It’s not easy fitting twenty people into Grandpa and Nana’s house, especially when lots of them are under six years old. Katy’s family get-together last weekend was no exception. With sub-freezing temperatures outside, we squeezed through the door in a cascade of gloves, boots, hats, and coats.
For us, it was a welcome chance to catch our breath from building a company. Makayla, our two-year-old, loved it too. She was toted around by older cousins who helped her ride the rocking horse and brought her upstairs where the dollhouse was. She’s no longer overwhelmed by big family gatherings and grins as soon as she sees her cousins coming.
She’s lucky to have so many cousins nearby. I grew up as part of the sprawling Waechter family, but we were the Northeast contingent and our cousins (almost 30 of them) lived in Florida. We didn’t get to visit often, but it was awesome when we did. I will always think of Florida as a mystical land of water-skiing, ukuleles, and warm ocean beaches.
Grammy Waechter, her nine kids, and some of their kids
Celebrating family is more than just holidays and weekend get-togethers; it’s also taking daily delight in each other, even when life can feel chaotic and difficult.
A couple days ago we had to straighten out a miscommunication with one of our vendors. Those types of conversations aren’t always easy, but it’s usually just two well-intended people making sure they’re both well-intended. As I was on the phone, Katy left the stove to check our bookkeeping and breakfast started smoking. Then the fire alarm went off. Makayla, who has always been fascinated by the white box hanging from the ceiling, thought this was hilarious. I was still on the phone with the vendor while Katy, flailing around a towel, tried to clear the smoke away. Seeing her mama waving a towel made it even funnier and Makayla laughed uproariously. Meanwhile, I tried to quickly get off the phone, explaining what the blaring sound was in the background. It’s been a few days and Makayla still points at the smoke alarm and smiles.
Other memories aren’t as easy to treasure and sometimes crafting a family business can feel more against the family than for it. Meg Hirshberg, one of the Stonyfield Farm founders, writes, “How flexible can hours be when you’re working 16 of them every day?” It’s hard on the heart to demo at Whole Foods and miss Makayla’s bedtime. Harder still is working from home and hearing her ask me to color with her and needing to say, “I can’t right now; I’m working.” As hard as that tension can be, I get to see my daughter more than almost any dad I know and it’s worth the effort to make a career like that possible.
Even with sales calls, demos, and meetings, working away from home doesn’t always mean being away from Katy and Makayla. Our mill studio has a corner setup where Makayla can play. It has drawers of Lincoln Logs, Legos, and Brio trains and a bean bag chair we inherited from an artist down the hall (it’s even purple, our favorite color). When we built the play area, we had enchanted visions of Makayla happily entertaining herself while we labored productively on the other side, looking over often to enjoy our adorable daughter. Unfortunately, Makayla was less enchanted. The first time we put her in she stood at the gate holding the bars, tears streaming down her face, a helpless little inmate who realized freedom was better than Legos. Older now, she likes playing in there more, but she still prefers to be with us.
We’ve learned to let her roam the studio and she’s very well behaved. For the most part, she stays out of drawers and cabinets where the mess she makes outweighs the productivity we gain. It’s fun to see the activities that engage her, like coloring with chalk on flattened cardboard boxes or anything and everything that involves packing peanuts. It’s harder than we pictured when we built her play area, but more fun as well.
Last week I was making soap dishes and Makayla was cheerfully running back and forth delivering unfinished ones to where I was sanding down the edges. I love that she likes to pitch in and I was proud of her. She’d been doing this for a while when I started feeling her little hand patting my back after each delivery. It’s hard to describe what that meant. Entrepreneurship has a lot of unique pressures–making a product with your own hands and selling it to provide for the ones you love most, the exhilaration of new sales and the sense of loss when an account fall through–encouragement goes a long way towards lifting those pressures and feeling Makayla’s little hand on my shoulders I started to tear up. It’s amazing what Makayla can express without forming a sentence.
Sometimes Katy and I wonder if owning a business might make it harder for Makayla to have a normal childhood. Moments like that remind us of the gains, which cannot be measured, of working together as a family. As we do, we dream of building a company that celebrates the unique joy of each child, the beauty and strength of marriages well-kept, and the completeness that is felt when the whole family gets together for good food and good drink.
Cousins Munching on Crisp, New England Apples