There’s something special about the Woolley home. It’s definitely in a state of repair and redesign, I’m sure the exposed brick lends an added chill, and the constant sprinkling of dust from the perpetual updating must get old. But on the flip side, it’s a home where anything seems possible when the sunlight streams in. It’s a home where cuddling up together in one room creates all the warmth needed. And as for the dust, who notices such things against such a colorful backdrop? From the way Chelsey describes her six children to the way she chooses wall color and their two non-negotiable house rules, this is a tour to enjoy. I really hope you do!
My husband, Woo (not his real name, but a name that he goes by and the name that I almost always call him), likes to say that we met in the pediatrician’s office. We did have the same pediatrician, but I think that we most likely met for the first time in high school where he was friends with my little brother, and I was friends with his older sister. We didn’t start dating until I’d graduated from college, and after we kept seeing each other at things like thrift stores, gigs, and Ultimate Frisbee. We like to say that Woo’s the public face of our family — personable, often hilarious, and friendly. He works from home as a self-employed app developer. I’m a stay-at-home mom driven to read or fiddle around with the house in my spare time. I have a degree in science, but wish I’d done something much more right-brained. Soon after we married, we moved to St. Louis and started our family. Four of our children were born there, and the last two were born here in Utah.
Ruby, eight, is our resident tomboy. She can run, climb, play in the dirt, and collect bugs and rocks with the best of them. She is also extremely compassionate, generous, and social. She has many, many big ideas; right now she has lots of plans for her future involving the study and cultivation of sharks.
Herbie, seven, would love to be the oldest kid, but is making the most of being the oldest boy. He considers himself an expert on anything he’s done (even just once), or heard about (even just barely), and will unload what he knows on his little brothers. Despite trying to be an adult in every way, he definitely has a slapstick sense of humor, loves a good knock-knock joke, and still loves hugs from his mom and tickles from his dad.
Moses, five, is our sweet, sensitive middle child. He gives the most sincere, surprising compliments, has an angelic, innocent smile, and is very affectionate. He also is the kid who best understands comedic timing and the anatomy of a good joke. He would really, really like to be good all the time, but sometimes just can’t help himself when his little brother takes one of his cars, or his big sister involves him in an exciting, sneaky plan.
Linus, three, is our charmer. He has had a big, bright smile from almost the very beginning, and he’ll flash it at anyone he meets. He has a hearty, husky laugh that we hear a lot. He’s a bit of a ham, has no fear of people, and is also adorable, so I’m constantly having people tell me how cute he is. They’ll often say, “I don’t know what it is, but he is just so cute!” I, of course, don’t think there’s any mystery about it.
Penelope, 21 months, is at that first stage (of many, I’m sure) where she thinks she knows it all. She babbles seriously to us at length, expecting us to understand every word she says. She does important work around the house, like move dishes from the cupboard to the table and back again. She rushes to put something on her feet (a slipper and a big boot) and hands (a sock and a mitten) as soon as she hears the word “outside.” She usually answers no to any question – just to be safe – and then changes her answer when she realizes we’ve just offered her a cookie.
Archie, three months, is our newborn. All of our kids have been happy, content babies, but Archie has seriously been a miracle baby; well-behaved beyond my wildest dreams. He smiles and coos just occasionally, and always at me. Mostly he furrows his eyebrows in a concerned or perplexed expression, patiently putting up with our slobbery kisses and rough hugs.
Once it became clear that Woo would be able to work from home and that we’d be able to live anywhere, we quickly flirted with someplace exotic, but then decided to move back to Utah to be closer to family. We’d been away from them for awhile. We were still in St. Louis, so we began our search on the internet and were disappointed to find absolutely nothing that we liked in our price range and in a good location. After a while we decided that, really, we could probably make anything look better over time, and to concentrate on location.
We had looked at this house on and off, but Woo didn’t fly out until we were under contract for a different house in a different town. He decided to take a look at this one again on a whim. As he and the realtor walked through the house they laughed at how dumpy it was. Then later that night Woo told me he thought we should buy it.
The house is right next to a large park (with an ice rink) and the church. We have a library and a couple of restaurants down the street. There are three ski resorts, two reservoirs, and a river within 30 minutes. A couple of beaches are within biking distance. It’s on an acre of land with large trees in a quiet, old town, but also close to civilization. Those things wouldn’t change, but we knew we could change the house. So we bought it.
I had never seen the house in person until the day we moved from St. Louis and closed on the house. It had ugly siding, a sunken front porch, horrible, matted carpet in every room (even the kitchen and bathroom), wallpapered walls with large cracks in the plaster, the beautiful windows were hidden behind heavy, frilly curtains – it wasn’t hard to tell why the house hadn’t sold. But it did definitely have a feeling of being ours, and I was excited about the high ceilings, the arched doorway between the living room and dining room, the old moldings, the giant transom window in the master bedroom, the deep window sills from thick brick walls…I thought we could make it work.
Everyone seems to assume that I should be overwhelmed or exhausted with six kids, but I just don’t feel that way. I attribute it to two things.
First: an early, regular bedtime for the kids. All our kids go to bed at seven. Not only do Woo and I get plenty of time every night to recharge without them, they just behave better when they’ve had enough sleep. Second: Woo works from home and has a flexible schedule. He’ll often take all kids who can walk to the ice rink while I make dinner, or take the older kids on a bike ride to the beach while I nap with the younger ones, or load the groceries into the car while I nurse the hungry baby in the front seat.
My kids don’t seem to be old enough yet to want to be on their own in the house. Or maybe it’s just their personalities. We all just naturally hang out together. Ruby and Herbie are the only ones who sleep in their own room, and they both often ask me if they can share with somebody. We’d gladly let them if they wouldn’t stay up late talking!
I’m sure the time will come when all that will change, but I know from experience growing up with a shared room, that a small area anywhere in the house can easily be commandeered and made personal. The house is far from done, and I also don’t think that my kids will hit that stage all at once; I have some ideas for the future with that sort of thing in mind.
Of course, we have the kids pick up their messes. Even Penelope can help put Legos in the tub or books in their place, and she usually will once the older kids get going. For us, the big clean up is every night before dinner. The kids are also expected to make their beds and tidy their rooms before they come down to breakfast. I’m not going to lie, though. Any visitor who comes to the house not immediately after a clean up has got to be worried!
By some miracle, perhaps, the kids leave my glass and plants alone after only being told a couple of times. We don’t wear shoes in the house, and the kids always use the back door by the mudroom. Standing, climbing, and jumping on furniture is not allowed.
One thing we also do is fiercely protect the noise level in our home. I don’t love chaos. Our home is a place to relax, read, work on projects, eat, sleep, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun, yes. But, it is not a place to act wild and crazy and obnoxious. Kids who stampede through the house are sent outside. Kids who scream and throw tantrums are sent upstairs to their rooms until they feel better and are under control. We aren’t afraid to tell the kids that it’s time to read or work on something quiet if we feel like things are getting out of hand.
You may not think it from the amount of kids and the bright colors in our home, but visitors often comment on how quiet and peaceful it is. Part of that is probably because we live in a sleepy little town, and part of it is probably because we court it.
I don’t know that I have the kids in mind, really, when I’m decorating, but I don’t do things like put plants on the floor or breakable things at knee height anymore. I’m always envisioning things toppling over, and if I suspect it has the potential to really hurt someone, I move it.
It took me a few years and a few kids to accept that they really do sleep better in a dark, tomb-like room. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I do love a bright and cheery children’s room. But, I’ve decided that everyone getting enough sleep is more important for us, so I’ve painted the kids’ rooms navy, and made curtains out of thick fabric to shut out all the light. I look forward to having bright colors in the kids’ rooms again when they no longer feel the call to wake up with the sun.
Yes, my color scheme is bol, which is funny because my personality is almost the exact opposite. I’m the quiet, calm, reserved, introvert who would prefer that other people don’t notice me. Decorating must be the place that I go to release my inhibitions and let my hair down!
I really think that white walls and neutral rooms are beautiful, but I’ve never been able to do it. I think it’s because the first question I ask myself when deciding on a color is, “What would be fun?” and then, “What would be different?” There is a point with everything I’ve ever painted (usually after I’ve gotten just one coat on), where I think, “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” Then I force myself to just work through it.
I’m a firm believer that any color – and I mean any color – can be made to work. You may have to carefully control the other colors in the room or use large amounts of white or grey or some other neutral to give the eye rest. I like to think that, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. The colors make me happy, and Woo and the kids like them. I like to think that we live in a bright, fun, child-filled home!
I hope that my style of decorating helps my children to learn to not be afraid to march to the beat of their own drum. In whatever they eventually decide to undertake, I hope that they won’t be overly concerned with the “rules” or be frozen by indecision. I’d like them to have fun, be creative, experiment!
Also, in renovating this house, I’d like them to have memories of their parents out in the yard with the skill saw, of their Mom painting every inch of the house, of their Dad battling the dandelions every spring, and to expect that it takes time, patience, and work to get the things that they want. I hope they never give up or expect their dreams to just be handed to them.
Probably my favorite thing about the actual house is the thick brick walls. They keep the house at a comfortable temperature all by themselves for seven or eight months out of the year, and there’s just kind of a breathable feeling that we first noticed when we moved in. They also make great window sills. I’ve always loved the look of light shining through colored glass, and now I have plenty of space and child-safe places to put glass in every room. My mom and mother-in-law have also given me a lot of house plants that really thrive there, and also make the air feel fresh and clean.
Even though I admit to being overwhelmed with it at times, I’m also mostly glad that this house offers me so projects. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored with it. There’s so much we need to do, and afterwards, there’s so many fun things we could do!
Most of our indoor traditions aren’t dependent on the house we live in, but because of the location we chose, we’re able to get outside often and exercise more. I go for a run through town and past open pastures almost every day. Woo does a lot of both mountain and road biking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Woo was already pretty good, but the rest of us are learning how to ice skate. The kids are learning how to snowboard and snowshoe. I plan to teach the kids how to really swim this summer, and the older kids all learned how to ride bikes here. The kids are learning to fish and canoe. Because of the proximity of so many fun things to our house, we can do any of these things any day after school or after dinner or just on a random day.
The best part about living with my kids? Well, first off, they’re so beautiful! Their giant eyes, round cheeks, delightful plumpness in all the right places, the way their bodies move, the sound of their little voices…I’ve never done it, but I could probably sit and stare at a toddler all day, and be completely satisfied with how I’d spent the day.
Secondly, they’re just good company. The best company. So quick to smile, give hugs, say I love you, and offer sincere thanks for the basics. “Thanks for making this food, Mom.” “Thank you for getting me a drink of water, Mom.” Not to mention the cute, funny, and occasionally very insightful things that they say.
I remember in the first months I had Ruby being a bit shocked to learn what it’s really like to have someone dependent on you 24/7, but on the whole, I’m not sure that anything has been unexpected for me. I’d like to say that I expected every bit of it, and am more than happy to be living this life that I’ve always wanted for myself. They are a lot of work, but I’ve found that I do love work, for the most part and it’s never been out-of-control or above my ability to handle. Well, never for very long! I’d never want them to feel that I’m resentful of the extra work that they bring into my life, because I’m not.
I’m not sure that I miss anything yet. Maybe that’s because I still have kids at every stepping stone clear down to newborn. I sure don’t miss pregnancy! I do try to be a person that lives in the present, and I’ve tried very hard to appreciate and enjoy my kids at every stage they’ve been in. I know that it’s fleeting. Maybe that’s why I love being a mom so much!
I wish someone had told me not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered. You never know who’s in their first trimester of a pregnancy, who is dealing with depression or an autoimmune disease, who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s overworked in some other area, or who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long, long time.
It can and does happen to the best of us!
I wish someone had told me that when I see someone who doesn’t seem to have it 100% together to love first – and then try to help, if I can.
Oh, Chelsey! I had to laugh at your panic after your first coat of bold wall color: “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” At least you keep going — bravely! — and don’t fall back on safe choices. Your turquoise kitchen and hanging scale are the cutest.
Friends, are you inspired by her quiet house and early bedtime rules? Have you adopted similar sanctions in your own homes to save your sanity? Please share with the rest of us; we’re all looking for ways to make our lives more enjoyable. Especially at bedtime!