Living With Kids: Jeanne Washburn
Part of the fun of the Living With Kids series is getting to meet different types of families from all over the world. I love when we hear a variety of stories — it makes us all better humans to know who our neighbors are. That’s why I’m so excited for you to meet Jeanne. She is a lawyer from Brooklyn who now lives in New Mexico. She and her husband are both in their second marriage and they have two beautiful daughters from China, who they adopted later in life than you might typically see. She’s got some really wonderful advice about parenting too. Welcome, Jeanne!
Hi! I’m Jeanne Washburn. Welcome to our crazy, quirky home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I live here with my husband, David, our two daughters, Lennon (16), Tess (12) and two indoor cats, Moon and Binx. We just celebrated 21 years of marriage and neither of us can figure out how that even happened. Second marriages for both, we finally got it right and never looked back.
I’m from New York. David is from New Mexico. Before I attended law school, the farthest west I’d been was Buffalo. We were born the same year and 2000 miles apart, yet when we met it was as if we had been neighbors. It could be from watching all the same TV shows or maybe, just maybe, we’re soul mates. I was an “old” law student – 40 when I sat for the Bar Exam. David was a paralegal in a legal services office in New Mexico. I had grant money and came for the summer to try out the law and to try on New Mexico. We instantly clicked. Like Magic. We’re both creative; I’m the artist, David is a musician.
I always wanted to be a wife and mother and own a home. I have always loved houses and as a kid I would design and build them from fallen tree limbs and cardboard boxes. My first husband wanted to be a lawyer. We lived in Brooklyn. I worked as a retail executive and he went to school. Years later, when I was in law school, I read a case that mirrored my life with him. It was shocking. I put him through school, helped him set up a law practice and then he left. “I can only relate to lawyers” was his reason for leaving.
I know this may sound like the storyline from “Legally Blonde,” but it was then I decided I would quit my job and go to law school. If he wanted a wife as a lawyer, I’d be a lawyer. Crazy, yes, but in my heart I knew that becoming a lawyer, with or without him, would put me on the road to achieving my forever dreams to be a wife, mother and own a home.
Our beautiful daughters are adopted from China. Two trips. 15,000 miles each. Hours of waiting. Thousands of dollars spent. They are the lights of our lives and make us a family. Lennon was adopted at 2. Quiet and determined. Fearless. A prima ballerina. Never sick, not even a sniffle, until last year a life-threatening, scary and very rare autoimmune disease hit her. We learned what it takes to be partners and come together as a family. She now wants to be a doctor.
Tess was adopted at 3. Organized, loving and silly. Serious and a strong rule-follower. A lefty who loves birthdays and celebrations and being part of a family. She might want to be a chef. She loves to cook. She can’t bear the thought of leaving home and going away to college. Let’s just get through 6th grade, I tell her.
We live in the North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a rural area within the city limits; bordered by the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande River. Our neighbors are sheep, horses and the local fire department. A 10 minute drive will get you to Downtown Albuquerque with courthouses, high rise buildings, train systems, the University of New Mexico, and the UNM Hospital trauma center. Close to downtown is the very touristy Old Town, an Air Force Base and an international airport. No one talks about the weather here because it is almost always sunny and dry. The kind of sunny with azure blue cloudless skies and a dry that causes skin cracks and crazy static electricity. The winter is cold. Summer is hot. Spring and fall are perfect. Everyone dresses in layers year-round; the classic Albuquerque outfit is shorts, sandals and a down jacket.
I would love to say I love Albuquerque because it is David’s home and it is the only home our girls know, but I don’t. I miss walking the streets of Brooklyn. I miss the ocean.
This is our first house purchase together. The financing forced us to have me buy the house as a single woman…literally on the day before our wedding. It was tiny; 1100 square feet, 3 bedrooms/1 bathroom, sitting on a half-acre. $98,000. Built in 1940, it had been a farm house. The original owner had livestock, including cattle. In our first remodel we discovered a love letter written in 1942 by a high school girl to the boy who lived here. The two had met at the New Mexico State Fair. In the letter, she congratulated him on being elected president of FFA; Future Farmers of America. She also talks about the boys from her class enlisting in the war and leaving the girls behind to handle the ranch work.
The original living room was too small to fit a couch. From hundreds of napkin sketches, I designed a house remodel adding 1000 square feet; a great room, second bath, bedroom, and a loft space master. The remodel also changed up the original house; 2 small bedrooms converted into 1 large one and the 3rd bedroom off the kitchen into a butler’s pantry. The great room has a wall of windows facing north. The great room ceiling soars to 24 feet. A steel fire escape-style staircase climbs to the Master. Windows up the stairs give you a snapshot of the mountains to the east. Wood floors are throughout, even in the bathroom, which in hindsight is not the best idea. The remodel cost $50,000. The contractor we hired had financial issues and needed to show his bank that he could successfully and financially securely complete a project. Ours was the one.
Housing prices are somewhat high in Albuquerque in comparison to the salaries here. There are plenty of ranchy, anywhere USA homes in neighborhoods; brick 3 bed/2 bath numbers. Quite ho hum. Downtown has homes built from 1870 to 1930. Interesting, but pricey. The university area has small cottages that now are often student housing. Across the river is the big housing boom. Large family homes with tiny prices. However, with only three access routes over the river, the morning and evening commutes are nightmares. But the housing prices are reasonable there on the West Side, even if there are no trees.
Our home sits in a real mix of styles area; tiny adobes cozy up to massively grand estates. Horses, sheep, llamas and even buffalo graze in yards. A water ditch system is used for irrigation. The famous Bosque filled with cottonwood trees along the river is here. We often bike to the river. It is quite lovely. Hollywood has discovered New Mexico for its weather and positive tax credits. Filming is constant, especially in downtown where I work. I often have a ring side seat to the action.
This house had some character, it was old, and the price for our budget was right. Carrying law school loans, the mortgage loan process was tough. We worked with a realtor and a mortgage leader who believed in us and got the job done to achieve my goal to own a home.
My favorite space in our home is the tiny dining nook just off the kitchen. An antique chandelier (an eBay win from Chicago) hangs above an ancient, heavy wooden church door table. The door, still wearing its rusted hardware, is from a church in Penasco, New Mexico. It is narrow and long; barely 20 inches wide but 8 feet long. It was gifted to me by my neighbors when I first moved to New Mexico. The table was designed with wobbly Cottonwood legs and totally unsafe to sit at, but a real Santa Fe-style art piece.
Now, new black metal hairpin legs give it a sturdy, Mid-Century vibe and there’s room for 4 wooden slat back chairs. No wobbles, no worries. The table sits at an angle jutting out from the corner of the space. A shell lamp filled to the brim with our collected Florida Gulf Coast shells sits at one end. We switch off from chandelier to lamp lighting. A great quiet homework spot when you don’t want to miss any of the home action.
Together, we share most of our meals here. Close together. For breakfast, talking of what the day will bring. For dinner, how the day fared. It is the gathering place for family meetings and celebrations. The chandelier is the decorating spot; sometimes with streamers, balloons or family photos hung from strings.
My goal in life was to be a wife and mother. The wife part I did twice. Being a mother was a longer process. David and I were both 45 when we married. Having a baby was a dangerous but doable undertaking. David has two adult children. He knew I always wanted to be a mom. So we tried. And then a family member suggested adoption – Why, do you know someone? Yes. Me. So we agreed and we entered the world of domestic/family adoption. We were in the delivery room. A red-haired, blue eyed baby girl. Perfect. We took her home and loved her for 6 months. And then her biological mom returned. She came in the backdoor, had coffee with us and then announced she never intended to do this. And she and the baby were gone.
It was in that moment that David suggested an international adoption. My college roommate had used an agency in New York and had only good things to say about the process and the result. We were off. I was finally a mom at 50 and loving every single moment.
With Lennon, the process from initial application to receiving the referral was 2 years. We traveled to China with 15 couples. I was asked to be the leader of the group. The agency was handling 2 groups per month. All for baby girls. Lennon, at 2, was the oldest child in the group.
With Tess, from initial application, with the same agency, to referral was 4 years. The cost was more because each time the paperwork timed out, an added fee had to be paid. I was 55 and finally the mom of 2 precious little girls. Ready for tea parties and Girl Scouts. Reading Dr. Seuss and traveling. I couldn’t wait one second longer to give the girls the world. Tess had an airline ticket for Jamaica before we had even seen her beautiful face.
My advice on adoption: Do your research. Do your homework. Talk to other mothers who have navigated the adoption world. And be patient. International adoption is probably more difficult now so explore all the options available, including domestic adoption.
Second marriages. For me, I learned that standing on my own was first. Being a partner, respecting each other and working together as a team makes the marriage strong. David and I are friends. Outwardly, I can be intimidating. But only David knows that inside I’m often afraid. He admires that. I’m loud and get so excited. He is quiet with an inner strength that is steadfast and true. Much like my dad. Together we give balance to each other. It works.
With my first marriage, I was always afraid he’d leave. There were no arguments. From the outside, we were the power couple. But as my mom would say, you don’t know what goes on in other people’s lives. Live your own and live it well. The rhythm of this second marriage flows. With highs and lows, but always forward. We are reaching retirement which for us will mean changes but always with an eye towards advancement, new experiences and adventures. Should we live in a castle in France as a family of 4? This and so much more is on the radar.
I think one of my greatest strengths as a parent is being organized; but that’s hardly a superpower. That’s more like a given to keep all the balls in the air. David often says that I’m the only lawyer who does 2 loads of laundry before going to work. Maybe so.
My real mom superpower is never giving up and being an advocate for my daughters. When Lennon was so sick, the doctors were unsure of how to proceed. Finally they came up with a diagnosis that made no sense to me. The hospital had teams of practitioners and as the parents; we were one of the teams. I refused to follow their lead because I was certain it was wrong. It was a dark, frightening time, for all of us. I felt the strength within me to keep challenging. Maybe it was all the moms that came before me.
The final diagnosis contradicted the doctor’s initial diagnosis. When the final diagnosis revealed my suspicions were correct, the doctors apologized. I don’t want to be right; I want her to get well. All were in agreement and we moved forward. She is steadily regaining her health.
I hope our girls remember this home as an accepting, safe place for them to grow. I hope they will remember us as parents who were strong and open to the challenges of the 21st century. Baby Boomer parents of Millennials who tried to stay vital members of a new world; their new world. I hope they will totally forget all the times that I wanted perfection when there really is no such thing.
My favorite thing about living with kids is seeing their enlightened take on the world and knowing that it was our values of accepting the differences in others that makes them who they are today. I remember the tears when each came home to tell us they had been bullied for looking different…you have China eyes. Or being shamed for having been adopted…you were left on the street, no one wanted you. Or being asked if these people are your grandparents.
I miss the tea parties when they were little. Wonderful grand affairs. Always. The Twinkle Light Café with table settings and menus. Meals of plastic corn, hamburgers and a special shrimp combo. Always dressed in princess dresses, tutus and sparkly tiaras. The meals ended with entertainment of lavish dance productions to the strains of The Nutcracker. And if that wasn’t enough, the very best part…a tiny purse filled with Chinese money to pay the bill was left on my chair. A rule in the house is no eating in bedrooms. I will always remember their delighted smiles when I broke that rule and allowed real food at the Café…hot tea and tiny cakes.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) that perfection in your children is neither the answer, nor the goal. I suppose our parenting style comes from our own home experiences. I am the oldest and had to be perfect in everything. When my own daughters did something that I didn’t approve of, I was shocked that they acted in that way. A voice inside me would declare…Wow, are they in trouble. It was David who gently guided me to the realization that being perfect is overrated and not achievable. I sometimes give it lip service, but I am trying to listen.
True, I’m a full time lawyer which is an important profession. I feel good about helping people with what is often life changing challenges; contract disputes, personal injuries, and family battles. But inside I’m an artist, drawing and creating are my passions. Notes from a day-long deposition will find sketches in the margins; the court reporter’s hands, a deponent’s smile, the water bottles on the conference table.
The law work is challenging for me. But I try each day to find a bit of magic; a funny conversation in the building elevator, a pink sunset as I’m driving home, a silly note tucked into my lunch box. So I started a lifestyle blog with the goal to find magic every day; Doodle T. Lennon was my logo inspiration with her little girl long ponies and funny smile. She is Miss Doodle.
When she was little she was so thin that pants were impossible to stay up. At 2 she wore a 12 month size. I designed a tee shirt dress for her and Doodle T was born. The dress is a tee shirt top with a fun mix of fabrics for the skirt. Lots of flannel and the underskirt is different than the outer. When she would flip and twirl, peeks of the underside fabric were seen. I told her if I ever was brave enough for a tattoo, it would be the Doodle T logo…I just have no idea where I’d put it.
The blog Doodle T is the creative outlet. The themes, words, and photos are my own. My goal is to have everyone remember that there is magic in this life, we just need to be open to it. When Lennon’s illness struck and we were engulfed in a 3-month hospital stay of ICUs, surgeries, blood infusions, drugs and every test that could be thrown at her, I thought for a moment…great, now this whole finding magic everyday quest will come to a screeching halt. And in the very beginning it did. Our planned (and paid for without travel insurance) trip to France was lost. Fear overtook us. It was so dark and cold and scary. We were forced into the hospital world of 24 hour days/7 days per week, 7 to 7 schedules.
Before this, I had not even known where the hospital was. But then the magic of the world seeped in. I saw the faith and love in my daughter’s eyes as she patiently waited to get well and how she relaxed when I was by her side. I saw the love and quiet strength of my husband. And I saw the tenderness and devotion in my youngest. I saw we truly were a team; a team that was going to win this battle. Around us were other families also in battle mode. We were all supported by hospital teams and resources working together.
Yes, there is magic every day.
Thank you, Jeanne! I’m so impressed with this remodel! I can’t imagine taking on a big project like doubling the size of a home. What an impressive undertaking that must have been, and the results are so lovely. The home still seems to have a lot of its original charm, but is full of light and interest.
It’s so wonderful to see how different lives get woven together in their own unique ways to create something beautiful. The longer I live, the more that I realize that life is often not what we expect it to be, but it can still be and often is something wonderful and surprising.
What has surprised you most about your own life? Has your life gone down a path that you weren’t expecting? Are there things that have become a part of your life that were unexpected but you can’t imagine living without now?
Brooklyn sign in great room
Mural of North Sea beach
Tibetan Fur pillows
You can follow Jeanne’s blog here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.