When Mat told me he’d read all of my Living With Kids tours from the column’s inception, it made me smile. He said loved seeing the homes and being inspired by all the ways different families accommodated their kids. It made me so happy, I read his note twice.
Truly, that is all I’ve ever wanted these tours to accomplish! I am overjoyed at the idea that each peek might impart a dose or two of “Let’s try it this way!” or “Whoa, I never thought of that.” or even “Honey, we’re painting a wall of flowers and it’s going to be amazing!”
Also, he and his wife own a soda and cookie shop (in Meridian, Idaho if you’re close by!), and he discusses finding balance and making time and going to bed a little later than they should and waking up a little earlier than they’d like…but his parenting philosophy is based on a story that might make you misty. I want you to read it, and I hope you’re inspired by it like I was.
We are Gigi, Mat, Chloe, Cameron, and Maisie.
Chloe is going into fifth grade and is our oldest. She is thoughtful and, when you first meet her, a little quiet. You might never guess the girl who is always reading heads directly to the steepest slopes when she skis and wants to lead out on any hike no matter how long. She has a tendency towards perfectionism, which we discourage at home because living with a perfectionist makes you want to tear your hair out.
Cameron is going into third grade and is the happiest kid I have ever seen. It takes him 30 seconds to bounce back from any trouble. I don’t know if that stems from inborn resilience or if he intuitively understands that a seven-year-old’s problems aren’t too serious, but in either case it simplifies things. When school is in session he strength trains every day with friends so they can one day defeat The Pokemon. He is generous in the way that children can be, happy to share or give away whatever he has.
Maisie is 16 months but already has very firm opinions about what she does and does not like. She is by far our most stubborn child, and we are on the edge of our seats wondering what life is going to be like when she is a teenager. Happily she is also very affectionate, toddling over to give hugs and kisses to whomever is closest.
Gigi and I met in law school 15 years ago and have been together ever since. She is smart and beautiful and hard working. She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl. I knew I wanted to marry her when she loved our first backpacking trip despite having never been camping. We both continue to work as attorneys – Gigi is in-house at a university and I have my own practice – and take turns running kids around. Planning and organization are Gigi’s strong suit, and I’m constantly amazed how much she can get done in a day. I’m more of the wild man in our relationship, always thinking up something, which can both excite and stress Gigi out.
By the time we bought this house I had two rules: Keep a short commute, and get to know the neighborhoods before you buy.
We lived in New York right out of law school, and I struggled with the transition to a dense, vertical environment. After a year in Manhattan, we moved to New Jersey which meant that we had a long commute to our law firms. Big mistake. There are few things worse at the end of a long day than having to take a long car ride home.
After a few years I took a job in London. When we were deciding where to live my one criteria was that the commute had to be short. We found an apartment in Notting Hill 15 minutes from work, and it was a huge difference maker. It was so easy to fall in love with London because living close to work made it completely manageable. Plus – in our minds at least – it is the greatest city in the world.
When we came back to the United States we knew we wanted to put down roots but wanted to really get to know the area before we committed. The university Gigi was at let us rent a place near campus so we could take our time finding a place. After much looking we toured the house we now live in. Of course it was priced higher than we wanted to pay. We walked through twice more trying to decide if we should buy it when it sold to someone else.
We continued our house search but kept thinking about the house that got away. Six months after it sold, it came back on the market. And it was a lot cheaper. We put a full price offer on it the same day. It was a short sale and it took what seemed like forever to finalize the sale, but after six months we finally closed.
The house was built in 1953, and the person who designed it had a great sense of space and flow. Some of the things we love were obvious from the first walk through: the walk-out basement, the transitions between indoor and outdoor space, the wall of windows, of course. We had to be here a while to appreciate other things: the way the kitchen is open but the prep area is not visible from the living room, or the way the house is situated so as to let in lots of light while minimizing heat from the sun.
One thing I don’t care for are the dark wood floors on the upper level because they show every speck of dust. I would have put down something much lighter – perhaps a blonde bamboo. The kitchen and the floors were new when we bought the house and even though we would have made different choices, they are serviceable and it didn’t make sense to change them out.
I like a space where form follows function. It’s easy to become enamored with a design aesthetic and sacrifice comfort or functionality. One of the goals of mid-century architecture was to accommodate the family, but they didn’t always carry it off.
When we bought this house we loved the balcony that ran along the back side, but instead of a railing there was a pony wall that was about two feet high. Any parent looking at that wall would fear that sooner or later a kid would go over the side. So one of the first things we did was lay down a new balcony and install the tension cable railing.
The railing on the interior staircase has large gaps. We left it in place but when our baby started crawling I put up the plastic guard, which we’ll leave in place until she is older.
Gigi gets credit for the design and decorating of the house. She knew she wanted places where the kids can comfortably spend a lot of time and do their kid work. Our upstairs dining table is a natural place to spread out and do homework. The downstairs living room lends itself to projects and play. We keep most of the toys and craft supplies there and haven’t put anything in that space that would bother us if we found a blob of sparkly glue on it. Between the two levels, there are five sliding glass doors that lead into the backyard which makes it easy for everyone to run in and out.
I work as an attorney in my day job. I used to work for Wall Street banks and large corporations, but I always wanted to have actual people for clients and to feel like I was fighting for the little guy. We came back to the United States for Gigi’s career, so I needed to find a new job and that gave me a chance to pursue something different. One of my oldest friends and I started a personal injury law firm in Boise which has been the most fulfilling work of my career.
I have an entrepreneurial streak, and recently started a soda and cookie shop as a kind of hobby. I had met a few people who had soda shops and had talked about investing with them, but it didn’t work out so I decided to do it myself. We named the shop Entreat and it has been a total blast. We like to say that we sell soda and cookies, but are really in the business of happy.
The thing I like is seeing the shop become a gathering place – friends meeting there and families coming in for a little break. The simplicity of a fancy soda and a cookie is a nice contrast to the difficult, sometimes heart-rending things I see in my law practice.
It has become more important to me over time is to be supportive of Gigi’s career. She is good at her job and gets a lot of satisfaction from it. But I have to also admit to some self-interest because her work has also allowed me to do things that are important to me. By now we’ve worked out a pretty good balancing act. Gigi can use personal days when something special is going on, and since I’m self-employed I have all kinds of flexibility.
Maisie attends daycare a few steps from Gigi’s office, and we take turns co-op’ing in the older kids’ classes when school is in session. Making time to be in class two hours a week can be a pain, but you never regret it afterward. You see your children in a completely different setting and get to know their classmates and teachers. We get up earlier and go to bed later than we might otherwise, but as the kids have grown older and we see they are thriving it’s been easier for both of us to let go of any worry.
We put a lot of thought into structuring several spaces in the house as gathering and activity areas for various ages: the open living room and dining room with adjoining balcony; the fire pit and swing set; the open basement play area and kitchenette; the large reading nook under the stairs. I want them to remember it as an enjoyable and comfortable place where they spent time with family and friends.
I hope my kids will appreciate that we encouraged them to take risks. There is a growing body of literature discussing the adverse affects of helicopter parenting on children’s ability to properly assess risk and deal with failure. We don’t exactly subscribe to free-range parenting philosophy, but we try to let the kids do things for themselves. We want our children to know they are capable, to know that failure is a normal part of life and that they can improve.
At the same time I want my kids to remember feeling loved and secure. Right now we can be in a public place and Chloe will still climb into my lap. I know that probably won’t last much longer, and those moments have become incredibly precious to me. Cameron still trusts me with his secrets and wants to tell me which Pokemon characters are the best. Maisie is just a toddler but I already know it won’t be long and her peers will be her primary influence. So I hope my kids remember our house primarily as a place where they were unconditionally loved.
What has been my favorite part about living with my kids? That’s actually a poignant question for me. The short answer is getting to live with my kids. Shortly after we returned to the States, my sister died in her sleep from a heart condition none of us knew she had.
That was a dark time and that story is her husband and children’s to tell, but I later learned I had the same condition. I had an internal defibrillator placed in my body as a preventive measure, but the procedure didn’t go as planned and I was crash carted to the OR. I knew at that moment I might die and all I wanted to do was speak to my wife and tell her how much I loved her and the children and how sorry I was that I was not going to be there for them. It was strange to be simultaneously filled with love and sorrow.
I had a long recovery, but since that time when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment. Of course, when I try to explain this to my kids they laugh at me and think I’m crazy…but I hope at some point they’ll understand that their dad was trying to tell them they brought him joy.
“She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl.” I hope each of us has another who would say these words even when no one is listening! So nice. And as for Mat’s favorite part about living with his kids being the living part? Well, that puts everything neatly back into perspective, doesn’t it? “…when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment.” Indeed.
Thank you for adding your fine thoughts to our days, Mat. You are officially part of the tours you’ve read from the beginning, and I know you’ve changed someone’s day.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.