I am so excited to introduce you to Jane Cross and her family. Jane, her husband, and her kids, live in Asheville, North Carolina. Jane is educated as a nurse, but recently switched tracks to work with her husband in education, when she saw a need and didn’t see anyone else to fill it. Jane also has an adopted son from Ethiopia and speaks really honestly and openly about the challenges of raising a black son in a white family in the south.

You are going to come out of this home tour smarter because of all of the great things Jane has to say. Welcome, Jane!

Hello. We are a family of 5 most of the time. My husband, Andy, and I met 15 years ago in January of 2004 in the swamp lands of the Everglades in Florida. I was freshly 22 years old and a semester out of college and looking for an adventure to put real life off a little longer. Andy, a few years older, was doing the same. Little did either of us know that we were getting a bigger adventure than we had hoped.

I had just gotten my Bachelors degree in History and had been convinced that the next move should be nursing school in New York City. Growing up in Philadelphia left me very comfortable with life in NYC — it was only a 2 hour train ride away, and I spent a lot of time exploring the city while I was growing up, and was happy to give living there a try. I was all set to attend Hunter College that January and get my BSN in nursing. 

At the same time, I had recently applied for a job to become an Outward Bound Instructor in Florida on a whim. I had been accepted to the program but decided I would stick with my original plan of NYC for Nursing School.

Days before I was to leave for NYC I made a life changing decision to put nursing school off and head to Florida instead. I couldn’t shake the idea that New York City wasn’t where I needed to be at the time and that Nursing School would always be there.  

I was young and so excited for adventure. I left everything behind me and drove straight to the woods of central Florida.

The very next day I met my future husband.

The adventure of life in the wilderness, combined with never seeing each other (as we worked courses 30 days at a time….never together), eventually got to us. It seemed like the time to tackle that nursing degree.

We settled on Asheville, North Carolina. Andy, coming from South Florida, had grown up spending his summers at a camp in the mountains near Asheville and had fallen in love with the area. I could see why and was delighted to oblige. I gave up the dream of life in New York City and happily adapted to mountain life in the south.

About the same time I became a Registered Nurse, Andy got hired as the science teacher at brand new small private school called The New Classical Academy that offers classes from preschool through 8th grade. With a few years of hard work and dedication, Andy took over as director and middle school teacher (both at the same time). The school ended up buying an old church to renovate and moved locations to the popular side of town, West Asheville. Thirteen years later, the school has grown tremendously as far as what it can offer and give to the community.  

We share our home with Adi (10) Belay (9) Georgia (6), and 2 dogs and 2 cats. Adi is the typical oldest child in so many ways. She loves to take charge and help when things get crazy. She happily packs lunches for the other kids, makes them breakfast, feeds the pets, anything to make our mornings run better. She is a dreamer, a maker, an artist and a dancer. She has fallen in love with ballet, but I think her true calling is the stage. I do believe we will see her on broadway. She loves set designs, costumes, choreography, story writing, song writing, painting. She loves being a sister and takes great care of her siblings. She still loves playing with her American Girl dolls and sets up elaborate rooms for them in her closet. I love that she still engages in pretend play, even in the midst of being a tween.

Belay is our only boy, and also adopted from Ethiopia. He is an avid sports fan, picks up any sport and excels at it, and is smart as a whip. I am pretty sure he has a photographic memory. No one should know that many baseball facts or football players. I’ve truly never seen any thing like it! But his challenges keep him grounded for sure. He struggles with anxiety and has sensory processing disorder most likely due to the trauma of being an orphan. 

We have tried to help him turn his disadvantages into strengths. His sensory processing has turned out to be a gift for him because it turns out he is an incredible gymnast. He craved the way his body moves during the sport and has become a state and regional (7 southern states) champion year after year because of it. He dedicates 15-20 hours a week year round to training for gymnastics and it has been a sacrifice not only for us but for him too. He misses sleepovers and playdates, and he has had to stop playing other sports because of how time consuming it is.

Every year we allow him to reevaluate if he wants to continue and so far he still does. Driving him there and back through horrible traffic day in and day out is more than a part time job for us, but we see the benefits it gives him and are more than willing to make it happen. 

Georgia, who we call Peachy, is our family goofball. She is the funniest thing alive, she’s pretty sure she is part dog, and enjoys life more than anyone I know. Her classmates love being around her, her teachers think she’s wonderful, and me and her dad cannot get enough of her snuggles. She is typical youngest child, totally independent, wildly active and fun. She isn’t keen on learning to read, she doesn’t necessarily love to do school work, she goofs off 90% of the time during her ballet class but even after all that, she’s the kid I worry about least. She just has the type of personality where you know she’s gonna be all right. She will be able to find her way in this world, I have no doubt.  

She began begging to play the Harp a year ago and this fall we finally gave in and found her lessons. I can’t say there are a lot of 6 year old harpists in the world, but our little Peachy is determined to be one of them. There is nothing cuter than a tiny harp player. 

We have been in Asheville, North Carolina since 2004 and have watched what was once an unknown town on the map becomes one of the biggest tourist destinations in the U.S. — with herds of new families moving here regularly. Of course anyone who lives here knows why. It is a beautiful town nestled in the blue ridge mountains. We have so much local food and beer; you can eat somewhere new every day and visit a new brewery every weekend. There is limitless outdoor adventures to be had, and we get four beautiful seasons.

Now, with all that good stuff comes an incredibly high cost of living, an impossibly competitive real estate market, and a very small job market. Most of the work here is in tourism or the hospital. If neither of those things are your jam, then to make it here you have to either start a small business or work remotely. And that is what most people end up doing. We have toyed with moving many times, but when you have built a school from scratch it’s hard to pick up and move.

After twelve years of living in various areas of Asheville, and then in the heart of the very popular and growing downtown West Asheville, we decided we were ready to spread out and started looking for a property with a flat yard. The challenge is that we are a mountain town, so flat yards are very hard to come by. Any property within ten minutes of downtown, with more than a postage stamp of a yard, is nearly impossible to find, even if you are willing to spend a lot (as in over $500,000).

The good news was in 2016 we sold our house in West Asheville, with multiple back-up offers, in the first hour it was on the market, for $425,000. This gave us a nice profit to spend on the next place.

We were not actually looking to increase our square footage inside, in fact I had a dream of downsizing and embracing minimalism. We finally decided to look in a town called Candler. Anyone who lives in the area will immediately roll their eyes when you say you live in Candler. It is known for having no good restaurants, no shopping and nothing to do. Basically the least “cool” place to live. 

Luckily for us, we spent over a decade living in the hustle and bustle of Asheville growth, so we’d already experienced what that was like — and we spend all our time at school anyway. What we wanted was a house we loved and space around us. We wanted out of the “cool” place. The beauty of Candler is that is it only 10 minutes away from West Asheville and our school. It is also the only place left in the Asheville area where you can still afford some property and room to spread out. 

I went to see our house while Andy happened to be on a camping trip with no cell phone reception. As soon as I walked in the front door and looked out into the back yard I knew it was the one. It sits on an acre at the end of a cul-de-sac with a yard that has both wooded areas, that offer the feeling of living in the forest and privacy from our neighbors, but also tons of grassy yard for soccer games and sprinklers. 

I had to wait 3 days to tell my husband that I found our forever home. We bought it for $413,000, which was about 15,000 under asking price. I believe we got such a great deal because of its unique layout. I call it an upside down house. The main level has the kitchen, dining, living and master while all four other bedrooms are downstairs with a family room. Calling it a basement doesn’t do justice because it is mostly all above ground. We have full windows in all the rooms and doors that lead out to the patio and backyard.

I love that all the kids bedrooms are downstairs. It is common to have just one or two bedrooms on the lower level and two on the main level. I would not have felt comfortable having just one kid downstairs. I also think I would never have considered this house when our kids were toddlers. It would have felt like they were way too far away if they were all  downstairs.

But now I couldn’t imagine it any other way. They have the entire lower level basically to themselves. They call the family room the “kid living room.”  They can have as many friends over as they want, and us adults don’t have to hear them running around like wild horses upstairs. 

My husband had to convince me that downsizing wasn’t right for our family. He reminded me that we want to be the place that all the kids want to come to. The place to hang out as teenagers — where they feel they have their privacy, but also the safety of our family home. Where we can host family during the holidays without anyone feeling like they are putting us out. We want to be warm and welcoming to anyone who needs our home.

After watching students come to our little school on scholarships through various local and statewide organizations, and then be left to flounder in an environment where there where no busses for transportation, no lunches provided, and no big support staff that a public schools can offer, I knew someone needed to step in. That someone became me.

After years of watching our little school grow from the sidelines, I saw an opportunity where I could offer real help. I left my work as an RN to take on the role of outreach support and admissions for the school. 

We now work together everyday of the week. Andy takes the early mornings at school while I get the kids ready. The kids go to their classrooms, Andy still teaches the middle schoolers, as well as his endless duties as director, and I give tours, do the marketing, work on social media, organize fundraisers and PTO events, generally give support to any class that needs it, and of course, put out fires all day long wherever they might happen.

We stay at school until 6:00 pm every night, then head to pick up kids from their various activities, which makes for very late nights. Luckily the five of us are together all day, so even though we don’t have dinner until almost 8:00 pm on most evenings, we are not lacking in family time.

Having an interracial family has changed the entire course of my life. Little did I know when we came home from Ethiopia with a tiny little baby boy, that I would never be able to sit back and be complicit again. Race plays a part in our daily lives and always will.

Raising a black boy in the South is one of the most terrifying roles I will ever have. While Asheville itself is a welcoming liberal city, the South is still riddled in racism, and there is still a big racial divide in here. My son experiences racial tension and racism everyday. He gets called the “N” word in places where we have assumed he was safe, by people whom thought would never say such things.

We keep the conversation open at all times. My girls know they are excepted to use their privilege to protect not only their brother, but all marginalized people and people of color. 

It is heartbreaking to explain to just one of your children, that they will have to work twice as hard and behave significantly better, to hopefully one day find the same success as their sisters and white friends.

Last year, a video was released of Asheville police officers beating a black man for jaywalking, on a street that me and my kids(and thousands of local Ashevillians, have jaywalked across countless times. I sat both my girls down (they were 9 and 5 years old at the time) and showed them the video. They both sobbed through the whole thing.

They had to learn that the people they love most in the world will be treated like this because of the color of their skin. Belay was given “The Race Talk” on the night of his first day of kindergarten, and countless times since. Privilege is being able to wait until kids are older to tell them these things. As white parents raising a black child we don’t have the luxury of waiting, and we can’t assume that he will be safe.

Belay is not shy about telling you that what he gets most sick of is the stares he gets in public. It just makes him want to scream when people stare are him. Especially when its me and him and one of our teenagers out. The public can’t seem to handle it. I am always happy to talk about race and love to help educate fellow white moms. I have had to learn so much raising Belay that I don’t get offended when people just don’t know what the right thing to do or say is.

I only get frustrated when people argue with me that I should not talk so much about race, I should pretend Belay is just like my daughters. I wish people weren’t scared to be open with their kids about big hard topics. By having the hard talks about race, their kid could be a life saver to another kid. I think they are never too young to learn this.

  

One of the bigger ways we keep Belay’s culture alive in our home is through art and music. My husband is an avid art collector and most of the art we hang in our home is reflective of Belay’s skin color, his native home of Ethiopia, or black culture here in America. Andy also has a passion for East African music,and jazz and plays tons of vinyl. We dream of a trip back to Ethiopia soon and all the kids are excited to attempt to learn some Amharic before we go.

Belay’s gymnastics coach is also an African American man and they have an incredible bond. He has been his coach for six years, and makes all the sacrifice of the sport worth it.

An unexpected surprise of running a school like ours, is all the new people we add to our “family.” In particular, we’ve added three of the world’s best teenagers, and are here for them whenever they need us. Having these bonus kids (as we call them) in our life, and our little kids’ lives, has been the best gift I could have ever asked for. We all miss them when they aren’t here and pull our hair out when they act like teenagers. They are 16, 17 and 18 and when they came to our school, Andy and I became the parents they could call on, when their actual parents weren’t available to them. Without sharing too much of their story to maintain privacy, our house will always be their house too.

As long as we are running this school we know there will always be kids at school who become like family to us. There are usually students who couldn’t make it home, who join us at our dinner table. We always have air mattresses at the ready. And there is plenty of room in our cars to drive kids the places they need to be.

My mom superpower is being a caregiver and a mother to all. To love kids that are not biologically mine, the same way I love the ones that are. I believe that my role in this life is to protect and love those who need it the most. Whether it is my own 3 kids, my bonus kids, my 60 kids at school, or the kids who I haven’t even met yet, I was made to love them and be a mother to them when their own mothers can’t.

I also think I’m pretty darn good at giving kids a magical room to grow up in :)

What I want my kids to remember about growing up here is that their home was everything to them. That it was be a place for not only our three kids but for all those bonus kids and family that have come in and out of our lives. That we were the safe place for teenagers to be, and to want to be. That we never had to turn away lonely or scared family, friends, or students, who need a warm cozy place to call home, and that the kids who did live here all the time, never had to worry about feeling displaced.

I really hope my kids forget all the times I lost my mind over stupid things because I was exhausted or frustrated. I hope they forget all the times I choose to stare at my phone instead of read a book to them, or the times I was just too tired to talk to them on a late car ride home or right before bed.

My favorite thing about living with kids has been watching their little personalities emerge. Watching them turn into the people they will be forever. The times we all sit around the dinner table, and linger longer than usual, because we are having great conversations. I already miss them being little. As crazy as it sounds I miss sippy cups and footie pajamas, even bottles and diapers. I love that they still love Friday night family movie night and how excited they get for the holidays and birthdays.

I wish someone had told me, and I had listened, to swallow my pride when I became a mother. The things our kids do (or don’t do) does not define the type of mother or human we are. I wish I had understood that kids will never be perfect day one. I wish I had used the time and energy wishing for them to be the people they aren’t, on just loving them for who they are. 

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Thank you, Jane!

You can tell just by looking that this is a warm, comfortable and welcoming home. And it is so heartening to hear Jane talk about the work that she and her husband do for kids in their community — everything from the work they do at the school, to opening their literal home to kids who need a safe and happy place to spend some time. 

I also really appreciate what Jane said about raising an interracial family. I loved this: “I wish people weren’t scared to be open with their kids about big hard topics.” Kids are so much tougher than we give them credit for. We are sometimes so nervous to expose our kids to things that we weren’t exposed to as children. We somehow think that because we didn’t have to deal with a particular issue at a young age, that our kids will be unable or unwilling too as well. But we all know ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. I appreciate Jane being willing to have tough conversations to make her kids better and to make the world better.

SOURCES

Bed Canopy

Master bed

Living room sofa

Wall hanging in Georgia’s room

 


Follow Jane on Instagram, or check out the school she works at on their website or Instagram. 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 features@designmom.com