Our story starts in a small town in Michigan. We were both born in the early 80’s, Crystal in Southfield and me in Romulus (just outside of Detroit). Our families didn’t know each other, but somehow both of our families decided to move to Pinckney in the late 80’s. Our houses were only 3 miles apart, she worked at an ice cream shop my family used to frequent, and her family spent a lot of time on the same lakes we did. But we didn’t meet each other until I was a senior in high school, and she a sophomore (before you get any ideas, we were less than a year apart in age).
Anyone that knows me won’t be surprised by this next comment, but I was kind of a nerd in high school (well, I still am) and had a bit of an aversion to physical activity. I always had friends, but was never overly popular, and when it came to girls I was a perpetual resident in the “friend zone”. In my sophomore year in high school I joined the school theater group because of a girl (a different one, not Crystal, it obviously didn’t work out), and I mostly stuck with it through my senior year. At different times I built sets, controlled the sound board, and moved set pieces for scene changes. I made a lot of friends there and it definitely helped me come out of my shell.
At the same time I was in theater, a certain girl also joined the theater group (I’ll let you guess who it was). We worked on two shows together without meeting, and later found out we had friends in common, but still had never managed to meet. It wasn’t until our third show working together that we actually met. I still remember seeing her for the first time (this may get sappy). I don’t remember what we were doing at the time, but I was sitting in the front row talking with friends and she had just walked onto the stage from backstage. I saw her and thought to myself “I am going to date this girl” (remember my friend zone comment above, I wasn’t going to let that happen this time).
I honestly don’t know exactly when it happened, but we gradually just decided we were a couple. It wasn’t until the end of show cast party that, at the request of her friends, I “asked her out”. She said yes and I gave her a horribly awkward kiss on the cheek (I was kind of a wreck when it came to girls, not unlike many teenage boys). That was in November of 1999, which means we have been together more years than we have been apart.
We weren’t together that long before I realized I was going to marry Crystal one day. I wasn’t alone on that either. I still remember a trip we took to Toronto after we were out of high school, before we were married. My Grandmother slipped me some cash for the trip before we left and told me to “take her someplace nice to eat.” She seemed so happy for me in that moment, like she knew where this was all going.
Before Crystal and I had kids, we had Kitty. Kitty is a plastic cat we stole from our high school theater. He was originally reclaimed from a creepy house close to the school that was being gutted. We talked to the owners of the house and they agreed to let us scour the house for props and anything else we could use at the theater. Amongst the garbage and piles of cloths and boxes, was Kitty, in all of his tacky glory. We often took Kitty with us on trips, including the one pictured above.
We decided we wanted to take a trip, and didn’t have much money, so we decided to check out Cleveland Ohio, we both enjoyed the zoo and Cleveland was a short drive. What you can’t see in the picture above though is the engagement ring in my pocket. I had elaborate plans to tie the ring around Kitty’s neck with a ribbon and put him down somewhere at the zoo so Crystal would see it. Unlike television proposals though, I just couldn’t find the right time, so I ended up popping the question as we got ready for dinner one night. I got on one knee, we cried, she re-did her make-up, it was everything you would expect.
Wedding planning was the first time I really got a taste of Crystal’s organization and planning skills, but apparently it wasn’t enough to scare me away. We hit a few snags getting everything ready ( a photographer that backed out at the last minute, threat of rain, a kitchen too small to prep potatoes for 100 people ) but on August 2004 we were married in my Grandparents backyard, with a reception in the field behind their house. We had a chocolate cake, BBQ ribs, gerber daisies, and danced to Etta James. We definitely did things our way.
The Kids ( Oh the kids… )
Growing up I never wanted kids, never wanted to get married, and wanted to live in New York city. Two years after we got married, in 2006, we were living in the small town of Howell Michigan and Crystal was pregnant with our first child, Zoe. Having children made me a little nervous, but for whatever reason it felt like everything would be fine as long as Crystal was with me. Like many first children to young parents, Zoe wasn’t just our kid, but our friends as well. We were one of the only couples in our group of friends that had kids so for Zoe it was like she had a few sets of parents.
As new parents we somehow managed to avoid the trap of feeling like we could never go anywhere since we had a kid now. We took Zoe everywhere, including camping in the upper peninsula in Michigan. The tent was a little crowded with our air mattress and her Pack ‘n Play, but we made it work.
After a few years we decided that Zoe needed a sibling, and in 2010 Oliver was born in a birthing center in Southfield Michigan. The birth process for Zoe was less than ideal (a long post on birth is sure to come), so with Oliver we decided to try a birthing center. We wanted something more natural (I should say Crystal did, I had pretty “mainstream” ideas about birth for quite a while). While the birthing center had it’s drawbacks, it was still a much better experience than the hospital was for us, and for Oliver. I can honestly say that Oliver was the most difficult child as far as his younger years went. He was the child that introduced us to food allergies, cloth diapers, and sleep deprivation.
Oliver was a hard child to raise until we got his allergy issues figured out, but somehow all of those bad memories weren’t enough to deter us from having more children, because a few years later Elijah was born. Elijah was born at home, in a swimming pool, in our bedroom. If you would have told me after Zoe was born that Crystal would eventually give birth to a child in our home, I would have thought you were crazy. It turns out having a child with severe food allergies has a way of making you open to new ideas. I won’t lie, I was a little hesitant at first, but I trusted Crystal and our midwife. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, because we plan to talk about it in it’s own post, but home birth was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in my life. Zoe’s hospital birth was very “medical”, it was treated like any other medical procedure, with doctors and nurses rushing around the room, and interns coming in to learn about this medical ailment called “pregnancy”, and the cure called “birth”. Home birth was completely different. When Zoe was born she was whisked away so the doctors could do their tests and fill out there forms, but at home, I caught Elijah as he came out and handed his tiny little body to Crystal for some “skin to skin” time. It was all very quiet and calm, it was the first of my children’s births that I cried at, the first one I felt really connected to.
Having three kids in the house was a big change. We were suddenly out numbered, and Oliver was still young enough to cause trouble if we were paying too much attention to the baby. Things like going out became harder, and it became very obvious that we needed to be much more organized if we ever wanted to leave the house again. I was always an extremely disorganized person, but after we had three kids that started to really change for me. It wasn’t an option any more, and that kind of sums up how we approach parenting. We do what we do because it has to be done.
The Big Move
Ten years, three births, two moves, and 700 miles after we were married, we found ourselves as a family of six living in Raleigh North Carolina. I’m a Database Administrator by day and, unless I wanted to move to Detroit, my options in Michigan were limited. The year before we moved Michigan had one of the worst winters we had seen in years; I was shoveling snow from the drive way nightly, and digging my car out every morning. We were both sick of the winters, and I was already looking for a job (without much luck) at the time, so I asked Crystal if I could start looking out of state. Her reply was simple: “I’m ready for an adventure.” So I started applying for jobs out of state.
As a child my family used to go to Ocean Isle NC for vacation every year. I’ve always loved North Carolina (we honeymooned there) and we both love the beach, so when Raleigh came up as one of the top cities to live in during my internet searches, it seemed like a natural fit. I started my search in April 2013 and applied at a few places. One company offered me less money then I was currently making and I bombed the phone screen at another company (to be fair, they asked some really odd questions). I was getting ready for a long job search when I got a call from ChannelAdvisor. My phone screen went great, the follow-up Skype interview went great as well, and within a week we found ourselves with five weeks to figure out how to pack up a family of five and move them 700 miles away.
One of the first things we had to figure out was where we wanted to live and how much we might have to pay to get out of our current lease. Luckily our landlord was amazing and had no problems with us breaking lease early. We were such good tenants we got our full security deposit back as well as a glowing letter of recommendation to use in our rental hunt in Raleigh.
Finding a place to live in Raleigh ended up being harder than we thought. Due to a mixture of “great” advice, a shady mortgage broker, and a failing housing market, we had a foreclosure on our credit history. Because of this, purchasing something was out of the question and we came to find out that a lot of places wouldn’t even look at our application. When 90 new people are moving into Raleigh everyday, I guess as a landlord you can be picky. After getting turned away by a lot of apartment communities and rental agencies, we had a list of 4-5 places we wanted to look at. So Crystal and I got in the car and drove down, stayed the night in a hotel and spent the rest of the next day touring rentals. We ate some dinner and hopped back in the car for Michigan, we were in Raleigh for less than 24 hours. Out of the places that we toured, there was only one that would accept us, and it was at the bottom of our list. It was pretty far from work and not anywhere near where we thought we would be living, but it was a place to live.
I think some people, given only five weeks to move, would just toss everything in boxes and sort it out after the move, but when you are paying a moving company for semi-trailer space by the linear foot, it makes it a lot easier to take a step back and evaluate how much you “need” a lot of your stuff. We were brutal. We donated maybe six or seven porches full of stuff, sold boxes upon boxes of stuff in a few garage sales, and still had some left for the curb. When was all said and done we packed everything into 18 linear feet in a half sized trailer an sent it on it’s way to Raleigh. When all was said and done, we only spent about $2,000 moving. That’s no small sum, but a LOT less than some of the quotes we received. ($30,000!) Even though we got rid of so many our possessions, we still have boxes that haven’t been touched since we moved here. I guess those are the boxes that will get tossed next time we move.
One of the big things that we got rid of when we moved was all things baby related. We had a ton of baby gear. We had carriers, strollers, pack ‘n plays, cribs, clothing, diapers… you name it, and we got rid of most of it. We had no plans of growing our family any further and wanted to move as cheaply as possible. We did get off pretty cheap for the move, but in retrospect, getting rid of the baby gear was a bad choice, for reasons we couldn’t have known at the time.
I am going to apologize to Isabel right now, in case she reads this in the future, but her birth was not something that we planned. We thought we were done having kids after Elijah. Elijah was a great kid (busy, defiant, exhausting) but we just felt like we were probably done. Things happen though and soon we were expecting our fourth. We (or at least I) had mixed feelings about the pregnancy. When Crystal found out and told me, she cried and apologized, as if somehow we weren’t both involved. We just kind of looked at each other with a mutual “well I guess this is happening”. It’s not that we don’t love having kids, we just weren’t mentally prepared for it. Crystal was starting to think about going back to work and getting some time back to be Crystal instead of mom, and I was starting to look forward to the prospect of easier road trips and a final end to diapers. We were already mentally past “the baby stage” despite Eli only being just two years old.
Isabel’s pregnancy was hard and emotional. She was born, like her brother Elijah, in our home. Birth doesn’t always go as planned so she was born next to a pool instead of in it, but for me, emotionally, it was just as special. Isabel’s birth was a hard one, I’ll leave it at that because Crystal is the only person qualified to describe it, I didn’t have a baby.
Isabel has made us become even more organized than we were when we had three, and it has also made a lot of things much harder. Finding a hotel room for example, is much harder when you have a family of six, so is finding a car that will fit everyone comfortably and safely. It also makes things more expensive. It’s no longer affordable to go see a movie or grab a meal out. Things like tickets to a local farm for pumpkins can easily set us back $60, that’s before we even buy anything.
Believe it or not, there is a ton of stuff I wanted to put in here that I didn’t (though I’m sure some of it will sneak into some other posts). We’ve had a great life together (so far) with plenty of adventures, and with four kids I am sure plenty more adventures to come. I am excited about our decision to start sharing our stories with our friends (and strangers) on the internet, and excited to see what else life has in store for us.
Make sure to follow us if you are interested in seeing what we do all day. Crystal can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I can be found talking about nerdy stuff on Twitter, and my other Blog. We love to hear from other families so please feel free to contact either of us with questions, ideas for posts you’d like to see, or just to say hey.