Stasia is a bright ball of enthusiasm and infectious energy. She tells a story with all-caps words highlighted to make sure you’re getting it, to make sure you’re feeling it. I did and do. You will, too.
Come meet her, please. Welcome, Stasia!
Hello there! I’m Stasia (41) and I live in Brattleboro, Vermont with my husband, Knowles (46) and our two little biscuits, Raisa (nine) and Zealand (three). I am wildly extroverted, with extreme doses of sass, hyperbole, drama and wit. I’m brave. I like to do hard things, but I’ll likely belly-ache through the whole darn thing (see hyperbole and drama). Knowles, on the other hand, is more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He goes with the flow, doesn’t get rattled, and thrives on deep meaningful conversation. He does hard things too…just with no belly aching. Knowles and I met while rock climbing in Alaska 20 years ago, which is pretty cool since we were both Mainers living the mountain-life in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Our daughter, Raisa, is nothing short of a wonder. When I was pregnant with her, the docs were not sure she would survive childbirth. She was born with multiple physical anomalies, not all of which were discovered when she was born. Over the past nine years, Raisa has seen at least a dozen specialists at Children’s Hospital Boston, has been under anesthesia over 15 times, and has had literally hundreds of doctor’s appointments. She is wildly curious, asks way too many questions, and has the gumption to show up and speak up no matter what. She’s smart, sassy, opinionated, and filled with a love so deep, she can hardly find ways to express it all.
Zealand (aka ZZ) is quick witted, LOUD, and incredibly mischievous. He has the most dramatic and varied facial expressions I’ve ever seen on one tiny human. His personality is larger than life, which makes complete sense, since he was born a ten pound 11 ounce whopper!
I’m pretty sure both my kids would trade me in for a steady supply of gatorade and candy bars — neither of which I allow in my house.
Raisa was born a Mainer in March 2007, and six months later, we moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, so that Knowles could earn his Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation from SIT Graduate Institute (The School for International Training). We were two years post Peace Corps (Moldova 03-05), still holding on to a dream of living/working abroad once Knowles graduated. But by the time we arrived here in Bratt, Raisa’s medical needs were so complex, we realized we needed a new dream.
Fortunately for us, Brattleboro was that dream. Within days of arriving, an incredible support system was created for us, BY THE COMMUNITY, that was unwavering in its willingness to support us through some really hard years. Brattleboro is synonymous with community, and that’s exactly what we love most about living here.
Here are just a few of my favorite things I just LOVE about Brattleboro:
We have belonged to the same CSA for six years, which means I know my farmer by name.
Our trash collector is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.
We have a curbside composting program that has reduced our community’s trash production by over 50%.
We live on a dead-end street, and almost every single day during the summer months, we sit in the street and on our neighborhood benches for cocktails and conversation. Ages range from 3 to 85.
We have at least a half dozen good sized hiking mountains within a 15 mile radius.
After living in a series of apartments (with noise-sensitive neighbors) in and around Brattleboro, we decided it was time to buy a house. We were tired of shushing Raisa from making kid-noises, and wanted her to be able to bang, jump, sing, and dance with wild abandon until her little body collapsed into her bed each night, filled to the brim with elated joy and expressive freedom.
Diving into the housing market was a shock to the system. Brattleboro is a small town in a rural state, with incredibly high taxes and a housing market that never really crashed. We were thankful that we were a family of three that could fit nicely into a small home.
In the fall of 2010, we started looking at small homes within our price range (under $160K), but most all of them needed to be gutted. In fact, I walked out of the showing of THIS house because the pet smell almost knocked my socks off, and it needed a fair amount of cosmetic work. But after seeing what else was out there, we RAN back to this house, made an offer, and in January of 2011, we bought this home for $153K, and moved on in!
I’d love to say that this home was a dream come true, but to be honest, we’ve had a fair amount of trouble with this house. After our son ZZ was born, we decided to add a dormer to the upstairs, bringing this from a two-bedroom/one-bath home to a three-bedroom/two-bath home. Except, the contractor we hired was not as competent as he led on, and caused a significant amount of damage to our sweet little home. Long story short, when we presented him with a report from a structural engineer stating that the structural integrity of our home had been severely compromised (our house was no longer safe), the contractor threw his hands up and said ‘Sue me’ and walked off with $20K in his pocket. We had to immediately hire a new contractor to make our home safe again, and bit by bit over the past three years, we’ve pulled together most of the finishing touches.
We still need new ceilings, a new front door, and some new windows, but compared to where we were just a couple of years ago, we’re living the high life!
What I love most about our home is that it reflects my family’s collective soul. We are a wild, quirky, spontaneous, vibrant, scrappy little bunch, and our home is a reflection of just that. Our style is both soul driven and values driven. I’m of the belief that there is enough stuff in circulation on the planet already, so we might as well share. Most of the things in our home were found either on the side of the road, at a thrift store, or at the swap shop at our local dump. In fact, the dump is undoubtedly my favorite place to go shopping for home decor. It’s amazing what a little bit of elbow grease and a can of paint can do to a mid-century credenza!
To be honest, until VERY recently, I had no idea how to decorate a home. For years I studied old Pottery Barn catalogs and tried recreating the rooms with found and salvaged goods, but my design always fell flat, and I never understood why. I didn’t think I was creative enough to do home decor, which was of course, bananas.
Turns out I was approaching home decor all wrong. I was trying to copy somebody else’s vision, without considering who we were as a family, or how we wanted to feel in our home. When I started asking the questions, WHO ARE WE, and HOW DO WE WANT TO FEEL IN OUR HOME, everything changed.
The other thing I’ve learned is that as we grow, mature, expand, and open, our style changes! How could it not? We are dynamic human beings, and operating under a static-world-assumption of decorate-and-done doesn’t make any sense! So I’ve made it a household habit/practice to continuously check in on our things, to see if we still love them. We are constantly upgrading from love to LOVE LOVE, so things tend to cycle in/cycle out pretty regularly. It’s not wasteful or globally negligent, because we bring in something used, and then donate our used thing back into circulation. I love to shop and explore and find new treasures, so “letting go” of what no longer suits us has been something I’ve taught my kids from a very young age. Things are, after all, only things.
Though I work as a Personal Stylist today, I would have burst out laughing at such a preposterous proposition just three years ago! I had broken up with style years ago because something was obviously wrong with my body (small boobies/big bum), and let’s face, style was for ‘them’ — not me. I held tight to the belief that it was what’s on the inside that matters, and that what I wore didn’t matter.
Except it did. I fought with my closet, and it sometimes made me cry.
When Raisa was just a babe, I started thrifting, and it opened up a whole new world to me. When I thrifted, money wasn’t really an issue (I’m talking $4 for jeans!), so I bought all the things. And I experimented. I learned that my body was really quite perfect, if I put the right things on my body. I learned that size doesn’t matter — shape does. I learned that I don’t like beige, or brown. And I learned that some pieces, the right pieces, made me feel really happy. And when I was REALLY happy, I was kinder, more vibrant, more ALIVE. But I didn’t really understand the connection. Why this and not that?
Until Raisa taught me.
Beginning at around age two, she started trending toward ‘boy clothes.’ In the beginning, I made nothing of it, and figured it was just a phase. By three she stopped wearing the dozens of pretty dresses she had hanging in her closet, and by five, even bootcut jeans and capped sleeves were out of the question.
I begged her to wear cute things. She refused. We battled.
At age six, when we were shopping at our local thrift shop, she asked me to help her look for a shirt and necktie. I refused, naturally, so she walked away from me, and asked the lady at the counter if SHE would help her find a shirt and necktie. (The audacity!) Moments later, she presented to me the ugliest shirt and tie my eyes had ever seen. I begrudgingly said yes, not because my heart was aflutter with admiration at her fierce independence and sense of self…but because I was too embarrassed to say no.
When we got home, she put on her shirt and tie, looked in the mirror, and took her own breath away. She ran across the living room, into the dining room and said, ‘Mama Mama, look how fast I can run!’ and then she jumped high into the air and said, ‘Mama Mama, look how much higher I can jump when I’m wearing a shirt and tie!’
That was it. She could run faster and jump higher when she was wearing clothes on the outside that matched who she was on the inside. In that moment, belief systems crumbled, and I began to truly SEE Raisa in a way I had never seen her before. All my years of protecting her, making sure she looked cute despite her physical differences, was stripping her of her power.
Let me translate that for you into grown-up terms: When we HIDE (protect ourselves from shame, vulnerability, and oh-my-goodness-what-will-they-say), we make ourselves LESS POWERFUL. Knowing WHO YOU ARE, and presenting that knowing on the outside is LIFE CHANGING. I call it Inside-Out Congruency. My clients call it TRANSFORMATIONAL.
Raisa’s story is WHY I do what I do. And it is why Stasia’s Style School sells out so quickly each time I offer it.
I’m not sure what’s more difficult: parenting as an entrepreneur, entrepreneuring as a parent, or entrepreneuring and parenting as a housewife! There are days when I let my kids watch too much television so I can post one more picture to Instagram. There are days when I completely ignore my inbox, so I can clean the toilet and wash the bathroom sink. And there are days when I let the dishes pile up in the sink ten miles high so I can take the kids to the farm to collect our veggies, pick flowers, play in the dirt, and visit the pigs.
In my experience, there is no such thing as balance. Just choices. And I need to get better at accepting those choices, rather than getting flustered because I can’t do all the things perfectly, all the time.
My favorite part about living with kids is the unlimited supply of kisses and hugs that come my way every single day. Before I had my own kids, I don’t think I ever understood what it would feel like to be loved this big. It’s awesome. And I get to love them back!
Undoubtedly, Raisa has taught me to not grip too tightly to narrowly defined belief systems. To think outside the box. To open up to the unexpected. To love fiercely.
Zealand taught me to trust my intuition. When I was 38 weeks pregnant with him, I measured in at around 49 weeks pregnant, which would make sense if I were an elephant, but that’s crazy talk for a human. An ultrasound revealed that my baby was more the size of a three-month old than a typical infant, and I panicked. How in the world could I grow such a huge baby? Even though I read everything I could about birthing big babies, I absolutely could not get past the fear.
One evening, days before ZZ was born, I went out for a late night walk and had an out-loud, raging conversation, angry at him for being so big. Well heck if he didn’t speak to me in a voice as clear as day. ‘Mama, we’re gonna be fine. We can do this. Don’t be afraid.’ I KNOW how woo-woo this sounds, but I’m telling you, my fears melted, my anxieties disappeared, and when I went into labor just a couple of days later, I birthed my ten pound 11 ounce baby naturally, and it was by far the most amazing thing my body has ever done.
I hope they remember the dance parties. The arm wrestling matches. The neighborhood parties. The goodnight stories. And the love bench. I also hope they remember the leaky roof, the flooded basement, and the creaky windows we have to plastic every winter. Because adversity breeds flexibility. And it seems to me, adversity, when paired with fierce love, creates whole humans.
And my wish for my kids is that they both grow into whole humans. Flexible. Honest. Confident. Creative. And above all else… LOVING.
My kids are three and nine, and already there are a million mama-things I would do differently. If I was given just one do-over card, the thing I would change was the transition from being a perfect family of three, to a perfect family of four.
When Raisa was born, we didn’t know if she was going to live or die. For the first three years of her life, I did NOTHING but care for her. I was a medical mother. When the doctors said ‘She can’t’ or ‘She won’t,’ I said ‘WATCH HER!’ When she was born, her fingers did not move, and her arms and legs did not extend fully. I massaged her little body for HOURS each day for YEARS, until her fingers moved, and her muscles stretched. Until she could walk on her legs, and pick up itty bitty pebbles with her fingers. Every play activity we did was therapy based. It had a purpose.
I held her tightly each time she went under anesthesia, and supported her anxiety and fear with a love so deep, the docs in the OR would be reduced to tears every single time. She was my entire life. I went from being shy and underspoken, to being a TIGER — fierce, confident, outspoken. I don’t regret that for a second, because it quite honestly saved her life.
But what I do regret is that I got tired.
When I became pregnant with ZZ, I all but checked out. I was so sick and so emotionally exhausted from five years of life-or-death parenting, I collapsed. And in many ways, so did our relationship.
As I sit here writing this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. Yes, it is my greatest regret. I wish I had taken better care of myself during those long hard years of surgeries, appointments, therapies, and code blues. I wish I had anticipated the exhaustion. The withdrawal. The collapse. I knew it was happening, yet I couldn’t stop it. She was screaming for that same level of fierce, unconditional love and connection, and I couldn’t provide. It wasn’t insidious. It was abrupt, and it broke her little heart. Mine too.
But as hearts break, hearts mend; and today, Raisa and I continue to rediscover our mama/daughter relationship through the context of what’s truly possible in our busy and beautiful family of four!
Oh, thank you, Stasia. Putting this tour together didn’t feel like work at all; it felt like sitting with a screenful of joy and contentedness, and it was contagious for sure. I hope everyone else felt it, too.
I don’t know if I’m just overly emotional from all the heartbreak in the world, but this line just about cracked me in two: “When we got home, she put on her shirt and tie, looked in the mirror, and took her own breath away.” Do you remember the last time you took your own breath away? It’s worth remembering, isn’t it? Share your moment if you can; it would be good for us all, I know.
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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.