As soon as I saw the photos of Leisse Wilcox’s beautiful home outside of Toronto, I knew we would all fall in love with it. Her home has that perfect collected feel. It feels entirely personal and unique but not cluttered or messy at all; just beautifully lived in. And it’s full of keepsakes that you just know have interesting stories behind them.

Then, when I got to know Leisse a bit better, I was further blown away. She’s a single mom, a writer, a life coach — and was recently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. This post is warm and honest and has great advice about loving yourself and being confident. I’m so excited for you read it. Welcome, Leisse!

Ours is a house of girls.

I’m Leisse, and my girlies are Mia (8), Grey (6) and Clara (6). Clara is the youngest by four minutes in their identical twinship. There are also about a thousand stuffies of various vintages who live here, and while I won’t name them all, most of them fall somewhere along the lines of “Squirrel-y, Donkey, Wolfie, Beav-ie,” and an entire family of bunnies named after ice cream flavours.  We also have an apricot mini golden doodle…on our family vision board. To make that dream feel even more real, we named him Kevin, and bought him a squeaky sloth toy for when he does arrive one day.

The vibe here is very peaceful, and very joyful: I have a background in Montessori education, which has served each of us well in our family life. Our home is so welcoming of children and their needs for inclusion, independence, and exploration; you can feel the warmth and sense of belonging when you step into our foyer — those aren’t just my words, it’s an almost verbatim comment that each new visitor makes when they are here for the first time.

We like to keep things low key; we have an institution on Friday night of pizza / popcorn / movie, and camping out together in my bedroom for a sleep over (one in my bed, two on the floor in a nest of blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags). When it’s a weekend the girlies spend with their dad, we’ve instituted “Fake Friday” on Thursday, to really amp up our favourite night of the week together. Saturdays and Sundays are spent sleeping in, followed by coffee (me), a “healthy brain show” and “fend for yourself” cereal bar (kids), then making waffles or French toast for an at-home brunch with Katy Perry, Vance Joy, or Sharon Jones on our record player. In the summer we love to bike down to nearby Lake Ontario, or drive up to a cabin, and in the winter we can be found cozied up playing Guess Who, card games, or drawing. (And inevitably arguing about the rules of the game, or whose turn it really is to use this one particular notebook.)

The girlies don’t do extra-curriculars; we tried a few, including ballet and robotics club, but we couldn’t make it work with our lifestyle, and so we quit. There is so much unstructured time here to just be a family, and let kids be kids, it allows us to follow a beautifully predictable routine that seems to be the best thing for everyone at this time.

This has been especially true in the last few months as I have been in bi-weekly chemo treatments; being able to keep things low key and organic has allowed me to honour my lower than usual energy levels, and allow my body the chance to receive and heal…all while ensuring everyone’s needs for attention and love are being met.

There is always, always singing: having kids has cemented my lifetime dream of living life as a Broadway musical. We have created personas and special talents for each of the stuffies (one is an epic beat box and freestyle rapper, one sticks to classic rock ballads, and one little lamb — Lambie, naturally — sings Celine Dion’s “All Baaaaaaaa Myself,” and is truly an award winning performance, if we can get through it without cry laughing). We’ve also been known to break into spontaneous dance parties — which is awesome — and are still working on a way of them ending without me having to shoo children off my body when they realize that being spun around and dipped in the kitchen by your mother is wild, wild fun. Even if she can no longer breathe from lifting up three kids back to back to back.

Each of us is an avid reader as well. Mia has read up to Harry Potter 4, and loves Land of Stories; Grey and Clara are really into Magic Tree House and the Narwhal and Jelly series. I am in the process of writing my first book, a self-help style memoir, and am currently going back through my American Classics Fiction collection, because my brain is full of self-help style memoir, and frankly I need a distraction.

All in all, it really is a special place, mostly full of laughter; and while we feel ready to welcome an epic man into our lives (as husband / step dad) when the time is just right, we really do love being together, and tend to travel as a little wolf pack of young women. It’s such a great feeling, because our dynamic is that of pure love and family: we are not friends, we are definitely mother and daughters; we respect ourselves and one another, and simply enjoy each other’s company.

We live in a tiny beachfront town called Cobourg, just east of Toronto, Canada. I lived in the city for a long time, and after Mia was born (at home), the city started to feel like it was just too much. Now, we live in a 1930’s home that has been described by my friend and HGTV photographer as “the lovechild between Gloria Steinem and Domino magazine.”

We’re on a quiet street, three blocks to downtown, six blocks to the lake, and there is a park so close that the girlies are allowed to go on their own — my gift to them of trying to cultivate the nostalgic feeling of an old school childhood. You know, when kids were allowed to play on their own without someone calling in the authorities.

Most people on our street are of the octogenarian variety; we have a neighbour to the right who loves giving us ice cream bars in the summer, and a neighbour to the left who hates dandelions so much we once found her picking them off our lawn.  You can imagine she wasn’t too pleased when Grey stood at our fence line last summer “making wishes” on dandelions that had gone to seed – and blowing them onto her property.  She also wasn’t too pleased when we tied a string from our hammock to her fence. Or when we roasted marshmallows over a backyard fire and she came shouting at me to put it out.

It’s a balance.

The best thing about where we live is the lake; it’s so vast, it feels like an ocean view, and it has a great beach for skipping stones (except for that one time someone skipped a stone into Clara’s head and we skipped over to the ER to wait seven hours for two stitches). Summer here is pretty fantastic, with a festival happening almost every weekend, and a carnival that gets set up on the pier for the July long weekend. In December they set up “Christmas Magic” in the lakefront park, and light up a whole acre of trees, playing holiday tunes out of the light standards. It’s become our tradition to drive down after dinner, check out all the lights, and then play a few (terrifying) rounds of hide and go seek in the dark. This year they added a little turquoise trailer to the vignette, and it felt like being on set of a Wes Anderson movie.

In the summer a favourite Saturday morning activity is to go to the farmer’s market — for donuts — at “The Donut Guy.” He makes them — near toothless and bearded in a Panama hat and Hawaiian shirt — in his hand-made cart. His wife sprinkles them with one of five kinds of sugar, and they make great bad coffee. It’s a small town, so it’s almost guaranteed that when we go, we’ll meet up with a bunch of other friends and families from school, and it’s so nice to hang out while a fleet of children gets to run around, or is sent on produce buying missions together while the grown-ups chat.

We also have a decent taco truck by the lake; my dream is for someone to run more taco trucks and wood fired pizza oven down there too, or out of my backyard. There is a beautiful marina, and I’d love for us to learn to sail when the kids are older; for now we have a kayak, and will one day have a canoe. When the girlies were a bit younger I would pack them all into my Dutch cargo bike and scoot around town with them; this summer they will each be old enough to ride on their own — which means that Kevin, our apricot mini doodle to be, is going to have a VIP ride to the beach!

I am always on an unofficial campaign to have more “Toronto ex pats” move out here, because it really is a beautiful place from which is still pretty easy to get into the city. Houses are still affordable (I bought a 4 BR in an excellent location for just under $500K, on a huge property), and it’s a reality to “have it all.” As more like minded people move here, I think the shops and restaurants will catch up. Our school is great, and the girls are all in French Immersion; it would be nice to have more of a global community here influencing the culture of the town.

When my marriage ended and we sold our epic seven bedroom century home, a friend of mine told me she knew her neighbour was getting ready to sell this house. I rented a four BR cottage just two blocks south of here, and a year and a half later, bam, this house came up for sale. By then I had kind of lost interest in home ownership, and thought I would remain a lifetime renter. The housing market was in a wild cycle of selling fast, and over asking, and I didn’t think buying a house — on my own, no less — was a reality. But with the encouragement of another friend, who knew this house had been sitting on the market for (an unheard of) two weeks, I went to check it out with my realtor…and had my purchase offer drafted the next day.

This house was, without question, meant to be ours. So much so that Mia’s teacher grew up down the street, and has vivid memories of her time playing and being babysat here as a kid. Touchingly, we are the first family to own it outside of the family who built it in the 1930’s. Isn’t that so special?  The process was one of those in which things just lined up for me, and I even got my mortgage approval on my 36th birthday. It was so emotional, in the best way, because it marked the beginning of a new chapter: one rich in independence of the highest order.

Again, I thought I would never own property again — and the unpacking process of realizing that wow, I can do this, and I can do it on my own was more empowering than I can convey. That moment marked a huge turning point in my financial awareness, literacy, and capability, a theme that now fuels the self-worth work I do with my clients.

When I bought it, I left a month of overlap in our rental; that meant I could have the house updated from the previous owner (with the best contractor in town, who is always booked, and “just happened” to have one opening to take me on as a client, at the exact moment I needed. Come on), while we lived in comfort off-site. We took out the old and dated upper cabinets, replaced them with open cherry shelving and gold brackets, on subway tile. There was tons of natural light, so we played it up by painting everything white, and adding pink and gold accents everywhere else.  With a few sheets of feature wall wallpaper, Moroccan tile sheet vinyl flooring, and eight cans of gold spray paint for the original radiators, this house felt like our home within just a few weeks.

I vividly remember going to pick up the keys at the property from the realtor with the girls — and bringing sparkling lemonade (kids’ Champagne) to celebrate the occasion. It still makes me shake my head with the magic of how this all unfolded, and fills me with unbelievable gratitude for the fortune of this, and for trusting the timing of my life in a profound way.

Our house looks like my soul feels: playful, bright, energetic, fun and cozy — with a healthy dose of practicality and Dutch sensibility. My inspiration comes from listening to what makes me feel good, and acting on it. I saw this couch at a store one day, and it reminded me of an amazing vacation I’d had in Mexico. So I bought it. I was on a weekend away and fell in love with this pink carpet, so I bought it. I love books and my vinyl collection, and those are two things that make me feel like I am home — so I figured out a way to celebrate those with a library wall — marked with a vintage farm ladder I found, that still has its original pink pant on it!

I’m really proud of creating space — in every room of our house — that has a grown up aesthetic, and is still so inclusive of kids and their needs. Toys are stored in old apple crates behind the couch (so they have easy access, without overwhelming our space), and all our games / activities are kept in a cool storage locker. Crafts and creating are at the core of our family habits and personalities, so they get their own little art cart in our dining room; life happens around our family harvest table, so we keep everything centrally located to our family hub.

Original art is of great value to me, because I appreciate the courage it takes to create something and birth it into the world to share with others. We have a mix of original pieces, and some classic prints from the 70’s, and each of them plays a unique role in our family culture and inspiration.

I am an aspiring minimalist, but I also love whimsy, quirk, design, and everything analog. Every item in our house (and especially the ones “on display” on our bookshelves and stereo stand) has a good story or memory attached to it. They make our house actually full of good vibes. So looking around our house FILLS me with smile making memories. Because so much if it is vintage (I have a lot of little details from my Oma and Opa’s house, like the butter dish from Holland, her needlework, and the rose gold breadbox), I really believe it carries its own energy from the past, and it’s all really good energy.

love the mix of mid century and bohemian; it feels like such a nod to every part of my personality, this clean clear structure, juxtaposed against the free spirit, easy breezy vibe. Add blankets and cozy places to cuddle or listen to music, drink coffee and read, and it very quickly feels like home to our guests as well.

Having so many gold and rose gold details makes me feel fancy, and I like it; it carries over this silently screaming narrative that “girl, you are worth it! Life is supposed to be pleasurable! Enjoy it!” All of our artwork comes from that intention as well, the underlying statement that we are here for a reason, it is always our choice to find joy and create beauty, and share it with the world. to give everyone permission to be at home with themselves, too.

We got robbed earlier this year (while I was at an oncology appointment, if you can imagine). It was pretty scary and disruptive, but gratefully, there was minimal damage, and minimal theft, and all I could think was “maybe while he was here reading all these messages of love and encouragement, MAYBE this could be a turning point for him, too.”

For me, the hardest part of being a single parent is that there’s no one to share the joy with. Yet. There have been so many moments of pure love, pure joy, pure childhood innocence that it has hurt my heart a lot not to be able to turn to “the man” next to me and just bask in the glow of it. My kids are growing up, and I know there are new phases of childhood, and therefore parenting, that are to come, and being single I feel like I don’t have that one person who is really on my team right now, really rooting for our family success in the same way I am. I am very much looking forward to the time when I can feel that sense of intimate friendship and camaraderie, dancing around the kitchen making pancakes, and demonstrating what healthy love and relationships look like with my own romantic partner, in my own home, for each of my girlies. It’s something I think about daily.

And still, yes there are parts of being a single parent that are easier: it’s a pretty autonomous role I have. And while sometimes it can be a little tiring as the only one being responsible, making decisions — I am also acutely aware that there is a lot of freedom to be found there, as well. I think how I would sum it up is that I can’t wait to meet the man we get to welcome into our family, and who can’t wait for a family to call his. We have a list of all the qualities we each value in the guy we want to laugh with at our family table, and I try to embody each of them in my daily life. I am so confident that when the time is right, he’ll show up. And until then, I am beyond grateful for how much time I get to spend with my kids, just appreciating life as it is, for what it is, in this moment.

If you read my Instagram bio (lol) it says I am a professional human, real life adult, and emotional alchemist. That is the best way I know how to describe my life and work because yes, it definitely feels like a calling. I have experienced a lot of adversity in my life, most of which was hidden behind a veil of “perfection” to the outside world.

When I did the work, and found the confidence to be me, the clarity in what I want, and the courage to stay true to both, that’s when my life changed radically, for the better. And all of the missteps and mistakes, each of the bad decisions, every single thing that happened and felt unbearable at the time — it’s as if there was an aha! moment in which I knew how to make sense of it all, and that making sense of it would be to take each of those very human experiences and share them: share them with the intention that the literal hundreds of thousands of women who experience the same stuff or similar, would feel less alone, and more like there was a shining beacon of light at the end of their tunnel.

So that’s what I do: I take the experiences from my life, and transmute them into something beautiful and purposeful, and empower others to do the same. Emotional alchemy. 

Confidence, and the other side of its coin, self-doubt, are HUGE. These are HUGE obstacles for women and men; I believe that while we all experience self-doubt to some degree (even the MOST famous, and appearing to be confident of us), and that based on the natural or learned skillset we have, we either move forward and “do it anyway,” or we are crippled by it.

My particular brand of coaching is focused on getting very very clear on who you are, and want you want — not what somebody else told you, or even expected of you, but what YOU want. For me (and the clients who work with me) this is the process of coming home to yourself, and calling yourself beloved. 

My best tip for everyone is to “shut up and listen” to themselves. I believe deeply that we have everything we need inside of us, and that the answers, the love, the direction, the approval we are looking for comes from within. It’s one of those things that IS that simple, and not always that easy. I think it’s a process that starts with the very brave task of tuning out all that which does not serve you, and get very clear on what your body, your mind, your heart is trying to tell you. I think when you start there, and when you have the guts to trust it, the “what comes next” starts to unfold in front of you. 

My 2018 breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments (including four months of chemo and a double mastectomy) really drove this home for me, particularly with respect to cultivating a deep love and appreciation of my self, and my body.

So much of “what we think” is a simple myth. It’s a tchotchky shelf collection full of other people’s unrequited dreams, expectations, disappointments and fears — and for some reason we insist on carrying it around with us.

Getting real with the clarity of what you want is a massive mindset shift; to sort through all the old crap we claim as ours, and realize we get to make our own choices in this life — even in the face of challenge and adversity, we always have a level of choice. That is the place where power is born: knowing you can choose to act, react, and carry on in a way that is uniquely yours.

This concept has so many powerful layers for parenting, too, in a couple of different ways. There is something that happens to most of us in the transition to parenthood that makes us feel like, first, “who we were” is gone, and that the rest of our life must now revolve around what our kids need. And that is false. Our children, and our families function best when we are at our best. So it’s our responsibility to recognize our own choices for our own lives. I know  a lot of people who hide behind the badge of busy-ness as an excuse to not live out their own deep desires of what they want.

And second, that our kids must live the life we intend for them. Our kids get so much of us in them, through that delicate blend of nature and nurture. But as every parent knows, they are also born with their own special ingredient. And that wild card identity is what puts them on this earth to live their purpose — not the one we have for them. As parents I believe it is our job to be our kids’ guide to life, and to be their advocate. I think we can always expect them to do their best, to be kind, and to be their true self. And I think that we need to let go of the need to control anything beyond that, and accept the reality that they too are there for a reason, and they too are figuring it out as they go.

That powerful clarity comes into focus when we find peace with the one mega truth therein: each of gets one spin around, and it’s up to us to carve out that path and make it meaningful.

My hope for my children is that they always know they are loved for who they are, without condition. I hope they remember living with the constant finding of joy in the littlest things, and to make every day feel special — because every day is very special. I hope that always know they can come to me with anything, at anytime, no matter how scary or difficult it feels, and find guidance and support, and that the bond we’ve built in this rose gold home is the foundation of that trust and communication. Also, I hope they forget the time I stole Kit Kats out of their halloween candy without asking, and had no alibi.

I am in this sweet spot of parenting when my kids really want to be with me, and still have the independence to entertain themselves. Each of my girlies takes turns sleeping in my bed each night, and I awake to three little bodies cuddling / stealing covers each morning. It’s amazing. We love being together, and enjoy each other’s company. I love how entertained they are by the simplest things, and how wonder-filled our lives are. I watch and feel it happening, and am so mindful to enjoy the precious moments, because I am aware that moments are fleeting. I appreciate what I have right now, and am hopeful it lasts well into their 30’s.

I wish someone had told me when I was very young that I was loved for who I am. That I alone was, am, and will be enough. That I have value in this world just by being me, and that my worth is never conditional, or dependent on my fighting to prove it to anyone.

I wish I had trusted my gut all along, and stood up and spoken up for myself many times over. I wish I had listened to my instincts much earlier when it felt like there was a red flag, and had valued myself enough to act on it. I wish I’d had someone in my life to act as my protector, and I wish that I’d realized much younger that I could be my protector when no one else was there. To give myself the love and approval I couldn’t seem to get from those “close” to me.

More than anything I wish I’d had the presence of mind many years ago to know that it all passes, and that if you decide to, you can move on from just about anything, and turn it into a part of your story, rather than be defined by it. Maybe that’s the point though, is that you figure it out as you go, and turn to the person just a few steps behind you, reach out, and share with them the next steps of how to get to where they’re going.

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Wow. Thank you, Leisse! This home really does feel like a magical place to grow up. Lots of beautiful bright colors, cozy furniture and inspirational art everywhere you look. I’m also a tiny bit obsessed with all the great wallpaper making an appearance throughout. It’s always so inspiring when a home feels personal and curated and layered in such a way that feels totally livable but inspiring at the same time.

And speaking of inspiring, Leisse’s story! Being a single parent is tricky in and of itself, but to have to worry about your own health — going through chemo while raising small kids — must be exhausting. It’s no surprise that Leisse works to help people figure out what they want and how to get it. Isn’t that sometimes the hardest thing? Really understanding what you want deep down inside? Not what you should want or what someone else (who may be perfectly well intentioned) wants for you. But what you truly want. It can be a lifelong struggle to figure it out. It’s inspiring to know that good people like Leisse are working hard to help people do just that.

SOURCES

Couch

Light fixture (dining room)

Yellow rose wallpaper

Dining Chairs

You Have Everything You Need print

Life is Fantastic (tea towel, framed)


Photo credits to Chantelle Watt, Craig Kellerman, Lauren Miller and Emily D. You can see more of Leisse on her website or on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com