Diy & Crafts

Living With Kids: Dorothy Matlis

Dorothy’s story is such a powerful one. She lost her husband at a young age, and is now a single mom to their beautiful little boy. Dorothy has such wise words to share about her experiences, and about what she is doing to create a happy home for her family. I am so grateful for her willingness to be vulnerable and talk about grief and sadness and loss. I really appreciate getting to see a bit of her every day life. Welcome, Dorothy.

My home is full of love and laughter, toys and dog hair, and memories waiting to be made. Like all parents, I am kept busy and energized by my four-year old son Joshua and our eight-year old dachshund mix Macy, the latter of whom was adopted shortly after my late husband Naphtali and I were engaged. She is the dog he always dreamed of and Macy is still here keeping me busy and being an affectionate friend to my son. 

I met ‘Tali’ on eHarmony back in November 2011. He worked as a patent attorney and I work in talent management. We fell deeply in love quite quickly. Never in my life had I known a person who was so easy to spend time with.

In some ways, we shared very little in common; he had three graduate degrees from impressive schools, was an only child, his first language was Russian, he was Jewish. I grew up in Virginia, nothing impressive in the way of education, and I grew up going to Baptist church (and school). He spent time volunteering as a docent at the Udvar Hazy Center and I volunteered as an administrative member at the local fire department. He liked liquor and cigars. I liked seeing ballet and baking (he kept a gluten free diet which forced me to dig deep on that love of baking). He had a 14-year old daughter who lived in the UK with her mom.

I found in him someone who saw the world through the same lens as me. Maybe what felt so different about him was that he understood me, wholly and completely, in ways that no one else in the world ever has. There aren’t words that can explain how deeply impactful it is to be known and accepted. Experiencing life with him rocked my world, and suddenly all the things I said I never wanted (marriage, family) were exactly what I wanted with him!

Within a few months of dating, we were getting more serious about our future. I signed up for the Jewish Welcome Workshop at a local synagogue — it was a class that met weekly for nine months, and was part of my path to conversion. We ended up taking the course together, and that time helped build a foundation for our relationship — and eventually, our community — of support, openness, and understanding. Our wedding followed in July 2013. I couldn’t believe that I had found such happiness.

Having children together was important to us and we felt so lucky to get pregnant right away. While I was pregnant, my sweet husband started feeling ‘not quite himself’ and in my third trimester, we learned the devastating news that he had esophageal cancer, even though his oncologist frequently noted that he was “perfectly healthy” otherwise.

Tali, who was extremely smart, interesting, and remarkably funny, was over the moon when Joshua was born in July 2014. As a family, we were able to capture nine months together, every moment precious. Tali’s cancer grew and grew. He said that if he had to die, he’d die fighting and that he did. He tried everything — several chemo cocktails, immunotherapy, radiation, and sadly, nothing worked. He died in May 2015. His legacy is his zest for life, and our son certainly carries that on.

Our son is more fun than I could’ve ever imagined. He loves stuffed animals, Legos, and our dog. I hope he inherits his father’s self-confidence, affability, and a curiosity about the world that knows no bounds. Joshua already has plenty of strong opinions and loves to go on adventures. He and I have travelled together and shared amazing experiences in places like Amsterdam, Jamaica, Denver, Atlanta, and Boston. If somebody had told me before having him that a four-year old could be such a great travel companion, I wouldn’t have believed them. 

We live in Potomac, Maryland, just a few miles outside of Washington, DC. Our townhouse community was built in the late 70s/early 80s and has a wonderful mix of ages and stages — some young families, some families with high school and college age children, and beyond. The day that Joshua and I moved in to the neighborhood three years ago, the moving truck left and minutes later I met my neighbor, Mary Alice — she had seen the truck so she came to knock on the door and introduce herself.

It’s a very welcoming, close-knit community, and I absolutely love it. The orthodox Jewish community is very strong here. There are three orthodox synagogues within walking distance, and it is very common to see families walking to and from temple on Saturdays. 

Similar to cities like San Francisco and New York, Potomac’s housing prices are high, but professional salaries reflect that reality. Townhouses in this neighborhood sell for between $525k and $685k depending on inside/end unit and how updated it is. We are within walking distance of a nice shopping center with stores, restaurants, grocery, and the like. Plus, the community pool, playground and tennis courts are perfect for our family — you rarely feel the need to drive anywhere!

The housing prices reflect not only the neighborhood’s access to local amenities, but also its proximity to amazing destinations. Take a 45-minute drive and you could get to downtown Baltimore, DC, Annapolis, or to the Shenandoah mountains. Within ten minutes is the Great Falls National Park, and about three hours away is Maryland’s Eastern Shore with beaches and bay.

After my husband died, living in our high rise apartment became difficult with a baby and a dog. I was desperate for a yard and wanted to live closer to my job at the time, so I decided to sell our condo and rent one of the first places I found close to my two sisters.

They each have two children of their own, but together spent a few weeks trekking to my apartment, packing up all of my belongings to get ready for the move. They even had the idea to post on Facebook asking for volunteers to unpack! The day of my move, I left home around 8am for work, and when I came home to my new place for the first time, it was as if I’d lived there forever. Everything was in its place — dishes, pantry, clothing. I later learned that one of my friends, who happens to be CEO of a company in Atlanta, saw the Facebook post and sent four of his employees over for half the day to help my sisters.

That story is just a drop in the bucket of how kind, generous, and supportive my tribe has been. My sisters, especially, have moved mountains to help me make it through every day.

Back to the house…it was — and still is — perfect for us. This home is wonderful, with beautiful hardwood floors on the main and upper levels, and tile in the walk-out basement, so the durability and ease of cleaning is absolutely ideal when living with a child and pet. Flooring and the backyard were my top priorities when I was house hunting.

While I love our house, I’m mentally ready to buy a home again and have been actively shopping in the area. I’m a pretty quick decision-maker, so it’s an enjoyable process for me.

As a child, home was a place that didn’t have the same meaning to me as it does now. Memories of home include anger, depression, alcoholism, and abuse. When I was little, I would do anything to get away from that tension and all the uncertainty that goes along with it. So, as an adult, I have fought for a radically different tone at home. Especially now that I am a mother, my resolve for building a calm, happy, nurturing home couldn’t be stronger.

Today, home is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life — a place to be myself and to be comfortable. I’m not a formal person, and I like an eclectic variety of furnishings and decor. I want people to feel at home the minute they come in. Kick off your shoes, relax, and don’t stress out about whether or not you can set a drink on the coffee table. Everything in this house, save a handful of particularly precious items, is just stuff.

I want my home to look and feel relaxed. I tend to be a clutterer. I’m not very organized, so I try to just minimize the piles as much as possible. I always envy families who are minimalist, but I honestly have no idea how that is done!

My philosophy on being a good mom is taking care of yourself first (within reason, of course). Having a strong support system has been important to me throughout my adult life, so investing in close relationships and friendships is something I really believe in.

As a single parent, feelings of isolation can compound quickly, so I make a lot of effort to maintain a social network apart from my little one. That means I ask for help from my sisters (and/or their husbands!), or friends, or babysitters (yes, it gets expensive, but I firmly believe it’s a necessity).

When my husband was sick, my rabbi instilled in me that it is okay to ask for help when you need it, and she pressed me to embrace the fact that people often want to help. I probably rely on my sisters more than I should, considering the responsibilities each of them have already, but as much as possible we are there for each other.

It’s kind of funny — one of my sisters has been integral in the acquisition of stuff (she helped me with buying all the things I needed in my new house like trash cans, rugs, storage bins, furniture, etc.) and another one of them always helps me when I need to retire things (books, toys, clothes — you name it, she will come scoop it all up and make it disappear!). Another one of my sisters has been Joshua’s main childcare provider since he was three months old. She picks him up from my house every morning and takes him to preschool and then picks him up at the end of his day and fills all his time with fun until I’m home from work.

At home, Joshua is responsible for putting all of his toys away, and for basic daily maintenance, like hanging up his coat and unpacking his lunchbox and backpack. He also unloads the bottom rack of the dishwasher and helps me sort laundry, which is great! I want him to grow up knowing that upkeep of a home and belongings is a shared responsibility, so we always tackle chores as a team.

Ultimately, my most important jobs involve continuing to find ways to set Joshua up for success AND managing my grief and happiness. I do my best to manage the business of being a full-time working human/woman/mom/landlord, but some things have to give. For example, I haven’t written a thank you note since my wedding! Needless to say, I’m behind.

Keeping my home more organized and less cluttered with a refrigerator that doesn’t have some sad, wilted celery in it should probably get more regular attention, but honestly, a super tidy home with Instagram-worthy toy organization methods feels more like a luxury that I can’t quite afford.

On a softer note, if you are like me and didn’t grow up with the best examples of parents, take time to observe — in the front row — parents whose style and outlook you want to have. Being a parent can be so hard, and while a lot of it is driven by gut instinct, it’s also wise to learn from others. We’re all amateurs at being a parent at some point, and there’s no harm in job shadowing to pick up some winning tips!

Growing up, I never thought I would become a parent, and honestly I never thought it would be fun. Sure, I adored a handful of children, but me? I didn’t think I would ever want it or love it. Then I met Tali and realized it was something I really wanted. The best part was the surprise in finding that being a mom is the best job in the world. I really enjoy my son — his personality, getting to show him different kinds of activities (even some I want to learn, like tennis), and building routines that help him grow. Watching him learn something new is like feeling the blood pump through my body — I’ve never felt more alive!

Most aspects of being a mom are easier than I thought, but the hardest part is doing it alone. Pulling all the weight of domestic work, parenting work, big-life-plan work, financial planning, and day-to-day execution is hard, quite simply.

I’m not much for big gifts or fancy technology, but I like to wow him with fun surprises. Like a custom unicorn cake on his half birthday or fuzzy new slippers, I think fun surprises are the best way to show you care, and he is such a wonderful gracious recipient of those things!

There’s a book that his grandparents gave him called I Love You, Stinky Face that explains how I feel about him — no matter who he becomes or what he’s like, I’ll always know who he is, and I’ll always celebrate him and delight in him. He has a unique and effervescent personality that will always have my heart!

Any activity with Joshua is my favorite! Road-trips, going out for “mommy/bubba” breakfast, early morning snuggles when he comes to wake me up, watching him play the piano are among the highlights. He has always had a twinkle in his eye and still does. I love showing him new things and places, and I love seeing him achieve. Watching him practice something over and over — and then gain pride and confidence — is such a joy.

I hope Joshua always knows that his parents are/were absolutely crazy about him. I’m in awe of him every single day and I’m so proud of the person he is. I hope he remembers being a happy kid and doing fun stuff, like riding his bike in the basement. And I also hope he remembers and appreciates the satisfaction of being responsible for feeding the dog and emptying the dishwasher and sorting the laundry as an integral member of our family.

Lastly, I hope he remembers the countless stories he has heard about his dad, whether that’s through me or his dad’s friends or family. We talk about Tali every day, and Joshua has so many questions and curiosities, but I know that he ‘gets’ what his dad was like. I hope he walks tall, confident, and self-assured, knowing where he has come from. I hope he will always be comfortable talking about his dad.

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Thank you, Dorothy!

I’m so impressed with your ability to face challenges, ask for help, and move ahead with dignity and hope. Being a single mom and trying to navigate all of the trickiness of babies and toddlers is hard enough — and dealing with all of that while processing your own grief must be impossibly complicated. 

What I especially loved about Dorothy’s answers is how clear it is that community and family play such a huge part in her life. From her sisters (the shopper and the thrifter!), to her faith community, you can really see how Dorothy not only allows them to help her out, but celebrates their kindness and makes it a part of her daily life. It’s so touching to see how Dorothy has built a close circle around herself and Joshua to enrich their lives and make their path a little smoother and easier to walk.

SOURCES

Dorothy’s favorite pot

Bookshelves

The playhouse

 


You can follow Dorothy on Instagram here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at [email protected]

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