Amy seems like the type of friend who will always tell you like it is. The unedited truth, if you will. Those of us who have a treasured friend or two like that know how valuable a trait this is! So I can assure you that if you’re thinking of starting an online endeavor or company of your own, Amy has some solid advice for you. And if you’re ever worried about your child not displaying traditional boy/girl qualities, worry no more. Truly.
A number of lovely reminders, just ahead. Please enjoy Amy, Friends!
Q: Tell us all about your family.
A: There are six of us in total. I’m Amy, and I still don’t feel like a grown up or a parent despite how it all looks on the outside. There’s my husband Rod, an incredibly talented carpenter and an absolute perfectionist and details man compared to the big picture gal that is me.
Rounding out our family is our eldest son Oscar, almost five, who is sweet, and kind, and loves beautiful things and making things beautiful), and my younger son Sebastian, freshly two, who is funny and charming and and crazy and has a greater sense of self than any person I’ve met in my life.
And then my fur-children: a black cat with green eyes called Halle who goes missing in cupboards for most of the day, but when the house is quiet late at night and I have a good book and a moment on the couch, she always appears to sit in my lap, and a mad golden cocker spaniel called Keira. We were told that cockers are fairly crazy for about four years and their puppy stage lasts longer than most breeds, but Keira is 11 this year and still acts and looks like a puppy! So we wait for her to one day calm down.
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: We bought a house on this block 16 years ago. It was a teeny little miner’s cottage with no cupboards, no bathroom or laundry inside (we had to run an extension cord across the backyard in order to wash our clothes!), and two very small bedrooms. It was so hot in summer, I remember spending nights sleeping outside covered by sheets sprayed with water and feet dangling in a plastic kids’ pool…and so cold in winter that we would confine ourselves to one tiny room because it was impossible to try and heat the whole house!
The block was amazing, though. Huge and just 15 minutes walk to the centre of town. We thought perhaps we might knock the house down eventually and build units or do something equally entrepreneurial, but when we finally got permission from our council we had fallen in love with the location and decided to build our forever home instead!
At the time, we weren’t married and we didn’t have kids, so it was definitely a leap of faith, but it was the perfect choice. We still love it.
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: We live in Australia in a gorgeous city called Bendigo. We have four distinct seasons here, so even though it doesn’t snow, you still get the chance to wear great coats and boots in winter! And the summers are hot enough to swim everyday in a nice, clear heat unlike the humidity that exists in other parts of the country. Our region is known as Central Victoria and for good reason: we really are right in the centre of the state, and that means it’s less than a couple of hours drive to the snow, the river, the beach, the outback, and the centre of Melbourne. So, no matter what you are in the mood for, it’s never far!
The architecture in Bendigo is beautiful. There was some serious money back in the city when gold was discovered around 150 years ago, and some amazing old homes were built in that time and have been lovingly maintained. Of course, strict heritage overlays have helped there too. We have lots of parks, lots of trees, and the new buildings that are being built have been designed with the latest technology and styles in mind, so the contrast between old and new is fabulous.
I do often joke, however, that it’s the largest small town in the world. We are the second largest inland city in all of Australia, but everyone knows everyone here and it has a real small-town vibe with all the benefits of a city like great schools, universities, and cafes!
Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?
A: Because we didn’t have kids when we designed our home, we tried really hard to imagine different life stages. Would it work with young kids? Teenagers? Empty-nesters? At the time we built, Rod had done a few renovations on some old Victorian homes, and many of them were putting large open living/dining/kitchen spaces off the back of the house. We loved the idea of the Victorian plan, which is essentially a large central hallway with rooms off either side, and then that modern open space at the rear of the home.
It is a really simple design. Not a lot of rooms, but each room is slightly larger than a usual room, and all the ceilings are high which gives it a great sense of space. We also made our central hallway nice and wide, and before the boys arrived a lot of people commented that it we ever had little boys they would adore that long hall…perfect for indoor cricket! We were given a soccer ball when Oscar was very young, and it is made from some amazing material that means you can kick it straight at someone’s head and it doesn’t hurt! It doesn’t knock my photo frames off the wall either, so there is a fair bit of kick-to-kick going on each night when the bath is filling.
There have already been evolutions along the way since we built almost 10 years ago. We wanted to keep a guest room when Sebastian was born, so our movie room (which hadn’t seen much action since Oscar’s arrival!) was reconfigured and became an office/library/tv room/play space, and the office became Sebastian’s bedroom.
The bedrooms are all lovely large spaces so that there is enough room now for the kids to play on the floor and spread out, and when they are teenagers there will be ample room for a double bed, a chair, and a desk. Because their rooms are such a great size, we find they happily play in there and don’t spread too much out around the rest of the house. We have a small Ikea book shelf masquerading as a window seat with some toys in baskets and their car garage at one end of the kitchen, and then their kitchen and a small box of toys at the other end of the room. Everything can be thrown away at the end of the day, and I am incredibly grateful that I don’t have to climb over toys everywhere I go in the house.
Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best? How does the room decor contribute to this harmony?
A: I love first thing in the morning on days when there is nothing to rush to and we all end up in our bed laughing and talking. I love bathtime when both boys are in the bath and happily making up games, and Rod and I can both sit in there and talk about our day. I love nights by the fire watching a great show on TV and knowing the kids are safe and warm and asleep in their beds.
I think, though, most of all, I love our home in the summer. My perfect afternoon is when we swim in the pool, then pick some fresh tomatoes from the vegetable garden to add to a salad and BBQ tea. Then to have the kids go to bed and the sun is setting but it’s still warm enough for one last swim and a glass of wine outside…heaven!
Q: You run an online magazine called LittleONE. Tell us about it and your role.
A: Before I started LittleONE, I ran a local magazine which started after Rod and I returned from traveling in Europe where we had discovered city magazines throughout the UK. I wanted to create a positive forum to celebrate the good things about my city and I think LittleONE has turned into a bit of an extension of that.
When I got married, I became completely obsessed with beautiful bridal magazines. Around the same time, I had quite a lot of friends having their first baby. I looked everywhere to try and find the bridal magazine equivalent of a baby magazine, but all I could find were terrible quality magazines packaged up as lectures. As an educated woman, I didn’t need to spend $10 on a magazine and just to be told how much folate I should be eating whilst I was pregnant or judged for my choices once the baby arrived! I wanted real women sharing their stories and acknowledging that if mum and bub are happy and safe, then the choices of each family are just perfect.
I also wanted gorgeous fashion and rooms and cute little parties and ideas. This was a time before Pinterest, and if you typed nursery into Google images there wasn’t much that came up. So, I put together a mock-up of a magazine, did a business plan, and tried to find some advertisers and distributors to commit in order to get it off the ground.
On the day I met with my Australian distributor, I left our meeting (which was successful, I might add), walked back to my car in the car park, and threw up! Turns out I was pregnant with Oscar. The first issue of LittleONE Baby hit the shelves in June of 2009 and Oscar was born one month later. I often joke that I have managed to survive most of my life simply because of my naive optimism, but I have definitely been tested along the way with the business/family mix.
Q: I love how you describe what makes LittleONE stand out in the crowd. Can you explain your no stylist/no Photoshop ideals?
A: There are some incredibly stylish, talented, and clever parents out there. I wanted to share that. Many magazines on the market have impeccably styled rooms, and quite often the content of the rooms show that there is a bit of an agenda there…often promoting product. I wanted to show rooms and parties that were extravagant and over the top…and rooms and parties that were created with zero budget and loads of creativity.
I think we should be able to celebrate and appreciate the way that other people choose to live…even if it isn’t necessarily how we would, which is part the reason I love this Living With Kids series so much. LittleONE is beautiful, but we don’t Photoshop our babies or kids or mums, we don’t style the rooms, and even though our mums have no doubt tidied things up before we arrive (wouldn’t you, if a photographer was coming?), the space is what it is.
I also make sure that the story that accompanies the images tells it like it is. You might be looking at a glorious space and a super cute baby, but you will also learn that mum had a tough pregnancy and birth or is still dealing with breast feeding challenges. I think we all need to be reminded that just because something looks perfect doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious challenges going on behind the scenes. And just because life is hard and can be really awful at times, doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the beautiful things as well.
Real life and beautiful living are not mutually exclusive, and it bugs me that people think we have to choose only one way.
Q: What has been the biggest gain from working on this project? What is the most difficult part of balancing work and home? Any tips or tricks or shortcuts that save your life on a daily basis?
A: Meeting and talking to all of the parents who have been involved in the magazine has helped me so much. Oscar was a colicky baby, and many of my friends who had babies at the same time had these super sleepers who just slept and ate and smiled. There were times when I felt really alone, so learning the stories of other mums around the world was a huge comfort.
At the same time, having little babies and running a business is really, really, really challenging, and I think I am still a little bitter about not being able to take maternity leave and just shut off and be mum for a bit! When Oscar was about one and a half, I had the offer to sell my other magazine and I jumped at the chance. Turns out though, one business is just as hard as two. I used to work when he slept, and then he was in daycare one day a week and I would try to get all the activities that weren’t so kid-friendly done on that day. Daycare is really expensive in Australia, and that is something that I have struggled with a lot.
When he dropped his day sleep, it nearly killed me! I worked most nights from around 8pm until midnight, and there have been times that my relationship with Rod and with some of my friends has suffered. It’s not always ideal. However, the flip side to that is that this job has allowed me greater flexibility than I could ever wish for and that has been so great. I don’t feel as though I have missed a moment of the last five years with my children, and I am not sure there are many working mums who could say that. So I am very, very grateful for what I have been able to do, which is really have the best of both worlds even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
I have a photographer, a designer, and someone to help with the advertising. If budget allows, I get a few freelancers in to do some of the writing, but mostly I do everything myself. I love the writing and the stories, and the beautiful images, but the business side of things has always been a challenge. The content is the fun and easy part! It’s the website management, the logistics, the accounting, and compliance that is the boring and time consuming bit. Everyone who is involved with the magazine is a parent as well, though, so we are all pretty understanding when it comes to the work. However, you still have to remember that at the end of the day you are a business and you need to be professional. That person who emailed you today doesn’t care that you have a sick kid who won’t leave your hip or you got no sleep last night!
When Sebastian was due, I put on another helper but that has meant sacrifices from a financial end. When you run a business, I think there is always that time/money thing; you almost always have to make a choice. Rod has his own business as well, and that is something that I would not recommend! I think if you run your own business and have a family, then it would be incredibly helpful if your partner has a steady job or vice versa. There have been some really rough times when we have both been relying on other people to pay us and, let’s be honest, not everyone pays in 30 days! A regular wage would definitely have been handy along the road at times to keep us a little more sane.
My only tip to other parents, working from home or not, would be that it is ok to just go into survival mode at times. There are going to be times when the floors aren’t clean, or it’s lunchtime and the kids are still in their pjs because you are on deadline. Just so long as that is the exception and not the rule, you are doing alright! There is an awful lot of pressure on women to do it all and have it all: tidy, gorgeous home, well-behaved, delightful children, an exciting career, hot body, great hair, fabulous sex life, wonderful social life…I mean, come on! You might be able to have it all in a lifetime, but I don’t think you can have it all at one time. And you have to expect that if you are focusing on one or two things in a big way, other things will have to take a back seat. That is fine because it isn’t forever. It’s just for now.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?
The biggest surprise and my favourite part is how much being a parent teaches you about who you are and how it challenges your beliefs.
I am the youngest of three girls, and many of my cousins and family friends were also girls. Growing up, I didn’t have much to do with boys at all! My husband also has two older sisters, so it was a bit of a shock to us to not only have one, but two boys! I was really worried in the beginning, as I am not sporty at all and not very good at rough and tumble. How on earth would I be a good mother to boys?
Having two boys has taught me that stereotypes mean nothing. Both of my boys have ‘typical’ boy traits and girl traits…and they are both SOOOOO different from one another! There is no way that I could now honestly say ‘that’s a boy thing.’ I now know that some boys and some girls are loud and crazy and run and shout and jump off everything. And some boys and some girls are quiet and sensitive and thoughtful. Some boys like mud and puddles and mess, and some boys like colouring and quietly putting together a puzzle. Some boys couldn’t care less what they wear so long as it has a train on it, and others like to colour coordinate their ensemble JUST so. And some boys like cars and tractors AND things that are pink and purple and sparkle a lot.
Despite their differences, both of my boys love to read and they adore music…two things that are great passions of mine. They both love nature and being outdoors and animals and cooking, and as they grow I am finding that I have more things in common with them than not. Although, if their dad has his way they will love footy and then I might be in trouble! So far, the only thing I don’t get with the boys that I might with a girl is cute dresses and floral fabrics, but even that would be questionable after the age of two.
I miss things about them daily as they grow. A walk around the block takes about an hour as we look at every flower and bird and pick up little stones along the way, but when they ask to ride their bikes instead and we race past all of those things, I am already grieving a little for the lost toddler.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: How much I would LIKE them!
A lot of my close friends had children before me, and I was completely ready for the hard work that parenting entails. Often you would get a fairly horrific story from people followed by a ‘Oh, but we LOVE them! We wouldn’t change them for the world.’ And then a laugh! So, I travelled and worked and did all the things I wanted to do before I started a family because everyone had me so convinced that I would have to sacrifice so much when I did have children. Then they arrived and it shocked me how much I actually liked them and enjoyed their company and wanted to hang out with them all the time!
I was 33 when I had Oscar and sometimes I wish I had started sooner. Perhaps we could have had more? However, I guess if I wanted to be a little philosophical about it, waiting until I was absolutely ready and wanting it…good or bad…meant that a lot of the things that other people consider to be a sacrifice about parenting, I actually love. I love nights at home and early to bed. I love reading childrens’ books at bedtime each night. I love hanging out at the playground, especially when the sun is shining. I love going on holidays with them to all the kid places that we have avoided all these years! It hasn’t slowed us down at all, really. Since having kids, we have travelled to the Cook Islands, Singapore, and Vietnam, and are hoping to get to Europe next year. It will just mean more parks and less churches this time around!
I am so conscious that I really only get them, full-time, for five years and then they are off to school and, ultimately, their own lives. You really just borrow them as parents. So, I try really hard to take in and enjoy every moment. Yes, even when one child didn’t make it to the toilet in time and the other one is drawing in permanent marker on the walls! Quick as you blink, it’s gone. Sebastian has been a fairly awful sleeper and a terrible velcro baby, but every time I whinge about it, I also realise that in about 13 years time he will be sleeping til lunchtime and I will be begging him to get out of bed! I will also be begging for a kiss and a cuddle, so I’d best take them while I get them now. When you have little kids, you are so physically drained that it is hard to imagine you will ever feel any different. Friends with older kids tell me it’s the emotional drain that hits you later. Surely being a parent is the easiest hardest thing you will ever do in your life!
I think the other thing that people actually tell you but you don’t GET until you have kids is how your brain is no longer your own. From the moment you know that baby is on its way, all you can think about is making sure they are going to be ok, and that in itself is exhausting! Nights out, trips away, even heading off to see a movie with a friend…you are often still thinking of your kids and wondering if they are all good. So often in the night I sit up, suddenly wide awake in bed, and then a minute or two later I hear one of the kids begin to cry or shout out. You are connected to them in a such a way that you are never alone again. And that can be magical and wonderful and terrifying and make you insane all at once! I have found being a mother is my greatest adventure yet, without question, and I am so grateful every day that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it.
Amy, I love your style. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the unequivocal and deep-rooted feeling that they fit anywhere and everywhere and however they wish to fit. And the whole sharing your brain bit? Genius, and true, true, true.
There have been a million moments when I’m somehow alerted true seconds before my kids actually need me, or I know exactly the itchy spot that needs to be scratched. Friends, does that happen with you and yours, too?