Rebecca describes herself as the stay-at-home mom of a family who really doesn’t like to stay at home! Once a big-firm attorney, she now spends her time planning family field trips, blogging, and authoring a book due in 2016. I admire her sense of adventure, her enthusiasm, her Fall Bucket List, her advice about living a brave, can-do life — and, yes, I also adore her navy couches. Sigh.
So come meet Rebecca! You’re going to like her so much, I just know it.
The Green Machine, as we affectionately named ourselves — we even have a family rallying cheer! — is made up of myself, my husband Joel, and our two children Kane (seven) and Cameron (five-and-a-half…that half is very important!). When I think of the thing that most defines our family, it is heart. Hearts full of love for each other, keeping our hearts and minds open to people and ideas, and putting our hearts into whatever it is we’re doing.
I’m Rebecca and I consider myself to be a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none. I’m a lawyer, but have been taking a break from the practice of law for the past almost five years to run The Green Machine. I’m not super into astrology, but I think I definitely fit my Gemini sign’s combination of both an introvert and extrovert. I am interested in an endless variety of subjects and I would stay in school forever if I could, so having this time at home with our children has been a wonderful opportunity to explore new things with them. I love modern design, trail running, and the color grey. I also love to entertain, but am equally excited to host a kitchen dance party as I am a fancy shindig. I like to say that glitter and sarcasm keep me balanced.
My husband is both the funniest and most hardworking person I know. He practices law at a big firm in D.C. and is away from home a lot, which is probably the hardest on him out of all of us. He is also the loudest human being EVER. He does nothing quietly, which I like to think is really just part of him putting his heart into everything. He is also an incredibly good sport about all of the family adventures I scheme up, and keeps us all on an even keel.
Our son Kane has a combination of our adult personalities, but starting from day one. So that means he is incredibly precocious (and I mean that in the most loving of ways), an ardent negotiator, and the most curious kid I know. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve invited him to try something new and he’s not been interested. He also has a somewhat dichotomous personality — he loves sports, but is just as happy building Legos or quietly playing pretend games with his friends. No matter what he’s doing, though, he is sensitive, sweet, and loving. He works hard at school, but I’m always most proud when his teachers tell us a story where he helped out a friend who was having a difficult time. He really seems to have an emotional maturity beyond his years.
Our daughter Cameron prefers to be called Cami. This girl is a spitfire. She hates being called little and will show you why she’s not. She is very independent, but at the same time, has emotional difficulty being away from me. I was exactly like this when I was very young and recall many instances of missing my mother so much that it physically hurt. So you can imagine that it’s very hard for me to watch her work through it. But she is now able to rationalize that spending time missing me means she misses out on so many other things, and she’ll “pull it together” as she says. She is hysterically funny and loves to laugh at her brother’s jokes, which as far as we can tell consist of not much more than him making random noises repeatedly. But she loves him fiercely. Like Kane, Cami is interested in a wide variety of subjects and is just as happy exploring a new historical site as she is back-to-school shopping.
Like many of the big decisions in our life, Joel and I sort of impulse-purchased our home. We’d spent the past seven years — all of our children’s lives — living in a great condo smack in the middle of the city. Our children were outgrowing it; we needed more space and outside room to play.
I was also spending three hours plus per day driving our kids to school, which was physically and mentally doing a number on me. We’d just sort of started looking in December of last year, but didn’t plan on moving until the following spring. Our children go to an independent school and the admission process for such schools in D.C. is a bit insane. We’d just applied to schools for Cami and wouldn’t know whether she’d be admitted until March, which was a big factor in where we’d move.
But Joel found our home one random evening, I texted my real estate friend who quickly made an appointment for us to just go take a look, and a few days later we’d bought it. We have a very modern aesthetic and it’s difficult to find modern homes in D.C., much less a modern home that is relatively new and doesn’t need a lot of work. Or so we thought!
The city is full of Colonial-style homes with small rooms and our modern condo had a really open floor plan, which we loved. I just couldn’t see us living in a different space. So we knew we had to act fast when we found our current house.
Having done some work on our condo in the past, we’d always intended to bring a contractor to inspect our next home purchase in addition to the actual home inspector. I’m not sure how, but it just sort of completely slipped our minds when we bought this house. Had we done so, we would’ve found several issues that wouldn’t have been deal-breakers, but that certainly would have factored in to the purchase. So, do that!
We made several aesthetic renovations to the home to make it more our style before we moved in. And the frustration of dealing with even those minor things made it very clear to me that we will never be complete home renovators! I had a really hard time getting comfortable with imperfections at the house. It was only three years old when we bought it, and we did a bunch of work before we moved in, yet there were things that weren’t perfect to me. And I had to let that go.
I wanted a comfortable home for our family, not a museum. Plus, I’m certain few other people besides me even notice them.
Our kitchen is the heart of our home. It’s in the center of the open first floor and where everybody tends to hang. We have epic kitchen dance parties, cook family meals there, and art together at our kitchen table. We very purposefully did not put a TV on our first floor, so we tend to spend more time deliberately together here.
Having a strong family is very important to us. Besides each other, both Joel and I have best friends in our siblings, and I’d like our kids to be close to each other. I know we can’t force that relationship, but we try to model the importance of family and making time to spend with each other.
We also love to entertain, so having the kitchen be part of an open floor plan next to our living room was also a necessity. I like to cook while we sip drinks with friends and stay part of the party. And during the quiet of the daytime, I love to sit on the couch near our living room window, have a fire going, and work on my laptop. I love to look out over the park and think.
People constantly ask us whether kids actually live in our new home. I always find that funny, because I see them everywhere I look: cuddled up with us in our bed, playing games in front of the fireplace, snuggling together for family movie night. What’s important to me is the memories that we make in this home together. That’s what I hope they hold on to as they grow.
We purposefully put effort into de-cluttering and downplaying the importance of things when we moved. Our condo was bursting with stuff. It drove my husband crazy and was wasteful; we could never use everything we’d amassed, and there are plenty of people with less that could.
I’ve always put an emphasis on quality of things over quantity, but we made sure to amp that up even more during the move. Our kids each went through every single thing in their room with me, picking out things they’d outgrown and that we could donate to someone who could actually use it.
Don’t get me wrong: we still have plenty of stuff — just better storage! In fact, I actually tend towards collecting clutter. But I find our home to be so much calmer without it.
We all make plenty of mess — just check out our art projects on our blog — but keeping things organized and involving our kids in that process makes for a much happier home for all of us. You won’t find me sweeping up after the kids as they leave a room, but you will find me making sure that our kids take care of their things and value memories over stuff.
We live in a FANTASTIC residential neighborhood of D.C. called Sixteenth Street Heights. It is a wonderful stretch that you are unlikely to know about unless you live here; I really didn’t until we found our house. It is an historic area full of stately 1920s homes bordering Rock Creek Park. Unlike so many of the city’s other neighborhoods, the homes here are fully detached and have real yards. In fact, our house was built four years ago in the side lot of another home.
Our neighborhood is demographically diverse — one of our prime reasons for wanting to remain in the city — and is experiencing an influx of young families recently. The area is also adjacent to Rock Creek Park.
The Park is over 1,750 acres big and is incredibly beautiful. It offers a huge range of activities for families from hiking/running trails, equestrian activities, a nature center and a planetarium, a tennis center, an amphitheater, sports centers, playgrounds, and just vast swaths of green space. It runs the length of the city and is the absolute best part about living in our new home.
In addition to the actual green space, Rock Creek also contains a parkway that runs all through the city and provides a very quick way to get around town. Just moving a little over two miles from our city condo has cut my carpooling time in half.
All of that is incredibly amazing, but glosses over the insanity that is the D.C.-area real estate market. By virtue of the fact that it’s the capital and the government is here, D.C. is a largely transient city. Couple that with the recent return of families to the city, and you’ve got a situation where there is a constant need for housing.
The city is also a very economically divided place; there are a lot of people with a lot of money, and a lot of people with very little money. Not a whole lot in between, except for students. So homes, especially good homes in good neighborhoods, sell within days of hitting the market, above asking price, with cash offers, and waivers of all kinds of contingencies.
It’s great when you’re selling, not great when you’re buying. Fortunately for us, there was a big demand for a condo in our old neighborhood of Columbia Heights, and apparently not a big demand for a modern home in our current neighborhood. We lucked out and couldn’t be happier.
Sixteenth Street Heights is not a suburb, but given how residential it is, it can certainly feel like it sometimes. We are a city family through and through and wanted to stay in D.C., but it was still a difficult move. The first night we spent in our new home, the kids couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet. Then it took some time for them to understand that the strangers trying to welcome them were actually our neighbors.
The kids still miss our old neighborhood. It was within easy walking distance of great coffee shops, restaurants, and stores. It was a quick walk to the metro. It was bustling and lively, and I never felt alone there. Part of the reason I’m really glad we lived there when I was by myself with two young kids a lot.
But since we live on the parkway now, we get downtown just as much as we used to. Not having any mixed-use development nearby is probably what I miss most, but a Farmer’s Market just started up last summer and there are some restaurants in the works a few blocks from our house.
I’m most surprised to find that I don’t miss the busyness. Our home is so quiet and peaceful — I’m looking out our front window at a family of deer lounging in the sunshine across the street as I type! — that we all feel ourselves letting down a little bit each time we return home. I never felt like that at our old house.
I started blogging almost immediately upon leaving my law firm. I’m a person who was used to accounting for her entire day in six-minute increments. And suddenly I was faced with occupying two young children for what seemed to be a never-ending amount of time.
I panicked that first week I started staying home and there was a lot of frantic Googling of “What do I do with my kids?!” I happened upon parent blogs filled with wonderful activities and field trips. And I knew immediately that I could do that, too. It helped me plan our days, keep everyone interested, and connect me to other parents in the same situation.
I’ve always tried to just be myself. I think trying to blog in a way that makes everyone like you, gets you to a bad place. Everyone will not like you, and that’s fine.
I also try to strike a good balance between positivity and negativity; a few sarcastic mentions about kids being nightmares is funny. But I find that too much of it just sounds like endless complaining. And, conversely, too much positivity about how fantastic my kids are comes off as fake. We are not perfect!
I am a seasonal bucket list maker. I was a bit worried that we would end up running around like maniacs just trying to cross things off our list, but instead it’s been a fun collaborative thing in our family that ensures our kids have no reason to claim they can’t find something to do.
They help come up with the list and then pick things off of it to do! And I’m all for adding obscure activities — the more random things we come up with are usually the activities our kids end up loving. I think for our Fall Bucket List, two of the more obscure activities are probably “Read a Banned Book” and “New Stamp in National Parks Passport.” I think they illustrate the range of activities we enjoy as well.
We picked out Coraline by Neil Gaiman to read for Banned Book Week, but we quickly learned why it had been banned in some communities: it was SO scary we couldn’t get through it. So instead we read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The kids really had an interesting time discussing why the book was challenged by parents and teachers, and I think ended up learning a few good lessons.
One of the most wonderful things about living in D.C. is the access to so many free museums and historical sites. A few years ago we visited Antietam Battlefield and signed the kids up for the National Parks’ Junior Ranger Program and purchased National Parks’ passports for them; you can collect stamps from almost all of the 397 National Parks. The Greens like a good family mission, so we’re always looking to get another stamp. And I think it will be an awesome thing for the kids to maintain as they grow up and remember all the things we did together.
The whole book thing still seems a little surreal to me, perhaps because it apparently takes forever to publish a book. A few years ago I was approached by a publisher with an opportunity to write a book based on my blog. I was hesitant at first, but the more I thought about it, it seemed like a really good way to push myself. It took a while to get through the book deal process, but then I wrote the book last school year in fits and spurts, working in between school drop-offs, soccer practices, etc. I did all the photography for the book as well. I finished the manuscript and it’s now in the editing and designing phases!
It’s an activity-based book for parents that shares my approach to entertaining and educating our children while keeping myself engaged and interested. And I hope that it helps other parents find ways to do the same. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to put myself out there, but even if no one buys it besides my husband, I am proud to have written it!
It’s currently slated to come out in the fall of 2016, so stay tuned!
Leaving my law firm to stay home with our kids was actually not a very difficult decision. A little anxiety-provoking to execute once we’d decided, but not hard to decide. Having both my husband and I practice law at big firms was not a sustainable situation given that we actually wanted to see each other and our children.
I’d gone back to practicing law after each maternity leave and was in as family-friendly law firm as you can find. I even went (theoretically) part-time. My kids attended our on-site day care. But being a big firm lawyer just really isn’t a part-time job — not in a way that was satisfying to me. Instead, as I hear so many other parents lament, I just felt like I was doing two things badly. I liked being a lawyer, but I love my kids. So we made the decision that I would stay home while they were young.
My life now can be a lot more isolating than it was, especially since the kids are both in school full day now. I used to spend most of my day talking to people, collaborating, and working together. And now it’s a lot of alone time.
Moreover, when my husband and I had similar jobs, we also used to split a lot of the other household and parenting duties more evenly. Now that I am at home, I’m mostly in charge of those. So decisions that we used to make together, I end up handling on my own. I enjoy doing that, but it can be hard as well. And I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve gotten with my children for anything.
But I like to be busy, which is why I’ve loved blogging and writing so much. And I’ve developed new interests in photography and graphic design as well. Cameron started kindergarten this year though, so I’m starting to think about working back outside the home — you know, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up! The practice of law was a pretty linear path from school, and now I’m facing the total opposite. It’s exciting, but also daunting.
I wish someone had told me that 99% of the time you will have no idea what you are doing, but that is not a reason not to do it. Seriously. I spent so much of my adolescence and young adulthood being anxious because I didn’t know how to do x and z, but was expected to do it nonetheless. It was only until I was a few years out of law school, which really prepares you for dealing with new situations, did I realize that no one really knows what they are doing most of the time. And if you let that hold you back and knock down your confidence, it’s stifling.
This is absolutely true with parenting. Every parent is a first-time parent at some point. None of us, despite significant preparation attempts, knows what we’re doing. So you just have to get over it.
And this holds true with almost everything our kids encounter on a daily basis, as well. It’s new, it’s scary, and they have to figure out how to handle and work with it.
While I still struggle with this, especially because I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, accepting it helps a lot. It’s freeing. And instead of teaching our kids a formula to deal with every situation — academic, social, or otherwise — we try to help them be comfortable with uncertainty and give them the tools to assess, analyze, and work through it. With the knowledge that we are doing the very same thing.
And if that doesn’t work, fake it ‘till you make it!
Rebecca, I love your point about giving your kids the tools to deal with all the crazy, unexpected things life throws at us, and I love even more that you emphasize you and your husband are experiencing the same exact difficult moments. We’re all in this together. (High School Musical had it right!) It’s why I love this reminder hanging in our home so much.
Thank you for spending the day with us! By the way, my favorites from your Fall Bucket List are as follows: visit the beach, jump in leaves, make soap and cider donuts, and organize a nature scavenger hunt. All wonderful ideas! If anyone has another interesting idea to celebrate Fall, please share it; sometimes our inspiration levels drop with the temperatures, so we can use all the encouragement we can get!
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.