Diy & Crafts

Living With Kids: Gina Lee

You know when you watch Gilmore Girls and all you want to do is move to Star’s Hollow? A picturesque New England town with a small town feel and street festivals and quirky neighbors and great scenery everywhere? Well, that is exactly what Gina Piombo’s home town sounds like!

She and her husband both work in advertising in New York City, and they are raising their two daughters in the village of Lynbrook on Long Island. She’s a working mom with two toddlers and she shares some great advice about being great at your job, keeping the house clean and organized, and maximizing time with your kids. Welcome, Gina!

Living in my home is myself, my husband Mike, and our really cute, crazy, totally different daughters, Ella (4.5 yrs old) and Gia (2.5 yrs old). And by different, I mean their personalities are so opposite. Ella is my sweet but sassy, shy but also so bold, beautiful, funny, DRAMATIC, over the top, fun little girl. And Gia is quite possibly the nicest kid ever born. The girl does not have a mean bone in her body and is just so sweet and loving and LOVES Ella so much. Gia has a sweet, quiet voice, wants to hug and kiss you and tell you she loves you all the time. She also loves to snuggle and be held.

Sometimes they are oil and water and obvious fights ensue, and other times they are the best of friends. They are both September babies so pretty much exactly two years apart, so we are in it, in it with two toddlers.

We both also work full time in advertising, so it is A LOT of juggling. I am at Warner Media and he is at Horizon Media. We both actually met in media at the same company and eventually he got promoted to be my boss which got me moved off of that account — hah. I eventually left that company and went into advertising sales.

One of my best friends, who worked on the same team as Mike (we were on two different teams at that time) introduced us 14 years ago now! Apparently, Mike wanted to be introduced to me for a while but my friend, Lindsey, said no. Mike was quite the party boy bachelor back in the day and she didn’t want me to get hurt. Eventually though, she did give in, and we went on four dates in a row and were pretty much inseparable after that.

Although it took him 6 years to propose (hah!), we eventually got married in this fun, crazy wedding during Hurricane Sandy down in Punta Cana at the Hard Rock. Everyone got stuck there for almost a week, so it is quite the story and a memory the clearly, no one will ever forget.

We bought a house in Lynbrook (right before the wedding — so that was fun) and started our life here. Our work hours are pretty long. We leave the house around 7:45 AM and getting home around 6:45 PM! We’ve been through five nannies but thankfully found our current one, who is amazing!!!!

It’s hard being a full-time working mom and trusting someone else with your most prize possessions but thankfully we have finally found the right person and it’s been pretty great. It’s definitely hard leaving them every morning, but we make the best of it and continually work on getting our work/life balance in check.

It is a give and take, but between the two of us we try to make sure we do not miss field trips, class events, and all that fun stuff that they have in school, and with their after school activities.

Being a mom — whether you are a stay at home mom or a working mom — is so tough but so awesome! It is honestly the most amazing, exhausting, rewarding, stressful, insane, and favorite thing I have ever done in my life!

We live in Lynbrook, New York, which is on Long Island. It is the south shore of Long Island, about 40 mins from New York City by train or car (with no traffic). I am originally from Waterbury, Connecticut and ended up in Long Island because I went to college there at Hofstra University and most of my friends from college were from Long Island or settled there after.

Mike is from Franklin Square, New York, which is on Long Island. When we were looking for a house we knew that we wanted a short train ride (no longer than 40 minutes), a good school district, and for the town to have a cute, small town feel. I had a few friends who grew up in Lynbrook and they LOVED it, so we settled on that area because it had everything on our list — and was close to the beach!

I could not be happier and I am a total Lynbrook groupie now, trying to convince everyone to live here. Actually, so far I have gotten three friends to move here! Fun fact: Lynbrook gets the name from Brooklyn because so many people from Brooklyn moved there in the early 1900’s. It’s the syllables transposed. I love our town so much!!!!

I don’t love the house prices — but for Long Island, I think Lynbrook prices are pretty decent compared to other parts of the island. As I mentioned, I am originally from central Connecticut, and homes there are not this expensive. For $500K in Waterbury, Connecticut, or the nearby towns, you are getting a huge property and basically a mini- mansion. Needless to say, I was in shock when I saw what $500K gets you on Long Island.

Lynbrook is full of mostly older homes (ours is almost 100 years old!), and what has been happening is that these homes that have not been renovated, are either getting scooped up pretty cheaply (again cheaply for Long Island, not the rest of the country), and are being renovated by contractors who are flipping them. Or, young families are buying them and renovating them themselves.

Our house was renovated by a contractor, so when we bought it, the inside was fully done with a new kitchen and bathrooms — which was amazing! We bought our house 7 years ago for $450K (we did some serious negotiating!), and now it’s estimated value is $600K, so it has gone up quite a bit!

We have done one big project almost every year, like putting in a new fence, re-doing all of the landscaping (since this is one thing the contractor did not do), putting in a custom stone patio and outdoor fireplace, finishing the basement, and redoing the mudroom. It’s been fun getting to work on each project, but also expensive — which is why we only do about one big thing a year.

As for Lynbrook I would tell any young family to move here! The schools are great, which was important to us since we really did not want to have to add paying for private school onto our cost of living. We are only about 10 to 15 minutes from the beach, which is so amazing in the summer! There are lots of amazing parks and splash parks nearby for the kids.

Lynbrook has a great small town feel with a ton of young families. We lucked out by moving into a neighborhood that has mostly young families with kids that are the same age as ours, that we quickly became close with. They are now some of our best friends that we do everything with, from random pizza nights, to movie nights in our backyards, to ski trips and summer vacations.

The best part is we can all walk to each other’s homes, so it’s easy to just pop by with the kids or have an impromptu BBQ. Or, if you are having a crazy day, it’s nice to be able to walk one house down for a quick glass of wine, and a vent session with one of your girlfriends.

My college best friends also live close by, and they have become my mom network that truly helps us survive as parents! We all help each other if we are in a bind, and need someone to watch one of our kids, or if one of our kids needs a ride. It’s truly amazing and I do not know what I would do without this network — especially with my long hours!

The town also has all of those great small-town events that everyone goes to. Things like homecoming, or when they close down Atlantic Ave — which is our little version of ‘Main St. — for Halloween Havoc. There’s a Christmas Tree lighting, high school football games, and a whole lot of summer fairs, parades, and events.

It sounds like a tv show but it really is like that. Everyone knows each other, and while there is all the normal gossip and occasional town drama, it is such a great place to raise a family.

It’s also nice that you can drive an hour east and find the Long Island vineyards or the Hamptons. Or you can drive 40 minutes or so west and be in New York City!!! Honestly, there are so many things to do with your family — which is why I really do love living out here despite the traffic and semi-crazy house prices!

Searching for a home is exhausting. At least it was for us. We looked at about 50 homes before we found this one. I was getting close to giving up. 

We were working with a broker, but Mike was also scouring the internet every day and saw this home go up, and immediately scheduled an appointment. I was visiting family in Connecticut, so I wasn’t there, but he called me right away and said he found our home. We scheduled another tour of the house when I got back the following week and I knew that finally, after five months of looking, this was definitely it.

It had a lot of character with the original hardwood floors, a nice floor plan, and the best part was the inside was already redone. The house was a little more than we wanted to spend, so we put in an offer that they did not accept or even counter! They were standing firm on the asking price which we just could not do.

So, for the next month I semi-stalked the house online and even sat outside an open house, down the block, watching from our car, trying to judge the people’s faces that were going in and out to see if they were going to take it.

I sound crazy (hahahaha), but I swear I am not. I just knew I loved this house and had to have it. Two months later we saw the price was slightly reduced so we put in an offer again and this time they accepted it!

Over the past seven years we have worked on different projects and slowly decorating our house. The tip I would give is to not rush or just settle on any piece of furniture. My great Aunt Tina told me to live in the house for a few months before we start buying our furniture and deciding on the decor for each room.

I have to admit I did not listen at first and rushed to get our family room decorated. A year later I really did not like it and decided to re-do the whole thing. Thankfully we were able to re-use the rug in the basement and I sold some of the decor online, but we definitely wasted some money by rushing and not listening to my Aunt.

My step-mom also told me the trick of finding one or two pictures of rooms or inspiration you really love and taping them to the wall. I did the modern version of this and I pinned a lot of room ideas to my Pinterest board and slowly shopped around for these items.

I didn’t just buy stuff to fill the room. I had a vision for each room and took my time collecting those things and making it exactly how I wanted. We still have a few shelves and areas that are not fully decorated, since I just haven’t yet found that perfect piece.

So I would say just take your time and really live in the space before you decide on the direction you are going to go.

As for buying in the area, working with a really good real estate agent who knows the South Shore is key, but also making sure you are looking on all the real estate sites too. The process is way longer than I ever expected and more expensive then I was expecting as well. No one tells you about all the fees involved at the closing so that is something to prepare yourself for as well. I think it is also important to have a realistic budget and stick to it.

For us having a home we loved was so important, but traveling and being able to do things with our kids was just as important. So we sat down with our mortgage guy and realistically set a budget that would allow us to still have the extra money every year to travel and do fun things with our family and friends.

Our house is not that big — probably around 1800 feet (not including the basement we finished), with small bedrooms and really small closets! But we knew we could make it work and still have the extra money for all of the fun things.

If we went bigger we would have been very tight on money and not able to live how we knew we wanted to. Making memories on vacation and having the ability to do special little trips and events like a fun concert or play is always a top priority for us, so sticking to our budget and not getting sucked into wanting bigger and better was very important.

Okay. So I am definitely a little obsessed with organization and hate clutter and things everywhere! On the other hand, I am also very sentimental and have a very hard time getting rid of things. So, if you combine that with two toddlers, stuff could end up everywhere!

I knew I had to be creative in how we organize our things as well as get the kids involved in decluttering. We have baskets and bins for everything ,and we try hard to keep everything to its assigned box. All small dolls like Shopkins and LOL dolls go in one bin, Barbies in another bin, stuffed animals in one basket, and regular baby dolls in a separate basket. This makes it easier for the kids to find things and helps them know where to put things when they clean up and not just over stuff one toy box.

We did this for their art space too. We bought a few different art organization bins that hold their markets, crayons, scissors, glue etc., and they know exactly where to find these things and exactly where to put them away.

We also make the girls clean out their toy boxes for every holiday and birthday, making a collection of toys to donate to different local charities. This helps keep us organized and less cramped and more importantly helps teach them about giving back.

I grew up in a home where everything from toys to the food in the pantry, was assigned a space. I think doing this really does help keep things organized, makes things easy to find, and doesn’t let the different baskets or bins become over-stuffed or messy.

At the end of the day though we have two toddlers, so it does get messy and some days it just is what it is!

When I walk into my home, the first thing I feel is a mix of calm, happiness, and a little stress at everything that has to get done. With two toddlers, there is always something to clean up, put away, or fix.

That said, I do know that when we come home after a vacation, I always feel so happy to walk in the door and just be in my house. Even after a long day at work it is just such a nice feeling to walk into our home.

I guess it’s a mix of knowing we did all of this. We created these spaces ourselves and we used colors and pieces that make us happy. My bedroom genuinely makes me smile! We have tons of pictures of us as a family and we also framed the sheet music to our wedding song above our dresser. So, while it might not be a big bedroom, it is filled with all things that make me happy and feel calm.

I also love, love, love photographs. I used to have a little side photography business that has been put on hold since I had kids, but it is still something I love to do. We have a lot of picture frames on the walls filled with photos of our family and friends. Seeing those images truly just makes us happy — and makes our family and friends happy when they see themselves framed somewhere in our home. I try to make sure everyone who is important in our life is in at least one picture somewhere in our house.

But I am not going to lie. There are days I walk in our house after being out for 11+ hours, and there are toys everywhere, school art work piled up on the kitchen island, mail and packages piled in the mudroom, and the kids running around the island, and I will get so overwhelmed — and feel like I don’t even know where to even start.

So we usually just leave it all until the kids go to bed. We want to make sure that we spend as much quality time as possible with the kids while they are awake.

Once they’re asleep, we both come downstairs and tackle the mail, laundry, packages, art work, permission slips, messes, and dishes together. I am very, very lucky to have a husband who truly does his part. We are equal, and this is our home, and our kids and we both know that. We appreciate each other’s help in making it all work, and keeping our house running!

Being working parents, who both commute into the city and have pretty long hours, definitely affect how we parent. We truly appreciate the time we get with our kids since during the week it really is not a ton.

We do try to take a lot of days off. We are lucky enough to have jobs that give a good amount of vacation time and holiday time, so we are always off at least two days a month on top of our weekends. We take a lot of little vacation and trips throughout the year and we really value that time together since the work week is so long.

During the actual work week though, we really value the three hours we have with our kids each day. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot of time and in actuality it really isn’t, but on most days, we make the best of every minute. Of course I would love more time home, and one day I hope to get that balance figured out better, but what I can say is that during the time we are home with them, we really do not do any other projects or work but instead just enjoy being with them.

Our kids get up around 6:30/6:45a in the morning so I make sure to get up early enough so that I am fully showered and dressed when they wake up. This way I can just spend time with them sitting on the floor, drinking my coffee, while they have their milk and play with their toys or watch cartoons. I truly value and love this morning time with them so much. Everyone is in mostly good moods and we just hang out until its time to leave for the train.

They always walk us to the door and give a million hugs and kisses and wave as we leave. Some mornings they are sad to see us go and tears are shed by them and inevitably by me, but we get through it and normally Facetime shortly after to make sure everyone is happy and good! We also Facetime throughout the day just so we can see each other and check in.

At night when we get home, it’s all about the kids. We do baths, catch up on the day and find out about school and whatever activities they did with their nanny, Megan, that day. We do any homework they may have, then go up to bed, brush their teeth, read bed time stories, and then lay with them until they are asleep.

Then we go downstairs clean up, open packages, mail etc., do laundry and try to get a half hour together on the couch watching something. Some nights are hectic and chaotic. Other nights are smooth and easy.

I am such a planner! I’ve planned every trip, event, and activity for my family and my friends for as long as I can remember. So running our home and making sure everything gets scheduled, appointments get booked, activities get signed up for, parties get RSVPed to, trips get planned, and parties get hosted, is definitely my super power. And I still do all of the trip, activity, and event planning for our friend stuff too!

Sometimes its overwhelming but it’s also fun for me. I make excel sheets for every trip we do, and try to just keep us as organized as possible. I then love to share all the info I’ve collected with anyone going to any of the places we’ve been to.

I hope my kids remember all the fun we had. The movie nights in the basement with popcorn surprise, the Sunday morning dance parties, the backyard BBQs with their friends, all the times we baked and made the biggest messes, the times we got to eat together and do our highs and lows of each day, the days we got to lay in bed a bit and watch their shows and snuggle, and just all of the fun memories we have made and are continuing to make in this house.

We always tell them this is their house too. We all own this house. So we need to appreciate it and take care of it! As for what I hope they don’t remember, it’s the fights (that I’m sure are going to continue) over our small bathroom and the small closets in this house. They are two and four and we already argue about bathroom space!

I honestly love sooo many parts of being a parent. I love that we all snuggle in bed during bedtime and read stories together. And while we may have totally messed up the whole sleep training thing by laying with them until they fall asleep, I also really love to lay there with them while they get sleepy and slowly drift off.

Sometimes I just stare at them, and I know that one day very soon they are not going to want me in there with them, so I am holding on to these moments for as long as I can!

I also love to watch them interact. Sometimes I will just peek my head around the corner and watch them playing without them knowing. I’ll watch them play with their dolls and how they play with each other. Sometimes you catch them saying the craziest, funniest things; sometimes you catch a little fight that hopefully they figure out on their own; sometimes we catch them being so nice to each other you can’t help but feel so happy and in love with those two little peanuts.

Living with kids sometimes is crazy! It really can be stressful figuring out all of the scheduling, child care, school, and work, or dealing with messes and not letting the toys take over. You sometimes feel like you are going to lose your mind.

But when that happens and I feel a little crazy or overwhelmed, I just think about how one day, sooner than I can imagine I’m sure, they are going to be a little older and it won’t be cool to play with dolls or to get hugs and kisses from your parents. They wont be taking bubble baths anymore, or wanting me to lay down with them until they fall asleep. And that helps me reset and realize that none of the messes or toys and stuff matter.

It’s about trying to live in the present, enjoy our home together, and hold onto every moment we have — before, as everyone says, they are off to college and out of the house in a blink of an eye! I can cry just thinking about that by the way.

I wish I knew how hard two kids would be. Not that it would have changed my mind about having two kids — because I love having two daughters more than anything in the world. But for me, going from one to two was way harder than going from none to one. Two kids are a lot, especially two toddlers. Someone is always crying, someone is always yelling or fighting over a toy, or not happy about how their bow feels in their hair, or how their pasta is touching their vegetables. It’s literally always something. I knew parenting would be hard but sometimes it’s like woah!

I also didn’t realize how much stuff you have to start to deal with once they start school. My kids are only in nursery school and it’s already a lot to balance. As working parents, it takes a lot of time to figure out who is going on the field trip, who is going to do the volunteer stuff at school, did we sign them up for the right things and activities, did we finish the holiday projects on time. It is all fun stuff, but it is a lot to juggle.

Another thing I don’t think you can be prepared for is how hard it is to leave your kids every day to go to work. I always knew I wanted to be in advertising and I went to college for marketing. I knew that I was going to be a working mom but I just didn’t know how hard that would be.

You want to be successful in your career; you went to college and you worked hard to climb up the ladder (so cliché but true), so you want to excel. At the same time you want to be the best mom you can be and not miss a single moment, event, or thing with your kids.

Combining the two is sometimes (a lot of the time, actually) really hard! That saying about how working moms are supposed to work like they don’t have kids but parent as if they don’t work is so true, and really hard to figure out!

You can’t even begin to comprehend how hard it will be to go back to work after maternity leave. Once you are back to work, you feel like you need to prove to your employer you can handle everything, but then at the same time all you are wanting is to get home and to just be with your baby.

As I have gotten older I am really working on my work life balance, and while I still have a long way to go, to get to a place I would truly be satisfied with, it has gotten much better.

I have learned that it is okay to just say no, and to miss after-work events or dinners, and just get home to my kids. I have learned to ask for the day off, so I don’t have to miss the field trips or special class days. I am lucky to be at a job that does encourage that balance, but even with a supportive employer, it is still incredibly hard and no one really prepares you for that.

No one prepares you for how much you are going to miss your kids, and feel like you are not really doing a great job at anything — being a mom, a wife, an employee, a friend, etc.. No one prepares you for the insane guilt!

But you figure it out with time, and start to figure out your true priorities, and when to give and take. We are in a pretty good place now, but there is always room for improvement!

—-

Thank you, Gina!

This home is so lovely. I am honestly jealous of how charming Lynbrook sounds, and and I’m ready to pack up and move so I can live out all my Star’s Hollows fantasies. It sounds so wonderful to have that small town feel, and then to have wineries, the beach and New York City all within driving distance. What a great place to raise a family.

I also really appreciate what Gina said about being a working parent. I’m always careful with the questions I ask about that because I’m conflicted about the idea of “work life balance” — and as a single working dad myself, I know how impossible balance can be to achieve most of the time. But I think Gina’s advice about really being in the moment with her kids rings true, whether you work outside the home or not.

Getting up a little bit earlier so you’re not trying to get ready at the same time you are getting the kids ready. Or really focusing on the kids after dinner and not being distracted by work emails. It’s definitely a fine line to walk, and I really appreciate Gina’s perspective on it.

How do you stay in the moment with your kids? What are the big things that are the most distracting to you? Are there behaviors you want to change so that you are more connected with the moment you are in?

SOURCES

Blanket Ladder

Counter stools

Bathroom Prints

Family Monograms


You can follow Gina on Instagram or Facebook. 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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