Today’s Living With Kids mom, Laura, lives in a charming bungalow outside of Chicago. When she and her husband were looking for a home, she wanted to find a more affordable space, so she could cut back on time at her demanding job, and spend more time raising her son, Stewie. The house they found is small — under 1000 square feet. But it doesn’t feel small at all — and it’s filled with gorgeous wood trim, and beautiful architectural details. It really is a dream; warm and comfy and inviting. Welcome, Laura!!
Hi there, I’m Laura! I share my home with my husband (Brian), our 5-year-old son (“Stewie”), and our cat (Jenkins). As you may have guessed, Stewie is not our son’s real first name, but rather is a nickname that we christened him with. I had horrible morning sickness while I was pregnant with him, and my husband and I joked that an evil genius had taken over my body, which reminded me of Stewie, the baby genius on the TV show Family Guy — and thus, a nickname was born. We still call him Stewie when he’s being particularly mischievous, which makes all of us giggle.
Stewie is definitely his own person. He’s quirky and marches to the beat of his own drum, and I admire his courage in just being himself, something many of us can relate to. He’s one of the sweetest kids ever, and loves cars, snow, animals, electronics, numbers, martial arts and music (but he is very particular about what kind of music he wants to listen to; we have daily arguments about who really has control over the car radio!).
My husband and I met in college, in the lobby of his dorm our sophomore year. While I was waiting for one of his roommates to come down the elevator, Brian came over and enthusiastically introduced himself. I knew right then in my bone of bones that he was The One. However, at the time he was dating another girl, so we started talking over AIM (remember that?) and became good friends. When he and his girlfriend broke up a few months later, it didn’t take us long after that to start dating — the general reaction amongst our mutual friends to our coupling was something to the tune of “What took you so long?!”. We’ve been practically inseparable ever since, and we can’t imagine life without the other. He truly is the butter to my bread. : )
Brian is an electrical engineer, and I’m a freelance communications consultant — two jobs that couldn’t be more different! After working full time in public relations across the Midwest for a decade (most of that time being the primary breadwinner since Brian was in graduate school for a few years), I couldn’t take the stress any longer and burned out when Stewie was almost two.
I was exhausted from working a super stressful job that included a 3 hour round-trip daily commute and trying to keep up with a toddler. Plus, my own mother passed away when I was fairly young, and having such limited memories of my own mom I didn’t want my kid’s memories of me, to be me being a frazzled and anxious mess. So, shortly after we purchased our home, I left my cushy agency job with no other job lined up, which was one of the most exciting and terrifying things I’ve ever done.
About a month into my self-imposed exile, a former colleague reached out to me to request help with a freelance project. After that project, she recommended me to some of her other colleagues, and that snowballed into more projects, and those projects snowballed into more projects, and… well, you get the idea. I’m on year three of my freelancing adventure, and although it’s not always easy to balance everything on my plate, it’s an arrangement that works well for me and my family, and I’m so thankful that this is even a viable option for us.
We live in a western suburb of Chicago. Compared to many of the other suburbs around us, it’s actually rather “affordable” (meaning that you can get a decent house for under $300K that isn’t a shack or in need of a gut rehab). Our neighborhood is full of big, old trees, and there’s an elementary school and park with a size-able pond and playground within a couple of blocks of our house. Many family and friends who visit our home for the first time compliment us about the beauty and quaintness of the neighborhood, and we couldn’t agree more!
We’re also very close to a major biking trail that goes through several suburbs, and live about a mile away from our town’s quaint downtown area, which includes small shops and restaurants as well as a Metra station, where you can take a train to other neighboring suburbs and/or into the city.
The housing prices have really gone up since we moved in three years ago — we were really lucky to get our house when we did at under $200K, which would be practically impossible in our area now because now inventory is low and demand is high. Our next door neighbors recently sold their house a couple of days after they listed it, and I’ve heard of other houses in our town being sold in a matter of hours. Although our local real estate market is super hot at the moment, we have no plans to move anytime soon if we can help it because, let’s face it — moving is a pain in the rear!
Originally we were going to purchase the house we were renting at the time, which was much larger and newer than our current home. However, it was also more expensive, and I wasn’t really in love with the suburb it was located in, because it wasn’t terribly walkable or bike-able (my husband and I love to bike and explore our neighborhood, and so does our little guy). I was working full time back then, commuting into the city every day, and I wanted a house that was less expensive so I could cut back on work a bit, and ideally also have it located in an area that jived more with our personalities.
We also wanted an older house with more character, which was actually a difficult feat for us since my husband is so tall — 6 foot 5, to be exact! A lot of older homes have shorter ceilings and quirky, smaller layouts, which meant poor Brian would often bump his head or not fit into the teeny tiny bathrooms during real estate showings.
After looking around and finding nothing within our price range that ticked most of our boxes, we took a break for a few months. After that break, we saw this house as a way to re-kick off our home search — we certainly did not expect to fall in love with it, but we did! We arrived at the showing well before the agent did, so we got to meet the owners and talk with them about the house. We ended up buying the house, and are actually now good friends with the family who sold the house to us (they even have a painting of our house in their current house, and every time we visit them Stewie points to it and exclaims “Whoa, look — it’s our house!!”).
The house was built in 1929, and is a bungalow style with tons of beautiful woodwork that was handcrafted by one of the former owners. It’s 934 square feet, which is smaller than some of the apartments we’ve lived in. Even though it’s on the small side, it has a ton of storage space — we have a walk-up unfinished attic (access is through a door in Stewie’s bedroom, which is blocked by his dresser; we call it the Stairway to Narnia, or Heaven if we’re feeling a little Zeppelin that day), a full basement, and a storage area under the room at the very back of the house, which is actually an addition that was built in the 90’s by one of the previous owners.
Although we love our house, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little worried about moving into a smaller space. Our main concerns lay with the fact that this house only has one bathroom, and our kitchen is quite small and a tad bit outdated (check out those 90’s maple cabinets!). Also, the closet in our bedroom is tiny, which was challenging since we came from a house that had a large walk-in closet for the master bedroom. However, the smaller space forces us to be super aware and cognizant about what we bring into our house, and how we use the space. Having lived in a much larger home before this one, I felt pressured to get lots of furniture and stuff to fill it up. But in this house? Not so much; we’ve got a lot of what we need, and it works for us.
The design of the house itself is a work in progress. The bathroom was originally painted a dark, navy blue which was beautiful, but since our house is so small it felt like I was going into a cave every time I wanted to brush my teeth or shower. So, we painted it a bright, airy yellow and installed new trim. Our bedroom was also originally painted a darker color (like a clay-type color), so we brightened it up with a white and added lighter curtains to make it feel more spacious than it actually is. Overall, I want our house to be fun, friendly and comfortable for all of us to live in — even for our cat!
I’m very choosy about what I purchase for the house — I grew up with parents who were cautious and prudent about money, so as a result I have a tendency to always seek the best deal, and if that wasn’t possible, to make it myself. That’s how I snagged the blue couch in our living room. We happened to be at a used furniture store at the right time, and we saw that beauty on the sales floor. It had no legs, and horribly uncomfortable cushions, but it was $40 and pretty much exactly what I was looking for at the time to replace a white couch (because white couch + a kid = an inevitable mess). We brought it home, added feet to it and replaced the bottom cushions; in all, with the improvements it set us back about $200 total, which isn’t too bad for a couch!
A lot of what’s in our house is a mix of family heirlooms (like the dresser in our bedroom which was my great grandmother’s, and the vanity which was my mother’s that I sanded and re-stained before my son was born), thrifted items, and new furniture that was on sale or clearance. Brian actually made our dining room table — it’s definitely not perfect by any means, but it’s ours and it works! Besides, scratches and imperfection build character… right?!
I think one day we’ll probably move into a larger house, but certainly not a huge one. Another bathroom would be fantastic (sharing one with three people can get challenging!), as well as a bigger kitchen, since my husband and I love to cook.
We love cooking so much that we semi-regularly host brunches and dinners at our house. Related, I actually started a blog recently, Cooking My Roots, which chronicles my journey to discovering my heritage through food. Also, since we’re busy people, we’re honestly not the biggest fans of cleaning, the less space we need to clean the better!
Although it’s nowhere near the astronomical levels of insanity of the Bay Area or NYC, the Chicago area can also be a pretty costly place to live (especially because of the taxes!). When we were looking at houses, we did consider ones that were bigger and pricier, but we felt it was important to not necessarily buy our dream house, but a home where we can make our dreams come true.
I’ve always had a creative streak. I used to write plays in high school, and have always gravitated toward art, music and theatre. I majored in advertising and public relations in college, and originally wanted to become a graphic designer. After graduating from college, since it was right at the beginning of the recession, I interviewed for many jobs, even those that were outside of what I studied in school. While at an interview at a law firm, one of the people I was interviewing with flat out told me that I wouldn’t succeed there because I was deemed “too creative” and would get bored. Although the rejection was disappointing at the time, in hindsight he was right, as I have an insatiable need to create. Even though I do work in a creative profession (writing and communications), when it comes to visual arts I do that more as a hobby now.
To feed that craving, I’ve made some of the art in our home — everything in Stewie’s room I made either from scratch or copied from pieces I saw online that were far too expensive for my taste. The art piece above the couch in the living room is actually a large swath of fabric that I bought from JoAnn’s and stapled to the back of four wooden furring strips. We’re all big Star Wars fans in our house, and if you look closely at the silhouette art above our bed you’ll see that they’re actually Han Solo and Princess Leia, with infamous lines underneath saying “I Love You” and “I Know” under each silhouette.
I really wish someone had told me how many illnesses kids pick up, and then pass on to you! From ages 1.5 to 3.5, Stewie and I were sick at least once a month with some kind of virus that infested our house (my husband somehow managed to escape them 95% of the time). I also wish that someone would have told me that you see yourself in your kid, including some of your flaws, and how it forces you to come to grips with the fact that neither you nor your kid are perfect. That’s a beautiful, yet difficult thing to face.
My mom superpower would have to be being honest with my kid. That’s not to say that I’ll share absolutely everything with him, but if he asks a question (like the ubiquitous: “Where do babies come from?”) I do my best to answer honestly at an age-appropriate level. I’m hopeful that this practice means that when he gets older he knows that I can be counted on to tell him the truth, and in turn to encourage him to be open and honest with me as well.
I hope he remembers our home as a warm, cozy and loving place where he can be free to truly be himself. I hope he remembers how much fun we have together as a family, and how goofy we all are. I really hops he remembers how much fun we have baking cookies and creating together, and sharing lots of hugs and snuggles.
I certainly hope he forgets the times that I have gotten impatient with him and yelled, and if he does remember I hope that realizes that in addition to having his best interests at heart that I’m human and am, therefore, inherently not perfect.
My favorite thing about living with my kid is twofold: one, I get to view experiences through his eyes, with more of a childlike wonder. By the time we become adults, we tend to get pretty jaded when it comes to both old and new experiences. But the joy he espouses when he discovers something new to him is infectious, and encourages me to see things in a new light.
And two: the things that come out of his mouth make me laugh hysterically on a daily basis. It’s true that kids say the darnedest things, and I’ve taken to writing some of what he says down so I can remember and have a chuckle. I honestly don’t miss much of the baby or toddler stages, except maybe the afternoon naps; I love seeing him evolve into a little boy, and becoming his own, independent person.
Thank you, Laura! What a positive and happy home. I always love hearing parents talking about creative solutions in their homes, whether it is thrifting and reusing a sofa, or creating your own art that adds a personal feel to your space. It’s beautiful, economical and earth-friendly. It’s a win, win, win!
Laura also mentioned several times about how she loves that she and her family spend time laughing together and being silly. I think this is so important as parents! Sometimes we want to be in control and be the grown up in the room, and there is definitely a time and place for that, but as I look back on my own childhood, some of my favorite memories with my parents are times that we were laughing over some silly thing.
Are you a family who laughs a lot? Do you have “inside jokes” that always get you snickering? What do you do to keep laughter as a daily part of your family life?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.