Meg Zaletel and her husband Zach were this close to not being able to participate in a Living With Kids tour: they didn’t want kids! Luckily for them both, they changed their minds and Zelda came into their lives. Theirs is a lovely, lovely story, and I found myself re-reading sections of this interview more than once. There’s a lot to take in, from wild paint colors and Alaskan decor to an incredibly generous look at open adoptions and a wonderful philosophy on decorating with Zelda in mind from the very beginning. It’s just nice, all of it. I know it will make your day better. My dear Readers, I’m pleased to introduce to you my new Anchorage friends! Enjoy the tour.
Q: Tell us how you turned this house into your home.
A: My husband, Zach, and I were comfortably renting and not really looking to buy, but he went to an estate sale at this house and later we learned it was for sale. We stomped through many feet of snow to peek in all of the windows to get a closer look, and learned that the house was really perfect for us.
Our home purchase was quick; only about two months after we made an inquiry. This was my first home purchase and it was a very smooth and easy experience. By the end of our first night in our home I had the living room, bedroom, and kitchen all set up. Of course, the purchase of a home together often leads to other things. Within six months my husband and I were getting married after many years together and having our wedding reception in the backyard. Really, there’s no better house warming than that!
It is pre-earthquake (the big 1964 Alaska earthquake) which is old for Anchorage. Alaska is a young state that had to rebuild after that catastrophic event. Coming from the midwest where we were used to older homes and buildings, having a home with some history was important to us. The house also backs up to a lovely creek and our street dead ends into the trail system, which we learned attracts quite the variety of wildlife. We’ve seen bald eagles flying overhead, have moose munching the bushes in our yard, and bears checking out what’s in our backyard along the creek.
As we started to remodel the house and make it our home, we found lots of memories of the prior family, like old height charts and notes on the walls under the wallpaper once we removed it. At the time we weren’t planning on a family, but now that we have a daughter, Zelda, it’s great to know that a family was raised here and we’re doing that again in the same home.
When we pull up to this house, we know we are home.
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: We love Alaska. The natural beauty is indescribable. Also we’ve both been very fortunate to get to travel around the state to see places that a lot of people never get to visit. Anchorage is a nice city that values the outdoors. There is an extensive trail system and lots of green space within the city. As professionals – Zach’s a chemical engineer and I’m an attorney – Alaska has provided us both with great opportunities to advance our careers and make impacts in our respective fields.
Raising our daughter in Anchorage is also wonderful. Anchorage is a very diverse town with lots of different types of families, and has been very accepting and welcoming to our family. We have been very fortunate to build a family of friends in Anchorage that have been supportive and welcoming of our daughter. Since our families are still in the lower 48, it’s nice that our Alaska family has lots of kids! We have had lots of support locally as we started our family.
Q: Can you tell us the story of how Zelda came to be yours?
A: Zelda is adopted. When I met my husband, the plan was not to have children. After watching our friends have kids and seeing my husband around their children, it’s fair to say he was baby crazy! Once our close friends completed a successful adoption, we talked it over again. I never had a desire to be pregnant, so adoption made sense for us.
In all, our adoption process took about nine months. It was a pretty smooth process. We had some disappointments when we asked to be considered for a baby and weren’t chosen, but as soon as we made other plans and bought tickets for a holiday in France, we were matched with our birth family!
I can’t speak highly enough of our family situation. We have an open adoption where we met our birth family a little over a month before Zelda was born. Our birth mom summed it up wonderfully during that very first meeting: we are all just an extended family. We were fortunate to get to go to some of the last prenatal doctor’s appointments with our birth mom, and we were in the delivery room when Zelda was born. As time has passed we continue to keep in contact with our birth family, including using Skype to video chat, and in-person visits. Zelda will never have a shortage of family between Zach’s family and mine, our Alaska family, and our birth family.
I love that Zelda will grow up knowing not only that she’s well loved, but that families can be constructed in all sorts of ways by any group of people that love each other.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? In what ways did it change when you added your daughter to the mix?
A: Ideally, I always think I’d love an ultra modern and sleek house. But in reality, I’m glad I don’t have that. As I look around our home it’s certainly eclectic and versatile, but meaningful. I like to rearrange, and most of our decor works in any room. Often my husband will go to work with the furniture in one location and come home to a completely different arrangement, or go to find something only to learn it now lives somewhere else in the house. If he goes out of town for work, there’s a 50/50 chance the wall colors in a room may have changed!
My husband and I both like mid-century furnishings, and we’ve been lucky to find a few pieces here in Anchorage. Since we moved up with only a few pieces of furniture – my husband’s grandparents’ dressers, a bookcase he built, and a small hutch – we mainly get what we can find secondhand. So far Craigslist, thrift stores, and estate sales have been good to us. We have been able to maintain a fairly open and light environment through secondhand acquisitions. Also we’ve inherited some items from both our grandparents, which we feel should be out and used as they would want. We also try to incorporate some Alaskan art as well; we have a few pieces which we cherish as living here in Alaska has comprised most of our life together.
Q: Do you consciously decorate a room with Zelda in mind?
A: When Zelda first joined our family, the only space that truly reflected her addition to our family was her room. But quickly that didn’t feel right even when she was only tiny baby. I quickly added baskets of books, a bouncy chair, and pictures went up within the first month. Since then we haven’t looked back. I consciously decorate with her in mind. I want to create an accessible, fun, and colorful home for her.
When she’s older, she’ll either think she had a really fun house or that I had terrible taste…or a little of both!
We have items for her to play with in every room of the house, except our bedroom which I try to keep for us. We keep items within Zelda’s reach and make sure we have items that are sized just for her, like a chair in the living room or her crib-turned-desk in our family room. We’ve found that by making each room accessible to her she unexpectedly does things – like set the table or help pick up books or toys – imitating what we do without any explicit instruction.
The same goes for plants. With Alaska’s long winters, we have a lot of plants in the house to help make it bearable. Zelda has her own plant in her kitchen that she takes care of. Giving her a plant of her own has taught her to be gentle with the rest of the house plants.
Since we live some distance from her relatives, we also keep a picture wall of family and friends so that Zelda can see her family all the time. Before a family member comes to visit or we go to visit, I try to make sure that their picture is there and up to date to help her be comfortable as it may have been months since she last saw them.
Q: You seem to travel a lot!
A: I never travelled much outside of seeing family when I was a kid. Zach travelled more. Once we were in Alaska and it takes as much time to get back to the midwest as it does to Europe or Taiwan…well, it just doesn’t seem like an onerous process anymore. If you have to fly ten hours to get some place and it costs hundreds of dollars, that’s just the way it is! We might as well make the most of it.
We travelled a lot before Zelda was born and that hasn’t stopped since. We had to fly with her when she was only two weeks old to bring her home to Alaska. Those were her first two flights. By now I think she’s had about 40 different flights under her belt. She went to France for her first birthday to have that trip we cancelled when she was born, Hawaii this past fall, and recently we went to Belize. Of course there’s been many trips to the lower 48 as well.
Our family is conspicuous when we are out and about and it’s been interesting to see how people react to us in different locations and in different cultures. So far, I think our experiences have been positive. I am learning that other cultures are certainly more blunt than others on personal matters. While I am always taken aback at first, I appreciate the honesty and sincerity of people’s interest in how our family came to be.
Q: What is your favorite room in the house to spend time with your family?
A: Our favorite room to hang as a family is probably Zelda’s room. It’s so much fun. It’s colorful, full of toys, which I find we enjoying playing with as much as she does, and gets the best light in the house. Zelda switched from a crib to a bed fairly early, just after turning one, and that’s really opened her space up to more play. Also having her in a bed is cozy, whether it’s tickle attacks or snuggling in and reading books with her.
Q: What do you hope your decor choices and the items that surround your family are teaching your daughter about you and her someday ideas about family and about herself?
A: What we fill our home with should have meaning, but nothing in our home is more sacred than the people we share it with. While we’d be disappointed if Grandma’s cookie jar broke, it’s ok. We used it and appreciated it until it broke. And while it can’t be replaced per se, we can find something else to hold the chocolate bars (which is what we use our cookie jar for!). Mom or dad or daughter or guest who broke it can’t be replaced and are much more important.
Also that home should be fun. It’s ok to paint the walls or kitchen cabinets crazy colors, or keep repainting them until we find what works for us. The process of building our home and finding items to put in it should be fun and reflect who we are as a family.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What surprised you the most about kids and about being a mother? What do you already miss?
A: My absolute favorite part about being Zelda’s mom is getting to see her grow into a little person. It’s amazing. I was never around kids much before becoming a mom, so I find everything she does absolutely amazing and astonishing. I never knew you could ask this little person to pick something up and she’d actually listen and do it. Also, it’s incredible how much she can communicate and she barely talks! Or that she went from her first steps to running in what seems like a matter of seconds. Wow!
What I already miss is the baby stage. Those first 12 months. Everyone said it would go by so quickly, but at the time I felt like the days were long and sometimes unending. I didn’t realize that adjusting from working full time and being so career centered to becoming a mom would be so abrupt. That coupled with feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out how to be a mom…I don’t think I took enough time to enjoy what was happening. Knowing that, I’m savoring all of it now.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
That being a mom would be so fulfilling. I was happy before becoming a mom and I thought my life was complete with a wonderful husband and successful career, but now I can easily say I was wrong. Actually, others might have picked up on my need to nurture when we got a third dog and chickens, but I was so adverse to the idea of having kids that I’m glad we reconsidered and found what worked for us to have a family.
Someone told me while we were waiting to be matched with a birth family that when it happens, it will happen for a reason and be the right match. At the time I thought it was just another way of saying be patient, but it’s absolutely true. Our family is exactly as it’s supposed to be.
Oh, Meg. You’ve inspired me today. And I hope what I really want to tell you reads the way I mean to say it in my head and heart: Even though you didn’t know it, you were born to be a mother. And I, for one, am pleased that Zelda found her way to you.
Friends, I had to laugh at how Meg described her family as “conspicuous” when they are out and about, with strangers reacting bluntly sometimes. It has happened to us, too! How do you explain families that may not look like your own to your kids? They always seem to spot something new-to-them first and point it out, often loudly, before you can handle it, right? I’d love to hear your own methods of handling diversity on the fly!