing. Hadley and Oliver are both old enough to understand the departure from routine; my son especially struggles with change. Still, with their grandparents visiting (thank god), Hadley and Oliver have company and novelty to distract them.

They have walks in the woods. Coloring books. Easter crafts. They have snacks and “Peppa Pig” and LEGO blocks for days. They have Play-Doh and puzzles. When desperate, they have tablets. And if I were home, too, I’d have my books.

Like parenthood, there’s a great lesson of life in the time of corona: so much is out of our control. Things that would have seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago — closing schools; shutting down restaurants and bars; postponing elections — have already happened. These are strange times, friends. 

I fluctuate between “everything will be fine!” and “wow this is bad,” and I’m learning to be OK with that. One day at a time. We can only stay calm, scrub up, and carry on. Give our phones a break. Pause the newscast.

No one knows what will happen, but we can hold on and help each other through a turbulent ride. So wherever you are and however you’re reading this, I’ve got a light on for you. For all of us.

May we see ourselves swiftly through to the other side.

There’s a reason IKEA sells ice cream at the exit.

IMG_4040Our marriage survived IKEA.

I say that half-jokingly, because … well. It’s is basically my version of a nightmare. Huge store, hordes of people, tons of decisions to make in a chaotic environment, maze-like twists with no clear exits … claustrophobia, thy name is IKEA.

I’m not at my best in those situations. The anxiety spikes until I’m snappy, hyper, eager to just … escape. Thankfully, my husband knows all about my quirks and has a high degree of tolerance for them.

Still, by the time we reached the check-out (for the second time … long story), I was definitely ready to eat my feelings. Magical IKEA ice cream, here I come!

I didn’t always feel this way. I, too, was young once. In my early twenties, I had a boyfriend with an apartment dangerously close to an IKEA. Many dates were spent admiring inexpensive art and furniture while wandering the cavernous store. Though we rarely purchased anything but dessert, it was fun to debate different pillows and wicker baskets (he was, I remember, quite anti-wicker).

I lived at home until I later married, so these trips were a glimpse into another world: one of furnishings and color, style and modernity. An adult world.

My boyfriend at the time lived in an inauspicious rental, just passing through; I was still in my childhood bedroom. We debated tables we’d never dine on, cups we’d never drink from, beds in which we’d never sleep. We were in transition, as we all seem to be at 20 or 22. Our relationship was always one of “someday,” though it took years for me to see it that way.

Almost decade later, I’m married to Spencer, handiest and kindest of souls, and we purchased our first home in 2014. I shook uncontrollably when we learned our house offer had been accepted, wondering if we’d made a huge mistake. Not because I didn’t love the place — I still do! — but … well, let’s just say adulthood caught up to me quickly. That level of commitment was terrifying.

I made a single trip to IKEA with friends after we closed on the house, suddenly feeling like I needed to Buy All the Things to prepare for this new phase of life. In the span of six months, I moved out of my childhood home, got married, and schlepped my earthly belongings to my husband’s condo. Then we bought a house and, after not moving at all for 25-plus years, I moved again.

I don’t remember buying much on that post-settlement IKEA run. I was then, as I am now, totally overwhelmed in that store. I’m a woman who buys mattresses on Amazon and has “PAW Patrol” mac and cheese shipped in bulk to her front door. Walking around an honest-to-goodness business is … exhausting.

But we needed to go. The cabinets my husband was after were available in-store — or very expensively online, or elsewhere. Like so little now thanks to our digital world, this required an in-person trip. Spence and I seized the opportunity to make it a “date,” and the kids hung back with my parents. We set off.

IMG_4023Walking the showrooms, I was transported through time — back imagining my life in this tidy world with its splashes of color. I could prepare tea in my black-and-white kitchen, then read comfortably in a velvet armchair. I could create an urban oasis with a bistro table and faux greenery wall. I could relax.

There were no tiny LEGO pieces scattered like confetti. No half-eaten yogurt pouches jammed in a couch cushion. No dirty socks balled up in every room of the house. 

On the rare moments my husband and I are shopping alone, we inevitably play a game: “What chaos would the kids be creating right now?” In the lighting area, for example, Ollie would be unboxing all the lightbulbs. Up in kitchens, Hadley would be scaling barstools and announcing herself as “the winner” from her sky-high perch. They would be obsessed with the giant staircase leading down to the marketplace. And I would be in a dead sweat, fretting.

Instead, Spence and I were sweaty just walking around. We came with a shopping list. Doing his research, Spence had a detailed plan for the cabinets he’s going to install in our basement. We’re creating a “project area” for the family — an eventual homework/craft spot for everyone to use without fear of getting paint on the carpet. (There is, in fact, no more carpet.)

The basement has basically been a dumping ground since we moved in almost six years ago. Spence has been really motivated to clean lately, and I ain’t stopping him. While I admire his energy, I … haven’t contributed much beyond picking paint colors.

IMG_4025I brought any strength I had to IKEA, though, and gave it my all. While Spence worked with an overwhelmed but eager young associate to track down everything needed for these cabinets, I wandered. And daydreamed. I snapped iPhone photos of armchairs and stools, rugs and planters, artwork and bowls. Tons of things we could then go find in the massive warehouse — practically a whole new house.

Thankfully, Spence caught me before I could do anything impulsive. After purchasing most everything online for years, taking me out to a physical store is dangerous. I have a mom van, after all — I know how to fill it.

But I behaved … or, more accurately, couldn’t get my thoughts together enough to commit to something even as benign as a new end table. The beautiful armchair, geometric rug and gorgeous valet stand will all have to wait. We did walk out with a trio of fake succulents and colorful snack bowls for the kids. (The bowls — and other kids’ tableware — are pretty great, actually.)

And, you know, we got the cabinets! Our trip was not in vain. Spence has been painting the basement and crafting a countertop to prepare for installation. I’m hoping to be able to write down there, too, when we get everything polished up. There are so few places to experience any semblance of quiet in our house … I’ll try anything.

So our IKEA run was successful. I enjoyed just walking around with my guy, though we were often inadvertently separated. And we did get home and realize yes, we had remembered to purchase handles for the cabinets … but accidentally grabbed two different finishes. 

Guess we’ll be going online after all.