By Gabrielle.

The more of Emily’s words I read, the more I’m reminded that the best lives are a little messy. And this is certainly true for childhoods, as well! As parents, we make the most of what we have and where we are at the moment to give our children the best we can give them. Yes, family life gets messy. But I think we would all trade pristine floors for ones with busy footprints in the shape of a racetrack from fridge to front door, and swap leisurely alone time with the clamor of a crowded playdate.

Life happens so fast, and it would be a shame to miss much of it worrying about dust and dirt. I can thank Emily for this reminder today, and I hope you will, too!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello, I am Emily. I really try to embrace life and all the crazy things life may throw my way. I love getting involved and trying to make a difference. I am a sucker for a good TV show…and realize that everyone does not share my definition of good! For a real rush, I love treasure hunting from the back woods of Arkansas to the Paris flea market; I just love finding things that tell a story and complement our home. I also believe that a cup of tea or a great glass of wine among friends can fix almost anything.

I have four little wonders. Piper is a horse-loving ten year old. I envy her determination and her connection with animals. She is just so in tune with nature and her surroundings. She is quietly confident in all she does. Polly is nine and has been my right hand helper since she could walk and talk. I don’t know what I would do with out her keeping me on top of everything we have going on. She always looks at the bright side and is full of smiles.

Harrison is seven and pure sweetness, and has always had a love of beautiful things. He is passionate about fashion and creating beautiful things. He has a fantastic eye and I often ask him for advice.

Hudson keeps us all on our toes. Literally! He is not content unless he is outside playing some form of sport. Because he is still home with me, we spend lots of quality time hiking together and searching for lost Indian artifacts. I love a good chat and he shares my passion!

Andrew, my husband, is extremely patient with all of us. He works very hard in commercial real estate, but when he is here there is nothing he loves more than spending time with us – thank the dear Lord – because when he is around things are always much smoother, I always relax when he walks through the door. One of the things I love most about him is his laid back Aussie personality; there is really not much that can stress him out, and he always helps me keep things in perspective.

We also have a host of creatures: our dogs, horse, chickens, canaries, budgies, and an occasional peacock that wanders into our always open door.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles County, but it seriously feels like we live in the country. We were just randomly out driving one day and stumbled upon this house. We made an offer that day. The land is what totally sold us. At that point, we were living at the beach which we loved, but having land in LA seemed like a dream come true. We knew that being surrounded by such beautiful vistas, we could live in a hut on this land and be content.

We spent the next six months getting all the proper permits and then moved out for a year to build this home. Pulling onto our street is always a giant happy exhale for me.

Q: What makes you love the place you live? Persuade us to move!

A: Life on the Lanes, as far as my kids go, is everything I have ever dreamed for them and more. Complete with a general store, horse crossings, and peacocks galore. I realize with each passing day how fleeting childhood is and love that this is where they get to grow up. I feel a true sense of belonging and love this community. Our front door is always open and I love that kids come and go as they please; the more little voices that fill our home, the happier I am.

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We spend most of our days outside. We are considered an equestrian community because almost every house can have a horse on their property. Because of all the horses there is a fantastic trail system, and walking on the trails provides hours of entertainment. We have a community riding ring and, while only my two oldest ride, there is something for everyone at the ring. They play in the mounds of dirt for hours and swing on the tree swings. The kids have lemonade/fresh egg stands on a regular basis. My oldest daughter often rides her horse to the general store with her friends and gets a sandwich for lunch from the sweet family that owns it and knows all the kids’ names by heart.

We have a few community events that I get really excited about, like an amazing 4th of July parade and celebration with a pie bake-off, and Christmas caroling on horseback followed by a special visit by Santa to each home. In the summer we do lots of outdoor movies under the stars and a chili cook-off. We do pumpkin carving in the Fall, and have the most magical Easter at the ring where everyone dresses up their animals for the occasion – think donkeys in Easter bonnets! One of my favorite neighbors has open door Fridays, and we head there almost every Friday night to let the kids frolic while we catch up on the weeks events. I know that everyone has a different idea of their ideal place to live, but living here is such a gift…although I do daydream at times about living in the French country side!

Q: LA County! Tell us about raising kids there; what are the perks and challenges?

A: I am from a small town in Pennsylvania. If you ever told me I would be living in LA, I could have never imagined it. I had so many preconceived notions, but LA has been so great for us.

My parents actually followed us out here after we started our family. Having them here and realizing they left their entire lives behind to come be with us is just incredible and makes LA feel like home. I always worried that one day they were going to wake up and hate it, but so far we have all embraced this crazy city. I have always been of the philosophy that it takes a village, and I love having them as part of my village.

The biggest perk living here is the weather. I have been hearing about what a harsh winter it has been back east, and try and never take for granted how consistently lovely it is here. I have to say, though, I miss Fall so much! I love the crisp cool air of Fall, but it is a small price to pay for the beautiful weather we have here.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are your favorite things about your home?

A: I’d describe my aesthetic as cheerfully chic. Truly, there is nothing precious in this house that is not meant to be used. I love things distressed because then I never have to worry about them! Baby Hudson took a hammer – his favorite toy – to many things around our home, and it always somehow blended in.

I have a super amazing friend who I constantly run ideas by about this space. If I cannot figure out what is bothering me or if I feel a space is not useful, she is always the first person I turn to for a second opinion. We are always on the same page and have a similar aesthetic so it works out perfectly. She totally gets me and we both have fun making suggestions and improving each other’s spaces. We also love finding old abandoned (think side-of-the-road!) treasures and re-imagining them.

I want family and friends and even strangers to walk in and feel welcome and comfortable, like if they wanted they could sit on the couch and throw their feet on the coffee table. Nothing stresses me out more then entering a space where I feel like my kids can’t touch things or explore.

I adore our red Dutch door; it makes me happy to walk through the front door. I adore the serenity of our master bathroom; while I had always dreamed of a claw foot tub, I have maybe used it twice and always joke that the one day when I actually get to sit in it and relax will be a bittersweet moment.

As far as objects in my home, I have this lamp that is the perfect blue. When the kids play ball in the house, they know that they cannot throw near that lamp – it just really speaks to me. I also love this guitar that I got at a studio lot sale where they sell off all the props from a movie; it cost $20 and has a beautiful painting on the back. I don’t play, but I beg anyone who can to please pick it up and play with it. I have this Collie TV Lamp from the 1950s that looks more like a big Collie sculpture than a light. It came from Max Factor’s personal collection; he had around 300 and I just love the look of it.

I also have this amazing horse painting that I dug out of the bottom of what looked like a pile of trash at the Paris flea market. I love everything about it including the old rusty nails you can see on the outside of the canvas. I also have a set of Fiesta Ware that I inherited from my aunt. And when I say nothing is precious, I really had to come to terms with that the hard way.  Accidentally, one of the girls broke a bowl in the collection. I was so upset and screamed so harshly – way too harshly, to be honest – and I felt so awful when I saw her little face and realized how angry I was. Once I calmed down and thought about it, I realized my aunt would have been so happy they were being used and not just being displayed. This helped me change my entire idea on the stuff I keep. I want everything to be used and enjoyed. If it is not, I give it away. Things are no fun unless you enjoy them.

Q: Is it important for you to give your kids spaces that are all their own?

A: I have been thinking a ton about our space vs. our kids’ space. I am very dyslexic, and keeping things in somewhat of an order is essential for my brain. When I feel overrun with toys or objects, I get very overwhelmed. I have been working with a friend who is a professional organizer and she has helped me understand the importance of keeping a little space for just my husband and myself, something I never had before. So, the space is just our closet, but baby steps!

Now when I feel like I am getting overrun by the rest of the house, I can just pop in our closet and it instantly calms me down. This really was a revelation, you know. It is okay for us to have a space that is kid-free.

My son has this amazing doll room. Before that room, though, we had dolls in every crevice of our home; now they have a special place. In that room they are all allowed to express themselves however they like, including drawing on the walls. This has been a great outlet for them and they all have so much fun in that room. This room changes frequently depending on what they are playing or what they are into that day, but it has been such a great little nook for them to express themselves.

Q: With the California climate, you must live outdoors most of the year or at least have your doors and windows open. How does the weather affect your home’s style?

A: I think having such wonderful weather and living outside so much of the time actually makes our home a little grittier! We are always tracking things on our shoes through the house. Thank goodness we decided on wide plank pine floors! They are really worn, but that only gives them more character.  I run the vacuum at least twice a day because anything that blows comes right into our home. Really, such a small price to pay for beautiful weather and the doors always being open!

Q: You mentioned in your email to me that no one uses their bedrooms! Talk about what you love about all sleeping in the same room.

A: We never intended to have a family bedroom, but it just evolved that way. Polly is the only one who often ventures out into her own room and spends the night there. Huddy sleeps in bed with us, and Piper and Harrison and sometimes Polly sleep on the floor in a fortress of blankets.

They are the world’s best sleepers. I swear, once they are asleep a ten-piece band could not stir them! Andrew and I always joke that we have had to become very creative, but for our family at this time, it works for us. We all get a good night’s sleep, and my mom constantly reminds me that they won’t be 16 and sleeping in our room! For now, we have lots of extra bedrooms for visitors!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Living with my kids is always an adventure. Truly, there are not many dull moments around here, and then you add our animals to the mix and it can get a little crazy. My favorite part of living with my kids is the energy they give me. Seeing all that goes on around here, I sometimes feel worn down, but truly embracing the things they love and trying to be present and see the world through their eyes is just really inspiring. I love all the happenings around our home and seeing them so happy in their surroundings feeds my soul…even if it is a tired soul!

Q: If they could remember just one memory or tradition from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: When I close my eyes and think about favorite moments, they involve loud music and our kids dancing on tables.

I also love family walks. There is always someone who is not in the mood or does not want to go, but once we all get out and start talking and walking it is always so fun.

The other memory that I will always hold dear is how every night just before bed I read a book to them all. My mom was a child’s librarian, so she read to me way into my teens and I always loved it. The book we are currently reading is a historical account of Anastasia; this one was Harrison’s pick, and although it is a much more advanced book, because I read it to them they all get something different out of it. We all have been learning so much from this book, so it is really a win win and such a special time together.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone told me to be flexible in my expectations. We all have a vision of what a perfect child is and how we want to share them with the world. I always think of the Lion King when they hold the baby lion up for all the land to see!

I thought I was a failure if I was not the mom doing it all with a smile on my face. I quickly realized that if I tried to do it all, something somewhere in the chain suffered. Now, I live for the days when we can all be together. Sure, maybe only one of them is not wearing shoes, they all may look like little ragamuffins covered in dirt, someone may have been really cranky to me or I may have raised my voice, I maybe forgot to have someone brush their teeth or their dinner may have consisted of a bowl of ice cream…these are all things that, for the most part, I have learned to let go. Because at the end of the day, I know in my heart I am doing the very best I can and love them with all my heart, even on the nights I may have sent them to bed without brushing their teeth after eating a bowl of ice cream for dinner. Changing my expectations has allowed me to be more present and enjoy those precious moments that are going by way too quickly.

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Emily, I love that you acknowledged the fact that you need your own space. And that we all do, in fact! It’s liberating not to feel selfish for stealing a nook and 15 minutes, and it’s even more freeing to have a space or two where your kids have creative control. Although I know some readers are going to see the graffiti in your kids’ space and die a thousand little deaths – I’m sure we all recognize the reward in offering that freedom to them, as well as the ability to close the door on the mess! Out of sight, out of mind! Whatever it takes, right?

I’m interested if anyone else has given their kids carte blanche in a room or two. How has it worked out for you? And if you wouldn’t dare to let them loose with markers and empty wall space, why not?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.