I’m a big believer that families come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and today’s Living With Kids interview is about just that. Sara and her husband have two biologically born kids and two kids that they adopted who were a bit older when they came into their home. And they are raising all four of them in a lovely home in the California Wine Country. It’s such a touching story, and if you love a house full of bright colors and mixed-up patterns, you won’t want to miss this.
Say hello to Sara.
Hi! I am Sara Stubbert and I live here with my husband and four kids. We sometimes appear as a ragtag band of colorful crazies but we know how to clean up with a bit of polish when need be. My husband Sam and I have been married for nearly 20 years. We met in college at Brigham Young University and were flirty friends who kind of dated for about six months before we finally got serious. I remember getting ready to go to our study group one night at the law library and knowing that I was going to marry him. Boom. Just like that. He was and still is my best friend. I feel like I hit the all time jackpot with him by my side.
That is not to say that we have not endured trials, challenges, pain, disappointment and good old fashioned parenting woes. We have. But we are committed to each other no matter what and are happiest when we are just hanging out together.
After we graduated from BYU we moved to New York City and lived there for about seven years. Our first apartment was a fifth floor walkup on 25th and 3rd Avenue, cost too much money and had multiple windows facing a dark brick wall. In spite of that, we fell in love with NYC pretty hard. When 9/11 happened Sam was working at Rockefeller Center and I was in Times Square. We watched a lot of people we knew and cared about leave NYC after the attacks but we doubled down. There was no way were were leaving…yet.
We had our first baby there and when we got pregnant with a second child we decided it was time. Time for backyards and space and garages that were attached to our house and a laundry room INSIDE our house. We moved to the Bay Area in mid 2004 and have been Californians ever since. I originally grew up 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C. so for me to leave the East Coast behind was pretty traumatic. It took years before I liked California. I credit the home I live in now with falling in love with this place.
Sam is a partner at an investment firm and is great at what he does. He is also an accomplished ultra runner and the best pumpkin pie maker of all time. He is wicked funny, has introduced me to most of my favorite music, supports my dreams and is the best father to our kids. Everyone deserves a guy like Sam in their corner. Our family is so lucky to have him.
I am a full time mom who works additionally part time. Is that a thing? I’m calling it a thing. I work with Sam on some research and administrative tasks related to the firm. In the past I have been a grant writer and still do the occasional freelance grant writing or copy editing job. I also run a blog and Instagram account mainly focused on interior design, lifestyle and travel. These accounts are currently my great passion. I love color and pattern and texture all piled together. I am a “more is more” kind of girl.
I love to travel, and fall asleep every single night pretending I am in a first class flatbed seat on a plane jetting off to a new destination. Sam and I travel as often as we can and have many plans for an international future. I believe that travel is the best and most important education. I also love photography and wish I was better at it. I love to read, water my backyard plants (seriously so calming at the end of a long day), and running.
I was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2011 after five years of active symptoms. Lupus and RA dictate a fair amount of my daily life. The meds I am on (including chemotherapy shots) are no fun but they have allowed me to function pretty well. Most people do not know I am sick. My older two know and have watched me handle the ups and downs of a chronic illness but my younger two still do not know much. Modern medicine is pretty awesome; I have a great medical team and I have access to all of the resources I need. I don’t like being sick but I am really grateful for all of the support I have around me.
Our oldest son, Simon, is 14 and starts high school this fall. He is taller than me, looks a lot like his dad, is funny in a self deprecating way, loves to read, loves playing car racing video games, has a strong moral center and sense of fairness, is frequently nostalgic and loves all things outdoors or NYC related. Simon takes great pride in the fact he was born there. He is the guy you want with you in a crisis; he handles himself beautifully and remains calm. He often talks about how he wants to rescue people for a career and I think he would be great at it. Simon is a three time Junior Olympic USA Track and Field national finalist. He was always a good runner but about two years ago he told Sam and me that he wanted to become nationally ranked. He primarily runs the 3000 meter during track season and the 2K during cross country. He loves to run and is so good at it. We are excited to see where his legs take him over the next four years of high school.
Sophie is our oldest daughter and is almost 13. She is in 8th grade this fall but really just wants to be in high school already. She and Simon are only 19 months apart and share many of the same friends. This is both wonderful and tricky. Sophie is tall (she looks more like she is 16 or 17 than 12, much to my chagrin), is a born teacher and leader, a great runner, is incredibly funny, a great flute player, is super confident, goes through intense periods of meticulous cleanliness and organization, loves all things science-related and most of all, is joyful. She is a bright light in our family. She looks a lot like her dad but her personality is similar to mine. She is a good mix of me and Sam. Sophie wants to be an astronomer/YouTuber/kindergarten teacher…and I honestly would not be surprised if she somehow pulls all of those off. She is loved by her friends and her teachers and especially her younger brother and sister; they are so lucky to have her.
Our youngest two children, Sadie and Sebastian were born in Ethiopia. We adopted them when they were 10 months and 8 months old, respectively. When we met them they were both sick and suffering from significant malnutrition. We brought them home at the same time and doubled the size of our family overnight. Simon and Sophie were seven and five at the time and we were stretched quite thin. It took years for all of us to find our groove and a tribe of amazing friends and family to help us, but I can honestly say adoption has been the greatest blessing of my life, of OUR lives. I have learned more about love and patience and family because of my youngest two.
It is hard to explain to people who haven’t adopted how special and spiritual adoption is. There is no way to go about adoption without involving God. To my mind, it is impossible. The faith that is required to adopt in the first place and then raise children you did not give birth to is pretty important to consider. Whenever people ask me about our decision to adopt I always say it involved three of us: me, Sam and God. To learn more about our experience adopting Sadie and Sebastian please read this article I wrote here.
Sadie is now eight and is two months older than Sebastian. She was born in Gondar, Ethiopia, which is often referred to as the Camelot of Ethiopia due to the many castles found there. She is a very girly girl and truly believes she is Ethiopian royalty (owing to the castles of her birthplace). She loves to read, which is the greatest thing to see because reading was tough going for her at the beginning. You would never know it now. She believes her ideal job would be that of an ice cream taster. We are all hoping she gets that job (family perks). She also wants to be a scientist who finds cures for diseases. We are supporting that dream as well. Sadie is kind and thoughtful and is by far the most insightful and emotionally intuitive person in our family. She fully believes that she can do anything and has confidence to spare. She loves to draw and watch cooking shows and swing on our swingset in the backyard. She is a happy girl with lots of optimism. She also has a great smile.
Sebastian is also eight and is two months younger than Sadie. He was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. When we first met him he hardly moved but was the smiliest, happiest baby ever. We wondered if he was ever going to crawl or sit up on his own or even walk…but we shouldn’t have been so concerned. He is a born athlete. He picks up anything physical very quickly and is incredibly competitive. After watching his older brother and sister run for years he decided that he wanted to start competing too. He has come alive this past year with USA Track and Field. I tell him often that he is Ethiopian and running is literally in his blood. He is the most focused and determined person in our family. He regularly takes himself through intense running drills in the backyard, rain or shine, hot or cold. He is an amazing artist and always has been. He is a boy of few words so when we really have a conversation together it is pretty special. He can find anything. Whenever I lose something I always ask for his help and 99% of the time he can find it; that kid has a gift. He is always smiling…which tends to get him into trouble when he is ACTUALLY in trouble. We are working on that! I can’t wait to see what Sebastian ends up doing. He is still a bit of a mystery to me and Sam. He is revealing himself slowly but surely and we are getting to know him better as he grows up.
We live in Fairfield, California in the Green Valley area. We are about 10 minutes from Napa and 50 minutes from San Francisco. Our area is surrounded by green hills, vineyards, trails and some farmland. It is absolutely gorgeous. The evening temperature is always cool (except in the worst parts of summer) and windy, so we leave our upstairs windows open for cool breezes year round. We often have misty mornings in the fall and winter which our kids love. The rainy season is roughly November until early May and we LIVE for the rain. Our entire family is obsessed with rain. The surrounding hills turn a gorgeous, almost unnatural shade of green during rainy season into June and then turn golden brown for the summer months.
The longer we live in this area the more impossible it is to imagining living anywhere else because we are SO addicted to the beautiful weather! Green Valley and our neighboring Suisun Valley boast gorgeous vineyards and wineries without Napa Valley prices. Our neighborhood has a beautiful gated park (that residents have a key to) with playground and tennis courts, a pool and a large lake right in the middle. Fairfield is an incredibly racially diverse city which is an added benefit when you are raising a multi-racial family. The kids schools are diverse both racially and economically.
The neighborhood we live in is diverse as well; our court neighbors are Caucasian, African American, Iranian and Filipino. We have been friends with our next door neighbors for over ten years. Our fence dividing our backyards blew over in a crazy windstorm about three years ago and we have never bothered replacing it. The kids roam between both of our backyards and in the court and the park across the street. The older two bike to their friends houses and have pool parties and trampoline hangouts and late night movie fests. It is a good life for the kids. The kind of life I was looking for when we moved here.
Houses in the Bay Area are expensive. Our area isn’t cheap (sadly) but I feel like for the most part we get good value for the money. Remember: our weather is pretty much perfect (in my opinion anyway). We purchased our home ten years ago when the market was a buyers market and there were crazy deals to be had. Our place is 2800 square feet and is on just shy of a quarter acre. We purchased our place for just under $600K and put about $40,000 into it before we moved in with some updates and renovations. The market in our area has now gone up and our home value has increased (yay!)…but we aren’t moving anytime soon so we just watch the price increase and are grateful.
We purchased this home in the fall of 2007; it was originally built in 2001. It was actually owned by the Budweiser Company which is one of the larger companies based in Fairfield. There was an executive and his family who owned it before us that worked for Budweiser and when the company relocated them, Budweiser took over the sale of the house. I love telling people that our Mormon family bought our home from a beer company! We first lived in another part of Fairfield that I really didn’t like and knew we wanted to move.
I found this house online in early May and when I saw the proximity to the park and the big play structure in the backyard I told Sam, “This is the house. This is IT!”. We eventually saw it with a realtor in late August, put in an offer and it was immediately accepted. We only had two children at the time and this house seemed SO big and on so much land. It felt like a palace. We were able to make a bunch of renovations and improvements to it a month before moving in so it truly felt like a brand new house even though it was already six years old (it was built in 2001). Every single day of that first year Sam and I giggled to each other with glee that this was our home. I still love coming home to it at the end of the day or after a trip far away; this is home and I couldn’t be happier about it.
We are fortunate that all of our kids have their own rooms. It has been a blessing for them to have their own spaces to sleep while moving in and out of each others rooms to visit or chat or play as needed. Nap-times when they were younger were so much smoother because they were all in their own spaces. My husband and I each have our own office spaces and we have a nice workout area as well. The kids all share a playroom/game room/homework area downstairs off of the living room. Most people with our kind of floor plan use that space as a formal dining room but we are not a formal family. We’ve always felt like that space serves us better the way we have been using it.
I have tried over the years to fall in love with the clean minimalist home style to no avail. I went through a short lived phase for a season in New York where I abandoned all color and pattern in our living room and instead painted everything white, covered all furniture in billowy white fabric, hung white curtains. You get the picture. It lasted only a few months. Minimalism makes me depressed; it just doesn’t fit me. Our colorful home is an extension of how I feel about texture and pattern; I need it and I want it everywhere around me.
I firmly believe that if you love something for your home you should make a place for it in your home. Who wants to be surrounded by stuff they don’t really love? Or a room that feels like it is straight out of a catalogue? Not me. Unless it is the Anthropologie catalogue. I would not mind that :).
I have always been a pattern mixer; if you look at my photos from high school and college you will see that those colorful seeds were sown long ago. I say, do not be afraid of color! Let it warm your heart and your home. It’s YOUR home! You do not need to arrange it for anyone except the people who live there!
Growing up my parents had a very classical, colonial Williamsburg inspired home. It was picture perfect but I didn’t feel like there was a lot of room for how I wanted to express myself from a home decor standpoint. It was very much their home; I get that. I DID make a choice once I had kids, however, to let my children define their own spaces. If they want to hang a million posters on the walls of their rooms, go for it. Change out their bedding and curtains (within affordable reason, of course), I support that.
One of my kids wanted to paint their walls black for awhile and we had a good conversation about that. Instead we went with a change to their bedding and that satisfied what they were really looking for. Kids need their personal spaces to reflect who they are and how they are changing. I believe it is vitally important to their growth and development. My daughters like for me to work with them on their rooms, my sons like to forge their own paths when it comes to their spaces. I’m ok with all of it as long as it is decently clean and picked up.
My husband and I had always planned to adopt. Sam comes from a rich history of adoption in his family; I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 14 so I had adoption on my mind from an early age. Together, we knew that adoption would be part of our family plan. When it came time for us to start the process I came face to face with prejudice: my own. I could not see myself as a white woman parenting children who were black. I did not think I was going to have what it takes as a white woman to raise black children. I just couldn’t get my mind around it. I was scared. Scared of letting them down.
Adoption is interesting that way. Lots of people talk about how much they want to do it but when it comes time to pull the trigger it holds a mirror up to YOU. You are forced to look deeply at your own heart and mind and prejudices. I was shocked at what I found within myself. It took me about four months to have faith in myself that I would know how to parent a mixed race family. It took courage, and at the time I was pretty short on courage.
Those early days of uncertainty and fear now seem so far away. How on earth could I have ever had such fears? Adoption is both incredibly sweet and incredibly heavy. You have to be willing to accept both because that’s how this works.
The sweet is that I am a mother to two beautiful children born on the other side of the world. The heavy is that I will never be able to hold their birth mothers and thank them from the depths of my soul for their children, for my children. For OUR children. The sweet is that they call me Mom without a thought that I’m anything less than that. The heavy is that they also have a desire to somehow know their first mothers…and I cannot make that happen for them. The sweet is how my heart and soul has been pried open and filled with love and acceptance and patience and deep understanding that I would have never experienced without becoming their mother. The heavy is that there was a need for me and Sam to raise them in the first place. See? Sweet and heavy.
Because we live in such a diverse part of the country, our family rarely gets more than a passing glance. The Bay Area is vibrant and varied with the families living here. There are so many mixed race families, thank goodness. When I am out with all four of my kids we do occasionally get some questions, but here is why: my older two look very much like twins and my younger two sort of look like twins. Nobody in our family is a twin! Having to explain that no, these two are not twins and these two are two months apart is pretty funny. It is just another opportunity to talk about the miracle of adoption.
I have had many wonderful conversations with complete strangers about Sadie and Sebastian. Truly inspiring, faith promoting conversations that I would have never had without them. I cannot count the number of talks I have had in Target, Costco, doctors office waiting rooms, Jiffy Lube, the Social Security office with people who want to know how we assembled our family. I realize that Sadie and Sebastian are only eight and there are a lot of years ahead of us but so far I have not had one negative experience related to being a mixed race family or as a white mother with black children.
My kids have all had to explain since they were little how they are connected as family. The first time was when Sophie (age six at the time) was holding Sadie (about 15 months) in the swimming pool in our neighborhood. An older girl asked Sophie why she was holding that “black baby” to which Sophie replied, “She is my sister! Duh!” To Sophie it made perfect sense! Sadie and Sebastian have had to explain to kids at school who that white lady is picking them up. So far they are proud to say they were born in Ethiopia and are adopted.
They are choosing the language that works best for them in the situations that are coming up. It is a process. We are not perfect at it but we are trying, they are trying. We have always been open and upfront with Sadie and Sebastian about their story, about how they came to be in our family. There are some details that are still too sensitive to talk about with them but we will as they mature and can handle it. We talk openly about their first mothers and the beauty of their country and that it is ok to sometimes feel like you are missing something or someone. They know they can come to us with anything.
As I said earlier, my one great fear prior to adopting was that I as a white woman would not be enough to raise my black children. This is still on my mind. Am I instilling enough pride in them about their skin color and their birth country? Are they around enough children who look like them? They went to a day camp this summer for a week and when I dropped them off my heart leapt: every single child there was black. BEST news of my day. I wonder if they have enough mentors of color around them. So far, probably not. And then I relax a little and say to myself, “Do they have enough MENTORS around them? People who love them and support them and fight for them?” That answer is a resounding YES. From school to church to neighborhood to family and friends YES, they have a village around them and around all of us as a family.
I have talked to my older two quite a bit about racism, prejudice and inequality. They haven’t really seen it up close yet…but they will. The movie Hidden Figures was such a great conversation starter when it came out! We are having more and more conversations about the police and why the color of their skin versus the color of their younger brother and sisters skin matters in this day and age.
I don’t know how I am going to have conversations with my sweet little Sebastian about how he needs to present himself when he is older so that he doesn’t look like a threat. Or how he needs to handle himself when he is driving…or is pulled over by a cop because that WILL happen. It hurts my heart to even write that. It stings. It is my great fear rearing its ugly head again. I take some comfort that I’ve got great people and resources around me to help as we navigate this terrain that is unfamiliar to us. Ask me again in five years how we are doing!
Sadie pined for years that her hair didn’t look like her older sister’s. She hated that her hair was short and very tightly curled, that she couldn’t run a brush through it like her sister could. We have had many many long talks about the beauty of being black. I have had her talk to black women and girls who look just like her in an effort to instill pride and understanding of her beauty in her. And we discovered extensions.
I always do her hair; it is a time of bonding for both of us and ties us even more to each other. It is a ton of work and I can’t believe I have learned how to do it and that she has patiently let me try. Extensions protect her natural hair and keep it from breaking, allowing it to slowly grow. They also give her what she wanted when she watched her sister: the ability to throw her head around and have her hair swish from side to side. It’s the little things…that really aren’t that little. To her they are HUGE.
I want for them to have the courage to go after their dreams. To not let anyone or anything stand in their way. I want them to be confident. I want for them to be truly happy. I desperately want them to be safe and healthy. I want them to have families of their own. I want for them to know God and trust in Him, to build a relationship with Him. My biggest fear is that they will be physically hurt or overcome by illness. My second greatest fear is that they won’t be happy…and that I won’t be able to do anything about it.
I hope that my kids remember they could be themselves here at home. That they were safe and loved and supported here. I hope they remember that they could fall apart and piece themselves back together again and that their parents loved them through it all. I hope that they remember our dances for rain in the backyard, Sunday BBQs, learning to ride their bikes, yard work, the cool evening breezes filling the house through open windows, decorating for Christmas, standing in the front yard watching the sunset, movie nights, sleepovers on the trampoline, long confidential talks in the laundry room, the giant goldfish that turned into koi, the pride of a great report card, ice cream celebrations, a house filled with friends, lots of blankets and pillows for supreme coziness, sodas stocked in the garage, Nerf gun wars, family prayer, color and light and vibrance and safety.
I hope that they totally forget the impatience and frustration of their parents. I hope that they forget about the times we let them down. I hope that they don’t remember me being sick, and being worried about their mom.
As my kids are getting older I am missing those squishy little faces that only came up to my waist. I miss the little shoes and high pitched tiny voices. I miss being able to grab them and throw them on my lap, wrapped in a blanket.
Honestly I think I have enjoyed and learned from every stage they have been at. The tiny newborn stage when you think everything HAS to be perfect…and then you realize it really doesn’t. The toddler stage, the preschool stage, the elementary and middle school and now high school stage. There is a great quote that reads something like, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” And boy that is true. Those early days of being so tired because you have a teething baby are a cake walk compared to the minefield a middle schooler and high schooler need to navigate.
My favorite thing about living with these people is the mix of personalities in our house. We are all so different with our personalities and our appearances and our DNA. I love it. I love watching my kids together cheering each other on without knowing I am watching. I love that my older two are hyper invested in their younger siblings doing well/staying safe. I love what we have all learned together about life and family, faith and fear.
I wish someone had told me that parenting was going to be the hardest thing I would ever do. That it would require me to be all in, all the time, for the rest of my life. Then again, maybe it’s better that I didn’t know that…or I may not have done it.
I may not have endured years of trying to get pregnant with fertility treatments and IVF. I might not have wanted to suffer through a miscarriage and I may not have wanted to go through the refining fires of international adoption knowing what I know now. Because all of it is hard.
But if I sit here for a moment and really examine what I just wrote, I realize with tears in my eyes that YES. YES I would have done it all over again because I get to have the best people and best life I could have ever dreamt of. I would go through all of it again just to have Sam and Simon and Sophie and Sadie and Sebastian. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Such a beautiful family and such a darling home. Anyone else feel inspired to inject a little color into their home after reading that? And what great kids. You can tell by reading Sara’s answers that all of her kids are happy and supportive of one another. That’s one of my biggest goals as a parent too — that my kids will love each other and cheer on each other’s successes. I loved this line “I hope they remember that they could fall apart and piece themselves back together again and that their parents loved them through it all.”
How do you talk to your family about race and racism in today’s politically charged environment? It is a conversation that we all have to have. (Here are a couple of many conversations we’ve had on Design Mom: Would You Tell Your Kids To Call the Police? and Teaching Kids About Race & Racism.) Do your kids ask questions about what they see going on in the news? Or are the pretty sheltered from it? How can we ensure that our kids approach the world with an attitude of openness and kindness?
You can check out Sara’s blog here or check her out on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.