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I was sold on the house as soon as we walked in the front door. It was the bow window in the living room. The gleaming hardwood floors. The way the sunshine poured through the glass to light up everything. The kitchen only validated my first impression. It had been recently updated with granite countertops and steel appliances and pale, green walls. I could see myself there. Cooking for the two of us. Someday cooking for more.
As our realtor led us through the house, we ticked off the boxes. Four bedrooms so we could have up to two children and still have a dedicated home office. Ample storage space. A traditional dining room. No major renovations required.
There was just one area in which we had to compromise.
As we stood out on the back deck, leaning our forearms against its beams to survey the land, we saw only this: a tiny patio; a shed; a line of tall bushes that seemed to crouch in close to the house.
"And that's your property line," said our realtor.
"Well, at least there's that beautiful park nearby," we said, thinking of our future children.
But you really don't know what a house needs until you're living inside it, trying to live your life. One of the first things we discovered after moving in, for example, is that there was no hot water. Or at least there was no hot water after five minutes in the shower. How the previous family survived I'll never know. Us? Replacing the hot water heater was the first thing we did.
Beyond that, you really don't know if a house is an ideal space for raising a family until your child becomes mobile. Here are just a few things we've only recently come to realize as our one-year-old has started cruising:
1. When your basement has no windows—or any other way to circulate the air—it's probably a terrible place for a litter box. Now we have a basement that smells like cat piss, and we have to cut through the sheetrock to get to the windows, install some fans, re-paint the walls, and rip up the carpeting before the air is breathable enough to use the space as a play area for Em.
2. Speaking of cats, where do you plan to put the litter box and the food and water dishes? Will they be accessible to your child? Might your child think that the litter box is actually a fun, tiny sandbox? Might your child also find cat food delicious? Are there other options?
3. Doorways that require you to step up or step down to get to the next room are a terrible idea. You will learn this when your daughter sits her butt down on the very edge of that lip and then falls backward.
This past summer, my daughter received an inflatable pool for her birthday. When we wanted to use it, we had to place it on our front lawn. It was the only option.
4. Speaking of falling, hardwood floors are gorgeous, but they don't provide much cushioning. That's okay, though, children are resilient.
5. Split-level homes are also tricky. Not that we have one, but my parents do, and some of the stairways are so damn wide there's just no way to install safety gates. So we need to watch our Em like a hawk.
6. Exposed radiators are more than just an aesthetic issue. Especially if your child likes to get intimate with them during the winter months. Invest in radiator covers, or perhaps save some money by building them yourself. But for the love of God, do it before the heat kicks in.
7. I can't tell you how pleased I am to have so much cabinet space. But my daughter is getting pretty smart, which means I need to install even more locks on all the cabinets that are level with the floor. Something to think about when you're drooling over that recently-updated kitchen.
8. And then there's that backyard. Or the lack thereof. This past summer, my daughter received an inflatable pool for her birthday. When we wanted to use it, we had to place it on our front lawn. It was the only option.
The very first time we put Em in the pool, my husband joined her, wearing his swim trunks and a t-shirt tied, for some reason, above his belly button. People slowed down to look at us as they drove by. We probably brought down the property value of the entire neighborhood that afternoon.
Soon after, we approached the woman who owned the unused land behind our house and offered to buy it from her. Happily, she was open to it. We close on the sale later this month and, in the spring, we'll clear the land and get it leveled and plant new grass and, by Em's second birthday, have a backyard.
Looks like we can check off one more item on our list!