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  • Morning Diaries: Willa Köerner survives toddler spring break 👶 & goes garden mode 🌱

Morning Diaries: Willa Köerner survives toddler spring break 👶 & goes garden mode 🌱

Finding room for me time and asparagus.

Hi friends! Welcome to another issue of Morning Diaries, where I ask writers I admire to recap their mornings from the time they wake up until noon. Today’s diarist is Willa Köerner, a freelance editorial strategist and copywriter/editor who lives in a remote part of the Catskills. Willa writes Dark Properties, a newsletter about growing the future which tackles topics “from climate grief to experimental gardening, anxiety-induced insomnia to the multifaceted challenges of motherhood.” Take it away, Willa!

All photos courtesy of Willa Köerner

5:54am — In the early pre-dawn, I wake up from a labyrinthian dream. Ever since I developed chronic insomnia a few years ago, and then got pregnant and had a kid, I have been a very light sleeper. My dreams are frequently vivid and bizarre, especially in the early morning hours. But in a strange way, I enjoy this time of early-morning delirium. 

6:33am — Finally rise from bed. I take my Lexapro pill and gulp some water before placing my bed-side water glass on the shelf above my bed. (This is my sign to my future self that yes, I did already take my pill… otherwise I forget.) I trod over to my dresser zone and grope around for a random sweatpants/sweatshirt combo sourced from my “already worn but not that dirty” basket. 

6:36am — I head downstairs and make a stronnng pot of coffee. While it brews, I tidy up my kid’s scattered toys and books and dig out a little clean spot on the couch where I’ll be able to sit.

6:40am — I sit down with my coffee and a book to indulge in 20 minutes or so of Morning Me Time™️. While it doesn’t always happen, I try really hard to be up and about before my husband and toddler so that I can read for a little while in peace. This is the thing I miss most about my pre-kid lifestyle: Just having quiet moments to myself to do whatever I want.

In terms of reading material, I just started a book featuring a series of personal essays about “deep ecosystems” by Willow Defebaugh, and I’ve been finding it inspirational as a reference for my own new editorial project, Dark Properties—a newsletter that’s loosely about “growing the future.” (I write essays and publish conversations about all sorts of ecological-and-future-oriented topics, you should subscribe if you’re into that sort of thing!)

7:05am — Like clockwork, as the daylight gets brighter, I hear Wiley, our kiddo, waking up. His murmurs crackle over the app-based monitor we still use to spy on him while he sleeps. He used to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn (and often, much earlier), but over the past few months he’s settled into a better schedule and usually sleeps from ~8pm until ~7am. This has been so, so, so helpful for our sanity.

As his stirrings get more urgent, I go upstairs and listen outside his door: “Mommmia, mommmmia, where mommia is!” Since I’m already up and caffeinated, I enjoy his sweet little whines. When I walk into his room he gives me a grin and says “Birds outside!” Yesterday we were watching some robins peck at a patch of yard outside his window, but today when I open the blinds, the birds are gone. “No birds,” he astutely observes. I lift him out of his crib and change his pee-sodden diaper. He doesn’t have school today, since his daycare (which he normally attends for three mornings per week) is on “spring break.” So, I let him stay in his PJs, which he loves. “PJs all day!” he gleefully cries. 

7:20am — Back downstairs in the kitchen, I put some water into the electric kettle to make Wiley a “honey-do,” his morning drink of honey, hot water, and milk. I also make him his signature morning gruel concoction of oatmeal, peanut butter, blueberries, and Craisins. I do this while carrying him around on my hip because in the morning he is very clingy.

7:30am — While Wiley eats his oatmeal, I start texting with my mom who has miraculously driven down from Vermont, where she lives, to help watch Wiley for the last few days of his “spring break,” which I keep putting in scare quotes because it’s annoying to me that his Waldorfian daycare needs to have two week-long spring breaks—one in February, and one in March. Are the toddlers going down to Miami to recover from their strenuous studies? No, they’re not—they’re just staying home all day to drive their parents nuts! We also normally have some childcare help from my mother in law, who recently moved from LA to Woodstock, which is just 25 minutes away from our woodsy mountain home. But she’s been sick with a toothache so my husband and I have been juggling our toddler and work-from-home schedules the past four days and it’s been… something! 

7:50am — My dear mother shows up to help (she spent the night in our guest cabin, which we used for an experimental artist residency project I ran from 2018–2020, but now that we have a kid and no free time, it’s mostly just used by our friends and by my mom, ha). As she enters our house, I basically heave Wiley into her arms so I can sprint off in a million directions trying to do all the things I've neglected doing for the past few days while we’ve been without childcare. I chug some more coffee and eat Wiley’s leftover congealed oatmeal for fuel. At this point Daniel, my husband, is up and eating PB&J toast. I ask for a bite.

After this, the timelines gets a bit blurry. I literally feel manic because this is the first chunk of dedicated time I’ve had to get shit done in days. My to-do list is long: I have become a quite serious gardener, and am knee-deep in early-spring garden prep, which basically means I have a ton of seedlings fighting for light in my living room windows, and a lot of soil-prep work to do outside, and seed-organizing and planning. I also have work stuff that I really need to check in on, as I haven’t had time to properly sit down and focus since early yesterday.

Still riding my caffeine high, I decide to tackle the more enjoyable garden-related stuff on my to-do list first, since it’s still early and no work people will be online yet. I take some asparagus crowns and tiny onion plants out of a package that arrived in the mail yesterday so they can air out. I thin some overcrowded seedlings with scissors. I water all my seedling trays, and notice some white mold growing in one of them. I google “What to do if seedlings grow white mold,” then find out that cinnamon supposedly works as an antifungal—so I generously sprinkle that tray with the spice, hoping for the best. I also research the asparagus crowns that came in the mail, taking sloppy notes on when and how to plant them. Based on what I read, it looks like we’ll need to dig a brand-new bed for them. Hmm.

8:45am — I segue out of garden mode, open my laptop, and head over to the Gmail tab. I see that overnight I received a few replies to some ongoing work things (an editor promises to read the first draft of an interview I filed; a potential client says they need more time to develop the scope of a project they might hire me for; a student who interviewed me for her thesis says thank-you for the books I sent her; someone I interviewed for Dark Properties promises to send me images to run with her conversation).

Next I check my Slack messages and look at my Google calendar. I realize I have a meeting coming up at 11am for my part-time job handling editorial stuff for a digital arts organization. It’s about an upcoming exhibition that, as usual, is running behind schedule. I also see that there were some new edits added to an 11-page Q&A document I finessed a couple of days earlier, so I check them out. They all look fine, so I accept them. Blah blah I keep doing this kind of work stuff until I realize the coffee has burned a hole in my stomach and I’m huuuungry!

9:50am — I head back into the kitchen, where my mom and Wiley are coloring. I remind my mom not to let Wiley color with permanent markers, as he recently drew all over some furniture with a red Sharpie. (“Whoopsie!”) As the de facto chef in our home, I decide to cook “salsa eggs” for everyone, which are basically just eggs whisked together with salsa and cheese, then scrambled in a pan (they’re easy and so tasty! Try it!). I serve these with avocado toast. Everyone briefly sits together at the messy table. Wiley licks the avocado off the toast I give him, and declines to eat the eggs. My dog, a mutt who looks like a small brown-and-white Aussie, keeps a watchful eye on the situation from her spot beneath the table (the vet says she needs to eat less toddler-dropped food because she’s becoming a chonk, but whatever).

10:10am — We all decide to take a quick “walk” together outside before the rain comes (walking with a toddler basically means standing around while he jumps in and out of puddles, or carrying him the entire way). Daniel and I wrestle Wiley into his rain pants, jacket, boots, and hat; I remember that I left my own rain boots down in our basement entrance because they were super muddy. We all finally trudge outside and slowly amble up and down our dirt road for a bit. As we pass our field, I chat with Daniel about the asparagus bed we may need to dig, and we consider where to put it. We decide it should go near his new beehive, since then it’ll be inside the electric fence we need to install to keep the bees safe from bears, which should help keep the deer from eating all the asparagus shoots. At this point, I realize my meeting is in less than twenty minutes, so I hustle back inside to take a shower.

10:45am — I jump in the shower and wash my hair. I quickly get out, blow-dry my bangs, and put some eye-corrector on my dark eye circles. I also slap on some mascara and tinted chapstick so I can at least keep up the illusion of being a not-hideous professional while on my Zoom call. I throw on a “fancy” black sweatshirt (instead of a huge gross sweatshirt) and some leopard-print leggings to complete the look.

11:01am — I race into the office I share with my husband and plug my laptop into our monitor. I quickly clean up the scattered clothes and junk that has accumulated on the office floor overnight, so my co-workers won’t suspect that my house is a chaotic pit of toddler-strewn junk (it is). I open my calendar to find the Zoom link, click it, and join the meeting. Phew. Two people are already there, two people are still missing. I exchange mindless pleasantries with the people already on the call, none of whom I really know. One thing I miss about having a full-time job is having real co-workers who you can banter with about all the other people you work with who aren’t on the call. (There’s pretty much nothing else I miss about having a full-time job, though, except the quality health insurance and reliable income and easy taxes, gulp.)

Annnyway, the meeting progresses, yadda yadda, and then it’s…

12pm! The point at which this diary ends. Just so you can get a sense of how thrilling the rest of my day is, I’ll share a brief bulleted list of what else unfolds:

  • 1:30pm — Attempt to get toddler to take a nap (fail)

  • 2pm — Get toddler into his stroller so my mom can push him on a walk (this always makes him fall asleep, saving us from an afternoon of no-nap chaos)

  • 2:30–5pm: Work on ye ol’ lappetoppe; juggle toddler stuff

  • Cook dinner: I make two homemade pizzas, one with pesto and corn, one with tomato sauce, olives, broccoli, and onions

  • 7:30pm — Play with Wiley, read books, attempt to get him to brush his teeth

  • 8:08pm — Toddler is doooown for the night! Wooooh 👏

  • 8:10 — Do dishes, clean until it’s “good enough”

  • 8:35pm — Hit the couch and “get flat,” as we call it. Attempt to watch the end of Anatomy of a Fall; fall asleep within the first 20 minutes

  • 9:30pm — Wake up on the couch; watch a gardening tutorial on YouTube. I’ve been doing this every night lately as a pre-bed palette cleanser from whatever show we watched. It’s a nice way to ambiently keep learning new gardening stuff.

  • 10:10pm — Read my Kindle in bed until I get too sleepy to keep my eyes open. Turn out the light. Goodnight!


You can follow Willa on Instagram @willak.

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