My husband Mark and I move into a new house two weeks before our first baby is due. Our kitchen has no refrigerator, no stove, no microwave, and no cabinet hardware. It has a table and chairs, a six-inch cabinet without a countertop, a dishwasher that doesn’t work, a cabinet without a door panel, and a pendant light hanging above an empty space where an island belongs.
Everything that should be inside the cabinets is stacked in boxes covering the hardwood floors.
Now, I sit, overdue and exhausted, on the staircase leading out of the kitchen. I love our new house, but despite the hours we’ve been putting in since moving day, there’s a mountain of work to be done. The tiny cape cod we sold in favor of this spacious contemporary was organized, decorated, and missing nothing but a nursery and breathing room. We’re not ready to bring home a baby.
My mom is here to help; lovingly scrubbing toilets and dusting cobwebs so I don’t have to. Upstairs, she turns on the water in the tub.
“Mom, turn off the water! TURN OFF THE WATER!!!” I shriek. It’s pouring through the ceiling onto the kitchen table; splashing onto the adjacent floor lamp. The wet silver lining is that there’s no ceiling fixture there to be ruined by the waterfall.
The boxes we lived out of for weeks are emptied. Our baby girl, who gifted us eight whole days past her due date to further prepare for her arrival, is now six months old. We’ve erased all evidence of the great kitchen waterfall of 2015, and installed an overhead fixture to shed light on mealtimes. I prepare our food on matching stainless steel appliances, uninterrupted countertops, and a makeshift island. Technically it’s a dresser, but it works, ok? There’s more or less a place for everything and everything in its place.
We invite friends with a daughter the same age as ours over for dinner. My fellow new mom friend just stopped taking her birth control and they’re doing the “not trying, not preventing” thing. I glance at the plastic drying racks made to look like grass on our countertops. They’re fully loaded with bottle pieces and pumping parts that I wash every night when I get home from work. There’s a tub of formula right next to those drying racks, because despite all the supplements and power pumping sessions, I don’t produce enough milk to feed my baby. I think my friend might be nuts. I look at my 6-month-old and shudder at the thought of signing up for this madness again so soon.
Nine months later, the baby bottles that crowded our countertops have been replaced by sippy cups, plastic plates, and miniature forks and spoons that I’m grateful to be able to hide away behind the cabinets with intact doors.
That other cabinet door is still an empty frame. I’d like to say we just stopped noticing it, but Gracie takes great joy in crawling in and out of that cabinet through said door, so it’s kind of hard not to notice.
The cabinets have handles, but they’re sealed up in plastic bags in a drawer in the dresser we’re pretending is an island.
I’m six weeks pregnant, lying on the hard kitchen floor because I’m too nauseous to sit at the table with Gracie while she eats dinner. I count the bites she takes in slow motion and the hours until my Mark gets home. Most nights I’m in bed ten minutes after she is.
Halfway through my pregnancy I can’t stand the sight of our cabinets’ honey oak exteriors that exactly match the hardwood floors they butt up against for one. more. day.
“We need to paint the kitchen cabinets.” I lob the words at Mark as he walks in the door after work on a Saturday afternoon.
“Um ... yeah, sure.”
“No, we need to paint them now.” I clarify. “I NEED to paint them.”
Mark replaces the missing door panel. We paint the cabinets and install the hardware. We worry Gracie will be upset about her cabinet no longer having easy access. Instead she’s thrilled by her upgraded “private” cabinet. She climbs inside and waits quietly until one of us asks, “Where’s Gracie?” and she pops back out like a real life jack-in-the-box. Her sense of humor at not-yet-two proves she is slowly but surely turning into a person all her own. She cracks us up, bringing joy to a mundane kitchen cabinet and us.
I replace the paper napkins my husband and child seem compelled to use at least five of at every meal with crisp, white cotton napkins. I feel a little bit fancy every time we sit down to eat.
We welcome Logan to our family and the bottles, drying racks, and Baby Brezza (a baby formula Keurig-type contraption that I openly mocked before my first was born) reclaim their stake of the countertops.
After six weeks of maternity leave, I buy some bigger pants and go back to work. At the end of every workday, I pick up the kids, come home, and try my best to be supermom. We get home late, I get dinner on the table late, I clean up late, I get them to bed late, then I start worrying about the next day when I’ll walk in the door, deposit the day’s burdens in the kitchen and pick up the burdens my brain has created for me.
Mark works full days as a martial arts instructor Monday through Friday and half days on Saturdays. He works extra hours Saturdays and Sundays when there are special events or he picks up private lessons with students.
We are two dirty dishes passing in the kitchen during the morning rush to get out the door. We have dinner as a family once or twice a week.
Gracie is now three and Logan is one. Mark has scaled back a bit at work. With the help of tiny blue pills, I have my postpartum anxiety under control. My mom comes over at dinnertime once a week to play with the kids, lend an ear over dinner, and wash a few dishes.
I found a kitchen island cast aside on the curb. It’s in our kitchen, painted to match the cabinets and centered under the pendant light we’ve been banging our heads on for three years.
I rearranged the eat-in half of the kitchen for the third time and finally feel like I got it right. As our family of four sits around the table, I can picture one more baby in an empty seat. Mark thinks it looks perfect just how it is.
“Hey, Mommy. There’s leaves on your plate like there’s leaves on the trees.” Gracie observes.
It’s not that she’s never seen a salad before, but, until recently, our dinner lineup was heavy on pasta, bread, and cheese. The picky eater’s waistline was unaffected. The people who own this kitchen weren’t so lucky. We made some changes and I’ve dropped twenty pounds of baby weight.
Adding one more to our number would be a ticket straight back to chaos.
But I can see a baby in that empty seat.
Guest post by Laura Pruitt. Laura is a full-time marketer, wife and mom to two littles 24/7, and writer/photographer/cook on the side. She’s in a season of motherhood where it feels like there is never enough of her to go around, but chooses to believe that with the grace of God, she IS enough for her family. You can find more of Laura on Instagram or at www.themakeitworkmom.com.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.