When I first started asking parents about how their lives had changed because of the COVID pandemic I thought we would be out of it in several long weeks. 4 or 5 Living With Kids posts and we would be back to normal. But here we are, in July and we’re still talking about how the quarantine has changed lives.

Today I am excited for you to meet Lani. She is an entrepreneur and lives with her husband and two kids in DC. Like so many of us her life was thrown into turmoil while trying to figure out how to work from home and run school and parent, but now the family is settling into some sort of normal and appreciating what they are learning in the process. Welcome, Lani!

I’m Lani, the 43 year-old entrepreneur, personal stylist, fashion blogger, and mother of two rambunctious boys: James (6) and Max (8). My husband, Michael, is a serious government worker by day, and a super silly dad by night. He is our rock. I like to say that before I met him, not only did I not know men this kind existed, but I certainly didn’t know I would marry one. His prerogative in life is to make my dreams come true. 

I met my husband as I was starting my business. My just-married, identical twin sister — Michael’s coworker at the time — tried to set us up when I came for a weekend visit. He lived in Washington, D.C; I lived in New York City. I had sworn off dating for at least two years after a very recent break-up. I told my sister she was crazy. I did not tell her that when I first walked into her office, our matching hazel eyes met, and the world stopped for a moment. Although we both refused the set up initially, it was meant to be and happened naturally. After three years of long-distance dating, we were engaged in Lafayette Square Park (yes, that Lafayette Square Park) and married at the Supreme Court. This “very D.C.” fairy-tale is all the stranger for someone who thought they’d never leave New York.  

Transitioning my business from New York to D.C. has been more of a slow evolving concept than a hard reality. I truly lived in two cities for five years and didn’t give up my apartment in New York until I was eight months pregnant with my oldest son. The quarantine is the longest time I have not been to New York since I moved there to attend Parsons School of Design. A part of my soul will always belong to New York City.

Max, our oldest, has a creativity in everything he does that is awe inspiring. He excels at dramatic play; he creates his own games with disparate toys and sets up scenes that he spends 15 minutes illustrating for us. His giant blue eyes have been stopping hearts since he was a baby! He is a wonderfully sweet boy with an incredible amount of energy, but he struggles to regulate his emotions.

James, almost 2 years younger than Max, is our bespectacled “tough guy.” James looks sweet and behaves impeccably at school. He is the one reminding the other kids and the teacher of the rules. The kid wouldn’t hurt a fly, unless that fly was his brother. He is my sweet introvert, and is named after my stepfather, who died when I was 23. It seems like yesterday that he was my baby in blue glasses. James is determined to stay my baby. He asks if he can live with me forever. My husband gets upset when I say yes! 

We live in a Co-op in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Although we didn’t meet until later in life, my husband and I are both originally from Chicagoland. I always wanted to live in the city and fled the suburbs for NYC right after high school. Michael, a born and bred city kid, always loved urban life.  We were determined to raise our kids in the more racially and socially diverse city. We didn’t want to have to get in a car to go everywhere and we wanted easy access to cultural activities, like the theatre, to which we subscribe. 

Cleveland Park is in the North West quadrant of D.C., and feels, next to Manhattan, actually quite suburban to me! We are a stone’s throw from Georgetown, Tenleytown (home to American University), and Embassy Row. We live on a main street, in an eight-story building that is a mix of retirees, young families, and everything in between. We love our neighbors so much. There is always someone from whom you can borrow a random recipe ingredient or a laundry card.

We have two grandmothers on our floor who treat my kids like extra grandchildren and never complain when the kids are screaming their heads off. They are always there if I need someone to watch the kids for twenty minutes while I unload the car or run to pick up a prescription across the street. 

The thing I love most about our neighborhood, which is named after former president and resident Grover Cleveland, are the beautiful old houses. Although the street we live on is mostly apartment buildings, you can walk for almost a mile behind our building to the next main street, past gorgeous, large 100-year-old homes. I love walking through our neighborhood, and I never stop discovering new details on houses I’ve passed many times before. 

Our main thoroughfare is dotted with a dozen or so restaurants, Starbucks, a pharmacy, boutique exercise studios, a grocery store, and cute boutiques. We rarely get in the car to go to a restaurant with the kids. The one thing we miss living in an apartment is not having a backyard. There is a balcony with a view of the National Cathedral and a terrific tree my kids can climb on the side of our building.  But it has been difficult during the quarantine not having somewhere I can send them out to play. 

Fortunately, we’re only a couple blocks away from Rosedale Conservancy, a sprawling piece of land in the middle of our dense neighborhood, filled with hiding places, climbing trees, and open space to run around. This 290-year old property was owned in the 1700’s by an aide to George Washington who later became mayor of Georgetown and a member of Congress. We’re three blocks from the National Cathedral, which contains Bishop’s Garden, a magical, walled-in oasis with green space to picnic, benches upon which to read, and even a little stone house perfect for playing and keeping cool in the summer. We also love the Cleveland Park Club, a quaint neighborhood social and pool club that let’s our family cool off in DC’s muggy summers when COVID isn’t bearing down on us.

Michael and I began looking for an apartment in D.C. in 2009, right after we became engaged. We were mostly shown places I did not want to live in “emerging” areas. Although those apartments would be worth a fortune now, I had no interest buying a place which we’d likely have to move on from within a few years as our family’s needs changed. Most importantly, I wanted an apartment to feel like a home. 

The starter market in D.C. is always competitive. With so many people working for the government, and private industry that depends on the government, the market never crashed here like it did in other places. After much searching and almost putting in an offer on a different apartment in the same building, we identified the unit we ended up purchasing in our co-op. 

Unlike New York, co-ops in D.C. are rare and a lack of familiarity with the fees structure pushed the price down into our range. The balcony, parking space and generous room size had us sold, but the kitchen was barely functional. A small fire had knocked out the oven, the dishwasher was useless, and the cabinets drawers were not on tracks. A vision for what our home could be, gave us the confidence to grab this 1300 square foot, two-bedroom, two bathroom.

We moved in early 2010, a few months before our wedding. It wasn’t fun to live with that kitchen for a year before beginning construction (we did break down and buy a dishwasher early). We also painted the entire apartment when we had the kitchen done. Did I mention all this construction happened while my husband was out of the country traveling for three months? Luckily, we have a very trusting relationship! 

I had Max at the end of 2011. When we found out we were pregnant with James, who was born at the end of 2013, it slowly dawned on us that the space that could barely contain one energetic boy would most certainly not work with two of them.

There is an inlet in our living room that neighbors with young kids use as the play area. However, I needed that space for my home office. I was also dreading the idea of a baby sharing a room with a kid who already barely slept. After doing our research, we concluded that we couldn’t get the amount of space we needed without either moving to the suburbs or busting our budget. So what did my resourceful husband do?

Michael asked our neighbor if she would move to an available one-bedroom apartment on a higher floor, so that we could purchase her 800 sq ft unit and combine it with our own. She agreed (for a price), and Michael orchestrated the sale of an apartment to our neighbor. We used the equity we had accumulated in the first apartment for the down payment on the second and figured out a way to stay in the neighborhood and building we love!

Once we had secured the second apartment, we converted its bedroom into my permanent office. The new living/dining area became a giant playroom for our kids. The old kitchen space was converted into a new bedroom, and we gained a third full bathroom for good measure. What I love most about the combined space is how flexible it is for our family’s needs. Michael and I already have dreams of converting the playroom into our master suite, and the other bedrooms into guest suites, when the kids go off to college.

Our life before the pandemic was a lot like other families, we overscheduled ourselves. Michael and Max (the extroverts) always wanted to do more, James and I (the introverts) always wanted to do less. A lot less. I loved my job as it was, out most of the time with clients or shopping. But it was hard for me to then come home to constant cries of “Mommy!” and weekends full of activities. I took my kids to karate twice a week because they enjoyed it, and I was convinced it would make them better people. However, it was eating into our family time at home. 

I had been suspecting for awhile that the kids needed more time at home and with me. My kids have always been in full time care outside of the house. Before the pandemic they were at school from 8:45am-6pm. I had felt their needs changing and started picking them up at 5:30pm when I could. Now that we are home, I realize how little time we had to be together as a family. We were always rushed, and I was stressed and exhausted. 

It took a pandemic for us to find the time to teach our kids to ride a bike without training wheels and explore DC’s wonderful Capital Crescent and Rock Creek Park trails. As much as so many mothers feel as if they are failing at motherhood and work with the added work load during the pandemic, I was already feeling this beforehand. I felt that my kids needed me more, but I could not get off the hamster wheel of the demands of my business.

During the pandemic, I am not traveling out of state to see clients. I thought my kids would be grateful, but one of my kids still complains that I work at all. He tells me he wishes I could be a stay-at-home mom like a friend of ours. So many moms work in D.C. that he can only come up with one example! 

I am grateful that my kids want more time with me and that the pandemic has created some of that space for our family. It’s prompted new traditions for us, including half birthday parties with real cake, and virtual Yahtzee games among family, and Zoom sleep overs where our kids watch movies with their friends (most recently the Back to the Future series).

Quarantine life has put a microscope on the tension between work and family since my children were born. I used to feel, no matter what I was doing, that I was shorting either my family or my job. It was constantly tearing me apart. Eventually I learned how to compartmentalize during certain hours and tell myself that whatever I was doing at the time was what I was meant to be doing.

The quarantine has erased a lot of my progress. I feel like someone changed the rules now that I finally learned how to play the game. Learning how and when to work while my family is home has been a journey that I feel I’ve only recently completed after four months of this. Also, I’m more convinced than ever that I have ADD, which I need to find time to address with a doctor. I’m so easily distracted I can only do focused work in my bedroom, with the door closed, and my favorite kirtan artist streaming in the background. 

Working in my room helps with the “introvert overwhelm” I was experiencing at the beginning of quarantine. I need time alone and I can’t feel bad about it! Even seeing a kid pass by my office or knowing they are in the next room distracts me terribly. I wished I had figured all of this out right away. I would end up frazzled from the constant interruptions and wondering why I hadn’t gotten enough work done.

My office is wonderful when used as intended, while my children are in school. The heavy lavender curtains and custom framed suzani provide an aesthetic I love. Its location between our dining room and the playroom is useful when I’m catching up on email on a Saturday afternoon while the kids are in the playroom, but not during a workday when they are asking me questions every two minutes. 

During the school year when we were actively homeschooling, I learned to treat the three days a week my husband would go into the office like a Saturday. It was nice if I could get some trivial work done, but mostly I needed to concentrate on the kids and housework.

The lack of time to address timely business issues gave me anxiety until I realized that I could stack the kids’ daily Zoom reading hour with grandma (thanks grandma!) next to their daily budget of screen time. That trick game me a good chunk of time to take care of any necessary client calls. In turn, I now work on weekends, which nobody likes.

The hardest part of this for the kids is having me at home but inaccessible to them. I wish I could just enjoy them, but I still need to keep my business going. I am proud that they see their mom working hard, sustaining a business, and modeling that there’s a time to play and a time to work.

I’d been dreaming for years of useful ways to use the old office inlet, but never had a vision clear enough to do anything about it. My old desk became a dumping ground for the kids’ school stuff, which I would occasionally clean up. However, I realized the weekend before we started homeschooling that the kids needed their own spaces and completely remade the white desk for Max. James got the kid sized table and chairs in the playroom, far away from his brother! 

I own Real Life Style, a consulting firm that offers personal styling services, corporate style seminars, and a personal stylist training program. I’ve had my business for 14 years and my blog for 9. I get paid to empower women through their wardrobes. How wonderful is that? The best part of being a working parent is being a living example to our kids that they can make a career out of their passions and helping other people. Also, that they can invent their own job, as I did, if the right one doesn’t exist. I’m the parent saying “Yes, you can be an artist!” 

Most of my clients are working parents. My business supports a lot of working mothers, whether they work inside or outside of the home. It was this way before I had children, but having kids myself has allowed me to understand their challenges and align my business and blog to their needs more deeply. 

I’ve always swapped parenting advice with my clients informally. I learn so much from watching them parent, handle their jobs, and lead their families. Most importantly, I can’t tell my clients to be gentler with themselves without hearing the advice myself. Since the week I had my first child, I have periodically published blogs that were more family than fashion focused. With the quarantine, I have begun to publish more, sensing my audience’s need for help managing work and family, welcoming the blog’s shift to fashion and family. 

My kids have taught me the most valuable work lesson of all, which is that life can not only be about work. You do a better job when you have fun and take time off. I have always had a hard time setting work boundaries, whether working for myself or someone else. Before I had kids, I would keep working until 11pm every night. Now I must set limits with clients because I have to pick up my kids. I can’t work every weekend because I have to (and get to) take my kids to birthday parties and flag football. My kids force me to have fun. 

I started working when I was ten because my family needed the money. I have a hard time stopping even now, though fortunately my family is now privileged to have economic security. I can barely watch a movie without folding laundry or something — anything. On family vacations while everyone else plays a board game I struggle not to do the dishes. My kids have the power to make me do things like play in the pool for three hours straight and ride bumper cars. I love them for that.

I’ve learned during this time at home that both of my kids, even my extrovert, need more time at home and more individual alone time with each parent. It isn’t that they weren’t telling me this before in different ways, but my answer was always, “this is our life, we can’t change it.” I know that when this is over, I will still work. But, I will pick them up earlier from school, and we will be scaling back activities during the week. 

I will ask my husband to go to work earlier so that he can be home for family dinner. Family dinner is so fun!  I’ve noticed how much my kids thrive when I start cooking dinner at 5pm and we sit down together to eat at 6pm.This is the schedule they need to be on, not the one they were forced into because of our work schedules. We need to change our work schedules to better accommodate the kids and get them to bed on time. 

My oldest has been asking to be more independent and although in some ways we have had to reel him in with the pandemic, in other ways we have had more time to teach him. It has been wonderful to watch him become more independent with his schoolwork, play, cooking, and taking care of his own needs.

I hope the kids remember the mornings on the couch, snuggled in blankets, reading Harry Potter out loud. I hope they forget the physical isolation from their friends and grandparents. I hope they remember all the family dinners we cooked and ate together and the clubhouses we made them. I hope they feel like this is always their home. I hope they forget all the times their dad or I lost our… you know what, because we were tired from work and couldn’t take their fighting any more. 

I hope they remember the adventures we did have this COVID summer, like the long bike family bike rides, blueberry picking, and (socially distanced) swimming at a friend’s pool. 

I hope they forget how sad they were at missing out on their amazing summer camp and our neighborhood pool club. I hope they remember all the extra treats I gave them and the French toast I made on demand. I hope they forget the first month when I cried and yelled a lot while I was losing my mind over the uncertainty of what was going on with my business and how I was going to take care of my employee. 

Most of all, I hope that they remember how we stuck together as a family to get through a difficult time. 

Our home has always been a monument to our family. The artwork on our walls almost exclusively comes from my father’s camera lens, capturing Chicago in the 1960’s; honors Michael’s grandmother’s advice column in the Chicago Daily News, and memorializes our travels from Afghanistan to Argentina and Barcelona to Bangkok. Now, we’re spending even more time living what we honor. We’ve had weekly Shabbat dinners every Friday night with fresh baked challah for the first time in our lives and that has been wonderful.    

The absolute best thing about living with my kids is the conversations I have with them before bed when we are snuggling, and the hysterical things they say. First, my kids are champion snugglers. I rue the day they stop snuggling!

Second of all, they say the funniest things! James and I went to pick out his new glasses’ frames and when he asked me if the glasses fit correctly, I deferred to the store employee’s expertise, saying “that’s not my job.” James responded immediately, “Yes, it is Mommy, you’re a stylist.” I love that kid! And Max will spend an hour before bed discussing the intricacies of how we can move to Chicago to be closer to his grandparents or planning how he is going to get there by himself, pandemic be darned. 

I wish that someone had told me that it doesn’t matter what your life looks like from the outside, only that you are living your truth. Only once you let go of superficial success can you truly start living your real life. My life looked great on paper before I met my husband, but truthfully, I was in an unhealthy relationship and a toxic job environment. It took getting laid off from a job for me to realize the only way out was down. I ended the relationship, was forced to foreclose on a house, move in with friends, and start my own business. 

I had been hesitant to end my relationship because I thought that it would jeopardize my opportunity to ever have a family. I was afraid to leave a job that wasn’t the right fit culturally or for my skills — a fourteen month detour into marketing management after seven years as a fashion stylist in New York — because it would look like a mistake and call my competence into question.  I was devastated to be foreclosed on because I didn’t want to admit to the grave mistake I had made in the purchase, and my ego was overly attached to my ability to follow through on my financial obligations and my credit score.

Those failures bred resilience and experiences I will one day be able to share with my kids. What came next were experiences more authentic and successful than what I was holding onto. The kindnesses friends, family, and complete strangers showed me during that time will stay with me forever. I work hard every day to repay them.

My home is loving, safe and secure. I have a husband who supports me in the home and professionally (and he even came with amazing in-laws).  My relationship lets us model a healthy home for our boys, and that’s one of the best gifts we can give them.

My business has allowed me to express myself authentically professionally for the first time. Since starting my business, I’ve helped hundreds of women look and feel their best. My clients have more time with their families and for themselves, and less anxiety over what to wear and how they look. Being put together — and knowing it — gives people confidence, and that confidence has translated into success at the office and in personal relationships. Creating a successful business, has elevated my confidence, and provided me with the same gift I provide my clients.

And, our apartment has provided me the room to create a space that supports our lifestyle, reflects my aesthetic, and fills with the memories of raising a family. Not bad for someone who moved 17 times before she was 17. I intend for this to be my last, and best, home.

——

Thank you, Lani! So many smart things in this post! I love Lani’s recognition that her kids were over-scheduled and that they all needed to spend more time at home. That is one thing I think has been pretty common in this time at home. The realization that all of the hustle and bustle of our lives from before might have been a bit unnecessary. Certainly, some days it would seem that the pendulum has swung the other way and we’re dying for SOME reason to go run some errands, but maybe we can find somewhere happy in the middle.

I also love what Lani said about being brave and walking away from a bad relationship, a bad job and starting over. And that that is what led her to find the peace and happiness and security she has now. What a great insight! Sometimes comfortable or easy is definitely more appealing than challenging and new.

Have you ever had to walk away from a comfortable situation to face something new? What finally convinced you to take the plunge? What did you learn from the experience?

SOURCES

White Bin Clip Labels

Every Brother Is a Superhero picture

Office Pendant Light

Luca Modern Glider and Ottoman

Avitator Booksheves

Mason Activity Table


You can follow Lani on her Instagram or check out her website. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

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 features@designmom.com