More than a few of Laura’s photos sent for inclusion in her tour had the word sun in the name. Those three little letters made me like her so much. I guess people looking for the bright side have always been my favorites.
There’s so much sunshine in this tour, Friends. From the very first description of her kids to how she describes her home to her final answer about the way our children honestly see us, it’s all real and refreshing. (Neville sounds like a hoot!) Please enjoy it!
Q: Introduce us to your sweet family!
A: The seven of us are my husband Cylon, myself, and our five kids: Taye, Arri, Micah, Neville, and Imogen. I work part-time as a night nurse at a local hospital, and the rest of the time I am home, caring for and teaching our kids. My husband, Cylon, is a college chaplain and music minister. We met at the wedding of mutual friends and got married two months later, and have never looked back!
Taye, an active 11-year-old, enjoys cooking and is an old soul. Arrietty is seven. She likes to be in charge, and she has a rich, throaty voice. We often hear her singing Broadway-style about what’s going on in her life. Micah is five. She is kind and caring, and a willing helper. She has a great eye for color. Neville, our two and a half year old, has been a little out of sorts since the day he was born, but as he grows, his quirky sense of humor is coming out, and he is a gentle big brother to our youngest, Imogen, who will be a year old this April. She is an easy, happy baby who only complains under the most difficult circumstances.
Q: How did this house become yours?
A: This was first home we saw together as a family when we started house hunting. The photos in the listing looked promising, but there were none of the exterior, and when we went to see it, we saw why. The original cedar shakes were peeling and rotten and it was a real eyesore. But walking inside was like coming home. The layout of the house is almost identical to the one I grew up in, the closets are enormous, and it had beautiful wood floors.
The house is only a couple of miles from downtown, but the backyard is huge for a city lot. When we asked about putting an offer in, the agent suddenly said there were two other buyers who also had offers in as well. The house had been on the market for months, so I think they created an artificial bidding war to get a better price. At the time, we were inexperienced first-time home buyers and caught up in the emotion of it, and we probably offered more than we should have. We put the offer in on a Friday and had to wait until Monday to find out if it had been accepted. It was one of the longest weekends of our lives!
Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?
A: In a small city like Albany, we get to enjoy the benefits of city living – parks, libraries, convenient amenities, and great takeout – but we’re also just 20 minutes away from apple and strawberry picking and close enough for day trips to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York City, or Vermont. There are a number of bike paths nearby, and great places to camp. Albany is really rich in history; it’s been around since the 1600s. I love taking the kids for walks just to look at the houses.
Q: With five kids in 1900 square feet while homeschooling, your house has to work for you, doesn’t it? Tell us your tricks to finding space when you need it.
A: An open floor plan works well for a lot of families, but I really like our rabbit warren! The many little rooms allow us to give specific jobs to the rooms, like having a dedicated schoolroom. It also allows us to get away from each other when we need to.
Our dining room is probably the most-used room in our home. Since we don’t have an eat-in kitchen, we have all our meals at the dining room table, which is where I do my sewing projects, and we also congregate there for schoolwork at times.
Using our generous closet space means keeping out only clothes and toys that are fitting just right and are age-appropriate. Anything that isn’t working gets donated or stored away until someone else needs it.
My best trick for finding space is trash day! Because we live in an urban area, anything of value left at the curb on trash day is gone long before the garbage truck comes by the next morning.
Q: Tell us more about working part-time and homeschooling. How do you balance all that and a one year old?
A: There are days when I feel like I’m Super Mom, and we can get schoolwork done and have a home cooked meal and read before bed. Other days, we are working on school until 6 p.m., and we have pancakes or Chinese takeout for dinner!
Having a daily afternoon quiet time for everyone, including the big kids, gives us all a break. For an hour and forty minutes (if the babies cooperate), I can sit and read, eat my lunch, or watch a BBC historical drama. When that works out, it’s a great chance to recharge for the rest of the day.
It took several years of tinkering with my work schedule to get to a place where I didn’t always feel like I was being run ragged both at home and at work. When I found out we were pregnant with number five, I actually handed in my letter of resignation after asking a number of times in the past for a schedule that worked better for our family. When they realized I was serious about quitting, my boss called and offered me what I had been asking for: fewer hours and the freedom to self-schedule. I usually work a night shift every other Friday. Cylon takes care of the kids the next day so that I can sleep. He’s a great partner in crime and we work well as a team.
Q: How did you decide to homeschool? What’s the easiest and most difficult thing about taking charge of your kids’ education?
A: I’m a second generation homeschooler. My mom homeschooled me and my siblings. It really nurtured my creativity and imagination, gave me lots of outdoor time, and taught me how to learn and to love reading. That’s what I want for my kids.
With homeschooling, if something isn’t working for us, we can try different things until we find our pocket, and I can tailor to each child’s needs. That is also the hardest part, trying to find the thing that really works for each of your kids. I found that out with kindergarten. I am doing kindergarten for the third time, and it has never been the same twice.
Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your kids 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 want them to remember playing outside and getting really dirty, making and buildings things together and pretending. I want them to remember the smell of clothes fresh off the clothesline and the aroma of their favorite foods. I want them to remember a nook where they loved to sneak away to read, and dancing in the kitchen to soca and reggae streaming online from Trinidad and Tobago, where Cylon was born and grew up.
I love to read with the kids, dance with them, and to fix things with them and for them. I hope that my kids remember being taken care of, and that love fills in the times when I didn’t get things right.
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: My favorite part of living with my kids is their world view. When you’re a grown up, your responsibilities can sometimes make you immune to things that are very obvious to a child, and they are good at pointing those things out and helping you see the world differently. I also like the detective work involved in trying to find out what they really want to know when they ask a question. A lot of times it’s nowhere near what you initially think of when they ask.
The thing that surprised me is that part no one can explain – the selflessness and personal growth parenting requires. My kids make life so much richer because they are a constant reminder of all that is going on in the world outside my own head. Teaching them and learning from them is so hard, but so good.
I already miss the friendly openness of my oldest, who is about to enter the uncertain world of his teens, and the pudgy starfish hands of the baby, and that soft, soft skin of a baby’s neck.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: That your kids don’t see you the way you see yourself.
We were driving somewhere recently, and Taye was talking to me while I was trying to negotiate a traffic light during afternoon rush hour traffic. Someone had just honked because I was sitting while the light turned green trying to listen to what Taye was saying. As I pulled into the intersection, I said in frustration, ‘Taye, you have to stop talking! Some moms can talk with their kids while they’re driving. I’m not that mom!’
There was silence for a moment, then I heard a quiet voice of my daughter Micah from the backseat, ‘But you’re the cool Mom. And you’re the good Mom.’
When we’re wrapped up in parenting and trying to get through the next moment, it’s so easy to forget that the broken, failing person that one feels like at times is not the person your child sees. On nights when I’m laying in bed staring at the ceiling and telling Cylon how it feels like I did a terrible job that day, my kids aren’t laying in their beds thinking about what a horrible mom I was. Every day we have to trust that grace is going to give us a chance to do it again and fix the rough edges.
Laura, I could read your last thought over and over and over again, and it would still move me every single time. Thank you so much for sharing your rabbit warren with us. Oh…and pudgy starfish baby hands! I miss those, too.
Friends, this was a lovely one, wasn’t it? And Laura’s conversation with her kids in the car got me thinking about all the awesome chats that happen while navigating traffic! Do your kids tend to open up in the car? What’s the best spot outside of your home to get them talking?