“Monday Mornings” aims to prove there is beauty in every mother’s morning, even if we need an outsider to see it. Thanks to a partnership with Allstate, I am flying lifestyle photographer Raquel Bianca across the US to document the morning routines of twelve mothers in five different cities. This is our last stop in Texas.
Today’s Monday Morning features Kristen B from Houston, not to be confused with Kristen W from Dallas last week. Kristen B lives with her husband Justin, their 3.5 year-old girl Elizabeth and their eight-week-old baby, David.
Kristen and Justin are both full-time working parents and when Raquel visited, Kristen was on the last leg of her 12-week maternity leave (a combination of paid leave, vacation and unpaid leave) from her job as a chemical engineer.
Justin works as a computer engineer at the same company and when I asked Kristen what makes their family unique, she told me they are “self-described nerds”.
“We celebrate Star Wars Day (i.e. May 4th; May the Fourth Be With You) and we celebrate Pi Day on March 14th with pie. We read and watch a lot from the sci-fi and fantasy genres and will be sharing them with the kids when age appropriate. As a female engineer, I want to make sure my daughter will know that all pursuits are available to her, not just ones that are considered girly. Generally, we are very practical and logical as parents.”
Kristen suffered from Postpartum Depression with Elizabeth, so she was not surprised when she experienced it this time around as well.
“PPD/PPA hit harder and earlier than it did after my first, but I was able to get a lot of support from the grandmothers and doctors, which I am incredibly thankful for. I also made sure to keep myself busy and get out of the house more this time, which kept me from going stir crazy.”
Kristen’s mornings start early with David waking up at 5am for his first feed and then going back to sleep. Kristin says hearing that first early morning cry is the hardest part of her day.
“I am not, and never have been, a morning person. David’s first cries mean my night is over and it’s time to face the day. Sometimes it can trigger a post partum anxiety attack.”
After David finishes his bottle, Kristin lays him back down to sleep and heads back to bed herself, while Justin wakes up to shower and get dressed.
At about 6am, when Justin finishes getting ready, it’s his job to make breakfast for the family. Most often it’s cereal or frozen waffles but that morning he made scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits which Kristen attributes to “showing off for the internet”.
Kristen says she usually wakes up again around 6:45am, but that morning she couldn’t sleep (probably something about the photographer in the house) so at 6:15am, she got up to help Justin with breakfast.
“Justin is used to being the only one working in the kitchen. There’s one picture of me ‘helping’ with the eggs and he has a grumpy look on his face. That is him politely waiting for me to leave.”
At 6:20am (nerds love to give time stamps!), Justin wakes Elizabeth to get her ready for daycare.
“That started being Justin’s duty at the end of my pregnancy and continued after the baby came. He makes sure I have what I need to take care of myself and David, while he tackles Elizabeth.”
At 6:30am, Elizabeth sits down for breakfast with Dmitri Bear, “who has been Elizabeth’s constant companion and is well known to anyone who has met her”.
Kristen uses this opportunity to fix Elizabeth’s hair, which she says is her favorite part of the morning.
I questioned Kristen on why she finds doing Elizabeth’s hair enjoyable since my daughter equates hair brushing with torture.
“Hair routine starts after bath time the night before. We make sure her hair is completely tangle free with the help of some tangle-spray and combing. In the morning there will be knots, but since she is distracted with food, she’s relatively still. I ask politely if I may brush her hair and promise to be as ‘gentle as butterfly kisses.’ If there are a lot of knots, I’ll ask if a mouse slept in her hair and made a nest (I’m pretty sure my mom joked about this when brushing my hair as a kid). I also try to come up with crazy hairstyle terms so she’ll be more willing to let me touch her hair. I’ve made ‘twisty tails,’ ‘Frozen braids,’ ‘ballerina buns’, etc.”
Once Elizabeth’s hair is done, they can all sit together and eat.
At 7am, Kristen brought Elizabeth in to wake David so she could say goodbye before her dad took her to daycare.
“I was worried Elizabeth wouldn’t get enough attention from us and start to resent us or the baby, but she has transitioned to Big Sister amazingly.”
Five minutes later, Justin and Elizabeth were out the door.
At that point, Kristen is left alone to take care of David for the day.
Typically, she’ll feed David a bottle and then have some play time on the floor, with last night’s Jimmy Fallon playing in the background.
Kristen talked about how lucky she is that she was able to completely “shut out work” during her maternity leave.
“Before I left, I was able to have a long transition with my back-up, and my group kept telling me not to worry about them. We are very fortunate in the benefits our company provides and the flexibility to take as much time off as I did. ”
After playtime, David has his second feeding and then Kristen lays him down for his nap.
“David is actually a much easier baby than his sister was. I usually sing to him a little more while rubbing a finger down his nose (his ‘off’ button) and then I walk away. If I’ve caught it right, he’ll fall right asleep and I get to feel like Super Mom.”
I asked Kristen what she thought when she saw the photos.
“I look really happy, which surprised me. Justin was surprised that he looked so grumpy, but that’s what happens when I get in his kitchen space. Overall, our family looks busy but very connected. I’m sure there was a tantrum or two in there somewhere, but the individual moments look calm and loving. We all have bad mornings, but I think I’ll look at ‘normal’ mornings with a much more positive view than I have in the past.”
I thought that last comment was going to be my final correspondence with Kristen, but she emailed again because there was one more thing she wanted to share.
Kristen let me know she had come very close to backing out of the shoot because she was afraid of what state she would be in with her PPD.
“I was afraid that I would be an absolute mess, deep in the middle of it, and Raquel would end up capturing my family when I was at my absolute worst. And honestly, if I had been scheduled a few weeks earlier, that’s what she would have got. When I look at our pictures again, it makes my smiles even more important to me— that I got through the rough patch and was able to enjoy everything again.”
This post is part of the “Monday Mornings” series sponsored by Allstate. Every family has a special morning routine, and as we continue this journey of documenting different mothers across the country, it’s clear that there is beauty in all of our mornings. As the nation’s largest publicly held insurance company, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most—but to guiding families to live the Good Life, every day.