By Gabrielle. Some photos by Sarah-Marie Photography.
There’s often a little internal struggle when all of our life’s dreams don’t look exactly like they did with our eyes closed. Even if the reality is just as wonderful and just as ideal, it takes a moment or two of growing pains to adjust! It happens, doesn’t it? So I completely understand when Anne talks about her reticence to fully embrace suburban life for a while. Homes all on top of each other and neighbors knowing when you’re leaving and when you’re coming home wasn’t how she envisioned her life, but their location and all the lovely friends they’ve made in their neighborhood turned out to be a huge factor in the happiness levels of her family! Eyes closed or open, that is just heavenly.
Friends, I hope you enjoy the bright colors and bright ideas in this tour. I sure did! Welcome, McGraw family!
Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!
A: My husband, Ryan, and I have been married for eight years and have two vivacious daughters. Cora is six, and is wickedly smart and all the fun things that come with that: strong willed, independent, and determined to eek every second out of every day. She actually says, “Today was the best day of my entire life” at the end of most days. She’s my mini-me and my teacher in so many ways.
Greta is four, and is literally the happiest child you’ve ever met and always has been – even as a baby. She’s full of sweet sass and loves to sing and perform and make everyone laugh.
Ryan is a technology consultant and works out of the house when he’s not traveling to visit clients. We met in Atlanta where we went to college together, and moved to New York City and Minneapolis before settling down in Nashville almost seven years ago. I work at a very large and well known global organization, which is what brought about our move to the suburbs in order to reduce my commuting time. I’m also producing Nashville’s first Listen To Your Mother show this April!
Q: How did this house become yours?
A: When we first moved here, we rushed into buying a house and it happened to be at the peak of the market. While I loved our huge, wooded lot in a very old and established neighborhood close to all the fun parts of Nashville, we quickly outgrew it and knew another 1950s ranch house was not in our future. We spent many, many weekends driving around new developments just south of town and stumbled upon this one and knew it checked all the boxes for our young family. We were able to pick our lot and wait until we were really ready to build, which gave us a full year of time to plan and customize.
The good and bad part about working three minutes from our new home site was that I was a woman obsessed during the building process. I was here every day at lunch, if not also doing a drive-through before and after work. We nitpicked details and finishes and were so involved in the process that I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing with how the house turned out. We only encountered minor issues, and I believe it’s because we took so much time to plan and set expectations with the builder.
Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?
A: Nashville is definitely having an “It Town” moment right now as people are discovering this amazing city and the quality of life here. I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise children, honestly. We live about 20 minutes south of town, literally on the edge of horse country with a Civil War-era main street and historic city center.
It’s just easy here. The schools are fantastic, the area is beautiful and green and lush with rolling hills, we’re 15 minutes away from pristine lakes where we boat in the summers, and have more great restaurants and live music options and festivals than we can possibly keep up with.
Our neighborhood itself has been the biggest surprise – and adjustment – for me. We’re surrounded by so many young families, which is incredible for the kids especially…but learning to navigate the unspoken rules and social expectations of kids running from house to house and yard to yard was crazy difficult for me for some reason. I’m an extroverted introvert, and had a really hard time figuring out how this system worked.
I’ve oftentimes felt very claustrophobic with the homes on top of each other and everyone knowing what each other is up to just due to proximity. But the upside is definitely the tight friendships we quickly made with our neighbors, and they’ve become like family since our own families are four hours away. We rely on each other and are truly a village with our children. I often pine for in-town living again, but have made peace with where we are, knowing this is what our family needs right now: a mom with a short commute and a kid-friendly neighborhood where they can play to their heart’s content.
Q: What were the non-negotiables you pushed for when you were building? Were there battles you won, and some you lost?
A: With no family here in town, we have visitors quite often and having a separate guest suite was critical. We want our family and friends to feel comfortable here, which isn’t always easy when there are small kids running around the house! Finding a floor plan that would accommodate that space wasn’t as easy as it should have been.
I had to fight a fairly massive battle to get the kitchen nook designed the way I’d envisioned, and had to literally move walls and doors and resize windows to make it happen. It’s now the center of our home as we make family dinners a priority during the busy weeks.
We wanted to make our outdoor living space a lot larger but couldn’t due to the lot lines. There were signs like that here and there telling us we should pony up for a more private lot to build on, but I didn’t listen to my gut on it and it’s my only true regret.
Q: How did you settle on decor and colors and materials? What were your inspirations, and how did you narrow all the options down?
A: I can’t even count the number of hours we spent touring half-built houses or model homes all over town, taking notes and discovering ways to tweak our floor plan to best fit our family. Pinterest was just picking up steam at that point, and I think I was one of the site’s first power users. I had a board for every room in our new house and collected our inspirations in one place, which was immensely helpful.
The fantastic part about new construction is you’re working with a clean slate. We have great natural light and wanted the house to feel bright and welcoming, not stuffy and traditional. The most important decision was always “Can this be lived in?” because I don’t believe in having areas or even items that are off limits to the girls. If something can’t get dirty, it doesn’t belong in our house. If I’m going to cry if it breaks, it’s my fault for putting it in an at-risk place.
We’ve learned to spend our money on things like furniture that will last, and not on fabrics or even rugs that will be put through the paces. When the bench cushions and pillows in our kitchen nook get dirty, I don’t have a heart attack. We’re living here and I refuse to be held hostage by our things.
Q: You and your husband both work full time, but your husband works from home and takes care of a lot of the day-to-day duties. How wonderful! Has it been difficult along the way to kind of “give up” some of those traditional “mom duties”?
A: My husband is truly the engine in this household. I’m absolutely convinced I couldn’t have the demanding but rewarding career I do if I wasn’t married to someone who parents 50/50 with me. Usually he’s doing more of the parenting than I am these days. He’s home when Cora gets off the bus so we don’t have to send her to aftercare, and he’s the one making dinners most nights and shuttling the girls around to their activities when I’m stuck in late meetings. He makes lunches and cleans the kitchen and does the laundry. This shouldn’t be that noteworthy, but I know it’s not always the case with husbands and thank the stars every day that I have him in my life.
We both get incredibly stressed out sometimes. There’s a lot of pressure on us both, but giving up “mom duties” has never been a part of it for me. I’m so thankful that my girls have such an amazing role model as to how involved a dad should be in their every day lives, and I think it’s going to shape them in more ways than I can even imagine right now.
The downside is that when Ryan does travel for work, I am FLOORED by how hard it is to do solo! My saving grace has been living so close to work, and I actually can go to the grocery store on a lunch break or come home and do a few things around the house in order to make the evenings easier on us all. But I travel quite a bit, too, so we’re just taking turns and trying to make this dual-working parents thing work for everyone.
Q: You’ve been in your house for almost two years, right? Is there anything you feel like it needs that you didn’t know when you built it?
A: Our only real regret is the lot we chose, because I think we both underestimated how much we’d miss a private backyard with lots of trees. However, we have a great open backyard for the kids, and have built a fire pit and covered patio that we basically use most months of the year.
And storage! How we wish we had some inside storage space for some of our bins and boxes instead of having them clutter up our garage. It’s making us purge, though, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your girls take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?
A: I’m trying my best to be a free range parent with them, but it’s not always easy. I want the girls to be confidant and adventurous, always, but know they have a safe place to land when they need it. We try to travel as much as possible and know they may not remember these trips except for the pictures they have, but it’s mostly a way for us to experience new things together and share the sense of excitement for exploring and discovering that I think is so vital in life.
I hope someday that they remember these years as having a mom who is present when she’s present. Not being with them during the days has made the weekends and evenings extra sacred, and I try so hard to make them moments of connection as a family.
I work full time because it’s rewarding for me to do so, and I think it’s important to have women engaged in running the businesses in this country. I do. If I ever truly thought my daughters were suffering as a result, I’d stop in a heartbeat. But they’re thriving. They’re loved, and they’re happy. And I hope that’s what they always remember…that we’re all so happy when we’re together.
Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?
A: The constant laughter is absolutely my favorite. My kids are hysterical, and it’s such a simple kind of joy to laugh so often. And they’re so sweet to each other as sisters (most of the time), and watching them together makes my heart just about burst.
I’m always amazed and surprised by how completely different our kids are, when they come from the same parents! Our girls have extremely different personalities, and it’s astounding to realize that everything you learned as a parent the first time around doesn’t work at ALL with your second kid.
This will sound strange, but I’m already starting to miss their dependence on me for the little things. Having my oldest come downstairs in the morning dressed for school and fixing herself a bowl of cereal for breakfast makes me feel a little sad…and I don’t know why! Luckily my youngest is still very much a Mama’s girl and I can baby her as much as I’d like for the time being.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: …that making compromises in the way you’d envisioned your life isn’t a sign of failure, it just means you’re now a parent and not always first in line.
I have struggled for so long with this new life of ours after the move, because I felt like I had a dress on that didn’t quite fit and wasn’t quite me. I’ve been fighting so hard against this new rhythm of school days and domestic routines and suburbia, feeling like I’m living in The Truman Show at times.
But I recently realized – belatedly – that this isn’t about me. That this is where our family belongs right now, and this is what works for us. I walk around our house and think every day that I couldn’t possibly love any house or the people who live in it more than I do. I’ve had to reframe what I pictured our life looking like, and being appreciative for how good we have it.
I’ve finally been able to find contentment in the present instead of constantly wondering what the future version of us looks like.
Anne, I love the way you describe your decision to work full time: “I think it’s important to have women engaged in running the businesses in this country.” I like that idea, too. Thank you so much for providing your perspective and sweet home!
Friends, have you found yourself in a somewhat similar situation? Wishing for a downtown life but finding happiness in suburbia? Learning how to navigate neighborhood rules? Knowing that your neighbor stayed out until 11:30 last night? Ha! Tell us about where you live and the way things are in your neck of the woods, will you?