The major element in Ashley and David’s story that intrigued me right away was the path to finding their home. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it was less of a path and much more of a hike. A hike up Mt. Everest! With very little equipment or even a guide, at times! And they traveled the same grueling, often heartbreaking trek to find their daughters. In so many ways, the Reese family has worked hard for the life they’re living, but I know they wouldn’t have had it any other way. This is one of those stories where the end justifies the means. I’m so touched and inspired by this remarkable family in so many tangible ways, and I hope you will be, too. Friends, I’m pleased to introduce the Reese family!
Q: Please introduce us to the family who makes this house a home!
A: Our family of four lives in this little house: my husband, David, and our two busy girls, Amelia (Mia) and Julianne (June), ages four and 18 months. The locals call it “the white chapel on the hill” because it is so tall, white, and just plain conspicuous set against our rolling plains of farmland.
David and I are both students for a second time after deciding to make career changes. I taught high school English and History, and am now studying Speech and Language Pathology. He owned a landscape design and construction business, but is now is studying to teach high school Science and does personal fitness training on the side. We thought it’d be fun to cover the entire career spectrum before we hit 30!
Like most parents, our girls are the joy of our lives. We realized early in our marriage that our children would need to arrive unconventionally after several rounds of IVF, and now couldn’t be more grateful. They don’t look a thing like us, but I tend to forget that. Some biological mechanism kicks in when you adopt – particularly when adopting from birth, I think – and although my girls both have beautiful brown-skin-chocolate, as Mia describes the look, and David and I are pretty run-of-the-mill for our corner of the globe, I can’t fathom pinching a white bum or kissing a head without curls.
We are a high-energy family and tend to be either doing, creating, or dreaming something up to do or create. We spend a lot of time outside hiking, running, and biking. My husband runs ultra-marathons competitively, while I run just enough to claim sanity, and our four-year-old runs laps on a dirt track around our house as her specially tailored time-out. We thoroughly enjoy growing, assembling, and consuming good food, appreciate interesting architecture, and although we don’t have traditional television, as a self-diagnosed Anglophile, I can never pass up a good period drama or British detective series!
Q: Tell us the story of how your house came to be.
A: We had designed and built a first home shortly after our marriage. We invested a lot into it and planned to be there indefinitely, but when Amelia arrived and our job scenarios changed, we realized we were financially bound to a lot of things. We had car payments and a relatively giant mortgage that had felt comfortable enough when things were going our way, but the economic crisis in 2009 hit us hard and we hadn’t prepared for it. We sold just about every big-ticket item we owned: our house and property, our cars, David’s Harley Davidson – all the way down to my wool JCrew coat! – and streamlined down to items which were either highly functional or significantly sentimental.
We considered renting an apartment while we finished school, but that idea was nixed within days because we couldn’t bring ourselves to sacrifice our privacy and proximity to the outdoors we’d been used to; our house had been surrounded by 40+ forest acres. So, we got creative.
Over the course of a year living in our parents’ basements, we found an ideal ten-acre plot of farmland that had been recently divided, then designed and built another much cozier and much more efficient home. We still have a mortgage, but it is a significantly smaller monthly payment than most other student families are paying for rent. I have to admit that it was a lot of work, and our families were really skeptical about us tying ourselves to another mortgage while our future careers were so uncertain. We searched hard for months to find a bank that would offer financing, as well as contractors who would meet our numbers, and getting our house plan approved was a nightmare. But I’ve forgotten all that, and when I wake up to the sun streaming in my window, all I feel is awe that I get to live here at this time in our lives!
Q: Did you panic a little when you were selling everything?
A: Letting go was easier than we’d expected it would be. It actually felt empowering! The fact that we are not so defined by things as we think we are is reassuring. I have become very selective about things that come into our possession now, and certainly have a newfound phobia of debt besides our mortgage and some necessary student loans. This isn’t terribly challenging because we are limited by our tiny student budget anyway, but I think it’s a trend that will stick regardless of income status.
Q: Did your style change during that process? Did it give you the chance to start fresh and really define your aesthetic? And how has your style transformed even more with kids?
A: Yes. Streamlining lends itself to minimalism, and I am more drawn to a modern, industrial style than I was before. I still love antiques and timeless pieces, but pairing them with something clean and modern is exciting to me. That said, we are making do with what we already had because of our limited budget right now.
All of my antiques are actually family heirlooms, and everything else was either made by my husband or repurposed from a Craigslist purchase. I guess Ikea has helped fill in the gaps nicely! Despite my disenchantment with consumerism, if I had the means, a high-quality piece once in a while would be tempting. It helps to note that my daughter is currently on an autographing spree – permanent marker on walls, carved into the table, scratched into the window sill – so it’s just as well.
Okay, I also have a weakness for beautiful books. I like to touch and smell and read good books in their fully physical state. Not on a Kindle. We have lots of books for sake of looking pretty, but that’s it for frivolity around here! I swear!
I dislike cheap children’s toys, and have subscribed to the idea that less is more in that arena. Our toy supply is limited to a couple buckets of specific activities like Legos, wooden train tracks, puzzles, and art supplies, and some equipment for energy release like trampolines, swings, and bikes. Not only has this worked for keeping down clutter in our home, but it also prevents a child’s love affair with getting stuff. I can’t recall a time that my four-year-old has ever whined about wanting something from the store or expected new stuff for her birthday or Christmas. We like to celebrate by doing things instead. It makes life feel more rich.
Q: How intentional are you about decorating with your kids and their needs in mind?
A: I didn’t think we were intentionally devoted to their needs while building, but when I considered this question, I realized that they have a 24 foot long play fort and in-ground trampoline, along with a specially designed track that circles the perimeter of our maintained yard. We also have a swing bolted into the ceiling of our living room, and the mini indoor trampoline is basically a piece of furniture. So maybe their needs have more influence than I’d given them credit.
But no playroom or anything like that. Their books and toys are all contained by the devoted spaces in their shared bedroom. For the most part, they play, read, and draw wherever we happen to be, then put the stuff away. Usually with prompting!
Q: When does your home work best? (And what do you miss the most about your previous house?!)
A: Our primary goal while designing our house was efficiency in regard to cost and energy. All of our plumbing is in one corner on the main floor. It is heated by wood stove. We rely on strategic window placement for cross-ventilation in the warmer months, and sunlight in the winter. The windows and doors also make us feel close to nature, with every seasonal change, and the shifting light during the day. It sounds cheesy, but looking out at our view is a huge source of joy for me and my family. There is so much to see and appreciate.
Because our house is small and devoid of excess things, it cleans up in a cinch. Unless I have let the dishes pile up; on those days I long for a dishwasher! It is also relatively indestructible, particularly our concrete floors. Several people have worried about our children sustaining head injuries and having to crawl around on ice-cold concrete. But the floors are surprisingly warm during the winter months and keep us cool in the summer. As for injuries, we haven’t had any concussions as of yet, but both of our girls are pretty hearty. It may have something to do with their nice padding of curls!
Our former property was heavily treed, and our new property can only claim one native tree…and it’s really more of a bush! I grew up on the east coast and really appreciate the intimacy of trees and birds that come with them. I miss that, but I don’t know that I would trade the view we have. Plus David often reminds me that trees can be planted and grown, so we’ve started an small orchard. The only thing I miss about our previous house itself is a little gothic window that I would peer through every morning. Trivial, really.
Q: Will you tell us the story of how your girls came to you?
A: Both of our girls are adopted. They each arrived during the 11th hour, so to speak, of our heartache. Mia came just a few months after we had finished our fifth failed round of ICSI (kind of like in-vitro) and an ectopic pregnancy. Finding her birth family was nothing short of a miracle. It’s funny how the word miracle is thrown around a lot in the adoption community, but it’s because the process is truly full of them. They actually came to us through an unexpected knock at the door from an inspired neighbor.
June arrived after a year of nightmarish failed adoption experiences. We had been matched with 12 birth-mothers but each fell through, and some in a big way: baby in our custody, named and loved, then back to birth mom on a whim. Adoption, for the most part, is highly emotive and often difficult, not to mention the great financial expense, but it is obviously worth the risks. Perseverance results in a human life that gets to be yours! Anyway, June’s birth-family contacted us just as we were about to throw in the towel. If anyone is interested in the nitty-gritty, it can be read here.
We have open adoptions with each of our daughters’ birth families. The way we feel for their birth-families is hard to describe. Love? Gratitude? Eternal connection? Whatever the word is, it’s intense and the sort of thing you need to experience first-hand to understand.
The most difficult part about infertility is shifting the expectations one has about the course of one’s life. Once I came to terms with the idea that this is how it is and how it’s meant to be and is unique to our family, my heart was able to heal. I’m referencing only my own feelings because David was a step ahead of me the entire time! Like I mentioned earlier, I forget that I didn’t give birth to my girls, and it takes someone else to point out that we don’t look alike. When I look at them, I see my children. Mine. That’s it.
Q: What do you hope your girls remember about this home?
A: That it is happy and peaceful. I hope they remember being outside and having rich experiences, and I certainly hope they always want to come back.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mother? What do you already miss about this moment in time?
A: Since my girls are relatively young, I still get to decide what we do and when, and they still think it’s great! No hidden agendas. They just like to be with us. At least that’s how it works on good days. For the most part, we have a wonderful time. They are fun!
Surprises? It’s a lot harder than it looks. I thought I had parenting well-figured out before they arrived. I was also surprised by the mother bear instinct that kicks in. I’m not a very aggressive person. At least not publicly! Ha! But now, if anyone or anything were to hurt my child, I have a series of torture scenarios prepped! The depth and complexity of love, so unlike any other relationship, goes along with that. Whew!
Of course we panic about missing moments and quickly-growing children. Most young mothers are warned by veterans on a daily basis. It sure is a balancing act, cherishing moments and living in reality. It helps me to build in quality memory-making time into our schedule. I hope that doesn’t sound pathetic.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: There are lots of things that just don’t matter. I’ve invested way too much anxiety into issues across the spectrum that tend to work themselves out naturally. My mom bought me the little self help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff when I was a young teenager, which is a telltale sign that it has always been a problem for me! The good, better, best mantra is often on my mind and I’m learning to choose my battles – not just with parenting, but with whatever comes my way. It just feels so much nicer to not worry about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run, and invest all my efforts into the stuff that does. I guess the trick is figuring out what qualifies!
Ashley, I laughed out loud at this: If anyone or anything were to hurt my child, I have a series of torture scenarios prepped! I think mothers could write the best horror movies, don’t you? All giggles aside, my heart aches for the process that led up to you and your girls finding each other. I’m so happy you found your own miracles; life is always better when that word makes an appearance.
Friends, there is so much to discuss here! Streamlining our lives, selling off all of our stuff, making huge career changes midstream, adoption…David and Ashley are quite inspirational! What was your favorite take-away from this interview?