“Wednesday Evenings” aims to show there is beauty in every family’s evening, even if we need an outsider to see it. Thanks to a continued partnership with Allstate, I am flying lifestyle photographer Raquel Langworthy across the US to document the nighttime routines of 12 families in four different cities.
Elizabeth and her husband Tom are both English professors with offices right next door to each other at Huntingdon College, a small liberal arts school in Montgomery, Alabama. They are both transplants from bigger cities— Elizabeth is originally from New York and Tom is originally from London, which is one of the reasons Elizabeth wanted to participate in the Wednesday Evening series.
“Often these kinds of series tend to focus on ‘hip’ places to live, like NYC, LA, Chicago, or Austin. It’s important, I think, to see how folks in smaller, less trendy places are getting through the day with their kids.”
Elizabeth and Tom moved to Montgomery from Chicago four years ago (where they met while getting their PhDs at the University of Chicago) when their first baby was 18 months. Now, they have two boys— five-year-old Alistair and two-year-old Linus.
“Tom likes to say moving here felt more like moving to another country than when he moved from London to Chicago! It’s the first time either of us has lived in the South. But we find Montgomery to be really family friendly. It’s been easier to build a life here, I think, than if we had been single.”
Prior to the shoot, Elizabeth described their evenings as “hurried, fun-ish and grating” explaining that “the boys get pretty tired by the evening, so there’s a lot of whining and complaining.”
Elizabeth takes the boys to swim lessons on Wednesday afternoons and comes home at around 6pm.
“We see a lot more of our kids than most families with two full-time working parents. Since we are professors, our schedules can be more flexible. One of us always picks up the kids at 3pm and the other is home by 5pm.”
When Elizabeth gets home with the boys, Tom is already in the middle of making dinner. From scratch, no less.
“My husband really loves to cook. He finds it relaxing. After a busy day at work I don’t really want to be in the kitchen chopping onions or whatever, but he finds it calms him down. Every Wednesday, we pick up our vegetable box from a farm here in town, and we try to make dinner that night using some of those ingredients.”
At 6:30pm, they all eat together as a family. In the summer, they usually eat outdoors in their backyard but the night of the shoot, there was a big thunderstorm so the family ate inside.
After dinner, they let the kids play while they cleaned up.
The kids now being at an age where they can play together on their own has been a big game changer for their evening routine.
“The boys don’t always play nicely together, but when they do, it feels amazing. Like we’ve figured out this whole parenting thing. Tom and I are able to do the dishes after dinner, instead of after the kids are asleep, which makes the overall evening much easier.”
If the boys don’t play together nicely, the evening takes a turn for the worse with “the kids whining and hanging onto our legs while we’re trying to clean up the kitchen, refusing to do any of the things that we know they like to do.”
At about 7:15pm, Elizabeth and Tom instruct the kids to clean-up their toys and let them have a late night snack of milk and cookies.
“Other people might think we’re crazy for letting our kids have something sugary right before bed, but it’s a routine my parents did when I was a kid and we’ve continued it with the boys. Alistair used to not drink a lot of milk, so it was a good opportunity to get some more in him.”
I asked Elizabeth if they ever threaten to take the cookies away as a consequence for misbehavior.
“We try not to use milk and cookies as a threat. It’s a pretty sacred family ritual.”
Then they take the boys upstairs to get ready for bed.
Elizabeth and Tom both participate in bath time, dividing and conquering on flossing, drying and dressing.
Elizabeth describes herself as “schedule-oriented” and tries to put the kids to bed at the same time everyday. But she recognizes that this also has a negative effect on how she feels at the end of the evening.
“We’re always rushing from one stage to another. I wish we had more time.”
After the kids are in their pajamas, it’s time for bedtime stories and tucking the kids in bed.
Unfortunately, their youngest Linus does not make bedtime easy.
“Linus has always been a terrible sleeper. We’ve been trying to transition him to sleep by himself in his big boy bed, but that’s not going well. So there’s often a lot of screaming, tears and Supernanny-style bringing him back into his bed over and over again. We’re hoping he’ll be sorted by the time school starts up again, but right now it’s pretty hellish.”
Elizabeth also talked about a period of time when they were sitting in the room with Linus until he fell asleep.
“We found that 1) we would fall asleep in the chair and then basically be done for the rest of the night, which doesn’t work so well when we have papers to grade after the kids are asleep and 2) stuff with Linus just escalates. If we’re there when he goes to sleep he’ll wake up in the night and need you there then, which will then lead to needing us in the bed, and on and on. It was definitely trying my patience!”
Recently, Linus has started sleeping in Alistair’s bunk bed instead of in his own room.
“Now they keep each other up talking and playing, so we’re working on that…but it’s at least less awful than the screaming!”
On the night of the shoot, there was a lot of back and forth as Elizabeth struggled to keep Linus in bed, but unfortunately, it was too dark to capture on camera.
Elizabeth reports that he ended up falling asleep on the floor.
I asked Elizabeth what she thought of the pictures.
“I love the way they show us really interacting and listening to the kids. Of course, we do that, but it often feels, especially at dinner, like we’re trying to have a conversation and they’re interrupting or fussing or something. It’s cool to see that we’re actually not neglecting them!”
Elizabeth changed her adjectives to “calm, engaged, and focused” and talked about how it was nice to see how their family worked without a baby in the house.
“We’re not in that crazy baby fog anymore, but our kids are still small enough that the days can feel like a long grind, and it all starts to be kind of a blur. It’s wonderful to see what our life looks like right now, from the outside, to help us remember this period when are kids are bigger and the challenges are different.”
This post is part of the “Wednesday Evenings” series sponsored by Allstate. From bath time to bed time, every family has a special evening routine. This series aims to show the beauty in the day winding down. 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.